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“Bethlehem Cancels Christmas: War-Torn Gaza Steals Away Cheer”

As the conflict between Israel and Palestine erupts once more, residents of the holy city of Bethlehem are facing the prospect of celebrating Christmas under lockdown due to the ongoing violence in Gaza.

Located in the West Bank, Bethlehem is home to thousands of Christians and a major draw to tourists who come to pilgrimage in the city of Jesus’s birth. But this year, the festivities won’t be quite so jubilant due to the war raging in neighbouring Gaza, which has forced the city into lockdown.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers Bethlehem, has implemented tough security measures which prohibit any movement of vehicles or people in and out of the city, and has sent riot police out to ensure these restrictions are kept in place. This means that for most Bethlehemites, the season of love, peace and goodwill will be anything but.

The lockdown also means that no international pilgrims will be able to visit the city in time for the holidays, leaving the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity’s holiest sites, sadly empty.

With Bethlehem effectively cut off from the rest of the world, its residents can only watch as world leaders debate the conflict without any kind of intervention to stop it.

The only symbol of hope in this bleak situation comes in the form of a symbolic Christmas tree, lit in Manger Square and visited by the Latin Patriarch, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa. But with the noise of Israeli air raids in the background and uncertainty as to when the conflict will end, the future looks bleak.

The latest conflict between Israel and Palestine is only the latest in a decades-long struggle for peace and justice, but in the meantime the plight of Bethlehemites and their neighbours has highlighted the reality of the situation all too clearly.

At a time when the world should be celebrating the spirit of Christmas and its message of hope, those in Bethlehem are instead left facing the prospect of a harsh reality.

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