Nazareth mayor: Christmas events not canceled

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NAZARETH, Israel (BP) -- Israeli Arab officials in Nazareth, Jesus' hometown where an angel announced His incarnation to the virgin Mary, have walked back statements that Christmas celebrations there would be canceled to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Meanwhile, when the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace, learned of Trump's Dec. 6 announcement regarding Jerusalem, it briefly switched off the area's Christmas lights in protest, Reuters reported, as did Ramallah in the West Bank.

In Nazareth, the city government announced last week that some public Christmas celebrations would be canceled as a statement of opposition to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem, according to multiple media reports. With some 76,000 Israeli Arab Muslims and Christians living there, Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel and has elected numerous Arabs to local government posts.

City spokesman Salem Sharara said, "We have decided to cancel the traditional Christmas singing and dancing because we are in a time of dispute, because of what Trump has said about Jerusalem," Reuters reported. According to The Times of Israel, Nazareth mayor Ali Salam, who is Muslim, said Dec. 14, "Our identity and faith aren't up for debate." America's recognition of Jerusalem "has taken away the joy of the holiday, and we will thus cancel the festivities this year."

But two days later, Salam said according to The Times, "Reports that Christmas events were canceled this year are incorrect." He added to Reuters, "I don't know why people thought there would be cuts to the celebrations."

Other than three singers who were scheduled to appear but will not perform at Nazareth's annual Christmas festivities, Salam said, "everything ... will be held as normal."

At least 60,000 visitors descended on Nazareth the weekend of Dec. 16-17, Reuters reported.

Israel long has claimed Jerusalem as its capital, with modern Israeli governments varying in their willingness to let Palestinians control portions of the city. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital.

Jamal Bishara, an Israeli Arab Southern Baptist pastor, told Baptist Press previously some Palestinians and other Arabs perceive Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital to be "another slap in the face to Palestinians."

Trump said Dec. 6 he was not taking a position on "the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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