The event was vintage Christmassy. The ornaments filled Al Hussein Cultural Centre in downtown Amman on Tuesday, the music played well-known Christmas carols and the religious dignitaries were all among the invitees. But the event was not so much about Bethlehem as it was about Jerusalem.
Respected social, religious and political dignitaries filled the hall of the cultural centre. His Majesty King Abdullah and HRH Crown Prince Hussein were in attendance, as was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and members of his entourage. A small delegation of Jerusalem dignitaries were invited in addition to ambassadors, senior government officials and representatives of humanitarian organisations.
Only three speeches were delivered, all of them centred on the dire situation in the Holy City of Jerusalem, and the need for intervention to stop what is happening to both Christian and Muslim holy places. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told an audience of more than 500 people that Israeli actions over the past year had forced the churches to take extraordinary steps and to speak out against Israeli attempts to tax them and thus disturb the sustainability efforts of charities connected to churches.
Orthodox Archbishop of Amman Christoforos Atallah was very clear in demanding the world to support the Hashemite Custodianship of both Christian and Muslim holy places. Christian sites should be run by Christians and Muslim sites should be run by Muslims, he said to the audience.
The same theme was echoed by head of the Jerusalem Awqaf Council Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, who commended the unique Muslim-Christian relationship since the seventh-century Pact of Omar, which has regulated Christian-Muslim relations. Sheikh Salhab recounted the numerous violations of Israeli right-wing extremists against Al Aqsa Mosque during the past year.
While the issue of Jerusalem was front and centre, speakers at the Christmas celebration, organised in coordination with local church leaders, focused on Palestinian rights and the need for a just solution to the conflict with Israel.
The presence of Abbas and his senior aides gave the event a feeling of unity between the two banks of the Jordan. More than one speaker hailed the unique relationship, not only between the faithful, but also between the peoples of Palestine and Jordan.
Christmas is a time of celebration, love and forgiving, and the need to be merciful was not forgotten by any of the speakers. Archbishop Pizzaballa thanked the King for his special push to speed up the general amnesty that has been dragging for some time in Jordan.
The mix between Christmas hymns and speeches by religious leaders was finalised with an amazing rendition of the famous song by Lebanese singer Fairouz. Zahrat Al Madaen, a reference to Jerusalem, was given a special meaning when world-famous Jordanian soprano Zeina Barhoum took to the stage and used her voice to remind all about the need to pray for Jerusalem.
Christmas is a time of reflection and looking forwards. 2018 has not been a good year in many aspects, certainly not for the people of Palestine, especially for the Palestinians of Jerusalem.
The King and President Abbas attempted in their own symbolic way to remind us all of the importance of the meaning of Christmas as a season of joy and happiness.
This was best encapsulated as Archbishop Atallah reminded the guests with the voice to the angels to the shepherds of Beit Sahour proclaiming: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”