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PostTue Dec 22, 2009 3:07 pm     Xmas in Israel 2009    


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Israel Ensures Christmas Festivities for Pilgrims, Israelis and Palestinians

Royalty-Free Photos of Christmas in Bethlehem, Dec. 15, 2009
Israel's Economic Efforts to Promote Peace
Israel's Efforts to Further Enable Palestinian Mobility
Experts and Israeli officials available for comment
Religious Freedom in Israel: A Fundamental Guarantee
Press Kit for Pope Benedict XVI Visit to Israel, May 2009
Events in Bethlehem
Christian Holy Sites in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories
Information on Israel’s Christian communities


Bethlehem shop
The Israel Project
Israeli and Palestinian Christians, pilgrims and others in Israel can look forward this month to a festivity-filled Christmas with celebrations and services such as free transportation between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and complimentary Christmas trees for Jerusalem residents, courtesy of the Israeli government. The efforts will also benefit more than 70,000 tourists from around the world expected to arrive in Israel for the holidays.[1]

The efforts to ensure a merry Christmas by Israel’s tourism ministry and other government branches include:


• Holding the annual procession of Nazareth youth on Christmas Eve, concluding at the Church of the Annunciation and followed by a fireworks display for the city.[2] In addition, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov will host the traditional reception for Christian leaders in Israel and from abroad at the Church of the Annunciation.[3] Christmas Eve Mass will start after these events.[4]

• Offering Jerusalem’s Christian residents free Christmas trees on the morning of Dec. 23, an effort coordinated by the Jerusalem municipality.[5]

• Hosting a reception on Dec. 17 for Christian community leaders, ambassadors and Palestinian tour guides from the private sector at an annual reception for the Christmas holiday.[6] The event was carried out by Israel Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov. Israel provided 42 Palestinian tour guides from the private sector with special permits to offer tours to tourist and pilgrim groups in Israel.[7]

• Providing free transportation between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Dec. 24 and 25, leaving every hour from Jerusalem’s Mar Elias Monastery traveling to the Church of the Nativity.[8]

• Hosting numerous Christmas events in Jerusalem, such as high mass services and caroling.[9] The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) will host a lecture on the history of Christmas and is offering trips to mass at Notre Dame.[10] Musica Eterna is hosting tours of Jerusalem’s Old City and a concert performance conducted by Ilya Plotkin in honor of Christmas.[11]

• Ensuring expedited passage at security checkpoints between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, thanks to coordination among the Civil Administration’s Bethlehem District Command Office, Israeli security, Bethlehem’s Christian community leaders and Palestinian Authority security services.[12] Arab Israelis will be permitted to enter Bethlehem with the vehicles, as in prior years.[13]

• Providing entry permits for the Christian community to travel to Bethlehem from Dec. 20 - Jan. 20 without restrictions.[14]

• Ensuring that clergy can travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem without restrictions.[15]

Also, as part of the 16th annual “Festival of Festivals” celebration that promotes coexistence and peace among Haifa’s mixed Arab and Jewish population, cultural and artistic events including concerts, art exhibits, antiques fair, dancing and carnivals are planned for every weekend in December.[16]

Since its inception, Israel has defended the right of all Israeli citizens to freedom of religion. The Declaration of Independence states that Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”[17]

Violence against Christians in Gaza and the West Bank Continues

Christians throughout the West Bank and Gaza have been subjected to Islamist persecution, including “intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycotts, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion,” according to Justus Reid Weiner, a renowned international human rights lawyer and expert on the Palestinian Christian minority.[18]

Recent examples include:

Aug. 26, 2009: In accordance with Iran-backed Hamas’ Shariah (Islamic) laws, Gaza’s Christian female students are forced to wear the jilbab (a traditional Muslim long, loose fitting coat) and headscarf.[29]

July 22, 2009: Executive Secretary of the Near East Council of Churches Constantine Dabbagh and his wife are beaten and robbed when vandals break into their residence in Gaza.[20]

May 25, 2009: Vandals desecrate some 70 graves at two different Palestinian Christian cemeteries in the West Bank village of Jiffna, north of Ramallah.[21]

May 2009: Palestinian Muslims from Jalazone Refugee Camp vandalize two Christian cemeteries near Ramallah, resulting from a family dispute.[22]

April 7, 2009: A fire damages Ramallah’s Coptic Church, but the cause is unknown.[23]

Israel is one of the few Middle East countries where the Christian population has increased since 1948, rising by more than 400 percent.[24] The total Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza is 3.9 million, 2.4 million in the West Bank and 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip.[25] An estimated 1,500 to 2,500 Christians live in Gaza and approximately 50,000 in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), many of whom reside in cities such as Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem.[26]

Some analysts say persecution by extremist Islamists has played a role in the steady exodus of Palestinian Christians,[27] who now account for only 1.2 – 2.2 percent of the population.[28] Largely due to emigration, Bethlehem’s Christians have declined from a solid majority to only one-third[29] of that city’s population of 30,000 people.[30]


Experts and Israeli officials available for comment

In Israel:

Guy Inbar, Spokesman for the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories
Tel.: 972-50-623-4053

Yossi Gottesman, Foreign Press Liaison, Jerusalem Municipality
Tel.: 972-2-629-7744, E-mail: dover@jerusalem.muni.il

David Parsons, Spokesman, International Christian Embassy
Tel.: 972-2-539-9700

Professor Justus Reid Weiner, international human rights lawyer and expert on the Palestinian Christian minority
Tel.: 972-2-561-9281, Email: justusdocs@yahoo.com

Lydia Weitzman, Foreign Press Adviser to the Ministry of Tourism
Tel.: 972-2-52-358-4395

The Ministry of Tourism’s dedicated hotline for tourist groups and pilgrims during the holiday period
Tel.: 972-50-621-4127; 972-50-621-4070

In the United States:

Nina Shea, Director, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
Tel.: 202-974-2400

Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute
Tel.: 202-974-2400



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes:


[1] Briefing on preparations and arrangements for Christmas and New Year's with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Civil Administration Bethlehem DCO Commander Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, Dec. 16, 2009.

