Gaza’s tiny population of Christians, at around 1,000, are among the oldest Christian communities in the world and now there is the very real danger that they will be wiped out.

On December 16, barely a week before Christmas, Israeli forces shot dead two Christian women – an elderly woman and her daughter – on the premises of the Holy Family Catholic Church in the Gaza Strip. Since October 7, Israel has been waging war on the heavily populated Gaza Strip after Hamas militants, in an attack, killed around 1,300 Israelis.

Barring a week-long ceasefire in between, Israel’s relentless siege of Gaza has continued, killing at least 20,000 as of December 20. An estimated 8,000 of those killed are children.

Palestinian churches have cancelled Christmas celebrations in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Rev Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem said that Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem are cancelled for “obvious reasons”. The nativity display of the Lutheran Church shows a symbolic baby Jesus in a manger of rubble and destruction. “It’s impossible to celebrate while our people in Gaza are going through a genocide,” said Isaac.

This year, however, no one will be travelling to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, for Christmas. In the past, thousands would join in the celebrations. This year, Bethlehem is deserted.

In contrast, Christmas has been commercialised to such an extent in Western countries that British comedian Michael McIntyre called it a “religio-retail” festival. In the West, there will be endless shopping for presents in brightly lit streets and with Santa Claus handing out gifts to children while families sit around tables to dine together.

For Gaza and Palestinians, Christmas has never been about festivities. In Israeli-occupied Palestine, Christmas has always had a certain solemnity, but this year, the carols people will sing will be different.

The memory of injustice and the pain of living under occupation finds echo in Christmas carols and songs. In 2018, for instance, a rendition of Little Drummer Boy by the Voices of Bethlehem references this deep pain. In the video, members of the group stand on the roof of a home in Bethlehem singing in English, Italian and Arabic.

The fifth member sings:

“In a small cave, a poor child was born.
He proclaimed that great happiness is ahead.
That they will be “saved” from their sadness and pain.”


This year, too, Palestinians and young protestors have turned to rewriting or putting out their own renditions of popular carols. These are reminders that Bethlehem is not celebrating and that the birthplace of Jesus Christ is located in Palestine, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where infants and children are among those killed in the bombing.

The rewritten lyrics of carol reflect the condition in Gaza where people are surviving without food, water or fuel while Israel continues its bombardment:

“Jingle bombs, jingle bombs,
destruction all the way.
Oh what fun it is to kill children on Christmas day,” sings one youngster.

“The mothers are crying,
the babies awake,
the building is rocking,
the whole city shakes,
bless all the dear children who are living through hell,” sings a man in his version of Away in a Manger.

It is easy to forget that Christmas is not the white man’s festival and neither was Jesus a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes. There is a long history of how Christ came to resemble a white European and this depiction has come under renewed scrutiny during this introspection over the legacy of racism.

In Palestine, Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims have long shared a rich and vibrant common culture. Listening to familiar carols and hymns in Arabic provides a glimpse of the Arab culture that the Israeli state seeks to destroy even as Arab jews have protested loudly and eloquently.

This Christmas, it is worth remembering the Jesus who was born in Betlahem, as the Arabs write it. Celebrated Lebanese singer Fairuz sings Silent Night in Arabic giving the songs a deeper, more solemn feeling:


Fairuz, now nearly 90, is a Lebanese icon and one of the Arab world’s most famous singers. During Lebanon’s civil war in the 1970s, Fairuz powerfully advocated for a unified country, becoming an icon of reason and unification.

Israel, in trying to make its assault look like a war between Jews and Muslims or using religious texts and scriptures to justify the war by the West, is a mere distraction from the reality of the situation.

Because, finally, the United States and Europe support Israel to safeguard their share of the natural gas found in the region. Journalist Rachel Donald writes that a study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development found that there are vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas beneath the Occupied Palestinian Territory, off the coast of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

While American and European leaders make hollow proclamations of peace and religious solidarity in the face of immense suffering in Gaza, the bonds between Arab Christians and Muslims have deepened. The lives of Christians in West Asia and in Palestinian territories are in sharp contrast with those in Europe, the US and elsewhere.

Twelve Palestinian Christian institutions have called upon church leaders in the West to speak up against attacks on civilians and criticised the refusal of Western nations to condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The Biblical story of Jesus Christ was about struggling for justice and making the world a better place for all. It is this story that we should all remember.

An illustration depicting scenes from the Bible on the walls of a church on Palestine Street in Madaba in Jordan, close to the border with Israel. Dosseman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer and award-winning author.