This paper will cover the spectrum of preparations and assistance steps taken by the Israeli authorities in order to carry out the season celebrations and religious ceremonies.

 Preparations and assistance steps-Christmas 2008

 

Priests decorate Christmas trees at the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem (Photo: Reuters)

(Communicated by the Ministry of Defense, Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories)

The Christmas and New Year season will begin on 24 December 2008. In order to enable the celebrations to take place, and in the atmosphere of peace and prosperity, Israel is taking numerous steps to facilitate the Christian community in the region to carry out the religious rituals, ceremonies and celebrations.

Main Steps

  • Family visits to Israel for Christians in the West Bank
  • Access by Arab Israelis to Bethlehem
  • Increased amount of permits to travel via Ben Gurion airport
  • Access of tourists to Bethlehem
  • Access of clergy to Bethlehem
  • Access to the Baptismal site on the Jordan River

Detailed information

Over the months of December and January the Christian world will celebrate the birth of Christ and the birth of the New Year. In order to take the necessary steps to facilitate the Christian community, Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved numerous steps that are intended to enable the religious ceremonies to take place in an atmosphere of the season.

The celebrations:

24-26 December 2008 – Christmas as celebrated by the Catholic and Protestant Churches
31 December – New Year’s Eve
7-8 January 2009 – Christmas as celebrated by the Orthodox Church
13-14 January 2009 – New Year’s Eve – Orthodox Church
18-20 January 2009 – Christmas as celebrated by the Armenian Church and the Orthodox Epiphany

 Preparations and assistance steps-Christmas 2008

Manger Square, Bethlehem

In order to implement all of the above ceremonies and celebrations a joint effort by the Israeli Defense establishment, the Israel Police Force and the Palestinian Authority and Police Force have commenced. The concept that all of the ceremonies will take place according to the "status quo" with regard of religious ceremonies, while maintaining freedom of movement of those participating, members of the clergy, Palestinian Christians and pilgrims from all over the world. Notably, 2008 has been an exceptional year for tourism in the region especially Bethlehem and Jericho where over 1.4 million foreign tourists have visited since the beginning of the year (55.6% increase compared to 2007).

Improvement of Access

In order to facilitate the movement Palestinian Christians from the West Bank, will be permitted to access relatives living in Israel throughout the holiday season. To date there are approximately 46,000 Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank, they pose a mere 1.9 % of the West Bank Palestinian population.

Movement of members of the clergy will be facilitated and they will not be required to disembark from their vehicles. 

Palestinian Christians will also be approved to travel via Ben Gurion airport in increased numbers in order to facilitate those that are planning to travel abroad during the holidays. Furthermore, Israeli Arabs will be able to access Bethlehem via the numerous crossings, both vehicular and on foot. Special arrangements have been made in order to meet the increased amount of visitors during the holiday season.

Also, and despite the ongoing terror attacks from Gaza, some 300 Palestinian Christians living in the Gaza Strip will be permitted to travel to the West Bank in order to celebrate the holidays. 

Finally, on 18-19 January 2009 the Israel will open the baptismal site on the Jordan River for the Orthodox communities to carry out the religious ceremonies with regard to the holy site attributed to the Epiphany of Christ. This site is scheduled to be open to the general public within the first quarter of 2009.

 Preparations and assistance steps-Christmas 2008

Kasser el Yehud baptismal site on the Jordan River