Bethlehem/Jerusalem: US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has taken joy out of Christmas for the people in the holy land who witnessed a low key celebration today with thousands of tourists choosing to stay away from festivities.
The Manger Square, where tourists and locals generally jostle for space before the midnight mass, looked forlorn with signs of despair visible on the faces of sellers and street vendors.
Michael Kumsiyeh, a souvenir shop owner in the Manger Square, squarely blamed President Trump for the doom and gloom.
“He makes a problem. He doesn’t make any solution,” Kumsiyeh said.
“Its a bad situation. No celebrations, no tourists and everybody is unhappy,” lamented Kader, a coffee seller.
Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on 6 December which sparked violence in the region and worldwide protests.
Coming, as it did, just weeks before Christmas, the announcement forced thousands of expected pilgrims to pull out of the celebrations in the holy land.
The sparsely crowded Manger Square, the centre of celebrations, had two big signs declaring “Jerusalem will always be the eternal capital of Palestine”, a message which spoke of the prevailing mood.
Besides protests by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank city, cold and rainy weather also dampened spirits, forcing people to leave the gloomy surrounding as the day progressed.
Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For Israelis, it is home to the Temple Mount, the site of the two biblical temples and the holiest place in Judaism. it is also home to Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place in Islam and a national symbol for the Palestinians.
Security was tight in the city as paramilitary Palestinian police armed with assault rifles patrolled the cobblestone streets.
Israel also eased security restrictions and made all possible efforts to make tourists feel safe.