The Jewish state of Israel is bent on celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem this year.
The Ministry of Tourism has strung festive colored lights and shooting stars along the six-mile road from Jerusalem to the largely Christian Palestinian town in the West Bank where Jesus was born.
But the little town of Bethlehem itself remains dark, rejecting all public celebrations in mourning for the more than 300 Arabs killed by Israeli troops during a year-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Fourteen Israelis have died in the revolt.
The army lieutenant colonel who serves as military governor of Bethlehem has urged store owners on Manger Square to garland their shop windows and show a bit of the old Christmas spirit. They have refused.
And while the Tourism Ministry repeatedly has announced that the traditional midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity will be held Christmas Eve as always, pilgrims are staying away in droves.
These are sad days for Bethlehem and its suburbs of Beit Sahur and Beit Jalla, once prosperous and moderate towns because of their tourism income but now swept up in anti-Israeli violence in which six local youths have died.
"There's no feeling of Christmas, but a funeral," said Issa Atallah, 81, a retired teacher who from the roof of his Beit Sahur home can see Shepherds' Field, where angels announced the birth of Jesus, and the spots where soldiers shot to death two of his neighbors.
Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij has refused to decorate Manger Square or to festoon the 40-foot pine tree on the plaza, near an Israeli police station ringed by barbed wire and patrolled by soldiers.
Freij also canceled his annual Christmas cocktail party, once attended by senior Israeli leaders and a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence, "to tell the whole world that our people are under duress and persecution."
"Our people have suffered very badly," Freij said Thursday. "The atmosphere is so difficult and discouraging that our Christian people don't want to celebrate Christmas or put decorations on Christmas trees or buy Christmas presents for children."