With some 7,000 people expected to visit Bethlehem for Christmas, according to the Palestinian Authority Tourism Ministry, visitors may be surprised to find Al-Quds University’s ‘martyr tree’ adorned with photos of the Palestinians killed in the commission of attacking Jews.
By Reuters & Israel Hayom Staff
The thousands of visitors flocking to Bethlehem for Christmas eve on Thursday, including hundreds of Gazan worshippers, will be met with a new addition to the Christmas decor: a martyr tree in the town’s main square.
The huge fir tree is covered with images of Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli security forces when carrying out stabbing, shooting and ramming attacks over the last three months, Channel 2 reported. The tree is topped with a Palestinian flag.
Hundreds of Palestinian security men were positioned in and around Bethlehem on Thursday, ahead of the planned arrival of the Jerusalem Latin patriarch, Fuad Twal, to lead midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity.
“I’m very happy to be here and for the opportunity to celebrate in this place. I will never have this opportunity again. It’s very special because it’s of course the place where Jesus [was] born, and to be on this day, on Christmas — it’s just wonderful to be here,” said Annemie Vanermen, a tourist from Belgium.
In Manger Square, the mood was festive with visitors from all over the world.
The Palestinian tourism industry has been consistently on the rise in recent years, but Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister Rula Maayah told Reuters TV the sector has been affected by the recent wave of violence.
“Bethlehem is ready to celebrate Christmas, is ready to celebrate all tourists and pilgrims from all over the world, and as I mentioned, despite all these problems, we hope that the real picture about Palestine and Palestinians will go to the whole world,” she said.
Since October, the region has seen a campaign of Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car rammings against Israelis.
About 1.6 million tourists visited Bethlehem this year and 7,000 people are expected to stay in Bethlehem over the holiday, the Palestinian Authority Tourism Ministry said.
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