As Christians all over the world flock to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, to celebrate Christmas, Palestine has a more political agenda on its mind.
The country’s Christmas slogan this year, "Palestine celebrating hope," is a veiled reference to their bid this fall to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.
Organizers say they didn't want to be overtly political for fear of putting off foreign pilgrims in search of a religious experience, according to The Associated Press.
"We want to use this opportunity to convey a message to the world that we have hope of having our own independent state and we need the international support for that," said Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes, according to the AP. "Since Christmas is a religious occasion, we can't use direct political slogans."
Every year, Christians flock to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Festivities begin in November, with a Christmas Market, and continue through the month, with Christmas Mass in the Church of the Nativity. The holiday attracts thousands of tourists, to both Israel and Palestine.
This year may attract even higher numbers: the Church of the Nativity, in Palestine, recently got a facelift. This Christmas, volunteers will distribute postcards with the Christmas motto in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where Jesus was born, AP reported.
Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesman, said he would rather see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resuming negotiations with Israel. "We hope that the Palestinians will use the holiday season as a time to think ... and that ultimately they will soon expeditiously return to peace talks," he said.
But Abbas has said he won’t negotiate until Israel halts construction on occupied lands the Palestinians say should be theirs.
According to the AP, the Palestinians are offering media tours to highlight the Bethlehem expansion area and the separation border Israel has erected there. The expansion site has been the site of major controversy between Israel and Palestine. The countries have been at odds since the 1967 Mideast War.
Calvin Wittman, Ph.D., a Wheat Ridge, Colo., pastor who leads frequent Holy Land tours for church groups, said the move was no surprise.
“There’s an agenda there,” he said in a telephone interview with The Christian Post. “The question you have to ask is, ‘What are the ethics of [using] a Christian holiday to promote a Muslim country’s statehood bid?”