Preparations for Christmas 2018 are well underway, according to the Press Conference held at the Bethlehem Peace Center, today. With the world’s spotlight beaming down, this December, on the city – the world celebrated birthplace of Jesus Christ – the municipality of Bethlehem announced that the theme of this Christmas is ‘Being and Existence’.

The mayor of Bethlehem, Anton Salman, explained that this Christmas is a time to show the world that the Palestinian people “are rooted in this land, just as the trees are”. The Palestinian people “are one community, regardless of different religions”, the mayor said, squelching any notion that the occupation had spread of the oppression of Palestinian Christians by its Muslim majority.

The message of ‘strength in unity’ was also reaffirmed by Governor Kamel Hmeid who was speaking on behalf of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Hmeid believed that this Christmas is the perfect time to highlight and reflect on the fact that, even though “we are facing the darkness that the occupation forces upon us… the Arab Palestinian people are here and they are united.”

To celebrate the festive season, the Christmas tree lights and decorations will be lit up on December 1st, setting aglow Manger Square with a sense of joy and pride. Director of Police, General Alaa Shalabi, said that Manger Square will be blocked off from 3 pm and that 400 police officers will be on duty to oversee the safety and security of these festive events.

According to Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Rula Maa’yaa, there has already been a significant increase, this year, in tourism and people staying in Bethlehem hotels, compared to last year. Despite thousands of tourists visiting the Holy Land, every year, and making the pilgrimage, many people – if not most – experience the city on time-limited and scheduled bus tours, often run by Israeli companies.

Unfortunately, this has meant that the large number of tourists does not have as big a contribution to the Palestinian economy as would be desired. The speakers all hope that this increasing trend will continue, and that the community will be ultimately benefited. However, in light of this positive rise in hotel-stayers, Maa’yaa could not give a hard statistic of last year’s numbers nor an estimation of this year’s tourist influx, but this will be released to the public a few days prior to Christmas Day.

Speaking to PNN, Salman says that Christmas is an opportune time to let the international community remember that there is a country in the Middle East called Palestine, and its people are continuing to suffer under the Israeli occupation, which want nothing more than freedom and independence. Christmas is a “feast of peace, hope and justice”, and therefore, this year’s message of unity and existence is a “political one and a humane one”.