Bethlehem – Unidentified assailants on Monday opened fire toward The Bethlehem Hotel in the West Bank city of the same name, after a video circulating on social media showed cardboard cutouts of a Star of David and a Menorah on the stage of its conference hall.
Palestinian police arrived at the scene soon after the shooting. Several rooms on the upper floors were damaged by the gunfire, but no casualties were reported.
The video of the Jewish symbols generated controversy after it was posted earlier on Monday by a guest in the hotel who had wandered into the conference hall.
Ilyas al-A’rja, the hotel’s manager, spoke with the Palestinian news outlet Watan to clarify that the Jewish symbols were put up not by Israeli settlers celebrating Sukkot, as some were claiming, but by a group of Filipino tourists who had not received consent from hotel management.
“A group of 300 Filipinos came to the hotel for an 8-day stay and asked on Thursday to put on a party. Hotel management agreed and the group started prepping the hall. After the hall had been prepped for the party, I was surprised by the presence of the Star of David and the Menorah. I opposed that completely and asked them to remove [the Star of David and the Menorah], which is in fact what happened,” al-A’rja said.
There are no Israeli settlements in Bethlehem and it is illegal for Israeli citizens to enter the city because it lies within Area A, under the complete civilian and security administration of the Palestinian Authority.
Al-A’rja accused the person who posted the video of trying to “defame the hotel” and “sow chaos,” adding that he personally opposes all actions aimed at “normalizing relations with the Occupation.”
Mingling among the police at the front of the hotel after the shooting was a group of armed men wearing balaclavas, sunglasses, and armbands that bore the emblem of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a coalition of militias loosely associated with the de facto ruling party in the West Bank, Fatah.
One of the group, dressed in civilian attire, delivered a message he said was in the name of Fatah: “We in Fatah reject and frown upon any act that gives evidence of normalization, compromise, or genuflection. Bethlehem will never let anyone put on such a questionable celebration. From here, we send a warning to anyone who is asking himself whether to put on a celebration that normalizes relations with Israel: We will strike with an iron fist.”
The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades has not claimed responsibility for the shooting.
Shortly before the shooting, the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities of the Palestinian Authority had publicly announced the closure of the conference hall and promised an investigation into the reasons behind the presence of Jewish symbols in the Bethlehem hotel.