‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 79: Bethlehem Cancels Christmas Celebrations as Israel Continues to Bomb Gaza

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 25 Dec 2023

Mustafa Abu Sneineh | Mondoweiss - TRANSCEND Media Service

Palestinian man surveys the rubble of destroyed buildings following an Israeli bombardment in Deir El-Balah, central Gaza Strip, on 24 Dec 2023, Christmas eve.
(Photo: Naaman Omar/APA Images)

24 Dec 2023 – Palestinian pastor Munther Issac says, “If Jesus was born today, he’d be born under the rubble of Gaza” as Israeli forces flattens entire neighborhoods to create buffer zones in north, east, and south of the Gaza Strip.

Casualties

  • 20,258+ killed* and at least 53,688 wounded in the Gaza Strip.
  • 303 Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,147.
  • 485 Israeli soldiers killed since October 7, and at least 1,831 injured.

*This figure was confirmed by Gaza’s Ministry of Health on December 23. Due to breakdowns in communication networks within the Gaza Strip, the Ministry of Health in Gaza has been unable to regularly and accurately update its tolls since mid-November. Some rights groups put the death toll number closer to 28,000 when accounting for those presumed dead.

Key Developments

  • U.S. President Joe Biden does not ask Israeli government for ceasefire in Gaza Strip in phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Israeli forces withdraw from Palestine roundabout in Gaza City after completely flattening and destroying premises surrounding it.
  • Palestinian rescue teams recover bodies of 40 people in central Gaza killed in Israeli bombings on Friday.
  • Israeli military announces 14 soldiers killed in armed battles with Palestinian fighters in Gaza Strip over weekend.
  • An Israeli minister says war will continue in Gaza Strip even if Hamas releases all captives.
  • Israeli forces systemically destroys residential neighborhoods to create buffer zone in north and east of Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters kill several Israeli soldiers.
  • Israel plans to create buffer zone by occupying 14 km-long border area with Egypt to separate Gaza from Sinai Peninsula, and take direct control of Rafah Crossing.
  • Hamas’ Izz El-Din Al-Qassam Brigades fear five captives were killed in Israeli bombardment after it lost contact with group in charge of them.
  • Israeli miliary announces arrest of 700 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza Strip since late October.
  • Euro-Med says “evidence mounts of widespread violations of mass arrests, forced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment and even killings” of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Joe Biden does not ask Israel for ceasefire in Gaza Strip

The U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed that he did not ask the Israeli government for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday.

“I had a long talk with Netanyahu today [Saturday] and it was a private conversation,” Biden told reporters, answering a question that he “did not ask for a ceasefire”.

Biden’s statement follows a vote in the UN Security Council on a resolution calling for allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza but stopped short of pushing a halt to Israel’s hostilities.

To avoid a U.S. veto, UNSC members postponed the vote several times to tone down the language. Although the U.S. abstained, the resolution was described as “toothless” and “meaningless” as it allowed Israel’s to continue bombing the Gaza Strip.

“The president emphasized the critical need to protect the civilian population including those supporting the humanitarian aid operation, and the importance of allowing civilians to move safely away from areas of ongoing fighting,” a White House statement said on Saturday.

Displaced Palestinians are taking shelter in a UNRWA-affiliated Deir al-Balah school after fleeing their homes due to Israeli strikes, on December 23, 2023. (Photo: Omar Ashtawy/APA Images)
Displaced Palestinians are taking shelter in a UNRWA-affiliated Deir al-Balah school after fleeing their homes due to Israeli strikes, on December 23, 2023.
(Photo: Omar Ashtawy/APA Images)

Israel pulls out forces from Gaza leaving immense damage

On Sunday morning, Israeli forces stormed Al-Rafi’i school in Jabalia in north Gaza and arrested several people who were sheltering in the building while warplanes bombed the Jabalia refugee camp, Wafa news agency reported.

