A quiet Christmas in Jesus' hometown 1A quiet Christmas in Jesus' hometown 1

At this time any other year, hundreds of thousands of tourists are milling about Bethlehem, a Palestinian city located in the West Bank less than 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem.

A father walks his child through a street full of closed shops in Bethlehem on December 19.

This year, the pandemic caused damage to businesses, but it also provided an opportunity for believers to enjoy a rare quiet atmosphere, according to Father Rami Asakrieh, priest of Bethlehem.

`There are times when more than half a million people come to the Church of the Nativity at this time,` he said.

The sound of reciting prayers echoed in the cathedral that was empty of tourists.

`This has never happened before,` Asakrieh said.

Before Christmas, the small church of Saint Catherine next to the Church of the Nativity will open its doors to local Palestinians.

He mentioned the `headache` of losing jobs during the pandemic for people like his son.

`We hope God will destroy nCoV, so we can return to our old lives,` said the old man in his 70s.

A quiet Christmas in Jesus' hometown

A Palestinian mother took a photo of her daughter under the Christmas tree near the Church of the Nativity on December 21.

Bethlehem’s economy is boosted in part by the annual Christmas rush, which profits small shops selling postcards, rosaries carved from olive tree wood and souvenirs.

Sitting on a plastic chair outside a store in Bethlehem, Georges Baaboul said `nothing has been sold for the past 9 months`.

`In the past few days, I sold about 52 USD,` he said.

Saif, 60 years old, a small business owner, said he had never seen a situation this bad in his decades of doing business.

This year, traders in the West Bank cannot even count on customers from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian coastal region controlled by the Islamist group Hamas that is being blockaded by Israel.

Every year, believers in Gaza are usually granted special permission to go to Bethlehem for Christmas, but not this year, according to Father Youssef Asaad of the Latin monastery in Gaza.

Hamas authorities have imposed strict measures to limit virus transmission in the region, including closing mosques and Latin mosques and only streaming services online.

A quiet Christmas in Jesus' hometown

A Palestinian carpenter carves statues from wood in his shop near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on December 21.

Issa Abou George, a Christian resident of Gaza, said he could not buy gifts for his children this year, but would participate in the ceremony online.

`My family and I will pray to God, hoping for an end to the pandemic, as well as praying for peace for the Holy Land and the world,` he said.

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By Martin

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