A normally empty
The Patriarch's yearly visit was meant to kick off Christmas festivities but this year, as in others, the spirit of the festive season is uniquely intertwined with the fate of all Palestinians, who say the city has suffered from years of Israeli occupation.
And like previous years, despite a boost in tourism, celebrations in
Fairy tale Christmas
It is such barriers and restrictions borne of Israeli occupation that has made Christmas bittersweet for Palestinians.
Maxim Sansour, founding board member of Open Bethlehem, an international campaign to address the state of emergency facing
He said: "Christmas comes and goes, but our problems remain."
Issues of growing Israeli settlements which lie immediately on the border of
Sansour also believes that visitors and pilgrims who do come show support but at the same time many are also in
Father Garret Edmonds, a Franciscan monk from
Father Edmonds also highlighted the increasing erosion of the Church and the increasing number of Christians choosing to emigrate from in
"It's important to have a viable, living Church, but if things continue the way they are in 25 years there might not be a living church.
Life under occupation
In 2006, Open Bethlehem released the results of a questionnaire which examined the reasons behind the high rate of Christian emigration from
Of 2000 Palestinians surveyed in
Sixteen per cent of the Christians in the city said they are in the process of emigrating, compared to eight per cent of the Muslims.
Many Palestinians also said that foreigners and pilgrims coming to
Palestinians who have Israeli permission to travel between
Some are not even allowed to visit friends and family simply because they live on the wrong side of the wall or in some cases the soldier manning a checkpoint might not feel like letting them through.
Brother Jack Curran, Vice President of Development for
"But it is also a privilege that the Palestinians deserve."
Brother Curran, a member of the Lasallian order, felt that Christmas in
"The story can't be told without looking seriously at these things," he said.
"Without foreigners," Curran explained, "it would also be a lot worse. We must act as the witnesses and truth tellers, but not just once a year."
Christmas generates a great deal of positive media attention for both
"We love good feelings and the Palestinian people deeply appreciate the show of support, but it must be a sustained kind of support."
According to Open Bethlehem, tourism accounts for 65 per cent of
Sansour said that while tourism represents a significant portion of
"They come here, take their
"Maybe they'll stop by and buy some wood carvings from a shop where the Israeli operators get a commission, but that's about it," he added.
It's not surprising given that the poverty rate stands at 60 per cent while unemployment stands at 55 per cent, a slight increase from last year but not overly significant according to George Saadeh,
Abed Ibrahim, who works at a sweets shop, said: "Christmas [is] the only time of the year that anyone makes any money."
"It's good for now. But next year it will be bad again until the next Christmas. Nothing will change," he said
Ibrahim added: "Fast dollars won't solve our business problems."
Ameer Jaber, who operates a stall selling boiled corn and roasted peanuts, feels the Palestinians need the kind of media exposure they received for Christmas year-round and not just in
He said: "You foreigners come and help us, but then you leave when you have your pictures and reports, but we're still here and you'll have the same story next year unless we get your help."