Israeli forces withdrew from some areas in north Gaza on Friday leaving immense damage to roads and buildings. Al-Jazeera reported that Palestine roundabout was completely flattened after Israeli forces bombed and bulldozed the premises surrounding it.

The roundabout in the middle of Gaza City was a site where Hamas fighters handed over some Israeli captives as part of the hostage exchange with Israel in November. Palestinian families coming back to visit their houses in the nearby Al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City after a month of Israeli control, were horrified by the destruction.

Israeli forces also heavily bombed the Al-Jarn area in Jabalia on Saturday, destroying a number of houses and killing dozens of Palestinians while they were asleep in their flats. Wafa reported that ambulances could not reach the injured due to air strikes and debris scattered in the area.

As of Saturday evening, dozens of Palestinians remained under the rubble in Jabalia. Israeli forces also withdrew from Tel Al-Zaatar in north Gaza, leaving mayhem and destruction of dozens of buildings in the neighborhood.

On Saturday, Palestinian rescue teams recovered the bodies of 40 people in central Gaza who were killed in Israeli bombings on Friday. Israeli air strikes bombed several areas in Deir Al-Balah in the past 24 hours.

In Rafah’s Canada refugee camp, Israeli air strikes bombed the home of Abu Al-Awf family. One Palestinian was killed and four injured in an Israeli bombing of the Al-Nabris family house in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that Amir Rami Odeh, 13, and another Palestinian were killed by an Israeli drone while they were at the Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis.

Wafa reported that Israeli warplanes bombed Ma’an area in Khan Younis, killing two people, and targeted several Palestinians near the Abu Hamid roundabout in the center of Khan Younis, killing at least three.

On Saturday evening, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said that at least 20,258 martyrs were killed and 53,688 were injured in Israeli bombardment since October 7.

Israeli minister vows continue war even if all captives released

The Israeli military announced that 14 soldiers were killed in armed battles with Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip over the weekend.

Avi Dichter, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture, said that Israeli forces should keep bombing Gaza from land, air, and sea as there was no “fair play” in this war.

He said that Israel has two main goals: the return of almost 130 hostages in the Gaza Strip and destroying Hamas. However, he added that even in the case of releasing all captives, the Israeli military would continue the war.

“The main goal is the return of the abductees, without the return of the abductees this war will not end,” Dichter said in an interview on Channel 14.

“But if tomorrow the abductees return, the war will not end till achieving the goals,” he added.

Israeli forces have been systemically destroying residential neighborhoods in north Gaza in Al-Shujaiya, Al-Rimal, and Beit Hanoun to create a buffer zone in the north and east of the Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters killed several Israeli soldiers in urban battles in these areas.

On Saturday evening, Israeli forces also attempted to invade the border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt from Karm Abu Salem Crossing. Israel is planning to create a buffer zone by occupying a 14 km-long stretch, a move which could inflame ties with Egypt, in order to separate Gaza from the Sinai Peninsula and take direct control of the Rafah Crossing.

On Saturday, Hamas’ Izz El-Din Al-Qassam Brigades fired rockets on the Israeli town of Ashkelon and said it feared that five Israeli captives were killed in Israeli bombardment after it lost contact with the group in charge of them.

Hamas military spokesperson Abu Ubaida said that among them are the three hostages who pleaded last week with the Israeli government to release them and not let them “grow old” in captivity.

“You have to release us from here. It does not matter at what cost. We don’t want to be casualties as a direct result of the IDF’s military airstrikes. Release us with no conditions,” one of the captives said in a video message released by Hamas last week.

The resistance movement also announced on Saturday that it recycled two Israeli missiles that did not explode and used them to blow up five Israeli tanks in Jabalia, north of Gaza.

In 2020, Hamas’ divers retrieved ammunition from the British warship HMS M15, which was sunk in 1917 by Germany near the Gaza coast, in hopes of using its munitions to arm rockets and produce explosives, though reports said the century-old ammunitions were unusable.

