image Photo: Courtesy of COGAT

COGAT helps start of Christmas celebration

Christmastime is an important and festive season in the Holy Land, where traditional holiday events attract significant tourism and help bolster local economies. Sadly, this year’s celebrations take place under the shadow of the coronavirus and guidelines to prevent further spread of the pandemic without limiting the celebrants’ joy.

According to a statement TV7 received from the Civil Administration at the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Israel is undertaking all possible steps to “safeguard both the freedom of worship for all the Christian denominations and the security and health of the worshippers.”

COGAT, in cooperation with the IDF, national and Border Police, has gone to great lengths in recent weeks to arrange for the Christmas events in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to take place in accordance with the Ministry of Health guidelines,” read the statement.

As in previous years, the Civil Administration coordinated the entry of the Custos of the Holy Land to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, in honor of Saint Catherine’s Day and the official start of the Christmas calendar of events on Saturday.

This year, security was aimed not only at external threats but the coronavirus, as well.

The IDF Etzion Regional Brigade, Jerusalem District Police and the Border Police ensured the safe passage for the procession of the Father Francesco Patton from the Mar Elias Monastery to the site revered by Christians as Jesus’ birthplace, while strictly conforming to Israeli Health Ministry instructions.

“During this season, we are accustomed to seeing Bethlehem bedecked in festivity, but this year, because of the spread of COVID-19, we are forced to celebrate Christmas differently,” commented the Head of Bethlehem District Coordination and Liaison (DCL), Lt. Col. Tali Aharon Kroitoro, adding that “COGAT and the Civil Administration are investing great effort — together with Israel’s medical, security, and health authorities — in order to make the traditional events possible despite the limitations, and to preserve freedom of worship and religion for all believers.”

“Allow me to take this opportunity to wish a Merry Christmas to all those who are celebrating; and may it be God’s will that the traditional festivities next year be observed once more in the marketplaces, in the churches, and the family homes,” said Lt. Col. Aharon Kroitoro.