Christmas celebrations canceled in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, a…… | news report

This year there will be no Christmas lights in Bethlehem.

In solidarity with the suffering in Gaza due to the war between Israel and Hamas, Christian leaders and municipal authorities in the West Bank city decided last week to cancel all public festivities. For the first time since modern celebrations began, Jesus’ birthplace will not decorate the tree in Manger Square.

It is not appropriate,” fixed local authorities.

But Belén’s decision is only the most recent. A week earlier, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem asked Christians in the Holy Land will refrain from “unnecessarily festive” Christmas activities. Catholic churches in Galilee required The Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land did the same.

“Due to the thousands of dead and in prayer for peace,” said its president, Pastor Munir Kakish, “we will only hold traditional and devotional services on the meaning of Christmas.”

However, the initiative first emerged from Jordan, home to the world’s largest concentration of Palestinian refugees, many of whom have become citizens. On November 2, the Jordanian Council of Church Leaders (JCCL) announced the cancellation of Christmas celebrations.

Christmas is a holiday in the Muslim-majority nation, and many squares and shopping centers are adorned with Christmas decorations. But congregations across the country will now forego the traditional festivities of lighting public trees, Christmas markets, scout parades and distributing gifts to children.

Religious services at all locations will continue.

“In our homes we may celebrate, but in our hearts we suffer,” said Ibrahim Dabbour, general secretary of the JCCL and Greek Orthodox priest. “How can we decorate a Christmas tree?”

The formal Jordanian Christian statement It reflected respect for the “innocent victims” and denounced the “barbaric acts” of the Israeli army. He acknowledged the “difficult time” both in Gaza and throughout Palestine, highlighting the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals and places of worship.

He promised that the offerings collected last weekend would be donated to Gaza.

Dabbour, whose parents were refugees from the now-Israeli cities of Ramla and Jaffa in the 1948 war, was born in Amman and serves as president of the Jordan Bible Society. He linked the current war to that original displacement and called for dialogue rather than more fanaticism-inducing violence.

But beyond solidarity within the depressed national mood, Dabbour said the council, which represents 130,000 Christians in the Hashemite kingdom, had another purpose in the statement.

“Many Muslims do not know the history of Christianity and think that we are a people of the West,” he said. “But we are children of Saint Peter, who have been here for 2,000 years. “We want to show society that we are one people.”

Jordanian evangelicals believe they have an additional obligation.

“We have a role to talk to our friends in the West,” said David Rihani, president and general superintendent of the Jordanian Assemblies of God Church. “Jesus did not teach us to blindly side with anyone against another.”

He cited a widely shared idea video from Tennessee-based Pastor Greg Locke, who calls on Israel to turn Gaza into a “parking lot” and blow up the Dome of the Rock to make way for the Third Temple and usher in Jesus’ return. Local evangelicals, Rihani said, refuse to be associated with such Christian Zionism.

Adherence to the Christmas decision, however, depends on Jordanian culture.

I grew up 10 miles northwest of Amman in the traditional UNESCO World Heritage town of Salt. place, Rihani recalled that both Muslims and Christians frequented any wedding celebration in the neighborhood, without the need for invitations. But if there was a funeral, any previously scheduled weddings would be postponed or held quietly among the family.

Weddings in the middle of war now receive the same treatment.

“The announcement was not even necessary,” said Imad Mayyah, president of the Jordanian Evangelical Council (JEC). “No Jordanian is celebrating anything.”

Founded in 2006 and representing the Assemblies of God, Baptist, Nazarene, Free Evangelical, and Christian and Missionary Alliance denominations, the JEC launched its own statement on Tuesday.

“The Christmas holidays, when we remember the birth of our savior Jesus Christ, come to us in the midst of a human tragedy that devastates our region,” stated the evangelical council. “In obedience to the Holy Word of God and in accordance with [both Christian and public sentiment, the JEC] “has decided to limit Christmas celebrations to religious ceremonies and ecclesiastical prayers within our churches.”

The JEC also prayed for the leadership of King Abdullah and the crown prince.

Last week, the king published an opinion piece reiterating Jordan’s support for a two-state solution. At the end of October, he cancelled a regional summit in Amman with US President Joe Biden, protesting Israel’s “collective punishment” of Gaza. On November 1, Abdullah recalled Jordan’s ambassador from Israel and two weeks later indicated that “all options” were on the table.

Jordan was the second Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1994.

The Hashemite kingdom has maintained its role as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian religious sites since 1924. It maintained this right even when it relinquished sovereignty over the West Bank in 1988.

