Following a decision made by the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak and the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, it was decided that in anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday season, which begins today, December 19th 2012, and will last until January 20th 2013, the IDF and CoGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) are to take trust-building
The Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Eitan Dangot and the Head of the Civil Administration, Brigadier General Moti Almoz visited and greeted several church leaders and representatives, briefing them on the coordination efforts made in preparation for the scheduled religious ceremonies.
IDF representatives conducted meetings with representatives from the Bethlehem Municipality, the Palestinians Security Forces, international organizations as well as religious representatives, in order to coordinate the preparations for the upcoming ceremonies. The IDF and the Israel Police will reinforce their personnel in the crossings around Bethlehem in order to guarantee a swift and smooth entrance of pilgrims to the city during the holidays.
Measures that are to be implemented during this season as of today, and are to last until Sunday, January 20, 2013:
· Provision of up-to 20,000 visitor permits for Christian Palestinians from the Judea and Samaria Region to visit Israel during the entire season, without limitations on age or marital status.
· 200 permits for Christian Palestinians to travel abroad via Ben Gurion International Airport, following security inspections.
· 300 permits for Christian Palestinians, who reside abroad, to visit the Judea and Samaria as requested by the Palestinian Authority.
· Provision of permits to conduct tours in Israel for Christian Palestinians from the Judea and Samaria Region, in coordination with the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Police.
· 500 visitor permits for Christian Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Israel and the Judea and Samaria Region in order to visit their families and participate in religious ceremonies. (Will be provided to minors under the age of 16 and adults over the age of 35, and depending on security clearance)
To be attributed to ‘Security Sources’:
During the course of 2012 (until November 2012), approximately 1,179,000 tourists entered Bethlehem. This is a 10 percent increase compared to 2011.
Over the past year, three new hotels were built in Bethlehem and three additional hotels are currently under construction. 46 other hotels already exist. According to Palestinian tourism officials, over 300,000 visitors are expected to visit Bethlehem during the holidays and the hotels in the city are already completely booked.