Amid the massive security operation, few Bethlehem residents caught a glimpse of the president, widely unpopular among Palestinians because of his perceived overwhelming support of Washington’s close ally Israel.
“They closed everything. What is he so afraid of? World leaders come here all the time,” said Rami, a Christian shopowner.
“I think he is scared because he has so many enemies, because he has slaughtered so many people in Iraq.”
Bethlehem’s own mayor Victor Batarseh was not invited to the ceremony because he is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which the US State Department considers a terror organisation.
“I have not been told anything. I was simply asked to have the streets cleaned, which has been done,” the 72-year-old Christian mayor said.
Residents said the security measures were far more draconian than the last time a US president visited — 1998’s trip by Bill Clinton.
“When Clinton came he spent some time with us. He ate here,” said an older woman with a headscarf tucked into a heavy winter coat. “Don’t use my name or they will think I am a terrorist,” she added with a smile.
You’d think such a devout Christian would show a little more respect in Christ’s home town.