Once again this year in the tiny town of Bethlehem, christmas -- the Festival of Peace -- is being organised like a military operation.
GV Bethlehem ZOOM IN TO GV Nativity Church
GV INT Franciscan monks celebrate mass (4 shots)
GV Christmas lights being put up in streets and on christmas tree (3 shots)
SV & GV Tourists in streets (5 shots)
GV ZOOM IN TO MV Jerusalem Muniucipality building
GV INT Municipality building. Religious leaders being welcomed by Mayor (2 shots)
SCU Armenian Patriach and colleagues
SV Greek Orthodox Archbishop Basilios
GV Mayor greeting other dignitaries
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Background: Once again this year in the tiny town of Bethlehem, christmas -- the Festival of Peace -- is being organised like a military operation.
Not only because of renewed war jitters in Israel, as well as he constant threat of Arab guerrilla attacks, but because five different Christian communities celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on three different dates. So Israeli authorities are working with clocklike precision to give everyone an equal chance to worship.
Already the tourists and the pilgrim are arriving, and the Christmas lights are up in the streets and on the traditional tree in Manager Square, where the event has been celebrated on hallowed ground for almost 2,000 years.
And, as always, arrangements are being made for the Roman Catholic and Western Churches to have access on December 25th to the grotto of the Manager -- traditional site of the birthplace of Jesus, which is under control of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity. The Greek Orthodox Church, however -- like the Syrian and Coptic Churches -- does not observe Christmas until the evening of January 6th and the day of January 7th. And when they begin celebrating Epiphany on January the 18th, the Armenians -- who have their own alter in part of the Church of the Nativity -- are just starting their own Christmas celebrations.
Since the 1967 Middle East War, the Israeli military administration, which is responsible for all the occupied west bank of Jordan -- including Bethlehem -- has worked with all these churches to ensure that the separate services run as smoothly as possible. This not only included security arrangements around the holy town -- with armed guards on rooftops and along all access routes -- but a precise timetable for the different church communities. It also means ensuring that each of the major church leaders receives the same formal honours from the administration on each of the three Christmases.
Each such dignitary arrives on the appropriate day in a procession of cars from Jerusalem. Just outside Bethlehem, near the Tomb of Rachel, he is met by a group of local notables, who, with five mounted policemen, escort the procession into Bethlehem's crowed Manger Square in front of the ancient Church of the Nativity, built in 325 A.D.
Here, shortly after a peal of bells, the church leader is met by the military governor, the major of Bethlehem, the police chief and local church dignitaries and is escorted to the church for the first of a series of services over the subsequent 24 hours.