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Grieving and often overlooked, Palestinian Christians prepare for a somber Christmas amid war

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It’s a pure delight for the Rev. Khader Khalilia: the excitement, giggles, and kisses when his little kids open their Christmas pyjamas. But this year, simply thinking about it makes Khalilia feel guilty.

“I’m struggling,” said the Palestinian American pastor of New York’s Redeemer-St. John’s Lutheran Church. “How can I do it while the Palestinian children are suffering and have no shelter or a place to lay their heads?”

Suzan Sahori has been working with artists thousands of miles away, in Jesus’ biblical birthplace of Bethlehem, to bring olive wood Christmas ornaments into homes in Australia, Europe, and North America. But Sahori isn’t in the mood: “We’re broken, looking at all these children, all this killing.”

Many Palestinian Christians — in Bethlehem and elsewhere — are struck with helplessness, anguish, and worry during this typical season of joy. Some are grieving, pleading for the war to end, rushing relatives to safety, or taking solace in the Christmas message of hope.

christmas

Grieving and often overlooked, Palestinian Christians prepare for a somber Christmas amid war

Sahori, executive director of Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans, a craft organization, will pray for peace and justice in the occupied West Bank. She’s thankful she’s safe but wonders if it might change. She is also enraged.

“The joy in my heart is stolen,” she lamented. “‘God, how are you letting all these children to die?’… I’m angry with God, and I pray He forgives me.”

In happier times, she finds the Bethlehem area’s Christmas spirit unrivalled: it’s in the melodies streaming onto streets adorned with lights, markets showcasing decorations, and the enthusiasm of children, families, and tourists shooting photos with towering Christmas trees.

Everything is calmer and more solemn now. The tree-lighting festivities she attended last year were cancelled.

christmas
Grieving and often overlooked, Palestinian Christians prepare for a somber Christmas amid war

Church leaders in Jerusalem have asked their congregations to avoid “extraneous festive activities.” They urged priests and the faithful to focus on the spiritual aspect of Christmas and urged “fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace in our beloved Holy Land.”

Thousands of Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ongoing offensive in Gaza, which was begun in response to Hamas’ massacres and hostage-taking in Israel on October 7.

According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Israeli sniper fire killed two Christian women who were in a church compound in Gaza. The Israeli military stated that troops were targeting Hamas militants in the vicinity and that it was examining the incident, which it takes extremely seriously.

Khalilia is doing her best to console the distressed man.

“It’s difficult to watch. “It’s difficult to do your job,” he admitted. “People are looking for us to walk with them in their suffering.”

He is concerned about his family in the West Bank; a brother lost his job working for a hotel as travel cancellations hit tourism hard.

Khalili, from a hamlet near Bethlehem, said his girls would likely receive fewer gifts this year, with the money saved to support children in Gaza.

Many people in the United States, he claims, are unaware that Palestinian Christians exist — some even inquire if he converted from Islam or Judaism.

He says, “When you sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ on Christmas Eve, remember that Jesus was born in my hometown.”

According to the US State Department’s international religious freedom report for 2022, 50,000 Christian Palestinians are anticipated to live in the West Bank and Jerusalem. According to the report, approximately 1,300 Christians lived in Gaza. Some Christians are also Israeli citizens. A large number of Palestinian Christians live in diaspora communities.

christmas

Grieving and often overlooked, Palestinian Christians prepare for a somber Christmas amid war

According to Susan Muaddi Darraj, a novelist in Baltimore, Christians represent a diversity of Palestinians that is often overlooked. “Our existence … defies the stereotypes that are being used to dehumanize us.”

According to her, family reunions have become vital for comfort this Christmas.

“Especially in the diaspora … where, for us, life feels like it’s stopped but everyone else around us is going about their daily business.”

According to Wadie Abunassar, a Palestinian Israeli living in Haifa, many in his Christian community are attempting to balance the gloomy environment with the Christmas message.

“Jesus came in the midst of darkness,” said Abunassar, a former Catholic Church spokesperson. “Christmas is about giving hope when there is no hope.” “Nowadays, more than ever, we need this Christmas spirit.”

It has been a challenging road.

“Being Israeli citizens, we feel the pain of our Jewish compatriots,” he went on to say. “Being Palestinians, we feel the pain of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”

Rev. Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, said tears flowed during Sunday services. Many people are worried, and some have packed their belongings and departed.

Isaac was among those who came to Washington to lobby for a cease-fire.

“A comprehensive and just peace is the only hope for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” wrote many Christian pastoral leaders in Bethlehem in a letter. It was addressed to President Joe Biden and requested him to help end the war.

The signatories expressed their sorrow for all fatalities, Palestinian and Israeli.

“We seek a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.” Enough with the death. Enough devastation… This is our Christmas plea and prayer.”

