From The New York Times: 

There were only a few shopping days left until Christmas, but in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, most of the shops were shuttered.

The owner of Santa Maria Souvenirs, David Joseph, a Palestinian Christian, glumly padlocked his storefront and said there was no point in waiting around. As church bells rang out, “Silent Night” wafted plaintively out of an empty espresso bar into a deserted cobblestone alley.

“It’s sad,” said Alessandro Salameh, another Palestinian Christian who was running the bar. “You see, it’s like a ghost town.”

Israel, in an effort to contain the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, has barred entry to most international travelers until at least the end of December, leaving the holy sites of the Old City devoid of foreign visitors for a second straight Christmas.

But those who depend on tourism or whose relatives are unable to visit have been frustrated by the Israeli government, which they have accused of inconsistency, and even discrimination, in applying travel restrictions. The government allowed entry to international beauty pageant contestants and had given special approval to young Jews on trips meant to strengthen their ties to Israel — while barring Christian pilgrims.

At a desolate bend in Jerusalem’s Old City, the jolly red entrance to the house of Issa Kassissieh, the traditional Santa Claus of the Holy Land, promised some festive cheer. But his door was closed.

A neighbor shouted up to the balcony and out popped Tammy Cohen, an American volunteer at Santa’s residence and a rare visitor from abroad. She said Santa had tired himself out visiting hospitals and schools and was taking a nap.

“It’s a miracle that I’ll get to be here at Christmas,” said Ms. Cohen, explaining that she had traveled from her home in North Carolina in November, when Israel’s airport was briefly open to foreign tourists, and she decided to stay for a while.

… After decades of emigration, only about 1 percent of the population in the Holy Land is Christian. But after sunset, decorative lights turn on in the Christian Quarter, and a small Christmas market attracts local residents of all religions who want a taste of the holiday.

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