Thousands of Christians from all corners of the globe are flocking to Bethlehem in central West Bank to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Festivities and processions lit up the entire town where the religious figure was believed by followers to have been born.
This season is extra joyous to the Palestinian city host as they celebrate not only the birth of Christ but also that of a newly found Palestinian state. Only last month, Palestine was granted a non-member observer state by the United Nations, setting off celebrations across the West Bank.
Previously, hardships of Israeli occupation often marred the charm of Christmas Eve celebrations in the West Bank. Tourist and pilgrims were often frightened away by the on-going conflict. As fighting subsided in recent years, tourists have returned in larger numbers to celebrate at the holy land.
However, the move has in effect changed little of the ground, with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing the UN recognition bid. He says that it is empty gesture which makes little difference for Palestinians, according to Wall Street Journal.
Israel has tightened control amid the influx of tourists and locals alike. Hundreds of Christian pilgrims from Gaza are headed to the West Bank to spend Christmas with their families. However not all are able to pass through. Israel has denied entry and transit permits to men between the age 16 and 35.
Amid heightened security, tourists and locals are more optimistic. At least 50, 000 pilgrims have already gathered at Bethlehem to pray for peace and Christmas spirits are high. “It’s beautiful. Merry Christmas, I love it here!” says a tourist.