CAIRO - Preparing for the festival without their beloved ones, families of Palestinians detainees in Israeli jails have decorated their Christmas trees with images of their relatives, praying for God to end their misery soon.
This is a letter from the country of Jesus, from a country of peace, Issa Qarage, Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs, told Haaretz daily on Monday, December 24.
This is for the entire world, the Pope and all the people aspiring for peace, to help the Palestinian people who are on a hunger strike in the Israeli jails.
There are nearly 9,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Palestinians say Israel is holding 126 Palestinian women and 450 minors for alleged security offenses.
Christian pilgrims flock to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank every year in this period to celebrate Christmas at the historical Nativity Church, built on the site where Jesus is said to have been born in a stable.
But Israeli restrictions are turning the journey of many tourists into the city into a nightmare.
Though it lies only three miles from Al-Quds (Occupied East Jerusalem), it takes hours from tourists to reach Bethlehem, thanks to the barrier Israel is building in the occupied West Bank.
Moreover, new settlements built on 18 square kilometers in the northern part of the city were cutting off Bethlehem from its historic twin, Al-Quds.
One of the settlements, Har Homa, is built on land where angels are said to have announced the birth of Christ to local shepherds. Another settlement, Gilo, currently occupies the northern ridge of Bethlehem.
Currently, a narrow corridor of land between Har Homa and Gilo still connects Bethlehem to Al-Quds.
Yet, the construction of Givat Hamatos, a settlement announced in October, will fill this in a matter of years.
Last week, Israel moved forward with plans for over 5,000 new settler homes, most of them in Al-Quds, and more than 2,500 of them in the Givat HaMatos neighborhood at the entrance to Bethlehem.
Preparing his Christmas mass this year, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal praised a recent UN decision to upgrade the Palestinian status, calling it a "step towards peace and stability in the region."
"Israel can now negotiate on equal state-to-state terms for the good of all," he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The Palestinian issue remained "the cause of all conflicts in the region," he said, calling on US President Barack Obama to take "immediate action" to push the peace process forward.
Xavier Abu Eid, an advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said this year's celebration of Christmas would be particularly meaningful for the Palestinians.
"At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the prince of hope and the prince of peace and the Palestinian people have been hoping for 64 years to achieve a just peace," he told AFP.
"After the UN vote we feel a step closer to this just peace we've been searching for," he added.
"The UN vote is a turning point in our peaceful struggle for freedom and justice...."US-sponsored peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed last year over Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank.