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hanukkah christmas war
A Christmas tree and Hanukkah Menorah display in downtown Haifa, Israel. Photo: Hanah, wikicommons.

Arab Christians in Israel find new ways to celebrate Christmas as Hamas war rages

Christmas in Israel has changed dramatically this year in the wake of the Hamas attack on October 7 and ongoing war.

For Arabs in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, there’s often pressure to support the views of the Muslim government, especially when it opposes Israel. The pressure is especially hard on Christian Arabs who are outnumbered 99 to 1 in the so-called “West Bank”.

Last month, some church leaders decided to cancel all festivities connected to Christmas, saying manifestations of joy of the season during the fighting was inappropriate. The Rev. Munther Isaac, pastor of Nativity Evangelical Lutheran Church, transformed the church’s nativity scene into a pile of stones. Instead of the swaddling clothes mentioned in the gospel of Luke, he wrapped the figure of baby Jesus with a Palestinian keffiyeh. Isaac tweeted that his point was that Christ’s birth, had it come today, would have come amid the rubble in Gaza.

Some, however, disagreed, saying the scene should have been set in an Israeli community where Palestinian terrorists sought out and murdered Jewish babies, as did Herod after the birth of Jesus.

Jordanian journalist Osama Al-Rantisi expressed a different opinion calling on Arab Christians in Jordan and Judea and Samaria (what the Western world describes as the West Bank) “to celebrate Christmas and light the Christmas tree. This is a ritual of joy and life, so do not let death rejoice in its victory over us.”

Many other Arab Christians, reports Religion News Service, are concerned that traditional celebrations of Christmas in the presence war could be misunderstood. Instead, they have come up with alternatives, such as Isaac’s nativity scene, that show both the sadness and the hope they feel at Christmas.

Children at the Ramallah Friends School, founded by Quakers, which saw three of its graduates shot on a Vermont street, rewrote the Christmas song “The Little Drummer Boy,” to fit what is happening in Gaza.

In Israel, Christmas trees adorn many communities int he Jewish-majority nation. The support of the Jewish people by Christians has not gone unnoticed by Israelis. One Arab Christian, who is an Israeli citizen, voiced her shock over the Hamas attacks and wrote that it has brought Israeli Christians closer to their Jewish neighbors.

Christmas is too deeply embedded an event for Christians to quiet it completely, as is the war too present in people’s minds not to make connections between the Christ child and suffering children in in Israel and Gaza.

In Christmas concerts and other performances across Jerusalem and the Holy Land, wherever Christians are found, Christmas has been giving Arab Christians an opportunity to reflect on what is going on in Gaza and forcing them to faceup to the brutality of Palestinians who invaded Israeli communities.

But the culture of hate against Israel is deeply embedded in Palestinian culture and goes back long before Israel became a nation in 1948. Twenty years before, thousands of Jews were murdered by Arabs during British control of the region.

A recent poll in the West Bank found that over 50% of Arabs said they supported the murderous attack on Jews in their homes.


–Dwight Widaman | MV


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