The Israeli authorities have stated that they will allow 500 members of small Christian communities in the Gaza Strip to enter Israel and the occupied West Bank to celebrate Christmas
Since the 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the territory last May, movement to leave Gaza has also been restricted. However, in recent months, Israel has begun to relax some restrictions and grant thousands of Gazans permits to work in Israel as part of Egypt’s quiet attempt to bring about a long-term ceasefire.
COGAT, the Israeli defense agency responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, announced that it will allow people to visit relatives and holy sites in Israel and the West Bank. It also stated that it has also increased access to Jerusalem for Christians in the occupied West Bank and allowed approximately 200 Gaza Christians to travel abroad through Israel to Jordan.
Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Christ, is located on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The town relies heavily on tourism, but officials worry that due to the lingering effects of the pandemic, there will be few tourists this year.
Approximately 1,000 Christians live in Gaza, which is only a small part of the region’s 2 million people. Most are Greek Orthodox, and Catholics make up about a quarter of the small community.
The ruling Islamic radical Hamas movement considers Christians to be a protected minority. In the early days of Hamas’s takeover, Islamic fanatics launched attacks on Christians many times, but the Islamic movement has since been committed to ensuring that such attacks do not occur.
Since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007, Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza tightly sealed. Residents need to obtain permission to leave the territory.