Christmas Cheer for Palestinians?

Will it be a merry Christmas for Palestinian Christians this year? The answer is that it depends who you ask.

According to some the picture is bleak. Take, for example, this report about Santa having to “ditch his sleigh in Egypt and crawl through a smuggling tunnel to bring a little Christmas joy to the Gaza Strip.” Or this piece about new nativity scene sculptures on sale in Bethlehem that sum up local frustrations — they show Joseph, Mary, crib, wise men and large Israeli concrete wall with military watchtower.

Others are more upbeat. The Bintel Blog has already reported that Palestinian hotels are experiencing something of a boom. This article discusses flourishing tourism in Bethlehem, with four times the number of visitors this year than in 2007, and reports on a new event meant to draw people in — the town’s first Christmas rock concert.

The Israel Defense Forces also claims to be helping bring some Christmas cheer. While it is normally impossible for Gaza residents to cross to the West Bank, it is taking the unusual step of letting almost one in eight Christian Gazans — 300 people — visit Bethlehem or spend Christmas with family in the West Bank.

The IDF is also issuing an unlimited quota of one month-long permits for Palestinian residents of the West Bank, allowing them entry to Israel for religious and family gatherings. More than 10,000 permits, valid from December 20 to January 20 were issued to date. “The decision to carry out these improvements was made in accordance with the directives of Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and in light of security assessments of the IDF Central Command and the Civil Administration,” the IDF said in a statement.

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