“From the City of Peace, Jerusalem, I extend the warmest Christmas greetings to all of you — Merry Christmas!” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a short holiday video released on YouTube today.
Speaking to Christians in Israel and around the world, Netanyahu said, “We celebrate Christmas with you, we know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel, and to the city of Jerusalem, where so much of our common history was forged.”
Let us, in turn, pray for the Prime Minister’s family, all Israelis and Palestinians — Jews and Arabs — and particularly the Church in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that the Lord Jesus Christ may bless them and grant them peace, stability, prosperity, and deep spiritual growth and joy.
As I reported earlier, an estimated 75,000 Christian pilgrims are now in Israel to celebrate Christmas. Many will visit Bethlehem, especially tonight on Christmas Eve.
By the time the Christmas season is over, ”about two million people will have visited Bethlehem in 2013,” which Israeli tourism officials note is “almost double the 2012 figure of 1.18 million” people.
The Prime Minister’s warm relationship with the Christian world notwithstanding, Israelis have mixed views about celebrating Christmas. Many are deeply grateful for the friendship of the international Christian community and supportive of — or at the least tolerant of — the followers of Jesus in the epicenter. Others carry wounds from historical tensions between Christians and Jews and feel uncomfortable with displays of Christmas. In some cases, discussion of Christmas provokes political debates between Israelis and Palestinians. Here are a few articles and columns in recent days on the subject.
- Israeli columnist: Make room for Christmas in Jerusalem
- Jewish National Fund embarks on annual distribution of Christmas trees in Israel (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel to Abbas: No, Jesus was not a Palestinian — Foreign Ministry pans PA president’s ‘outrageous rewriting of Christian history,’ says he needs a hug from Santa (Times of Israel)
- Israel’s parliament speaker bans public Christmas tree display in legislature (AP/Fox News)
- Pope ‘to make first Holy Land trip in May’ (AFP)
- Abbas urges pilgrims to visit Holy Land for pope’s visit (AFP)