Israel braces for tourist influx on ChristmasBy IANS
Friday, December 24, 2010
JERUSALEM - Israel has made all arrangements to provide easy access to its religious places and ensure full security of around 90,000 tourists who are expected to visit the country on Christmas this year.
Israeli tourism ministry estimates the arrival of nearly 2.4 million Christian tourists by the year’s end. One-third of them are pilgrims who will visit holy sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Nazareth, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa and the Mount of Olives are located in Israel, while Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is in the West Bank.
Security and administration officials met with the head of the Franciscan Monastery, the Ambassador to the Vatican as well as the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Latin Patriarchs to enable complete freedom of worship and movement during the holiday season.
Israel is expediting transport and crossing arrangements so that pilgrims and visitors can participate in traditional Christmas ceremonies, said The Israel Project (TIP), a group which provides the tourists with information about Christian minority groups in Israel and the Middle East.
The Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Eitan Dangot, is working with the Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces to make sure the Bethlehem area crossings would be constantly open for tourists to enter the city during the holidays.
More than 500 exit permits were given to Christian residents from the Gaza Strip to attend Christmas festivities in Israel. Christian residents of the West Bank are free to cross into Israel during the holidays.
Border crossings and security restrictions have been eased to maximise freedom of worship. In August 2010, Israel allowed tour guides to lead groups in Bethlehem to promote coexistence. The move was applauded by the Palestinian Authority.
Christians constitute about 2 percent of Israel’s population. By the end of 2009, 151,700 Christians lived in Israel, a 0.6 percent increase from the previous year.