[2] “Catholic Christmas Calendar,” Jerusalem.com. Accessed Dec. 10, 2009, from http://www.jerusalem.com/calendar

[3] “Search results for Christmas,” Jerusalem.com. Accessed Dec. 10, 2009, http://www.jerusalem.com/resul.....search=123

[4] “Search results for Christmas,” Jerusalem.com. Accessed Dec. 10, 2009, http://www.jerusalem.com/resul.....search=123

[5] Israel Tourism Ministry communiqué, Dec. 7, 2009

[6] Israel Tourism Ministry communiqué, Dec. 7, 2009

[7] Israel Tourism Ministry communiqué, Dec. 7, 2009

[8] “The Jerusalem Municipality to Distribute Free Christmas Trees,” Office of the Mayor Nir Barkat, Dec. 16, 2009.

[9] “Press Release: The Tourism Ministry Prepares for the Arrival of about 70,000 Christian Tourists this Christmas,” Ministry of Tourism, Dec. 14, 2009.

[10] Briefing on preparations and arrangements for Christmas and New Year's with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Civil Administration Bethlehem DCO Commander Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, Dec. 16, 2009.

[11] “Press Release: The Tourism Ministry Prepares for the Arrival of about 70,000 Christian Tourists this Christmas,” Ministry of Tourism, Dec. 14, 2009.

[12] Briefing on preparations and arrangements for Christmas and New Year's with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Civil Administration Bethlehem DCO Commander Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, Dec. 16, 2009.

[13] Briefing on preparations and arrangements for Christmas and New Year's with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Civil Administration Bethlehem DCO Commander Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, Dec. 16, 2009.

[14] Briefing on preparations and arrangements for Christmas and New Year's with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Civil Administration Bethlehem DCO Commander Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, Dec. 16, 2009.

[15] Briefing on preparations and arrangements for Christmas and New Year's with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Civil Administration Bethlehem DCO Commander Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, Dec. 16, 2009.

[16] “Newsletter: 16th Festival of Festivals in Haifa,” The Israel Ministry of Tourism – Go Israel. Accessed Dec. 10, 2009, from http://www.tourism.gov.il/Tour.....+Haifa.htm

[17] “Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 14, 1948, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peac.....f%20Israel

[18] Weiner, Justus Reid, “Palestinian Crimes against Christian Arabs and Their Manipulation against Israel,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Sept. 1, 2008, http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templ.....s_against_
Christian_Arabs_and_Their_Manipulation_against_
Israel

[19] “Gaza schoolgirls say Hamas cracking down on dress code,” Ma’an News Agency, Aug. 26, 2009, http://www.maannews.net/eng/Vi.....?ID=221184

[20] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Church official, wife beaten and robbed in Gaza”, The Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2009, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/S.....2FShowFull

[21] Sawafta, Ali, “Vandals desecrate Christian graves in West Bank”, Reuters, May 24, 2009 http://www.reuters.com/article.....USLO467370

[22] “Israel and the occupied territories”, U.S. Department of State, Oct. 26, 2009, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127349.htm

[23] Derfner, Larry, “Persecuted Christians?”The Jerusalem Post, May 7, 2009, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/
Satellite?apage=2&cid=1239710889374&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

[24] Weiner, Justus Reid, “Palestinian Crimes against Christian Arabs and Their Manipulation against Israel,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Sept. 1, 2008, http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templ.....s_against_
Christian_Arabs_and_Their_Manipulation_against_Israel

[25] “On the Eve of International Population”, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), July 11, 2009, http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals.....on_dE.pdf; "2008 Human Rights Report: Israel and the occupied territories," State Department Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor Web site, Feb. 25, 2009, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls.....119117.htm

[26] Nasr, Joseph, “FACTBOX - Christians in Israel, West Bank and Gaza”, May 10, 2009, Reuters UK, http://uk.reuters.com/article/.....FH20090510

[27] Adelman, Jonathan; Kuperman, Agota, “The Christian Exodus from the Middle East,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, May 24, 2006, http://web.archive.org/web/200.....an_Exodus_
final_2.pdf; Weiner, Justus Reid, “Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2006, http://www.jcpa.org/text/Chris.....Weiner.pdf

[28] “Palestinian Christian couple's divided life,” BBC News, May 13, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8047401.stm

[29] Starr, Stephen, “Middle East Christians hit the road,” Asia Times, July 22, 2009, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/M.....2Ak01.html

[30] Nammari, Dalia, "Muslim calligrapher writes Gospel of Luke for pope," USA Today, April 28, 2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/r.....pope_N.htm


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