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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 24th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

This Christmas normalcy returned to Palestine I, war is the rule in Palestine II – is this the best that one can hope for without a Saudi-Egyptian honest involvement in the Palestinian territories? Why do the Europeans have to continue to subsidize Arab rejectionism? Is this the true Christian spirit and love? Is its reward in the fact that Bethlehem turned from a city with a 92% Christian majority to one of a 35% Christian minority? Is the region intended for complete Islamization with Europe’s acquiescence?

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All beds booked in Bethlehem for first time in seven years, writes Eric Silver from Bethlehem, for The Independent, This Christmas Eve, December 24, 2007.

After seven lean, intifada years, Joseph Canavati, owner of the modern Alexander Hotel on Manger Street, the snaking main road leading to the Church of the Nativity, is dusting off his “No vacancies” sign. The pilgrims are coming back.

“This is the best year we’ve had since the uprising,” he beamed. “There are peace talks. There’s no violence in the Bethlehem area, no violence in Jerusalem. Our business depends on tranquillity. If there is no violence, there is business.” The guests for his 44 rooms come from the United States, Italy, Lithuania, and South Korea.

All 2,000 beds in Bethlehem hotels and hostels are booked for Christmas for the first time since 2000. Victor Batarseh, the West Bank city’s Roman Catholic mayor, expects 40,000 pilgrims to visit Jesus’s birthplace for the holiday.

Despite the bleak welcome of Israel’s concrete security wall at the entrance to the city, there is renewed buoyancy in the streets: more coloured lights and decorated trees, few if any political slogans or portraits of Chairman Arafat. The roads, once ravaged by Israeli shells and armoured vehicles, are swept and repaired.

“God bless this bus station” reads a sign in the underground coach park built for the Millennium. The Muslim feast of Id al-Adha shades this year into Christmas. Every one of Bethlehem’s 32,000 residents has something to celebrate.

Israel is trying to help. “We all share the same economic interest,” said Shaul Tzemach, director general of the Tourism Ministry. Procedures have been streamlined for pilgrims at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 10 minutes’ drive to the north.

Tourism is Bethlehem’s main source of income. The figures are up throughout the year. “We had an excellent summer,” Mr Canavati reported, “followed by a good October and November. The hotels in Jerusalem were so full that we got the overflow.”

The Israeli Tourism Ministry logged one million Christian visitors to the Holy Land in 2007, at least half of them pilgrims. The mayor said the number of visitors to Bethlehem was back to 60-70 per cent of pre-intifada trade.

But the recovery is fragile. Unemployment is down from 60 per cent a year ago to 45 per cent now. The gift shops are open; the factories carving olive wood and mother of pearl nativity tableaux are back in production. But thousands of labourers who used to work in Jerusalem are barred from entering Israel, though Israel is allowing Palestinian Christians and Muslims to visit relatives across the de facto border for their respective holidays.

It is small comfort for hundreds of Bethlehem families whose kin have settled much further afield. The pilgrims are coming, but the Christians are leaving. Before the creation of Israel in 1948, 92 per cent of the city’s population were Christian. The mayor, a retired ear, nose and throat surgeon, puts the current ratio at 35 per cent Christians to 65 per cent Muslims and says that at least 400 Christian families have emigrated from Bethlehem in the past three to four years.

Samir Qumsieh, who runs Nativity, a private Christian television station, said: “Emigration is deadly. In 15 years you will not find Christians here.” Three of his four brothers live abroad. He blames the exodus on the Israeli occupation, internal problems (for which read militant Islam) and the fact that “there is no life here”.

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Olmert to continue ‘war’ on militants, reports Mark Lavie, Associated Press, the Middle East, December 24 2007.

Israel’s prime minister yesterday pledged war against Gaza militants, rejecting feelers from the Islamic Hamas for a truce, while an Israeli Cabinet minister angered moderate Palestinians with another plan for new Jewish housing in a disputed part of Jerusalem, complicating renewed peace talks.

“There is no other way to describe what is happening in the Gaza Strip except as a true war between the Israeli army and terrorist elements,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet, ruling out truce talks.

Reports of truce feelers from the embattled Islamic Hamas regime in Gaza have been surfacing almost daily, and Israeli defense officials have said they are examining the proposals.

The unconfirmed reports have Hamas convincing fellow militants in Gaza to stop their daily rocket fire at southern Israel, while Israel halts its air and ground operations in Gaza.

Speaking to his Cabinet at Sunday’s weekly meeting, Olmert rejected negotiations with Hamas because it has rejected international demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and endorse past peace accords.

“We have declared (this war) and we will continue,” Olmert said at the beginning of the meeting, which reporters are allowed to attend. “This is true regarding Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all other elements..”

Despite their overt rejections of a formal cease-fire, Israeli officials have been saying a formal truce is unnecessary. They say if Gaza militants stop the rocket fire, Israel would have no reason to attack.

Israeli airstrikes over a two-day period last week killed 12, including two top Islamic Jihad commanders. The truce feelers started surfacing a day later, first in a call from Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh to an Israeli TV reporter and later, according to officials, by way of Egypt, which has mediated several other past truces.

Islamic Jihad, which is behind most of the rocket salvos, yesterday again rejected a truce with Israel. Israel doubts whether Hamas has either the willingness or the ability to force the other militants to stop firing rockets. By nightfall four rockets fired from Gaza exploded in Israel. One damaged a factory near the Israeli city of Ashkelon, the military said.

Israeli officials said Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel this week to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. It was unclear whether a cease-fire would be on the agenda.

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Santa should move grotto to Kyrgyzstan, say Swedish consultancy Sweco and the Kyrgiz Government.

By Claire Soares, of The Independent, December 24, 2007.

Forget the North Pole, Santa – Kyrgyzstan is where it’s at.

It seems even the world’s most famous gift-giver cannot dodge the “location, location, location” consultants, who have calculated that the central Asian country is the best place for him to stable the reindeer and plan his Christmas Eve mission.

Taking into account population centres and the rotation of the Earth’s axis, a Swedish consultancy firm has identified northern Kyrgyzstan – or where latitude, (N) 40.40 crosses longitude, (E) 74.24 to be precise – as the prime location for Santa Claus. Never mind the fact it is a predominantly Muslim country and a former anti-capitalist Soviet Republic. If he started there and travelled west against the rotation of the Earth, Santa has twice as much time to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.

“He can eliminate time-consuming detours and avoid subjecting his reindeer to undue strain,” consultants at the Stockholm-based Sweco said. And Kyrgyzstan’s politicians seem to be keen to rope Santa into their bid to boost tourist numbers in this mountainous and picturesque corner of central Asia. Bucking the trend of naming snowy summits after Soviet heavyweights such as Lenin and former president Boris Yeltsin, today they will be naming one peak “Mount Santa Claus”. Climbers will bury a sealed capsule containing the national flag on the peak to mark the occasion.

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The last piece comes to remind us that after all – commercialization is what rules today’s world – all human actions are pocket driven and really only a few idealists remain who still allow ethics to direct their daily lives. Is this the right time for the appearance of a Messiah to save Planet Earth and Humankind?

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