When tens of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Bethlehem this Christmas, they will likely see more than just the Church of the Nativity, as Palestinian statehood groups plan on using the influx of visitors to win support for their cause.
"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 Associated Press.
However, they plan on being subtle. Their slogan will be “Palestine celebrating hope,” which is a veiled reference to their bid to win statehood at the United Nations earlier this year, the AP reported.
"Since Christmas is a religious occasion, we can't use direct political slogans,” Daibes said.
Their campaign will be simple. Volunteers will distribute free postcards bearing the slogan to visitors in the churchyard of the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born. Visitors will then be able to mail the postcards from the manger post office using Palestinian stamps.
Injecting controversial political issues into Christmas will no doubt be irksome to many people. However, some feel that Christmas is an appropriate time to consider important issues like this one because it is about peace.
“I want to see people in Palestine find a peaceful solution," said Catherine Meecham, 62, a retired health worker from Scotland.
In Norway, the Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), a charity group that does work in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories, sent out a Christmas card to supporters asking for financial support. The letter began: “This is what Palestinian refugees want most of all. An address,” according to a translation of the letter on a a pro-Israel website.
The letter continues with NPA's description of the effects of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on the Palestinian people: “Try to think of yourself and your family being evicted from your home. From now on another family shall live there. You must live as refugees, losing everything- incomes, rights, future. This is the reality to four million Palestinian refugees worldwide.”
According to the AP, Christians living in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories do not have a problem with politicizing Christmas because the conflict affects everyone's lives – not just Muslims.
Suzan Attalah, a 48-year-old teacher and mother of four, said Israel's strong grip on the area has made simple movement difficult.
"The settlements and the wall turned Bethlehem into a jail," she said. "My school can't take the students to sacred places that they read about in Jerusalem because of the wall and the permits.”
Israel said the wall referred to, Attalah, is necessary to keep out militants.