Traditional Rock-Throwing Santa adds burning posters of Trump to holiday cheer.
The Palestinian leadership has responded furiously to President Trump’s December 6th official recognition of the obvious reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Over the past several weeks, there’ve been heated denunciations, some of which trafficked in ugly antisemitic tropes and canards; the usual Hamas-incited “days of rage”; calls for demonstrations by the Palestinian Authority (which canceled school, so young people could participate in the clashes and rioting); and over a dozen rockets shot from Gaza into Israel.
The dispute over #Jerusalem has dimmed the lights of #Christmas in #Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, as controversy, local politics and #Palestinian Christians say the mood has been more somber due to events @spectator https://t.co/UpHo24PylP
— Seth Frantzman (@sfrantzman) December 22, 2017
Palestinians Are Furious with Trump, So They Cancel Christmas
Outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the lights on the giant municipal Christmas tree have been dimmed in the run-up to Christmas.
In other towns and cities in the West Bank, various holiday events have been scaled-back or even canceled altogether.
Concerns about tensions and ongoing violent protests, and the fact that in many places the festivities have been abandoned, have put a damper on the holiday spirit. The typically bustling Christmas markets are gloomy and “subdued” and many Christians Palestinians are now anticipating Christmas with a “bitter taste”.
As noted in multiple media reports (see, for example, here and here), the lack of festive cheer and toned-down celebrations is particularly difficult for Palestinian Christian merchants and shop owners who rely on the typically high volume of tourists during the holiday season.
But it’s also no doubt hard and a downright shame for the children, who have had the joy of the Christmas holiday yanked away from them.
So some are now blaming Trump.
But this mischaracterizes the situation and the fact that Palestinian officials chose to conduct a political protest by harming the livelihoods of the Christian minority, stifling their religious expression, and ruining Christmas in the process.
None of that is Trump’s fault, nor would it be the first time that Palestinian leaders and anti-Israel activists have exploited the Christmas season for political purposes. As we documented in a 2015 post, in recent years Christmas holiday themes, symbols, and rituals have been continuously appropriated and put into service for virulently anti-Israel propaganda, Guide to How Anti-Israel Activists Hijack Christmas.
Below I provide further details about how Palestinian grinches have managed to steal Christmas 2017 away from the Palestinian Christian community. In the post’s concluding section I contrast this year’s holiday hijack with the actual Christmas cheer in Israel, especially in Nazareth and Jerusalem’s Old City.
Spotted in Sultan Souleman street in East Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/C77ABLweeA
— Udi Shaham (@udi_shaham) December 21, 2017
Palestinian Mission in Washington Cancels First-Ever Capitol Hill Christmas Party
Even before Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the PLO delegation to Washington, DC abruptly canceled what was going to be its first-ever Christmas party on Capitol Hill. Scheduled for December 6th, various White House officials had already confirmed that they planned to attend.
The celebratory event, dubbed “A Bethlehem Christmas on the Hill”, would’ve reportedly included a “live-stream video of Christian leaders and the children of Bethlehem” with a holiday message of peace. Apparently the kids were going to sing, but the PLO mission deemed that “unsuitable” given Trump’s expected announcement on Jerusalem which was happening that day.
It’s difficult to understand why the PLO would nix an opportunity to engage with and “court” members of the Trump administration along with “hundreds” of U.S. congressional representatives, international dignitaries, religious leaders, and members of the diplomatic core, especially given the fact that the State Department had threatened to shut down the delegation last month.
But what’s really too bad is that the kids from Bethlehem were deprived of a special opportunity to participate in this event. No doubt they had practiced long and hard for their singing debut on Capitol Hill.
You can claim these disappointed youngsters as the first casualty of the Palestinian leadership’s decision to have the West Bank’s Christian community bear the brunt of the costs associated with their anti-Trump protest.
Palestinian Officials Turn Off the Lights on Christmas Trees, Cancel Holiday Events
On December 2nd, the tree-lighting ceremony in Bethlehem, outside of the Church of the Nativity (considered the birthplace of Jesus), was reportedly attended by thousands of people including Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah and other officials.
The event was planned for a few days prior to Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, so for the Christian residents of Bethlehem it marked both the beginning and end of their joyful holiday season.
The Bethlehem municipality switched off the lights on the Christmas tree at the Church of the Nativity Plaza within hours of Trump’s announcement (officials in Ramallah did the same with the tree at Martyr Yasser Arafat Square).
As reported in the blog IsraellyCool, from 3:00pm December 24th through 3:00am on Christmas Day, Israel’s tourism ministry will be offering free shuttles, helping pilgrims to travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem—with busses leaving every 30 minutes.
It’s all definitely hurt Christmas business.
Shop owners have reported to media outlets that they have few customers because people are staying away—including Israeli Arabs. Bethlehem’s premier luxury hotel, the 250-bed Jacir Palace, has closed—it had been fully booked for Christmas but managers there are now “assessing day by day” if they can reopen.
The situation poses a serious financial hardship during what should be the busiest tourist time of the year. But this fact doesn’t seem to have been taken up as an issue of major concern by the Palestinian Authority, when they decided to do away with Christmas this year.
Jingle Bells Rock: Bad Santas
As we noted in our prior post, during the Christmas season there are Palestinians who dress up as Santa Claus and go out into the streets looking for a fight with police or the IDF. Cameras and video recorders are always at the ready at these staged events. Following the riots, images and videos of these violently protesting Santas become part of the visual campaign against Israel.
