I would like to wish all my Christian readers and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May 2019 be a year of peace, happiness and prosperity for all of us.
Despite the best (or worst) efforts of BDS and other Israel-haters, Christians have been flocking to Israel for Christmas festivities:
Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims and tourists are expected to celebrate the Christmas holiday in Israel, taking part in the festivities at Christianity’s holiest sites.
Israel has welcomed an estimated 150,000 Christians for the festive season, according to the Tourism Ministry, with many opting to join the celebrations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth and visiting the very locations where the Christmas story unfolded.
More than half the tourists – some 56% – who visited Israel in 2018 were Christian, the ministry said, with approximately 19% defining themselves as pilgrims. Forty-one percent of Christian visitors were Catholic, 27% Protestants and 28% Orthodox.
Christian tourism has made a significant contribution to Israel’s record-breaking year of incoming tourism, with visitors already surpassing last year’s record of 3.6 million by mid-November. The four millionth tourist is expected to land before the end of the year.
According to a Tourism Ministry survey, a total of 73% of Christian tourists said they would “certainly” or “probably” return to visit Israel again.
Enabling pilgrims to enjoy Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, the Tourism Ministry provided free transportation to and from Jerusalem from 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve to 2 a.m. on Christmas Day.
The iconic Bethlehem Christmas midnight mass at the Church of St. Catherine and the Church of the Nativity, the basilica where Christian denominations widely believe Jesus was born, attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. While tickets to enter the church are free but limited, large crowds gather to watch outside on large screens in the city’s Manger Square.
Of course Nazareth too was enjoying its Christmas festivities:
While life is good for Christians living in Israel, this is most definitely not so in every other country in the Middle East, including in the Palestinian territories, where Christians are being repressed and persecuted, so much so that they are leaving in droves.
Earlier this month, the head of the Church of England wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that millions of Middle Eastern Christians are on the verge of “imminent extinction.”
“In the birthplace of our faith, the community faces extinction,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote, calling it “the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.”
Lebanese Christians fear Hezbollah’s growing power in their country, along with an influx of Syrian refugees. Turkish Christians are also facing oppression by their government. And in Iraq, the Christian population has been nearly wiped out, but those remaining are trying to rebuild their lives.
Closer to home, the Christian Palestinian population is in a constant downward trend.
Christians have long been fleeing Palestinian-controlled areas in light of systemic abuse. Terrorists affiliated with then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat famously raided and trashed the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002, holding monks hostage.
Last year, Christians were only 2% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, less than half their numbers a generation ago.
In 1950 in Bethlehem, Jesus’s birthplace, 86% residents were Christians. In 2017, they were only 12%.
In Gaza, there were 6,000 Christians when Hamas took control in 2006, but as of 2016, there were only 1,100. Hamas has murdered Palestinian Christians for their faith, and commandeered the Gaza Baptist Church for combat, because it’s one of the tallest buildings in Gaza City.
Despite this, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas still claims to be a defender of Christians and the Palestinian leadership on the whole thinks it ought to control Christian holy sites – all the while denying history at those sites.
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Christian population has stayed mostly stable at around 2%, growing by about 5,000 in the past 20 years.
Christians are free to worship in Israel without persecution or pressure from the authorities.
There are ALSO hundreds of Christians serving in the IDF:
But let’s turn to some more cheerful news: Santa has been spotted in Israel – minus his reindeer, but with an alternate form of transport 😉
And here is Jerusalem’s official Santa!
I wish all my Christian friends a peaceful, joyful festive season and I wish Merry Christmas to all those celebrating!