News / Middle East

Pilgrims Converge on Bethlehem for Christmas

Musicians perform on stage in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
Musicians perform on stage in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
Robert Berger
Thousands of pilgrims have converged on the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations hosted by the Palestinian Authority.

  • A general view of Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is seen on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Palestinian girl watches a Christmas parade outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Palestinian boy scout marching band parades during a Christmas procession at Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem,December 24, 2012.
  • A member of the clergy holds a cross as he waits for the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal (C) prepares to bless the crowd outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Catholic pilgrim touches a column inside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem,December 24, 2012. Thousands of Christian worshipers and tourists arrived in Bethlehem to mark Christmas at the site many believe Jesus Christ was born.
  • Christian worshipers visit the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Christmas, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 23, 2012.
  • A Christian worshiper walks out of the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Palestinian vendor sells balloons and Christmas hats at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
​The atmosphere was festive as Palestinian boy and girl scouts kicked off Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem with marches through Manger Square. Thousands of local Palestinians and pilgrims from around the world looked on, as the scouts marched past the ancient Church of the Nativity.

Manger Square reflected a mixture of religion and Palestinian nationalism. Decorations included a giant Christmas tree, lights and bells, and Palestinian flags.

Nick Thompson, from New Zealand, said Bethlehem is not what he expected.

“I find it quite difficult to make the connection between this place and the place of Jesus' birth," said Thompson. "You’ve really got to do some quite hard imagining to sort of think back two millennia and imagine what this might have been like.”

The atmosphere was more solemn at the Grotto of the Nativity, where tradition says Jesus was born. Marcus Mundy came from Philadelphia in the United States.

“I’ve been to places like Italy and Paris where there’s gigantic cathedrals, but there’s something very special about Bethlehem since this is where it all started," Mundy said. "This is where the first Christmas was. It’s like very humble, just a very interesting feel. I really like it.”

The Palestinian Authority, which administers the West Bank, rolled out the red carpet for visitors. But tourism is down because of last month's conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Strip.  

Bethlehem taxi driver Nayef Asakra said, “The tourists - they are afraid to come when they heard about the problems here or some conflicts happen. Of course, the tourists are afraid to come.”

Some 75,000 tourists are expected in Bethlehem this Christmas, 25 percent fewer than last year.

This is also the first Christmas since the United Nations vote last month to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer state. But Asakra said, “We haven’t [seen] anything changed. Until now everything the same. Not anything. You don’t feel that something has changed on the ground. Nothing. Because Israel controls everything."

Palestinians said the best example of this is Israel’s separation wall that surrounds Bethlehem. Israel says the barrier keeps suicide bombers out, but Palestinians says the wall has turned the town of Bethlehem into a big prison.

You May Like

Video VOA ‘Town Hall’ Shines Light on Ebola Crisis

Experts call for greater speed in identification and treatment of deadly disease More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week More

Funding Program Helps Extremely Poor in Ghana

Broad objective for Ghana's social cash transfer program is to lessen the impact of poverty on the most vulnerable people, elderly, orphans, those with disabilities More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid