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Palestinians’ yule statehood gambit
‘Celebrating hope’ is subtle message amid Bethlehem tourism season
Question of the Day
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — At Christmastime, the world looks to Jesus’ traditional birthplace of Bethlehem, and this year the Palestinians hope to use some of that attention to boost their quest for independence.
They are trying to be subtle about it, with just a hint of politics in this year’s Christmas slogan, “Palestine celebrating hope,” a veiled reference to their bid this fall to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.
Organizers say they did not want to be overtly political for fear of putting off foreign pilgrims in search of a religious experience. Some 90,000 foreign visitors are expected to throng the Church of the Nativity and adjacent Manger Square in December, including 50,000 during Christmas week.
“We want to use this opportunity to convey a message to the world that we have hope of having our own independent state, and we need the international support for that,” said Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes. “Since Christmas is a religious occasion, we can’t use direct political slogans.”
Visitors then can mail them at the Manger Square post office, using Palestinian stamps, another symbol of the state in the making.
Members of a tour group from Britain and Canada heading into the Church of the Nativity on Dec. 6 had mixed feelings. Some, like 37-year-old pilot Mario Savian from Ontario, said they did not like injecting politics into Christmas.
“I want to see people in Palestine find a peaceful solution,” she said.
“We hope that the Palestinians will use the holiday season as a time to think and that ultimately they will soon expeditiously return to peace talks,” he said.
As part of the campaign, the Palestinians also offer pre-Christmas media tours to highlight Bethlehem-area settlement expansion and the disruption caused by Israel’s separation barrier that surrounds the city on three sides. Israel announced or approved plans for thousands more apartments for Jews in the Bethlehem area in recent months.
“This Christmas will be an opportunity to show the real threat to the city of Bethlehem - the settlement enterprise and the wall that separates the city from its twin, Jerusalem,” said Ziad Bandak, an Abbas adviser on Christian affairs.
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