Israel allows Christians to enter Bethlehem

Israel allows Christians to enter Bethlehem

People from Gaza were caught during Israels military offensive which began last Dec

Israel allows Christians to enter Bethlehem

christmas crib: A Palestinian boy looks at an idol of infant Jesus inside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Thursday. AP

Permits have been issued for 300 of the 3,000 Christians in Gaza to attend Christmas services in the hilltop town where Jesus was born 2,010 years ago.  However, to qualify for permits  Gazans must be under the age of 16 and over 35.

Catholic Patriarch Fuad Twal held a service on last Monday in the 1,600-year-old Church of St. Porphryry for Christians who remain confined to the Strip. The service was attended by members of all sects, the majority being Orthodox.

Last December Christians who made the hour and a half journey across Israel from Gaza to Bethlehem were caught outside the Strip by Israel’s military offensive which began on December 27. They were allowed to return only a month later. Many found their homes flattened or neighbourhoods devastated.

A century ago before the British rulers of Palestine granted Jews the right to create a homeland in the country, Christians were 30 per cent of its population. Today Christians make up less than 2 per cent. In Bethlehem, Christians, once the majority, are now 20-25 per cent. Christians find it easier than Muslims to emigrate to the US, Canada, Latin America,  Europe and Australia where many have settled family members.

A week ago Palestinian Christian leaders appealed to co-religionists round the world to end the Israeli occupation which is driving Palestinians of all faiths to leave their homeland. They fear that Bethlehem and Jerusalem could become  “Christian theme parks” visited by pilgrims from the world over but devoid of native Christians.

On Tuesday, Catholic Patriarch Twal said in his annual Christmas message that all the efforts of “politicians and men of good will” to build peace had “failed.”