Despite its proximity to the Israeli capital, Bethlehem falls within the boundaries of the West-Bank Palestinian Territories and as such under Palestinian Authority control.
The town, which was first settled by the Canaanites c 3000 BCE is hoping in 2017 for a good Christmas. In terms of visitor numbers the signs so far have been encouraging.
The Israeli Tourism Ministry have reported a large rise in visitors crossing from Jerusalem to the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Jericho in the first 9 months of 2017.
There are many companies offering tours of Israel which include a visit to Bethlehem but most only allow a few hours in the city before being bussed back to Jerusalem.
Hotels in West-Bank Bethlehem
For the majority of visitors, a trip to the Holy Land will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are a number of hotels in Bethlehem so it’s possible to stay over, allowing time to see more of this historic town.
A recent Reuters report quoted Bethlehem’s Mayor Victor Batarseh who said, “ It has been an excellent year… we don’t have any empty beds (November 2008) It must be said however that other reports are not as buoyant about the situation.
Among the most popular places to visit are:
The Church of the Nativity in Manger Square
The Church of the Nativity, originally built in the 4th century, over the spot where the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, is today controlled by three Christian denominations: Armenian Church, Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Tomb marks the place where Rachel, matriarch of the Jewish people, wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin died.
Palestinian Heritage Centre
The Centre allows an opportunity to explore and understand a little about Palestinian folklore. It has exhibitions of heritage, traditional costumes, a traditional Palestinian living room and Bedouin tent.
Of course in such a volatile region security is tight and visitors must seek appropriate advice before leaving home.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office offer this advice, “ We advise against all but essential travel to the West Bank except for Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho and the Jordan Valley. They recommend that all visitors “should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times…”
The city today is surrounded by an eight metre high, Israeli built, security wall, which separates East Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Consequently visitors are subject to rigorous army and police security checks before being allowed through. Although the Israeli Tourism Ministry has recently said that it is important to facilitate the tourist’s access across the border.
Consequently in order to ease transport difficulties the Israeli government has announced that it will once again offer free bus travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
Despite some violence in other parts of the West Bank, Bethlehem has remained fairly trouble free. Reports from Israel News say that a further 900 Palestinian policeman will patrol the city at Christmas to ensure an enjoyable and safe festive season.
The advice for any last minute visitor is to check now on Christmas hotel availability, look at relevant government advice websites and book the holiday with a reputable holiday company that has the experience of working in the area.