Catherine Ashton and other European Delegates join the Latin Patriarch for Christmas Celebrations in Bethlehem.
Catherine Ashton and other European Delegates join the Latin Patriarch for Christmas Celebrations in Bethlehem.
Catherine Ashton and other European Delegates join the Latin Patriarch for Christmas Celebrations in Bethlehem.
Catherine Ashton and other European Delegates join the Latin Patriarch for Christmas Celebrations in Bethlehem.

The entrance of the Latin Patriarch to Bethlehem marks the start of the Latin Christmas as it does every year, and is of the first of the many ceremonies that are expected to take place in Judea and Samaria in the coming weeks.

Date: 29.12.13     Author: Raanan Loew

Once again this year, COGAT took a leading role in thepreparations for the various Christmas ceremonies, as well as in the traditional services that takes place every year in Bethlehem. These ceremonies are accompanied by enormous amounts of tourists and visitors from the whole world. Approximately 1.3 million tourists have already entered Bethlehem, with an estimated 300,000 more are expected in the coming days, and the necessary preparations have been taken to accommodate them. The District Coordination Liaison (DCL) of Bethlehem has spent the last few months preparing the district for the holiday, as well as arranging the necessary cooperation between the Israeli Security Forces (the Israeli Police Force, the Border Police, the IDF, and COGAT) as well as coordination with the Palestinian Security Forces and representatives of the Churches in Bethlehem in order to ensure the ceremony is performed as needed, and that above all, it remains a joyous and ceremonious occasion

On Tuesday (12.24) Christmas celebrations began in earnest with the entry of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem into the city of Bethlehem. Preparations for the ceremony began in the early hours of the morning, and ceremony itself began with the arrival of the Latin Patriarch to the Mar Elias Monastery in Jerusalem. From there, the Patriarch traveled to a ceremonial reception at Rachel’s Tomb before continuing on the road to Bethlehem where hundreds of believers exited their vehicles and accompanied him along the route. The reception ceremony at the Mar Elias Monastery and Rachel’s Tomb were wonderful and festive, with more than 250 people receiving the Patriarch with great respect and honor. Children dressed as Santa Clause and elves gave our chocolates, giving the ceremony a very cheery holiday atmosphere.

The roads leading to and from the Monastery were closed to traffic to allow the convoy easy access, and an Honor Guard from the Mounted Israeli Police Force escorted the convoy to Bethlehem. The entire road was lined with soldiers and senior officers from COGAT and the Border Police, all of whom spoke Arabic, who mingled with the crowd, wishing all the participants a “Merry Christmas”. Around 140 cars, both Palestinian and from the Bethlehem Churches received special permits to enter the packed city and they proceeded slowly through the crowds that had come out to greet them.

“This is the largest ceremony that the Bethlehem DCL takes part in all year. We do all that we can to ensure the coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian sides is the best it can be so as the ceremony can be executed fluidly” said Lt. Col. EyalZeevi, the Head of the Bethlehem DCL. “This year, we recorded the highest number of participants to ever partake in the procession, and this is a testament to the special holidaypolicies that Israel enacts for Christmas and the coordination with the Palestinian Security Forces and the Church representatives”. Since the second week of December, as part of the preparation and special holiday policies, 20,000 entrance permits to Israel have been granted, including overnight stays. Of those, 12,000 were issued to residents of Bethlehem.

Among the dignitaries who entered Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas with the thousands of tourists already in the city was Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, and the Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlăţean.

Mackenzie Sims, an American student studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was amazed by the pronounced, in his view, cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians that took place. “I didn’t believe that the cooperation between the sides was so strong. It is incredible to be here today and see Israelis and Palestinians celebrating together and cooperating for a single goal- to ensure that today is special for everyone. It is truly amazing to be part of such a marvelous ceremony, one that is so organized and well run, and to see the respect that Israel gives to its Christian population”.