Christmas celebrations for the Orthodox community got underway in Bethlehem on Friday, January 6th, which marks Christmas Eve for Orthodox Christians around the world. Bishops, patriarchs, political leaders and pilgrims arrived in the city to celebrate the holiday.Over 2,000 scouts from all over the West Bank arrived with their marching bands and held a parade to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Christians believe that Jesus was born.

Victor Batarseh, the Mayor of Bethlehem, attended the celebration and told reporters, “Our message in these days is love and peace to all especially in the Holy Land”, adding that the theme of this year’s celebration is “Palestine celebrates hope”.

Other participants included Syrian Orthodox Church Archbishop Mar Malki Murad, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Abraham, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III and Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop Abba Kwestos.

Gathered in Nativity Square, outside of the Church of Nativity, the thousands of participants sang Christmas songs and prayed for peace in the Holy Land.

Politicians who attended include Palestinian Authority Advisor for Christian Affairs Ziad Bandak, the Governor of the Bethlehem district Adul Fatah Hamail and Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister Khloud Diabes.

Palestinian Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, have been severely impacted by the Israeli occupation, with Bethlehem split and separated by the Israeli Annexation Wall, in addition to numerous attacks and violations against Christian areas and sites by Israeli troops.

Israeli authorities have demanded the demolition of a Greek Orthodox housing project in Beit Sahour that houses hundreds of Palestinian Christians. Israeli authorities say that the project is too close to the Israeli settlement of Har Homa and is a ‘security risk’ because it sits on the side of a hill.