News / Middle East

Thousands Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, center, performs a blessing before entering the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, before beginning Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethle
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, center, performs a blessing before entering the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, before beginning Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethle
Robert Berger

Big crowds turned out for Christmas Eve celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Palestinian boy and girl scouts kicked off Christmas Eve celebrations with a festive march through Manger Square in Bethlehem. The square is decked out with Christmas trees, lights, stars and Palestinian flags.

Then there was a solemn procession through the cobblestone streets.

Priests and monks in white robes marched into the ancient Church of the Nativity, where tradition says Jesus Christ was born.

Thousands of local Palestinians looked on, along with pilgrims from around the world. Robert Chege, who came from Nairobi, Kenya, said Bethlehem on Christmas is an experience of faith.  "It's just interesting thinking about where Christ actually originated from. Just feeling Him in my heart and knowing that He's such a big part of my life, I wanted to know more about his background, where he stepped on, where he was. So ya, it's pretty amazing," he said.

There is a boom in tourism this year thanks to a lull in West Bank violence, and that is good news for Palestinian shopkeeper Nadia Hazboun.  "Of course it is good. It is very good. Bethlehem nice now, and look, a lot of people they like to open restaurants, shops, something like that. I think more active now Bethlehem, more active," he said.

But the upbeat mood is tempered by Israel's separation wall that surrounds Bethlehem. Israel erected the barrier in response to a wave of suicide bombings, but Hazboun says it is strangling the city.  "Prison. Bethlehem (is a) prison now with the wall. The wall is very bad for Bethlehem, especially for Bethlehem," he said.

Pilgrims are undeterred by the political tensions. Some 90,000 tourists are expected in Bethlehem during the Christmas season, 30 percent more than last year. And that benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs