Bethlehem is preparing to celebrate Christmas as usual, but perhaps a little more joyously than in previous years when tourists stayed away because of intifada violence. 30,000 to 40,000 people are expected to cram into the town deemed the birthplace of Christ. Last year there was only half that number.
Despite the relative calm right now on the West Bank, security in Bethlehem is extremely tight, the Fatah-run Palestinian administration having sent in hundreds of police over the weekend to make it clear to the Israelis that it can take care of its own security.
The motorcade carrying the Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, arrived in Bethlehem via a huge steel gate in the Israeli wall to prepare for tonight’s midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity.
Sabbah is the highest Roman Catholic official in the holy land. He stressed that all religions were united concerning the importance of Bethlehem.