Christmas Festivities Begin in West Bank City of Bethlehem

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in Israel, crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity

The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa arrives through an Israeli checkpoint to attend Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, West Bank, December 24, 2018.
Mussa Issa Qawasma/Reuters

Palestinians are preparing to host pilgrims from around the world in celebrating Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in Israel, crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Hundreds of locals and foreign visitors gathered in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing Palestinian Scouts paraded past a giant Christmas tree.

Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.

A man dressed as Santa Claus gestures as the convoy of the acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem arrives through an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem, West Bank, December 24, 2018.
Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

>> A glimpse into the life of the West Bank's last Christians

Earlier this month, thousands of faithful and dignitaries attended the lighting of the giant Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Father Francesco Patton, a top official with the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, were presen.

Hamdallah said the Palestinians were resisting Israeli plans “to uproot us and strip us from our civilization and history.”

The Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local population.