First modification: 24/12/2022 – 14:34Last modification: 24/12/2022 – 14:32
Belén (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Giant Christmas tree, colored balloons in the streets and selfies in the Basilica of the Nativity: the activities of Bethlehem resume with tourists for the Christmas holidays after years of absence marked by the pandemic.
Cradle of Christ according to Christian tradition, the city of Bethlehem receives thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year for Christmas, but it has been reduced on the last two occasions due to the covid pandemic and health restrictions, which have complicated travel .
Now that restrictions have been lifted in the Palestinian territories and in Israel, where the closest international airport to Bethlehem is located, the Palestinian city takes on a festive air.
“Christmas is the festival of the city, we have taken a lot of time and made a lot of effort to prepare it,” the mayor of the municipality, Hanna Hanania, told AFP. “We wanted to have international participation and we organized songs and shows for children with singers from France, South Africa and Malta,” she adds.
The streets, shops and stone buildings of this Palestinian town, where Christians and Muslims live side by side, attract many tourists like James Wittenberger, a 70-year-old American from Michigan with his four children.
“an important place”
“It’s a wonderful place. We’ve been here for three days and the weather is good. We’re lucky to be here, away from the storm,” which is hitting the United States this weekend, says Paul, his 40-year-old son.
“I walk through this wonderful city. And I meditate on the fact that it’s a holy place, the birthplace of Christ, it’s an important place, especially at Christmas,” sighs John Haves, 22, from his side. Vancouver, on the Canadian west coast.
Owner of a pottery and ceramics workshop, Michael Al-Sirani is delighted to see tourists return after a difficult two Christmases that forced local hotels to close their doors.
“We are beginning to feel that things are improving after the coronavirus. Also, tourists have returned to sleep in the city,” he said.
An observation confirmed by the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, territory occupied since 1967 by Israel and where the city of Bethlehem is located.
“Since the beginning of this year, but more precisely since March, we began to receive tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. The number of tourists has continued to increase to a total of 700,000 tourists from all over the world,” explains Rola Maayah, Palestinian Minister of Tourism.
Pilgrims meditate in the Basilica of the Nativity while others multiply the selfies, with their heads covered in red and white Santa Claus hats, a few hours before the traditional midnight mass and wishes for peace.
© 2022 AFP