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December 19, 2014 4:20 pm

Israel Grants Palestinian Christians Travel Visas for Christmas

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Palestinian Christians pictured outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Christmas eve in 2006. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Israel has granted travel visas to Palestinian Christians ahead of Christmas.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 700 Palestinian Christians living in Gaza will be able to visit family members in Israel or the West Bank. Additionally, 500 Palestinian Christians from the West Bank will be allowed to travel to Gaza to visit family there, and 200 Palestinian Christians from Gaza and the West Bank will be allowed to travel abroad for the same purpose via Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

Israel maintains restrictions on Palestinian travel from the West Bank and Gaza due to security concerns. The IDF said the Christmas visas are “confidence-building measures” with the Palestinian Christian population.

Gaza has an estimated Christian population of 1,000-2,000 that is dwindling under pressure from Hamas’s Islamist policies. While the West Bank is home to a larger number of Christians, their numbers have also decreased under similar pressure from Palestinian Authority rule. Meanwhile, Israel is home to one of the few remaining growing Mideast Christian communities, comprising around 161,000 people.

Last year’s Christmas period saw a record 75,000 people visit Israel. That number is expected to decline slightly this year due to unrest in Jerusalem stemming from the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism.

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