Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bethleham Festivities Cheer Muslims

BETHLEHEM (West Bank), Dec 24: The traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ is celebrating its merriest Christmas in years, as tens of thousands of tourists thronged Bethlehem on Friday for the annual holiday festivities in this Biblical West Bank town.

Officials said the turnout was shaping up to be the largest since 2000. Unseasonably mild weather, a virtual halt in Israeli-Palestinian violence and a burgeoning economic revival in the West Bank all added to the holiday cheer.

Israeli officials have said they expect about 90,000 visitors in Bethlehem during the current two-week holiday season, up from 70,000 last year.

Visitors entering the town must cross through a massive metal gate in the separation barrier Israel built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem during a wave of Palestinian attacks last decade.

The Roman Catholic Church’s top clergyman in the region, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, expressed his traditional wishes for “peace, love and unity among us”. But on the sunny, warm day, with temperatures approaching 20 degrees Celsius, he added another wish to his list: “to ask God to send us rain and winter besides peace and justice and dignity for all.”

Raed Arafat, the 40-year-old owner of the ‘Stars and Bucks Cafe’, played Christmas songs over loudspeakers and handed out free Arabian coffee at his shop near Manger Square. “There are more people this year,” an ecstatic Arafat said.

Many visitors were local Palestinians, including veiled Muslim women. “Because of the hard situation and the pressure we are living in, we take advantage of any joyful moment and bring our children to play,” said Khitam Harazallah, a housewife from the nearby Deheishe refugee camp who came with her two young children.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas travelled to Bethlehem to greet the revellers, saying he hoped the coming year would finally bring peace.

“We are seekers of peace in the path of Jesus,” he said. “We hope that next year will be a year of peace by establishing the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.”In a goodwill gesture, Israel allowed 500 members of Gaza’s tiny Christian community to travel to Bethlehem.–AP

Related reading: Let Peace Reign

No comments: