Palestinians, Pilgrims Flock to Bethlehem for Christmas Festivities

The West Bank Palestinian town is enjoying its busiest Christmas in years, with hotels nearly fully booked and the security situation relatively calm

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Christians celebrate the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Manger Square, Bethlehem, December 1, 2018.
Christians celebrate the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Manger Square, Bethlehem, December 1, 2018.Credit: Majdi Mohammed,AP
Reuters
Reuters

Filing past a 16-meter (52-ft) Christmas tree in Manger Square, visitors from all over the world made a Christmas Eve pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the town revered as the birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is enjoying its busiest Christmas in years, with hotels nearly fully booked and the security situation relatively calm.

The sun sets over Bethlehem, December 24, 2018.Credit: \ MUSTAFA GANEYEH/ REUTERS

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Lines of pilgrims squeezed through a narrow sandstone entrance to the Church of the Nativity to visit the grotto where Christian faithful believe Jesus was born.

Girls light candles at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, December 23, 2018.Credit: \ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS
Christians pray in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, December 24, 2018.Credit: AFP

“This place is wonderful. I feel like the real Christmas (is celebrated) here,” said Joseph Ahlan, a pilgrim from Malaysia.

Maria Moeva, a visitor from Bulgaria, said she could feel “all the passion of the people who are here to celebrate the birth of Christ”.

The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, led an annual procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and will later celebrate Midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity, originally built in the 4th century.

In Manger Square, visitors were entertained by choirs singing carols, bagpipe players and a Palestinian scouts’ marching band.

While the security situation has eased since a wave of Palestinian knife and car-ramming attacks in 2015, Israeli roadblocks and a six-meter Israeli-built concrete separation barrier that snakes around the town are still part of the Bethlehem vista.

Palestinians see the barrier as a land grab, in territory they are seeking as part of a state of their own. Israel, which captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, says the fences and walls it has erected help prevent Palestinian attacks.

A Palestinian band performs on Manger square, Bethlehem, December 24, 2018.Credit: AFP
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa celebrates Christmas in Bethlehem,December 24, 2018.Credit: AFP

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