Christmas in Bethlehem is marvellous… unless you live there!!

Manger Square in Bethlehem. At Christmastime, Christians from around the world turn their thoughts to shepherds, angels, and wise men and to stories about miracles taking place in Bethlehem a long time ago. But…


Don’t forget that Bethlehem today is a real place with 25,000 real people cut off from the rest of the world by what many label an “apartheid wall”, living under a brutal Israeli military occupation that began more than 5 decades ago. There is nothing romantic or miraculous about Bethlehem today.

Jerusalem lies on the other side of this wall, guarded by armed Israeli soldiers. It is less than 10 km away. The wall prevents Bethlehemites, whether Christian or Muslim, and virtually all of the other 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, from visiting Jerusalem except by passing through a checkpoint and then only if they have special Israeli permission to do so.

Merry Christmas… but not here in Bethlehem

Israeli forces on Tuesday suppressed a peaceful march calling for “Christmas without occupation” in Bethlehem. (see photo).

Demonstrators, some of whom were dressed as Father Christmas, marched to the Israeli military checkpoint in northern Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas and hand out gifts to children in the area. Israeli forces prevented demonstrators from reaching the checkpoint and fired tear gas into the crowd. Several people were treated at the scene for tear gas inhalation. 

And Canada?

So when celebrating Christmas in Canada, singing “O little town of Bethehem”, or “Silent night” or any other of the lovely Christmas songs, save a thought for those who actually live in Bethlehem today.

And if you get a cheery Christmas greeting from Prime Minister Trudeau, you might want to write him back reminding him that…

… on December 12th, two weeks before Christmas, Canada was one of only 7 countries at the UN General Assembly to vote against a condemnation of this Israeli occupation!!

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to


  1. Most Canadians are familiar with the tune and maybe the opening lines of the Christmas hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem.
    The author addresses the little town of long ago with:
    Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
    The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
    Stripped of religious and cultural baggage, the symbolism expressed in those lines is hope for profound change in the affairs of humans, based on respect and goodwill for every individual.
    It is still our hope.

  2. Mere pious singing of carols will not mitigate the suffering of the inhabitants of Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation. Canada’s foursquare endorsement of this occupation is morally indefensible and not conducive to a just solution to the problem. How can peace be achieved without justice?

  3. Mere pious singing of carols will not mitigate the suffering of the inhabitants of Bethlehem and the other Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation. Canada’s foursquare endorsement of the occupation is unconscionable and not conducive to a lasting peace which cannot be achieved without a just solution to the problem.

    1. Lionel Fernandes / lfpoesie, I agree with you. Canada’s position is unconscionable and a lasting peace requires a just solution. Pious singing of carols will not mitigate suffering in the Palestinian territories.

      We humans are driven by powerful emotions, perhaps more than people in intellectual discussions often admit. There’s anger, indignation, retribution on the one hand; and admiration, love, and hopefulness on the other.

      A sense of human universality is necessary to oppose feelings of tribal supremacy. Both tropes can be powerful motivators.

      Hope gets us out of bed in the morning. I think you hope for, as I do, movement towards a just solution and a lasting peace in Israel-Palestine.

Comments are closed.