This week, Christians all over the world will begin to celebrate the Christmas holiday season, each according to their tradition. As the Holiday grows closer COGAT has taken preparatory steps to ensure that the Christian population will be able to celebrate appropriately. As part of the preparation, a conference was held in the Bethlehem DCO to representatives of the relevant international organiz
Date: 23.12.13 Author: Ariella Lemberg
Last Tuesday (17.12.13) a conference was held in the Bethlehem DCO for representatives of international organizations which operate in the area. As part of the conference, the DCO Head, Lt. Col. Eyal Zaavi, presented the central steps that were being taken for the holiday season. Additionally, he presented COGAT’s evaluation for the holiday season as well as the wide and varied steps that are being taken to aid the Christian population. Zaavi took the opportunity to wish all the representatives a “Merry Christmas” and reminded all those present that the DCO, as always, stands ready to provide immediate responses to the organizations, particularly around the holiday season, with regards to any problems they may be encountering.
Once a year, COGAT hosts a preparatory conference for the Christmas holiday season. As part of the preparations, meetings are arranged between the IDF forces stationed by Bethlehem and city officials, the Palestinian Security Forces, representatives of international organizations, and Christian representatives in the city. Additionally, COGAT meets with various officials from the IDF and the Israeli Government. The purpose of these meetings is to ensure that the procedures and various ceremonies planned are executed according to tradition. Furthermore, COGAT typically allocates additional forces to the checkpoints due to the sensitivity of the season.
The steps that COGAT is undertaking this year include the following: unlimited entry to Israel for the Christian population of Judea and Samaria for the duration of the holiday season, the distribution of 200 permits for Palestinian non- residents of Judea and Samaria to visit the area,Palestinian Christians from Judea and Samaria will be allowed entry to Israel for tourist purposes, and 500 Palestinian Christians from the Gaza Strip will be allowed to enter Israel and Judea and Samaria for the purpose of family visits and religious ceremonies.
“We hope that the security situation will remain stable for the duration of the holiday season” said the Head of DCO Bethlehem,” the current security situation is shaky, and there is the possibility that the influx of visitors will lead to issues that may interfere will the ceremonies, and perhaps even lead to attempts to harm the local populace. We will do all that we can in order to preserve the stability of the region and to allow the Christian population to enjoy the holiday with no incidents”.
The Christmas holiday season is of religious as well as economic importance, as the influx of tourists during the season is a major boon to the Bethlehem economy. Last year, approximately 170,000 tourists visited the holy sites during the holiday season and filled all the rooms of the 46 hotels in Bethlehem. This year, an additional 13 hotels have opened in the area in order to provide more room for the tourists.
“We do all that we can in order to enable as many visitors as possible to access the holy sites and tourist locations, as we understand the economic importance of the season” added Zaavi. “As representatives of the State of Israel, our job is to ensure the freedom of ceremony and religion to all religions, and during this season, the Christian population will be given the opportunity to visit every site and experience the holiday season in the best way possible”.