Israel, whose forces have been accused of employing disproportionate force by some, says it wants to destroy Hamas and accuses it of endangering civilians. The scale of the killings, devastation, and displacement in Gaza is also causing international concern for Israel and its US partner.

Isaac’s church has a nativity scene with a baby Jesus figurine draped in a back-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh in the ruins. He described the exhibition as an emotional and spiritual event.

“We see Jesus in every child that’s killed, and we see God’s identifying with us in our suffering.”

Suhair Anastas, a long-time Gaza resident, is filled with remorse this holiday season: She has escaped the Gaza war while others have not.

Anastas, a Jordanian Palestinian, had been residing in Gaza, her late husband’s hometown.

She and her 16-year-old daughter sought refuge in a Catholic church’s school for more than a month. A fatal Israeli airstrike on a Gaza Greek Orthodox Church property housing displaced people felt especially near. The Israeli military claimed it had struck a Hamas command headquarters in the area.

“You go to sleep … thinking, ‘Will I wake up the next morning?'” Anastas explained.

Her journey to the border, which included driving, walking, riding in a donkey cart, and hailing a cab, was harrowing.

“There were bombings around,” she explained. A friend’s toddler kept asking, “Are we going to die?”

Anastas wants to return to Gaza, but she is unsure what awaits her or whether her home will remain there.

Among the many unknowns about the future of Gaza and its more than 2 million residents is whether or not its small Christian population will remain — and for how long.

Sami Awad’s relatives are among those who remain inside. Awad, a Palestinian American, claimed he was unable to obtain US assistance for his family members who do not have US passports to leave.

They’ve moved several times, with their most recent shelter being a windowless cement structure shared with others, according to Awad, who is currently on the West Bank. In infrequent exchanges, a relative informed him that they were running out of the canned tuna and beans on which they had survived.

“If we die, don’t grieve too much for us, because it would have been mercy for us,” he once told Awad. “Save us,” the cousin yelled at times. “Get us out of here.”

“I feel completely helpless,” Awad remarked, anticipating bad news at any moment.

Awad claimed hope arrived in Australian visas for his relatives, including an elderly aunt and uncle, but their names aren’t on the lists required to leave.

On the morning of Christmas Day, he remarked, “We’ll wake up, like every other day, to watch the news and to see what are the numbers of people that were killed.”

Awad had only considered putting up a Christmas tree once his youngest daughter insisted.

So suddenly, there’s a tree. A red, black, white, and green Palestinian flag is displayed among gold and red decorations.

SOURCE – (AP)

Kiara Grace is a staff writer at VORNews, a reputable online publication. Her writing focuses on technology trends, particularly in the realm of consumer electronics and software. With a keen eye for detail and a knack for breaking down complex topics, Kiara delivers insightful analyses that resonate with tech enthusiasts and casual readers alike. Her articles strike a balance between in-depth coverage and accessibility, making them a go-to resource for anyone seeking to stay informed about the latest innovations shaping our digital world.

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UK Conservative Party Candidates Investigated for Illegal Election Betting

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Conservative Party election betting
Conservative Party members under investigation: Reuters Image

The UK Sunday Times has reported a member of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is currently under investigation by Britain’s gambling regulator on suspicion of having gambled on the general election date prior to its announcement.

Two Conservative candidates for office and the party’s head of campaigns are reportedly under investigation by Britain’s Gambling Commission for alleged wagers placed on the July 4 election.

The opposition Labour Party is currently polling considerably ahead of Sunak in the lead-up to the election, and the scandal’s expansion has only made matters worse.

The Conservative Party’s top data officer, Nick Mason, was named by the newspaper as the official. When asked for comment, Mason did not immediately answer. Mason disputed the allegations, according to the newspaper’s citation of a spokeswoman for him.

According to a statement from the Conservative Party, Mason has taken a leave of absence, according to the Sunday Times. Reuters reached out to the party, but they declined to corroborate the report.

“We are not permitted to discuss any matters related to any investigation with the subject or any other persons,” a spokesman for the Conservative Party said, following instructions from the Gambling Commission.

Conservative Party Director Takes Leave

No individuals have been named by the Gambling Commission as of yet. Commission officials have refused to comment on the Sunday Times story, citing confidentiality agreements on the investigation’s subjects.

An “incredibly angry” Sunak expressed his dismay at the accusations leveled against his party members on Thursday, describing them as a “really serious matter.”

The director of campaigns for the Conservative Party, Tony Lee, has taken a leave of absence, and one of the candidates implicated in the incident, Craig Williams, has previously expressed regret for a mistake.

Alleged wagers on the election day have led to the arrest of a special protection unit police officer as well.

Election betting in the UK has skyrocketed in popularity. People place wagers on everything from the overall winner to individual constituency results. It’s not just about predicting who’ll take the Prime Minister’s office.

