Israeli Mayor Forbids Christmas Trees in part of Nazareth; Christian Tourism Boom Fuels Hopes for Palestinian State

The some 50,000 Christians in the West Bank continue to labor under Israeli military occupation this Christmas, though somewhat improved tourism and prosperity have lessened the penury in which they labored in 2005, at the end of the Palestinian uprising or Intifada. Christian Arabs in Israel proper continue to be second-class citizens.

In Nazareth (the ‘capital of Arab Israel’), where Jesus is said to have lived much of his life, a dispute has broken out in the outer suburbs, under Israeli control as ‘Nazareth Illit’. Local Christians asked to be able to put up a Christmas tree in the Arab quarter, but Mayor Shimon Gapso forbade it as provocative.

The Kairos Statement of last year by Christian theologians, many based in Palestine, [pdf] pointed to a more and more negative assessment of Israeli policy toward Palestinians by the Christian community. The increasing Israeli-Christian confrontation is echoed abroad. Christian support for Israel in Britain, e.g., has collapsed in the past year according to a recent poll, and only 1 in 20 British Christians would now describe themselves as ‘Zionists.’

Karin Laub at AP begins her article about the sycamore tourist attraction at Jericho with a quote from the Bible:

‘ “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was the chief among the tax collectors, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus … but could not because of the crowd, because he was of short stature. And he ran ahead, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” Luke 19:1-5 ‘

Israeli checkpoints and restrictions had made Jericho, a city in the Palestinian West Bank, an economic basket case in the first half of the past decade during the second Intifada or uprising against Israeli military rule. But in the past few years the improved security situation has led to the withdrawal of the checkpoint, and a million tourists visited last year. Among the things they come to see is the fabled sycamore of Zacchaeus, or something very like it. They probably would also gamble in the casino, but the Israelis won’t let it operate because of opposition by ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem to Israelis losing money in a Palestinian gaming house.

Jericho Sycamore

Jericho Sycamore


While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes to deflect moves toward a Palestinian state by trying to grow the West Bank economy and substitute increased well-being for national aspirations, the Palestinians in Jericho have a different plan– to make increased prosperity the basis of the Palestinian state, and to simply unilaterally announce it in July of 2011.

In Bethlehem, despite the virtual enclosure of the city in the Israeli security wall and the Israeli isolation of it from Jerusalem, some 2 million tourists will visit this year, and there are no hotel rooms this Christmas season in Jesus’ birthplace. The increased, if inadequate, prosperity is hoped to stem the tide of emigration, including Christian emigration, which had been spurred by Israeli restrictions and the negative impact of the Wall. The unemployment rate has fallen from 40 percent to Depression-era rates of 22 percent. It isn’t paradise, but some people have money, and it has fostered a night club boom.

Taboo Night Club, Bethlehem

Taboo Night Club, Bethlehem, courtesy Facebook

Bethlehem Christians are hoping that next year this time they can dance the Bo Peep in the sovereign state of Palestine.

9 Responses

  1. “They probably would also gamble in the casino, but the Israelis won’t let it operate because of opposition by ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem to Israelis losing money in a Palestinian gaming house.”

    I’m sorry, but if you actually believe this then you lose all qualification to comment on the workings of Israeli society.

    • Why should a single error of fact – if it is indeed an error (for you have asserted that Juan is wrong without offering any evidence) – disqualify anyone from commenting on an issue?

      I might assert that the President of the United States is elected by a majority of the popular vote, if (as a non-US citizen) I didn’t know about the Electoral College. Would that disqualify me from commenting on the USA?

  2. And we hear this week that Sarah Palin, via her talking points from her neocon handler, Randy Scheunemann, that we must vow to love Israel with all of our hearts and minds and never ever, ever, ever question anything Israel does.

    The former beauty queen and good Christian half gov’ read from her prepared remarks, prepared by Mr. Scheunemann, that, this being the Christmas season we should not allow all of that talk about love and Christmas trees take our mind off of the warrior foreign policy. Christmas be damnned, we should take Iran down!

    Just what we need, another Christian (In name only) mercenary pushing us into another war.

  3. While there has been much coverage of the oppressive conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank, largely rebuffed with contempt by the Israeli establishment and its supporters, little is said about life for Arabs in Israel proper. Why is a 2008 report on living conditions of Israeli Arabs made by a fact finding team from major U.S., Canadian and U.K. Jewish organizations apparently so well-hidden? Sponsored by “the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, a coalition of over sixty North American Jewish organizations, foundations and private philanthropists,” a summary of this report published in a local Jewish Federation newsletter demonstrated Jim Crow like treatment of Israeli Arabs. The summary stated that “a significant amount of discrimination and neglect of the Arab community in Israel” leads “members of the Arab community [to] feel, with some substantial justification, that they are treated both officially and unofficially as second-class citizens” and “much of the treatment of the Arab citizens can be directly attributed to official government policy.” Some details provide that over half of Arab citizens of Israel live below the poverty line; segregation and discrimination in education, housing, community development leave Israeli Arabs as second-class citizens and proclaimed equality for Jews and non-Jews in the dust.

  4. Do stories covering nascent prosperity in some godforsaken
    part of the world have to begin with have to end with teenagers
    letting their hair down in a watering hole? Is that the coup de

  5. As a third generation Christian Palestinian from the U.S.
    who recently visited friends and family in both the West Bank and
    Nazareth/Cana, I can sadly report that Arabs everywhere in the
    country of Israel are treated unfairly. Many are afraid to openly
    discuss ‘politics’ or even ‘religion’ in their own homes. We must
    be their voice. Thank you to those who do!

  6. –“a dispute has broken out in the outer suburbs, under
    Israeli control as ‘Nazareth Illit’. Local Christians asked to be
    able to put up a Christmas tree in the Arab quarter, but Mayor
    Shimon Gapso forbade it as provocative.” Nazareth and Nazareth
    Illit are two separate cities, each with its own mayor. Nazareth is
    the city associated with Jesus. Its population is Arab, both
    Christian and Muslim, and its mayor is Arab. Nazareth Illit is a
    couple of miles away, and was created in the 1950s to absorb Jewish
    immigrants. Its mayor is Jewish, as is the majority of the
    population. To call Nazareth Illit “under Israeli control as … ”
    is like saying that El Paso, Texas is “under American control …”
    — implying that the city, or the land it is on, actually belongs
    to someone else.

    • From the point of view of Palestinian-Israeli Christians, some Europeans who showed up a few decades ago are preventing them from putting up Christmas trees in their quarter of Nazareth Illit, where they have been living and worshipping as Christians for 2000 years.

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