There was nothing merry or bright on Wednesday night in The Little Town of Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born. Instead, it looked old Scrooge got there ahead of the tourists — or perhaps it was the Grinch.
Arabs shut down the electricity feeding the lights twinkling on the Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity, allegedly to protest the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel.
Bethlehem municipal media officer Fady Ghattas said, “The Christmas tree was switched off on the order of the mayor today in protest at Trump’s decision,” adding it was unclear whether the lights would return prior to the main holiday celebrations.
Likewise, a similar Christmas tree adorned with lights set up next to the burial site of the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian Authority capital of Ramallah also went dark.
Barely 24 hours earlier, protesters in Bethlehem were burning pictures of President Trump even before he had delivered his speech.
Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman, elected to his office earlier this year, is a Roman Catholic and his deputy mayor is Greek Orthodox, despite the fact that Christians are a minority of 12,000 in Bethlehem, where there is a 20,000-strong majority of Muslims.
Bethlehem is a popular tourist site, with an average 2.5 million tourists visiting the city to see the place where Christians believe Jesus was born; most spend just a few hours, as part of their broader plans to see Israel and surrounds.
Christmas is one of the busiest — and most lucrative — times of the year for the people of Bethlehem. Going dark may indeed be an eloquent way to express political distress over President Trump’s decision, but for a people forever in need of foreign aid in order to survive, depriving Christian tourists of the very reason for their visit after they’ve traveled long hours and thousands of miles to get there doesn’t seem to make much sense.