Bethlehem, the Judean hill town where Jesus Christ was born, is preparing to celebrate its 10th Christmas under Israeli rule.
Bethlehem, the Judean hill town where Jesus Christ was born, is preparing to celebrate its 10th Christmas under Israeli rule. Unseasonably balmy weather and the relaxed atmosphere in the town provide a sharp contrast to thee Christmas of 1967, jut a few months after Israeli troop occupied the area during the Six Day War.
SYNOPSIS: Although relation between the local Arab population and Israeli troops have improved since then, there is still evidence that Bethlehem is in occupied territory. Israeli troops patrol the streets, but these days they are much more relaxed.
And Bethlehem is still a magnet for thousands of pilgrims, who come to the holy town each Christmas. The Mayor, Elias Frej, has said he is expecting a crowd of up to 30,000 pilgrims on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He called on Untied States President-elect Jimmy Carter, whom he called a man of the Bible, to work towards peace in justice and with honour for the area.
Christmas is big business for Bethlehem's mixed Arab population of Moslems and christians, and shops were busily arranging multi-coloured decorations in expectation of a record crowd of visitors. Popular souvenirs are olive-wood carvings of the nativity scene, but other religious items also sell well.
One of the most frequented tourist spots is the Church of the Nativity, which marks the spot where Jesus was born -- one of the holiest places of the Christian faith. It is into this grotto that the "Child Jesus" is carried each year and Mass is celebrated as part of the traditional midnight ceremonials.
On Christmas Eve the town is closed to everyone except local inhabitant and tourists with special passes. Choirs from several countries are scheduled to give performances in Manger Square on Christmas Eve. The ceremonies begin with the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and services are held throughout the afternoon, culminating in the Pontifical High Mass at midnight, attended by dignitaries and foreign envoys.