Palestinians prepare to celebrate Christmas in the West Bank and Gaza amid fears of Omicron

Palestinians prepare to celebrate Christmas in the West Bank and Gaza amid fears of Omicron
4 min read
23 December, 2021
With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading rapidly throughout the Middle East, Christmas celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza have had to be scaled back to reflect a changing public health environment. However, some festivities continue.

Unlike what was expected, the Christmas celebrations are set to be limited for the residents of the West Bank amid the fears of the new variant of COVID-19, the Omicron. 

Last month, the Palestinian government decided to resume the reception of tourist groups from abroad in a bid to revive the tourism sector in the territories, mainly in Bethlehem, after a nearly two-year hiatus that was caused by the new virus.

As a result, all workers in the tourism sector started to prepare themselves to receive tourist groups by reopening their antique shops and manufacturing thousands of products. 

The local hotels have also opened their doors and summoned most of their staff.

The situation was not different for the local tourists' guides, who received dozens of emails from foreign tourists expressing their wish to visit the area.

Local residents have also expressed their happiness at the prospect of possible Christmas celebrations. 

A Christian priest participates in lighting the Christmas tree in Bethlehem a few weeks ago. (Getty)

Then, many realised that the wind does not always blow as a ship desires and both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities have tightened travel procedures on their borders and crossings, banning foreigners from entering the area to avoid the spread of the Omicron. 

Christian Palestinians participate in lighting the Christmas tree in Bethlehem a few weeks ago. (Getty)

Laila Ghattas, a Christian woman from Bethlehem, was among those women who used to invite her relatives from abroad to spend this festive season with her. 

The 45-year-old mother of three told The New Arab that celebrations this year would be limited to her and her friends only, as her two sons and a daughter were banned from visiting the city. 

"Even if the new virus tries to prevent us from celebrating with our relatives, we will enjoy the festivals with our friends and we will move from one city to another one as if nothing has happened," the woman said as she carried a cross medal. 

Laila was among thousands of Palestinians who lit up a giant Christmas tree in front of the Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Christian Palestinians participate in lighting the Christmas tree in Bethlehem a few weeks ago. (Getty)

Ambassadors and consuls of countries to the Palestinian Authority, Christian and Muslim Palestinian families participated in the tree lighting ceremony.

The participants expressed their hope that a new coronavirus variant would not ruin another holiday season in the Palestinian territories.

Safaa Hana, a resident of Ramallah city, came to the holy city to participate in those celebrations. She told The New Arab that she was happy to celebrate the lighting up of the Christmas tree, despite the sadness caused by the virus. 

"In Palestine, Muslims and Christians celebrate together in all of their feasts as they live in the same place and share all traditions every day," the 29-year-old young woman said as he wore a Santa Claus hat.

Salim Abu Saada, a resident from Bethlehem, expressed to The New Arab how "the atmosphere of the celebrations is beautiful this year, unlike what happened during the past two years due to the new virus."

Christian priests participate in lighting the Christmas tree in Bethlehem a few weeks ago. (Getty)

For two years, the Christian community in Palestinian territories had lost their Christmas season because of the spread of the new virus in the region, which pushed local authorities to impose a complete lockdown on all the governorates of the West Bank.

Many reservations in the area have been made for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.

About 5,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox, lived in the Gaza Strip when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed Oslo peace accords in 1994

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 51,700 Christians live in Palestinian territories.

About 5,000 Christians, most of whom are Greek Orthodox, lived in the Gaza Strip when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed Oslo peace accords in 1994.

However, their number dramatically declined because of the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the number of Christians in the coastal enclave has fallen to about 900, amid threats from radical Sunni groups.

The Islamist group allowed the Christian people in the Strip to light up a giant Christmas tree in Gaza City a few days ago. At the same time, dozens celebrated the beginning of their festivals. 

Christian Palestinians participate in lighting the Christmas tree in Gaza Strip a few weeks ago. (Getty)

Haitham Saba, from Gaza City, expressed his happiness to The New Arab to be able to celebrate the festivals in Gaza freely, without fears of the new virus. 

The 49-year-old father of three said that he celebrated with his relatives in Bethlehem. Still, because of the strict Israeli measures over their movement on the Israeli-control Erez, they were forced to only remain in Gaza.

Christian Palestinians participate in lighting the Christmas tree in Gaza Strip a few weeks ago. (Getty)

The spread of coronavirus has made the matter worse for two years, as they were forced to celebrate their feasts at home. 

"I think this year will be different. We can move to Gaza and visit our relatives, pray at the churches and even exchange congratulations with our relatives abroad online," the man said.

Sally Ibrahim is The New Arab's correspondent from Gaza