Bethlehem Isn’t Just for Christmas, Say Palestinians | Sojourners

Bethlehem Isn’t Just for Christmas, Say Palestinians

A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

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Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan talks to a Palestinian herb vendor, in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Nov. 17, 2021. REUTERS/Zainah El-Haroun

The annual festival features dance, music, art, and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market. “I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality, and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”

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Palestinian Abdelfattah Abusrour shows his painting at his office in Aida refugee camp, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Nov. 25, 2021. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

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Palestinian youth perform the traditional dance of Dabkeh near the Israeli separation barrier and a checkpoint that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Nov. 25, 2021. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

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