Israel’s Tourism Ministry expects around 120,000 Christian tourists during Christmas week, with most pilgrims passing through Israel on their way to the West Bank. This figure will approach the 2019 record which saw 150,000 Christian visitors set foot in the Holy Land. The ministry plans to offer special shuttles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve to allow tourists to travel there and back.

Business is picking up in Bethlehem after two years of slump due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lifting the spirits of residents of Jesus’ birthplace according to Christian tradition ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Tourists are once again enlivening the streets, and the hotels are full. Elias Arja, director of the Bethlehem Hotel Association, said tourists are eager to access religious sites in the area after being barred for the past two years. “We expect business to be excellent in 2023, especially from Christian tourists,” he said.

Tourists from around the world are posing in front of the Church of the Nativity and the giant glittering Christmas tree in Manger Square, and throng to religious souvenir shops. “Bethlehem had become a ghost town,” said Saliba Nissan, the co-owner of an olive wood factory, in front of his store filled with American pilgrims.