OPN_181224 Bethlehem
Christian worshippers light candles at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally recognized by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on Sunday, December 23, 2018. Image Credit: AP

This Christmas Day is indeed a time for joy and happiness for the world’s Christians who today celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ more than two millennia ago, with many of their faith travelling in pilgrimage to occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Bethlehem. But this year, there is little joy, few tidings, and no reason to celebrate the events that have been imposed on Palestinians by their Israeli overlords and those who follow a narrow-minded agenda in Washington.

The United States in these past months has taken a unilateral decision unparalleled in the international community to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem and, in doing so, has conferred on the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a credibility it so desperately craves. It has also recognised the occupied city as the capital of Israel, an act that is a blatant attempt to erase the historical rights of Palestinians and Christians alike, flying in the face of thousands of years of history and violating United Nations agreements and numerous international treaties and accords.

Simply put, occupied Jerusalem is a city that belongs to all, and is no more Israeli than chalk is to cheese. Across the occupied territories and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians live as virtual prisoners within their own lands, subject to arbitrary laws concocted by an administration for the sole purpose of sustaining an illegal regime of repression. Indeed, if the events that occurred in Bethlehem so long ago happened now, there is every chance that those assembled would be rounded up, imprisoned on rolling detention orders, or be hiding from occupation forces killing Palestinians as Roman forces did then.

Across the wider region, there is a need for peace to be sustained. And with the imminent withdrawal of US troops now from Syria, and where Turkish troops are said to be massing near Kurdish positions, we can only indeed hope that the government in Ankara does not exacerbate tensions by acting against a force that was so vital in the defeat of Daesh. And there is the danger too now that both Russia and Iran will now exert even more undue influence on the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

In Vatican City, Pope Francis will deliver a homily of peace to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. In a little less than two months’ time, he will bring that same message to the UAE and celebrate our tolerance and harmonious diversity. Peace and peaceful coexistence — the world needs now a liberal dose of both.