The Palestinian prime minister recited verses from the Qur’an at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Bethlehem on Saturday, likening a tree mentioned in the Islamic holy book to a Christmas tree.

In his speech, Mohammad Shtayyeh also equated Christianity and Islam, and Christian and Muslim Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. Many Christians bristled at the comparisons and references to the Qur’an at the tree lighting ceremony, which is one of the rare public occasions for Palestinian Christians to celebrate their faith.

However, senior church leaders did not comment on the incident. Church leaders in the Palestinian Authority rarely speak out and try to maintain the tenuous religious coexistence between Christians and Muslims.

Shtayyeh quoted Surah An-Nur verse 35: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.”

Bethlehem, known worldwide as the birthplace of Jesus, is reeling from the pandemic and residents are hoping that this year’s Christmas celebrations would be brighter than in 2020.

Tourism constitutes a major part of the city’s struggling economy. But with Israel’s current border closure to tourists, hopes are sinking fast for any recovery as foreigners must enter Israel in order to get to Palestinian territories.

In addition, ongoing tensions between the PA – led by Mahmoud Abbas – and supporters of its political rival, the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas, have contributed to a tenuous situation.

While Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, it is also challenging the PA’s rule in the West Bank. Hamas was expected to win more seats in the parliamentary elections that were canceled by Abbas last summer. 

As Hamas increased its influence in the West Bank, the PA has increased its crackdown on the party’s supporters. Recently the PA imposed a ban on displaying banners belonging to Hamas and other organizations, including Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Last month, PA police arrested local supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who were carrying flags of these organizations during the funeral of 14-year-old Amjad Abu Sultan who was killed during clashes with Israeli forces.


Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaking at the tree lighting in Bethlehem (Photo: Paul Calvert)
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