The little town of Bethlehem, on the West Bank of the River Jordan, has been celebrating the anniversary of the birth of its most famous citizen -- Jesus Christ, born there one thousand, nine hundred and seventy six years ago.
The little town of Bethlehem, on the West Bank of the River Jordan, has been celebrating the anniversary of the birth of its most famous citizen -- Jesus Christ, born there one thousand, nine hundred and seventy six years ago. And it's been celebrating under armed guard.
SYNOPSIS: The festivities began on Christmas eve under the watchful eye of Israeli troops and police posted on rooftops, patrolling the streets, and travelling over the area in helicopters. For Bethlehem, focal point for the largest single religious belief in the world, nestling in the Judean foothills, is also in the middle of the world's continuing major trouble-spots. It's in Israeli-occupied territory, taken and held during the last two Middle East wars. And it's Israel's reluctance to withdraw from occupied territory which is one of the biggest hindrances to a permanent peace in the Middle East.
In deference to the generally tense situation, and to the fact that Bethlehem is primarily a Christian place of worship, there were no Israelis in the town apart from the military presence. It was closed to all but pilgrims, foreign tourists and residents. The Church of the Nativity, the exact spot where Jesus was born according to tradition, is the focal point of the thousands who make the pilgrimage. A giant fourteen-point silver star marks the church, on which Christian pilgrims march in often-emotional homage to their son of God.
Like Bethlehem, neighbouring Nazareth pays the same traditional homage to the occasion. Historically, Christ is often referred to as 'Jesus of Nazareth, where he spent much of his childhood days helping his father, Joseph, with the family carpentry business. It was from Nazareth that as a young man he began his travels and preaching, rising to become the scourge of the Roman Empire which dominated the area. Preaching love, tolerance, forgiveness, and gentility, he became the focal point of the local authorities' anger against what they saw as an attempt to deflect the loyalty of the people away from Rome. The local authorities then, like today, were Jews -- who eventually crucified him. Now, nearly two thousand years later, it's the local Jewish authorities who stand guard over the Christians' right to worship the man put to death by the people of Israel.