Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem - the very place it began

The West Bank town would traditionally be packed with tourists, instead, its streets are deserted and shops are shut, ITV News' Rachel Younger and Leila Sansour report

In Bethlehem, where it all began, Christmas has been cancelled. 

At this time of year, the West Bank town would traditionally be packed with tourists and pilgrims from all over the world.  

Instead, its streets are deserted, the shops are shut, and Manger Square is all but silent. 

So, too, is the the Church of the Nativity, built on the site of the stable where the faithful believe Jesus was born.

In place of its traditional nativity scene, there is simply a baby lying in rubble.  Credit: ITV News

In place of its traditional nativity scene, there is simply a baby lying in rubble. 

Gaza is just 50 miles from here and has been under constant bombardment since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.   

More than 20,000 people have died in Gaza, according to the Hamas run-health ministry.

Many bodies are still unreachable beneath the ruins and the death toll is expected to rise. 

With thousands of children among the dead, Reverend Munther Isaac believes Bethlehem’s manger sends a powerful message. 

“This year Christmas feels different,” he says. "This year we are not celebrating."

"It is impossible to celebrate when there is a genocide taking place in our land.

"It is impossible to celebrate when our children are being killed and massacred in Gaza.”

Many of his congregation have family and friends in Gaza and they are exhausted by worry. 

The war has extended its shadow across the West Bank too.

Around 900 people from Bethlehem are now detained in Israeli jails; seven have been killed here since the conflict began.

But the only worshippers still able to get here come from the town itself because not even Palestinian Christians from outside Bethlehem can get in. 

'Christmas feels different,' said Reverend Munther Isaac. Credit: ITV News

The Israeli checkpoints which always limit the movements of locals have now been permanently closed. 

It’s crippling the local economy because people can’t reach their jobs outside their town and customers can’t reach businesses within it. 

They are still making the traditional Christmas decorations Bethlehem’s famed for, but there is no one to buy them. 

“Bethlehem is besieged,” says Dr Khuloud Deibes, head of the Bethlehem Development Foundation. 

“All entrances are are closed - people are left without work and it’s estimated 120 million US dollars are being lost every day. The implications of the war in Gaza are affecting here too.”

As festivities get underway across much of the globe, Christmas is absent, in the very place it first began.

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