December 22, 2011
BETHLEHEM – If Joseph and Mary were making their way to Bethlehem today, the Christmas story would be a little different, says Father Ibrahim Shomali, a parish priest in the town. The couple would struggle to get into the city, let alone find a hotel room.
“If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed,” says the priest of Bethlehem’s Beit Jala parish. “He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would have needed Israeli permission – or to have been tourists.
“This really is the big problem for Palestinians in Bethlehem: what will happen when they close us off completely?”
Bethlehem is the heart of Christian Palestine and it swells with pride every Christmas. Manger Square is transformed into a grotto of lights and stalls crowned by a towering Christmas tree. Strings of illuminated angels, stars and bells festoon the streets. But just a few minutes’ drive to the north, the festive atmosphere stops abruptly.