Nazareth cancels some Christmas festivities over Trump recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital

City's mayor complained that the 'joy' had been taken out of the festive season

Jeff Farrell
Friday 15 December 2017 11:28
Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the British TV series of the same name
Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the British TV series of the same name

Nazareth, the Israeli Arab city where Jesus is thought to have been raised, has cancelled some Christmas celebrations in protest at US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, an official said.

Mr Trump announced the move last week, reversing decades of US policy and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, jeopardising Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike.

Nazareth, the largest Arab town in Israel with a Muslim and Christian population of 76,000, is one of the Holy Land’s focal points of Christmas festivities.

“We have decided to cancel the traditional Christmas singing and dancing because we are in a time of dispute, because of what Trump has said about Jerusalem,” city spokesman Salem Sharara said.

Nazareth is traditionally thought to be where Jesus grew up. The imposing Basilica of the Annunciation in central Nazareth is built on a site which many Christian faithful believe was the childhood home of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Sharara said the town’s market stalls and the traditional Christmas church services would be held as they are every year.

Within an hour of the announcement, the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem, Jesus’s traditional birthplace, and Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank briefly switched off their Christmas lights in protest.

There was no word from the Bethlehem municipality whether it was also weighing a cutback on its celebrations at a crucial time of year for the town’s tourist trade.

It comes amid a backlash across the region after Mr Trump announced he would begin the process of shifting the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, after symbolically recognising it as the capital of the country.

The move undid decades of US foreign policy - which had called for the future status of the city to be decided at an advanced stage of two-state solution talks.

“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Mr Trump said in a speech in the White House last week. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

His decision sparked widespread violence in Israel 24 hours later in a “day of rage” over the move. It included clashes between protesters and security forces in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and to a lesser extent Jerusalem itself, which left one 30-year-old Palestinian man shot dead and more than 300 injured.

Israeli fighter jets also bombed Hamas targets in Gaza, officials said, after militants fired rockets from the region towards Israeli territory. The air strikes left one Palestinian man dead and 15 injured, according to a Palestinian news agency.

Jerusalem holds significance for three major world religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Also known as the Holy City, it draws millions of pilgrims and tourists every year.

Israel has long called for Jerusalem to be recognised as its capital after it established it as such – in name, at least – since it occupied the eastern part of the city after the Six Days War in 1967.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, welcomed Trump's decision as "a new and genuine milestone in the glorious history of this city".

Most world powers have treated Tel Aviv as the capital and have established their embassies there.

Mr Trump is so far a lone voice in the West in recognising Jerusalem as the capital. The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for “full EU unity” in support of the status quo.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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