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12/26/2022 Palestine (International Christian Concern) – After two years of COVID regulations restricting Christmas celebrations, the season returned to the West Bank and Christians gathered in Bethlehem for the celebration. Faith tourism is historically a key economic boost for the local community. Meanwhile Christians in Gaza were once against subject to travel permits which restricted their travel to cities such as Bethlehem. Local news reports state that Israel had approved only 600 travel permits, which is an increase from the 500 approved last year. 

Robust faith tourism is not necessarily a sign of a healthy religious freedom environment, as evident from the broader fact that while Christianity was born in the Middle East and remains a strong faith tourism destination, the region is also widely recognized as being a hot spot of religious persecution. It is an increasingly common trend within the Middle East for countries to regulate the ability of Christians to manifest their faith practice publicly, citing the reason of national security issues. This narrative is particularly common in areas of the Middle East where high-conflict is a given. Such conflicts often puts Christians in a difficult position where the ability to freely practice their faith is conditioned on their political support of a given party or actor. These types of situations contribute to the emigration of Christians abroad.

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