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Bethlehem

This page has not been updated since June 2014.  


Situated in the central West Bank, Bethlehem is governed by the Palestinian National Authority. The majority of residents are Islamic but the city also houses one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities.

Bethlehem is sacred to Christians as the place where Jesus was born and at the Christmas festival in December around 100,000 pilgrims come to visit the city’s shrines. These include the Church of the Nativity (which includes the Holy Crypt grotto supposed to be the actual birth place) and the Milk Grotto where the Holy Family is supposed to have hidden before their flight to Egypt. The place of the manger is marked by a 14-point sliver star called the star of Bethlehem.

Christmas pilgrims in Bethlehem, 1896
The 4th century church is one of the oldest in the world and is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage worldwide. Pilgrims come to the Church throughout the year. Over 100,000 pilgrims come every Christmas to take part in ceremonies for the different Christian communities.

Inside the Church of the Nativity are four rows of pillars- the fifth pillar on the right side from the low entrance door is the Saint Olav pillar with the oldest known icon of Norway’s patron saint, St Olav. The text on the pillar says: Olav King of Norway. Trondheim and Bethlehem will now twin as pilgrimage cities, with joint commitments to support each other to become greener pilgrimage cities.

Another important religious site, Rachel’s Tomb, is on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Marking the burial place of the Old Testament matriarch Rachel this site is revered by Christian, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims alike.

Manger Square, Bethlehem
Progress so far

Bethlehem joined the GPN at the meeting in Trondheim, 2013. In March 2014 a multi-faith workshop was held at the Peace Centre in Manger Square, hosted by Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem, who told delegates that the Green Pilgrimage initiative was something Bethlehem both wanted and needed.

This affirmation was echoed by the city's religious leaders, including Abed Al Majid Al Amarnah, Mufti of the Bethlehem Governate, who pointed out that “people who do not keep the environment clean are not obeying God’s orders. Keeping the environment clean is an important pillar in Islam.” Bishop Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land also supported the initiative. “Green pilgrimage can have a positive effect on Bethlehem and the region.”

Bishop Younan warned against overlooking the needs of those who live around the holy places: “Green pilgrimage must include authentic engagement with the ‘living stones’ of the Holy Land, otherwise tourists are coming to museums .... Green Pilgrimage is not only the sustainability of the environment but ensuring the sustainability of those living around the holy places.”

A GPN development plan for Bethlehem is being drawn up. It will include conserving and restoring cultural heritage, promoting local foods and handicrafts along with urban planning and community-based eco tourism. There will be new walking routes as well as greener hotels and greener waste and plans to encourage children to care for the environment.

Useful links

Bethlehem City website

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April 25, 2013:
Green Pilgrimage Newsletter, April 2013
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