The Tourism Ministry is preparing for the expected arrival in Israel of about 70,000 Christian tourists and pilgrims for Christmas, which is celebrated over a two-week period by the different churches. The ministry forecasts that 850,000 tourists will have visited Israel by the end of 2009.

Most pilgrims visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem’s Western Wall and Christian sites in Jerusalem such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, Mount of Olives and Capernaum.

Special Christmas events and services will include street decorations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth; a welcome committee to hand out candy to the pilgrims and visitors; free shuttle transport for pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem; a parade in Nazareth of thousands of youth from youth movements, along with leaders of the Christian communities; and a fireworks display. Christmas Masses will be held in both Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, noted that “the increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Bethlehem and Jericho in recent months has provided a boost to the Palestinian economy.”

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said that “the Christian community in its various denominations represents one of the central anchors for incoming tourism to Israel.”