Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday extended Christmas greetings to Christians in Israel and around the globe celebrating the holiday.
In a video released by his office on Christmas Eve, Netanyahu said: “Merry Christmas to all our Christian friends in Israel and around the world.
“The State of Israel is the culmination of so many prophecies and our deepest held values. We share the common civilization, the Judeo-Christian civilization, that has given the world the values of freedom, individual liberty, the sanctity of life and the belief in one God. We are proud of our traditions. We are proud of our Christian friends,” he said.
“The State of Israel would not have come into being if it weren’t for the avid support of Christians in the 19th century, in the 20th century as well and in the 21st century,” Netanyahu continued. “We know that we have no better friends around the world than our Christian friends. So thank you. Thank you all for standing up with Israel, standing up for the truth. Merry Christmas.”
Some 177,000 Christians live in Israel, or roughly two percent of the population, according to figures released this week by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Christmas festivities are particularly prominent in Jesus’s childhood hometown of Nazareth in the northern Galilee region, where some 21,900 Christians live alongside an estimated 55,000 Muslim residents.
While Christians remain a small minority in Israel, their numbers are growing slowly and their educational achievements rival those of the majority Jewish population, figures released this week by the Central Bureau of Statistics reveal.
Some 177,000 Christians live in Israel, or roughly 2 percent of the population, according to the CBS data, released in honor of the Christmas holiday on Wednesday.
Of those, some 77.5% are Arabs, making up some 7.2% of Israel’s Arab community.
Most of the Arab Christians, 70.6% of them, live in the Galilee and in northern cities.
The largest Christian community in the country resides, not coincidentally, in Jesus’s childhood hometown of Nazareth, where some 21,900 Christians live alongside an estimated 55,000 Muslim residents.
The next-largest Christian community, numbering 16,100 according to official figures, is in the northern metropolis of Haifa, followed by Jerusalem (12,700) and Shfaram (10,300).
Israel’s Christian community is striking for its educational achievement, especially among women, official figures reveal.
Fully 70.9% of Christian high schoolers achieve college-entry matriculation grades, slightly higher than Jews (70.6%), and higher still than Druze (63.7%) and Muslims (45.2%).
Three out of four Christian masters degree students, or 74%, are women, as are 63% of Christian doctoral students.
Thousands of Christian pilgrims on Tuesday flocked to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, celebrating Christmas Eve in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Visitors converged on the town’s large Christmas tree in Manger Square, near the spot believed to mark Jesus’ birthplace. Uniformed Palestinian scouts wearing yellow and gold capes paraded past assembled visitors, the sound of drums and bagpipes filling the cool, clear air. Vendors hawked snacks and holiday gifts, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Roger Hoagland, a Christian educator and missionary from Louisville, Kentucky, said he had come to lead a Baptist choir for a fourth time and described his visit as the experience of a lifetime.
“We love this opportunity,” he said. “We have 40 people and many of them are from the US and other countries. They come to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.”
In the square outside the church, a few thousand people watched in the winter sun as Palestinian scouts paraded in front of a giant Christmas tree.
“The church is beautiful and it puts what we know in the Bible (in) place,” said Laneda, an American tourist visiting the site. “Everything is just very meaningful.”
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