Bethlehem announced that it was done with preparations for Christmas celebrations, and was ready to receive tourists and visitors on Monday. However, the Israeli authorities will not grant Christians in the Gaza Strip travel permits to visit the holy city this year, nor will they allow them to visit their relatives in Jerusalem or anywhere in the West Bank, according to a human rights organization.
The Middle East Concern organization, which is concerned with defending the rights of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, said that Israel rejected all requests by the Christians of Gaza for permits to enter Bethlehem, except for ‘people over 55 years of age,’ which constituted only 400 permits.
However, it pointed out that Israel had accepted many permit requests by Christians from Gaza before Christmas in the past years. Especially the ones that were presented by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, which in 2016 received more than 600 permits during Christmas celebrations.
A few days ago, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities confirmed that Bethlehem is witnessing an unprecedented number of tourists before Christmas; which it considered “the most prosperous in the history of the city” that Christians believe witnessed the birth of Jesus. They confirmed that “all hotels in Bethlehem are fully booked.”
This year’s celebrations occur amid a harsh humanitarian situation for the Palestinians. On Monday, the UN and the Palestinian authorities had launched an appeal to raise 350 million dollars to provide humanitarian aid supplies to Palestinians for 2019. However, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Wednesday cuts in food aid affecting about 190,000 impoverished Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank - half of all its recipients there, citing a severe funding shortfall.