Here’s a video clip from last year of a group of Palestinians dressed as Father Christmas engaging in violent clashes with Israeli troops:
This past week the rock throwing Santas featured again in a number of anti-Trump demonstrations.
On December 19th, a Palestinian man dressed up in a Santa costume joined in clashes with IDF near Ramallah. In the not-so-jolly scene, the violent Santa throws rocks and the IDF responds with tear gas and rubber bullets, sending the young man limping away. He’s obviously OK though, as in subsequent segments of the video he can be seen burning a photo of Donald Trump along with his friends. Here’s the video and several images from this demonstration:
— (((David Lange))) (@Israellycool) December 21, 2017
A man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit was also injured during this past “Friday of Rage” protests in Gaza, amidst violent confrontations with IDF outside of Khan Yunis. Demonstrators threw stones at Israeli troops and set tires alight. The Palestinian Santa had to be carried off from the melee:
Protesters dressed as Santa also reportedly took part in violent protests in Bethlehem on Saturday—a day before Christmas Eve. At least one protester was wounded during the clashes then too.
It’s easy to understand why Palestinian protesters are dressing up as recognizable Christian icons and then putting themselves into situations where they can be harmed in clashes with the IDF.
From a PR perspective, it doesn’t look very good to have Israeli troops appear to be fighting against a hugely popular and symbolic Christian figure. Getting injured in the process just makes Israel look even worse—which is exactly what these propagandists are aiming for.
The fact that doing this is extremely disrespectful to the faith and to Christians doesn’t seem to factor in at all to their calculations.
Actual Christmas Cheer in Israel
In our prior post we highlighted that the West Bank and Gaza have been hemorrhaging their Christians, who are fleeing in the face endemic discrimination. In Gaza, Christians have been murdered for their faith. In the West Bank, they’re treated as second-class citizens. In both of these Palestinian-controlled areas, Christian holy sites have been repeatedly desecrated and destroyed.
By contrast, the Israeli Christian population is growing and Christian religious freedoms are protected.
Christians are well-integrated into the political, economic, and social life of the country, where they exercise “considerable influence” disproportionate to their population.
This may help to explain why the outcry was swift and overwhelming when the Muslim mayor of Nazareth—the largest Arab city in Israel and famous for being Jesus’ childhood hometown—decided to scale back Christmas celebrations out of identification and solidarity with the Palestinian anti-Trump campaign.
Nazareth cancelled and then un-canceled Christmas, most likely because the city’s Israeli residents weren’t so keen on deliberately inflicting needless suffering on themselves, giving up their public expressions of joy, and ruining their own Christmas on account of politics.
— The Jerusalem Post (@Jerusalem_Post) December 23, 2017
As Elliot Friedland notes for the Clarion Project:
…it seems that the mayor came to his senses. The mayor relented and told the media that festivities will be happening as usual. Presumably, he bowed to factions that were none too happy about the economic ramifications of banning the city’s most popular tourist attractions.”
Christmas is also happening as usual in other places in Israel, where the holiday is being enjoyed by all, as it is every year:
In Jerusalem, the municipality again gave away free Christmas trees, and 39-year-old Issa Kassissieh—a Christmas fixture of the Old City—was “cheerier than ever” after having recently completed Santa training in Denver, Colorado’s professional Santa Claus school (I had no idea such a place exists, but indeed it does).
— The Times of Israel (@TimesofIsrael) December 23, 2017
A Greek Orthodox Jerusalemite, we wrote about this wonderful Papa Noel in our prior post.
This year, he was busy reportedly greeting tourists, handing out chocolates to the children, meeting with kindergarteners and with children from a special needs school, hosting visitors at his Santa workshop, and walking the Old City’s walls.
Here are some images of Kassissieh at work in recent days (many more can be found on his Facebook page) with all the kids definitely looking happy:
Drawing on stories of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, Christmas is universally viewed as a time of peace and goodwill to all.
But for many Palestinian officials and anti-Israel protesters, the holiday season is also the perfect occasion to appropriate Christmas themes, symbols, and rituals in order to conduct political warfare against Israel.
This year, in addition to the traditional rock-throwing Palestinian Santas, the tactic of anti-Israel and anti-U.S. protesting has also involved the outright denial to Christian Palestinians their Christmas celebrations.
Palestinian delegation: “The world is celebrating the birth of Christ over the next few days, but the lights will not be lit in the land of Christ, in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, as Israel eliminates the Arab, Christian, and Islamic identities of these cities.” pic.twitter.com/QPhKWpnkgh
— UN Watch (@UNWatch) December 21, 2017
As a result, Christmas in the Palestinian-run territories has been pretty bleak, with the seasonal earnings of Christian merchants jeopardized and the kids being punished and deprived of their holiday.
It shows that nothing is sacred. Even the joys of childhood are expendable and must be sacrificed in order to advance the Palestinian political agenda.
Except that I’m not aware of any occasion when a Muslim holiday was restricted or muted on account of a dispute with the U.S., Israel, or any other country. For example, to the best of my knowledge Ramadan’s Eid al-Fitr festivities have never been canceled by Palestinian leaders, and it’s hard to believe that anyone would ever think of doing that for a political purpose or as part of a political protest.
So maybe some things really are sacred.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElmanDONATE
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