But with more than 180 Palestinians delicate by Israeli forces or Jewish settlers in the West Bank since the war began, Foreign Minister fixed that any measure to force Palestinians to cross the Jordan River would be considered a “red line” that would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

The Jordanian army has since fortified its positions along the border.

The king has also appointed the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) to facilitate donations to the people of Gaza. Jordan has created a military field hospital in the northern part of the strip and last week sent its fifth air shipment in coordination with Israel and the United States. However, seven staff members were later injured by Israeli shelling, which Jordan called a “heinous crime.”

Its second field hospital has already been established in southern Gaza.

The JCCL statement allows each denomination to distribute its offerings to the people of Gaza through their preferred channels. The Baptist and Assemblies of God churches of Jordan are sending funds through JHCO, while the Greek Orthodox will work directly through their Jerusalem Patriarchate and their St. Porphyry Church, where hundreds of Christians have taken refuge.

Rihani praised Gaza’s Christians for their long-standing role in humanitarian aid. Dabbour reiterated his support for the king, who opposes the fanaticism of both sides. Israel insists on being a Jewish state, he said, while Hamas says Palestine is for Muslims.

Analysts state that the Islamist group is not very popular in Jordan. But as news of the October 7 terrorist atrocities spread, some Jordanians acted spontaneously. celebrate in the streets, handing out Arab sweets and singing in the demonstrations that followed, “All Jordan is Hamas.”

This is not the case, not even among fellow Islamists. Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose colleagues in Jordan chipped into two factions in 2015, partly because of its regional affiliations in Egypt and Palestine. The national group now authorized is first of all Of Jordanian ethnicity, while the other entity still active is made up mainly of Palestinians.

The latter called for arming the Jordanian people, while Hamas leader abroad urged The tribes of Jordan to enter the war.

But the suffering of Palestine unites everyone and mass demonstrations have put pressure on the palace. Security forces have restricted protesters in sensitive areas such as the Israeli embassy and the border, but have otherwise allowed widespread protests.

Following the royal example, Queen Rania accused Western leaders of a “blatant double standard.”

“Are they telling us that it’s wrong to kill… an entire family at gunpoint, but that it’s okay to bomb them to death?” she asked compared to the October 7 attack. “This is a story from 75 years ago, a story of overwhelming death and displacement for the Palestinian people.”

But how should these deaths be considered?

The JCCL statement highlighted the “innocent victims” but also the “pure blood of our martyrs in Gaza and all of Palestine.” Does the latter imply something more than the deaths as collateral damage?

“What do you call a family living in Gaza in a house inherited from their great-grandparents, murdered because they refuse orders to leave?” Rihani asked. “Aren’t you defending your homes, your children, and your property?”

Bassam Shahatit, vicar general of the Melkite Greek Catholic bishop in Jordan, part of the JCCL, explained that in Arabic Christian theology the term martyr It includes those who die for their country. The original biblical Greek word conveys the sense of “testimony,” and Stephen in Acts 7 illustrates the primary Christian focus on faith.

But many clerics in Palestine, he said, consider resistance and liberation to be part of the national duty, and that those who participate in armed defense are part of the national fabric. However, while churches in the region call for peaceful methods to support the homeland, this issue remains sensitive and generates much division among many Arab peoples.

“Do they enter heaven?” Shahatit asked all those who have died. “This is a question for God. But even though they are not Christians, we still call them martyrs.”

Dabbour also emphasized the Christian significance of martyr as someone who gives their life for Jesus or the gospel. But given the popular social use of the word as someone who dies unjustly or in defense of the homeland, he cited the broad Muslim definition as “someone who dies for the truth.”

In this sense, he said, it applies to many victims in Gaza.

But what is needed now, Rihani said, is to offer condolences and act. Referring to Romans 12:15—cry with those who cry—said that the Christian message always comes with hope.

So when you sit with your children on Christmas Day, with the tree lit and the windows closed, you will tell them the story of a baby in a manger who died on a cross. And he will emphasize that the Resurrection illustrates that Jesus’ suffering brought hope to all who believe in him.

“We offer this hope to Gaza,” Rihani said. “So that the world sees their suffering and presses for a peaceful solution.”

As you watch massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world, you sense a shift in global opinion. This, perhaps, creates the opportunity for international powers to push for peace negotiations. And if the king’s message is heard, Rihani said, perhaps a two-state solution is coming.

For Jordanian evangelicals, that would be a Christmas miracle.

“We hope to be able to celebrate again soon,” Dabbour said. “God willing, the war will end before Christmas.”

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