Hamas also said that it targeted four Israeli jeeps in an ambush in Juhr Al-Diek, east of Gaza City, one of the first areas Israeli forces invaded in late October.

The Israeli military announced that it arrested 700 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip since late October. Yoav Gallant issued a warning to Hamas’ leader, Yahya Al-Sinwar, over the weekend, saying that he could hear Israeli vehicles approaching.

“One thing is clear, Yahya Sinwar now hears the IDF tractors above him, the air force bombs and the IDF’s actions. He will soon meet the barrels of our guns,” Gallant said.

In total, 485 Israeli soldiers and officers were killed since the October 7 attack launched by Palestinian fighters on settlements and military bases near the Gaza Strip. According to official military figures, 152 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the land invasion began in late October.

Palestinians light a candle near a statue showing a figure symbolizing the child Jesus lying amid the rubble in a cave, before Christmas at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Bethlehem, on December 08, 2023. (Photo: Mamoun Wazwaz/APA Images)
Palestinians light a candle near a statue showing a figure symbolizing the child Jesus lying amid the rubble in a cave, before Christmas at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Bethlehem, on December 08, 2023. (Photo: Mamoun Wazwaz/APA Images)

“The whole world is celebrating Christmas, but not Bethlehem”

Since October 7, Israeli forces arrested 4,695 Palestinians from towns and villages of the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.

The club said that Aziz Dweik, the former Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker, is suffering from severe health conditions in the notorious Negev desert prison.

Dweik 75, from occupied Jerusalem, was arrested on October 17. The Club added that Dweik suffers from “anemia and a lack of hemoglobin due to diabetes” and that he previously “underwent two catheterization operations and fragmentation of kidney stones.”

His family has not been able to visit him since he was arrested and sentenced to six months of arbitrary administrative detention without charge or trial.

On Saturday, the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urged UN bodies to immediately form “an international delegation to visit Israeli prisons and detention camps, where more than 8,000 Palestinian detainees are currently held.”

Euro-Med added that “evidence mounts of widespread violations of mass arrests, forced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment and even killings” of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail.

It said that it estimates that Israeli authorities are currently detaining 1,200 to 1,400 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.

“After their arrest, detainees have been subjected to systematic abuse such as being stripped of their clothes, handcuffed, blindfolded, severely beaten, harassed, sexually assaulted, deprived of sleep food, water, and basic hygiene, and degraded in front of cameras,” it said in a letter.

Several horrific videos of hundreds of Palestinian civilians detained in the Gaza Strip have emerged in the past week, most of them filmed by Israeli forces as part of “psychological war” effort.

Euro-Med added that “the number of Palestinians detained in administrative detention… has reached an unprecedented level, while the fate and whereabouts of many of them remain unknown.”

Meanwhile, Israeli forces stormed several cities in the occupied West Bank, including Nur Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm, as well as the cities of Nablus and Hebron.

In the birthplace of Jesus, lights were not lit as celebrations of Christmas were effectively cancelled in Bethlehem in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Instead of a decorated tree in Manger Square opposite the Church of Nativity, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism organized an artwork piece called “Nativity under the Rubble” to symbolize the agony and destruction in Gaza.

“This is a message to the whole world that the whole world is celebrating Christmas, but not Bethlehem. Bethlehem this year is celebrating Christmas in a different way with a message to the whole world that Palestine is suffering,” Rula Maaya, the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, said.

Munther Isaac, the pastor of the Lutheran church, said: “This is the reality of Christmas for Palestinian children. If Jesus was born today, he’d be born under the rubble of Gaza.”

_________________________________________________

Mustafa Abu Sneineh is a journalist, poet and writer from the city of Al-Quds in Occupied Palestine. His first poetry book, A Black Cloud at the End of the Line, was published in Arabic in 2016. He writes both in English and Arabic.

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