Christians from Judea and Samaria, Gaza and Arab countries will be able to join their families for Christmas.
In anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday, the IDF and Civil Administration are making a number of goodwill gestures to benefit the Palestinian Christian population in the region. The measures were approved by the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ahead of the festivities and religious ceremonies that will take place during the holiday season, the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, and the head of the Civil Administration will visit church leaders and discuss with them the preparations being made. Thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit Bethlehem and, during the Christmas period, all the crossing points in the area will be open 24/7 to accommodate them. The commander and officials of the Bethlehem District Coordination Office met with community leaders to ensure that the events run smoothly, and that the time-honored principle of the status quo among the various religious factions is preserved.
Since a central element of the holiday is celebrating together with family, a number of measures intended to facilitate family gatherings are being implemented, beginning on Sunday, December 19, 2010 and ending Thursday, January 20, 2011:
• Christian residents of Judea and Samaria (with no age limit) will be permitted to cross into Israel for the duration of the Christmas holiday, including lodging.
• 300 Christian Palestinians will be permitted to cross to the Ben Gurion International Airport during the holiday season.
• 500 Christian residents of the Gaza Strip over the age of 35 will be permitted entry into Judea and Samaria and into Israel for religious worship and family gatherings.
• 200 Christian residents of Arab countries will be permitted to enter Judea and Samaria during the holiday season.
Major-General Dangot noted that, despite the numerous rockets that have fallen into Israeli territory in the past few days, Israel will be allowing Palestinian Christians to exit the Gaza Strip. This decision was taken because Israel views freedom of worship with the highest importance and will not allow Hamas to prevent the Christian community in the Gaza Strip from celebrating during this special season.
In a pre-holiday interview, Maj. Gen. Dangot said, "Right now, we are preparing for Christmas. I’m convinced it will pass smoothly. The recent Eid al-Adha holiday is an excellent example of how we are able to alleviate conditions for one population without endangering another. At that time, we removed barriers, opened roadways, and made the maximum effort while keeping in mind security issues." Wishing everyone a happy holiday, he added, "I understand that the hotels in Bethlehem have been booked for two months."