Bethlehem Christian leaning on faith

Shops shuttered and closed in Bethlehem.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

A Bethlehem Christian is clinging to his faith as the war between Israel and Gaza takes its toll on the Christian community in the West Bank. 

Rony Tabash told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Christians in the place of Jesus’ birth are struggling with the impact of the war at a time when the community is still trying to rebuild after the devastation caused by Covid-19.

The pandemic caused tourism in the Holy Land to collapse, with pilgrimages cancelled and the usual Christmas visitors forced to stay away. This hurt many Christians involved in the tourism industry financially. 

Mr Tabash, whose shop in Bethehem’s Manger Square sells religious items, was one of those Christians.

He was hoping to finally clear his debts and return to financial health after the economic hardship of Covid. Now the war is bringing fresh challenges. 

“The situation is terrible, it’s not easy at all. Every day, new challenges arise. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, never. It’s a war, not like a war, it is a war,” he said. 

At the moment, travel to the Holy Land is suspended, making the long-term prospects for the region bleak once again. 

“There are no pilgrims – everything is empty, there’s no one. And they say it will last until Easter,” said Mr Tabash, adding that many families are “jobless and hopeless”, while the bombs in the sky over Bethlehem have left children scared.

A friend of his who runs a bus company has decided it is too much and is packing up and leaving the Holy Land. According to Mr Tabash, he is not the only one leaving the region.

As for Mr Tabash and his family, they are staying. 

“I keep opening my shop every day, I go to the square, in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, and people ask me why I’m going; I’m the only one opening the shop,” he said.

“The only thing that sustains me is faith, without faith, I couldn’t continue, not even for a minute. We’ve lost hope – all that’s left is faith.”

He continued, “I can’t leave this – I can’t leave my father. Our family has owned this shop since 1927 when it started renting the space from the Armenian Church. My father tells me, ‘Have faith, Bethlehem is a sacred place, it won’t be touched.’

“Yes, I will stay because it’s a sacred place; we’re living in the place where Jesus was born; we can’t leave; if it weren’t for that, I would leave instantly.”

He said the people of Bethlehem are “tired” of war and longing for peace for their children and families.

He lives with hope that visitors will return when the war is over. In the meantime, he is asking Christians to pray for Bethlehem: “Come with your prayers, come with your actions asking for peace, come by defending the integrity of these places. The silence scares me. Come, with your support for the Christian families in the Holy Land.”

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