JERUSALEM — It was a subdued Christmas Eve in the alleged historic birthplace of Jesus Christ on Sunday, with spirits dampened by recent violence sparked by President Donald Trump's recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Crowds were thinner than previous years, with visitors deterred by clashes that have broken out in recent weeks between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. Although there was no violence Sunday, Palestinian officials scaled back the celebrations in protest. Cool weather, and a rainy forecast, also weighed on the holiday cheer.
Claire Degout, a tourist from France, said she would not allow Trump's pronouncement, which has infuriated the Palestinians and drawn widespread international opposition, affect her decision to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.
"The decision of one man cannot affect all the Holy Land," she said. "Jerusalem belongs to everybody, you know, and it will be always like that, whatever Trump says."
Trump said the move merely recognizes the fact that Jerusalem already serves as Israel's capital and that he was not prejudging negotiations on the city's final borders. But Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, saw the declaration as unfairly siding with Israel. Last week, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject Trump's decision.
The announcement triggered weeks of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including near-daily clashes in Bethlehem, which lies just south of Jerusalem.
By midafternoon, hundreds of people had gathered in Manger Square near the city's main Christmas for celebrations, greeted by bagpipe-playing young Palestinian marching bands and scout troops. Accompanying the decorations was a large banner protesting Trump's Jerusalem declaration.
Bethlehem's mayor, Anton Salman, said celebrations were toned down because of anger over Trump's decision.