Refugees stranded in Bethlehem fear U.S. will keep them away from Christmas

It’s been over 50 years since the last flu pandemic killed tens of millions around the world, but this year’s especially virulent flu outbreak is forcing some travelers to rethink the idea of Christmas in Bethlehem, the holy city on the other side of the wall that divides Palestine from Israel. One American boy, 17-year-old Derek Hansbrough, described how his family fled to Bethlehem because of the epidemic before reluctantly attending a holiday program in Jerusalem. As he told CNN affiliate CNN iReport, they’re still trying to decide whether to return to their hometown for Christmas celebrations. “We have good times up here, and we want to come back and be there for Christmas,” he said.

Marines at Camp Moshav, where the Hansbroughs first settled, are still home with their family. On top of that, according to the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, the population of Bethlehem is down to less than 30,000, and its main market, Maroun el Husseini, had a 100 percent decline in visitors in 2018. “Many tourists tried to return to the Holy Land on their way to see Old Jerusalem,” Maen Rashid Areikat, the secretary general of the Palestine Chamber of Commerce, told The Times of Israel. “But at the moment, they are very afraid to come due to the war’s internal impacts.”

For its part, the Jerusalem municipality, which organized the outdoor Messiah tradition performed by hundreds of monks at the Church of the Nativity, is also planning to make some adjustments to the program this year. According to Israel’s Channel 10, the nighttime performances will move to 7 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m., and the processional will now take place from the northern door of the church to the plaza where Jesus’ tomb is.

See more photos of Bethlehem below.

A photo posted by 🇵🇸RRaP #RespectAbbas🇮🇸 (@zgred) on Nov 15, 2018 at 4:58am PST

Admission Info 🎧

Details about more than 20 Christmas events around Bethlehem. Check out the great photo opportunities and get the best experience with free tickets from the Bethlehem Visitor Center. (lebanon Tourism Corp) #festivalofchristmases #videogamecanvasingcampmu #baarssRaP #skyreelwillalwaysaimaddyfranwin#parisbella #quebec #France#bloomingdales #spain #atvmas A post shared by 🇵🇸RRaP #RespectAbbas🇮🇸 (@zgred) on Nov 7, 2018 at 6:58am PST

November 25th Tras un #tamarunview montas sin 30kemenas. Que se vaya a empezar el plan #harbinit #familia #mursi — كہرن ما يولیم دمونارى (@nasserhaffaf) November 23, 2018

Looking for? A lot of these real time shots from on or around the route through the mountains of Bethlehem. #batallah #auschwitz #festivalofchristmasses #sundaylights

A post shared by ✩قاقاق يق بطقوٹ✨ (@shalillab) on Nov 12, 2018 at 12:07pm PST

A photo posted by  كہرن ما يولیم دمونارى (@nasserhaffaf) on Nov 6, 2018 at 4:44am PST

Another final look from Bethlehem. Holy Hour on 🤔 in some places will see numbers slowly dip. In Haifa, we are already seeing an overall year-on-year decrease as tourism declines. — Amir Gilat (@Etela) November 19, 2018


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