Bethlehem church creates rubble nativity scene this Christmas

Baby Jesus amongst the rubble. Screenshot from a video entitled: Quiet Christmas in Bethlehem: Pledging solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza from Al Jazeera English's YouTube channel. Fair use.

This article was originally published on the New Arab on December 5, 2023. An edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

A church in Bethlehem has created a nativity scene resembling the situation in war-torn Gaza, as Christmas this year approaches amid Israel’s brutal onslaught on the Palestinian enclave.

The nativity scene at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church shows a toy baby wrapped in the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh and placed in debris and rubble. While the keffiyeh symbolizes Palestinian identity, history, and struggle, the debris represents destruction in Gaza, where [as of publishing] at least 19,453 people, including 7,729 children, have been killed by Israel’s indiscriminate war.

The toy baby meant to be Jesus is believed to represent the thousands of children buried beneath the rubble in Gaza.

Reverend Doctor Munther Isaac, the church's pastor, told The New Arab that he came up with the idea and shared it with his congregation.

“Church families met last week and built it together. It was a moving experience for our families. During the service on Sunday, some people were in tears,” he said.

Bethlehem is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Thousands usually flock to the West Bank city every year to celebrate his birth. But last month, municipalities and churches in Bethlehem and Ramallah announced that Christmas celebrations would be cancelled in the occupied West Bank in solidarity with Gaza, calling on parishes to instead collect donations.

“Bethlehem has no visitors this year. Pilgrims are not coming to Bethlehem this year because of war,” Rev. Isaac said. “But we were surprised and overwhelmed by the attention and response this Manger received through the social media and media in general. We are pleased our message has reached the world. This is what Christmas looks like in Palestine this year, the origin of Christmas,” he told The New Arab.

The pastor said there hadn't been any comment from Israeli authorities, “at least not yet.” But he did complain of the difficult economic situation in the city, as Israel has imposed a strict lockdown on Jerusalem and has implemented stringent measures in the West Bank since the start of the war.

“We are under a strict siege. Bethlehem is empty from tourists. There has been a high number of unemployment since the closure [by Israeli forces] of Jerusalem.”

While Western Christian churches celebrate Christmas on December 25, Orthodox churches and other Christian denominations observe the holiday in January.

Only a small number of Palestinian Christians remain in Gaza and the West Bank today, leaving due to Israeli occupation, siege and economic hardship.

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