West Bank Christian village prays for peace in Gaza amid war

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An unusual silence fell over the streets of Zababdeh, a Palestinian village that is home to one of the biggest Christian communities in the occupied West Bank.

On any other Christmas Day, Palestinian Christians would have flocked from surrounding towns to enjoy the fairy lights and a festive market in the village of some 5,000 people.

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But as the war rages in Gaza and violence also surges in the West Bank, the Christian community here is in no mood to celebrate Christmas on Monday.

This year its members are praying for peace and mourning the dead, worried too about violence even closer to home.

Early on Christmas Day, AFP journalists heard gunfire and sirens in nearby Jenin, the city that has seen near daily raids by Israeli forces.

“How can we celebrate?” said Nazeria Yousef Deabis, 76, who has lived in Zababdeh all her life and never known the atmosphere so somber.

There is no Christmas tree in her house.

“People don’t feel festive -- they’ve lost friends and relatives in Gaza,” she said. “The occupation [Israel] is destroying Jenin and children are being brutally killed.”

The Israeli army says its frequent raids in Jenin, especially on the adjacent refugee camp, target “terrorists,” but the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah says many of the dead are civilians.

Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 300 people in the West Bank since the start of the war, Palestinian health officials say.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day war of 1967.

‘We need peace’

The war broke out when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on October 7 and killed about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Israel’s ensuing military campaign has killed at least 20,424 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

The violence has had a knock-on effect on people’s livelihoods.

In Zababdeh’s hushed streets, Gabi Khadar’s Christmas decoration shop is crammed with unsold festive stock -- tinsel, boxloads of baubles and more than 20 plastic Christmas trees.

Not a single tree has been bought this year.

The 55-year-old Anglican Christian is now in debt and struggling to pay rent. He had to tell his children not to expect big gifts.

“My 16-year-old son understands,” Khadar said. “He told me he doesn’t need new trainers this Christmas -- he can make do with the old ones.”

Despite the circumstances, some religious services went ahead.

Father Elias Tabban, 50, led a solemn mass at the Catholic Church of the Visitation.

Hundreds of Palestinian Christians stood in the pews and sang in a show of unity as plumes of incense rose up through the church.

Tabban said the community had been devastated by the war in Gaza.

One woman in Zababdeh had lost her two sisters along with their husbands and children when a bomb hit an Orthodox church there, he said.

People were also afraid their village could be the next target. “Everybody is thinking: ‘When is it our turn?’” Tabban said.

But Christmas offered a chance to rally around Palestinians in need and pray for an end to the violence, he said.

“We need peace more than ever before.”

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