The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has been magnificently restored. Yet the Covid pandemic - even more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - has reduced visitors to a trickle
There is one bonus for visitors to the Church of the Nativity in a Christmas period falling in the midst of a pandemic, as Dr Khouloud Daibes, newly appointed CEO of the Bethlehem Development Foundation (BDF), wryly points out. Whereas you might have had to queue for several hours when the church was receiving up to 3,000 pilgrims and tourists a day during its pre-Covid peaks, “now you have the church to yourself, so it’s the best time to visit – if you are vaccinated”.
Dr Daibes, a former Palestinian minister and diplomat with a PhD in conservation architecture from Leibniz University Hanover, and a mother of three, is right. On the first Monday of Advent I was able to slip into the basilica without fuss through the very low “Door of Humility”, having the church not quite “to myself” – given the presence of at least two priests, patrolling Palestinian police officers and workmen – with freedom to inspect the results of a remarkable nine-year restoration effort.