Christianity in the Holy Land at Christmas

I have spent the last few days sending out Christmas greetings to my business colleagues overseas. A few cautiously ask me: “Well, what’s it like for people like themselves in the Holy Land?” – They meanwhat’s it like for Christians, .

Fair question, and I did some research. It turns out that Israel is probably the one country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. It comprises about 3% of the overall total, mainly from the Eastern Orthodox groupings.

In the West Bank, there are about 46,000 Christians and a further 300 in Gaza. Israel is making special arrangements for this small community to visit Bethlehem during Christmas.

The hotels around Bethlehem are expected to be full this Yuletide. 60,000 visitors will make their way to Bethlehem and Nazareth over the next 2 weeks. Taking 2008 as a whole, tourism has nearly doubled, specifically amongst pilgrims.

You can see how the government has targeted this sector of the tourist trade. For example, the Ministry of Tourism and other partners have invested over US$2 million in the Qsar el Yahud Baptism site on the River Jordan. Coaches driving around jerusalem are another example of this success.

In parallel, Civil Administration is striving hard to rid itself of a poor image. It has actively supported the export of wine from the Cremisan Silesian Monastary near Bethlehem. Passage around the holy sites is being made easier almot every week, despite on-going security concerns.

For Christians, it must be a truly spiritual event to celebrate Christmas, wandering amongst the names and sites usually only known through stories heard in school plays. The truth is that this special moment is open to all Christians, and every new visitor helps to strengthen the new-found peace around Bethlehem and Manger Square. It is up to all members of all religions to protect this progress.

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11 Comments on “Christianity in the Holy Land at Christmas”

  1. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onChristianity in the Holy Land at Christmas « Afternoon Tea In …Here’s a quick excerptFor Christians, it must be a truly spiritual event to celebrate Christmas amongst the names and sites usually only known through stories seen in school plays. The truth is that this special moment is open to all Christians, … […]

  2. tamar Says:

    Agree that all must join to protect progress. A friend had a marvelous experience there last Christmas Eve, and posted a how-to get there: Green light to Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.

  3. freedemocracy Says:

    Protect the FEW Christians, left in the area, persecuted by the Islamic militant bigoted “palestinians”.

  4. fromUSA Says:

    Your numbers are not correct Michael Horesh. I suggest you do you’re homework. Gaza has around 3,500 Christians. Moreover, the Christians in occupied Palestine, including Israel – have shrunk to less than 3% due to Israel’s Jewish majority policy.

    • Michael Horesh Says:

      Hi Samsam,
      I will not debate your numbers. We both agree that the numbers are not large. Similarly, you do not deny the constant attacks on Christian properties and leading figures in Gaza since Hamas came to power.
      As for the so-called Jewish majority policy, I do not see any evidence of that. All that has happened since 1967 is that Jews have returned to live in parts of the West Bank. (You recall how they were driven out of Hebron, areas near Bethlehem etc). The majority policy you may be loking for is the proposed Palestinian Constitution does not allow for Jews to live in its territories.
      I am sure that you also recall that when Chairman Arafat started to enforce PA rule in Bethlehem after the Oslo Accords, he forcibly expanded the city limits of Bethlehem to include nearby Muslim villages. And there are many documented cases of forving people to convert from Christianity.

  5. fromUSA Says:

    Also – in regards to Palestinian Christians in Gaza, many wanted to visit their city of Bethlehem during Christmas. However, Israel requires for people to apply for a permit to leave Gaza, and hence, only 900 or so people applied, with the others knowing they will be turned down. Out of the 900 only 300 were allowed.

    • Michael Horesh Says:

      Again Samsam, I will not dispute your numbers. I awit te opportunity to visit the sites holy to Jews in the Gaza strip. Similarly, Rachel’s tomb near Bethlehem, Joseph’s tomb near Nablus, etc, can only be visited under stingent military escort. Throwing out one-way spin does not bring peace to anybody.
      Re Gaza, the horrible and sad fact for all is that it is being run by an Islamic militant group called Hamas, which does not tolerate opposition and is anti-semitic.

  6. Dana Says:

    Excuse me Michael, but Rachels Tomb is easily accessible to Jews by bus- It is on the Israel side of the wall. It is Christians in the west bank that cannot get to Rachels Tomb.

    And almost every Palestinian Christian I have met cannot come through the checkpoint at the wall to “have tea in Jerusalem.”

    You should come to Bethlehem yourself to see what is happening. I dont think you really have the right ideas about it. Maybe just something you read or were told.

    Come to Bethlehem and see for yourself. Sami Awad is dedicated to peace through non violence and a great man, you should visit him and have tea here.

    I am an American by the way.

    Blessings & Peace to All, Dana

  7. Michael Horesh Says:

    Hi Dana,

    Ironically, although I feel that you wrote your comments to “criticise” me in some way, you are echoing my concerns and sadness at the situation.

    You are right about the location of Rachel’s Tomb, and I should have made that clear. Even so, it does not alter my basic point – in order to pray there, armed escorts are required. In fact a whole security apparatus has been erected to protect those worshipping aginst snipper fire.

    As for Christians getting to the site or even drinking tea in Jerusalem, agreed. And that is what is so sad. Before the Palestinians launched the first Intifada, here were minimal restrictions at best. Definitely following the oneset of the PA orchetrated violence from Spetember 2000, this situation has become a memeory for both sides.

    The security fence etc are reactions to the violence which was morally unacceptable. Only an hour ago, I received info of a youth stopped at a check point with an explosive device.

    My idea of Bethlehem? You are right, but the wrong reason. All I have are memories, positive memories. I cannot know better, because I am not allowed in.

    And there lies the tragedy for all. The violence, protected by the spin of Arafat and now Hamas and others, destroyed something that had many good elements (not perfect) for most, and which has been replaced by a horrific vacuum

  8. al Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Not allowed in?
    I was in Bethlehem in November of 2006. No problems getting around. No armed guards, no “special security measures”. I suggest you go with me, I’m a white, brown haired American with a Christian perspective.

    All I ever encountered in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jenin, Ramallah, East Jerusalem was generosity and respect from humble people.
    I suggest you come with me to Israel and Palestine. We’ll navigate Israel’s myriad checkpoints and finally become part of the solution – peaceful coexistence. What do you say?

    • Michael Horesh Says:

      Hi Alvin
      The issue is not the colour of a person’s skin.
      The facts are that Israelis, particularly Jews, are not allowed in to the areas you mentioned. The pictures of body bags ensured that it no longer happens any more. (Remember before the violence of the Intifadas – way before 2006 – there were a minimal number of checkpoints).
      Do I want to go in, as you suggested? Read previous posts – of course I do, and thousands of others regularly shopped in these areas.
      We cannot and do not anymore, for the same reasons that Christians are persecuted. The fact is that the numbers of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza reason has snow dived since the mid 1990s. The one common and continuing factor that has changed since then is the return of the PA, hamas and similar power groups. I will refer you to countless non-Israeli reports to confirm the evidence.
      Sad, very sad.

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