Many bet on voter turnout, party performance, and even whether certain policies will pass. Betting companies provide detailed odds, helping punters make informed choices.

This betting trend reflects the UK public’s engagement with politics, adding an extra layer of excitement to election periods. It’s a fascinating blend of politics and gambling, drawing in seasoned bettors and curious newcomers alike.

Source: Reuters

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UK National Debt Rises to the Highest in 62 Years

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UK National Debt Rises to the Highest in 62 Years

UK national debt grew this month to its highest level as a share of the economy since 1961, according to figures released on Friday, adding to the financial issues that the new administration will face when it takes office following a general election in two weeks.

The UK national debt, excluding state-controlled banks, hit 2.742 trillion pounds ($3.47 trillion), or 99.8% of annual GDP, in May, up from 96.1% the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The increase came despite somewhat lower-than-expected government borrowing in May, which was 15.0 billion pounds, compared to experts’ median projection of 15.7 billion pounds in a Reuters survey.

Following an election on July 4, Britain appears to be on the verge of a change of government, with Keir Starmer’s Labour Party leading Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in surveys.

During the COVID-19 epidemic, state debt in Britain skyrocketed, and the public finances have been hampered by poor growth and a 16-year high in Bank of England interest rates.

Western Nations Debt

Most other Western countries had significant rises in debt during the same period, although British debt levels are lower than those of the United States, France, and Italy.

A person enters the Treasury government building in London, Britain, on March 5, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Purchase Licensing Rights opens a new tab.

Borrowing in the UK totaled 33.5 billion pounds in the first two months of the fiscal year, 0.4 billion more than the same period in 2023 but 1.5 billion pounds less than government budget estimates expected in March.

Capital Economics consultants warned that the lower-than-expected borrowing figures represented less public investment and would provide little comfort to Britain’s future finance minister.

“They do little to reduce the scale of the fiscal challenge that awaits them, in part because of the upward pressure on the debt interest bill from higher interest rates,” said Alex Kerr, an assistant economist at Capital Economics.

Labour and the Conservatives want to keep to existing budget rules that require official estimates – most recently updated in March – to indicate that debt as a proportion of GDP is dropping in the fifth year of the forecast.

Higher interest rates than projected in March’s budget left Britain’s next chancellor with only 8.5 billion pounds of freedom to meet these standards, down from the historically low 8.9 billion in March, Kerr noted.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have committed not to raise income tax, value-added tax, or other major levies, but government budget predictions in March revealed that tax as a percentage of GDP was on track to hit its highest level since 1948.

Source: Reuters

Canada’s Household Debt Nears $3 Trillion Under Trudeau

Canada’s Household Debt Nears $3 Trillion Under Trudeau

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Reform UK Party Leader Nigel Farage Blames West for Ukraine Invasion

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Reform UK Nigel Farage
Reform UK Leader Nigel Farage: AFP Image

Nigel Farage, the right-wing leader of the Reform UK party in Britain, claimed that the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin was a direct result of US interference and eastward expansion of NATO.

The remarks, made in an interview with the BBC aired late on Friday, drew strong criticism across the British political spectrum ahead of a July 4 election in which Farage’s Reform UK party is predicted to win millions of votes.

Farage said he stood by comments made shortly after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, when he posted on social media that the move was a “consequence of EU and NATO expansion”. He said he had been predicting a war in Ukraine as early as 2014.

“It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say, ‘They’re coming for us again’ and to go to war,” Farage said in Friday’s BBC interview.

“We provoked this war … of course it’s his (Putin’s) fault – he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.”

Russia casts its special military operation in Ukraine as part of a broader struggle with the West, which it says wants to bring Russia to its knees. Kyiv and the West reject this and accuse Russia of waging an illegal war of conquest.

Most Recognizable and Divisive Politician

Farage’s decades of campaigning against Britain’s membership of the EU and mass immigration has made him one of the country’s most recognisable and divisive politicians.

His surprise entry into the election race has further hit Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s hopes of closing the centre-left Labour Party’s opinion poll lead.

Even though Reform is unlikely to win many seats in parliament, it could split the right-of-centre vote across the country. The party held only one seat in the last parliament, which it gained when a Conservative lawmaker defected.

Farage’s remarks on Ukraine drew immediate condemnation, Reuters reports.

Sunak said Farage was “completely wrong”, accusing him of appeasement that put Britain and its allies’ security at risk. Labour’s defence spokesman John Healey called Farage’s comments disgraceful and labelled him a “Putin apologist”.

Farage later posted on X: “Putin was wrong to invade a sovereign nation, and the EU was wrong to expand eastward. The sooner we realise this, the closer we will be to ending the war and delivering peace.”

 


Source: Reuters

Britain’s Populist Right-Wing Reform UK Party Surges in Popularity

Britain’s Populist Right-Wing Reform UK Party Surges in Popularity

 

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