Memories of a Bethlehem Christmas

In the birthplace of Jesus, Muslims and Christians used to celebrate the season in peace. A TIME correspondent recalls holidays past in a troubled land

Kate Brooks for TIME

Groups of tourists still visit Bethlehem's famed Church of Nativity.

Christmas in Bethlehem makes me feel lonely. Walking around Manger Square, past the shops selling olive-wood kings and shepherds to busloads of Christian tourists, I realize how many of my old friends have emigrated, how much the city has changed beyond recognition. Today in Bethlehem, the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, ringing from dozens of mosques, all but drowns out the gentle church chimes.

I was 8 when my family moved to Bethlehem in 1949. We were Muslim refugees from the newly created Israel. Back then, nearly all the townspeople were Christian. I went to a Christian school and...

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