All Is Silent in Bethlehem

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Forget about finding accommodation; if Joseph and Mary had arrived in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1999 Christ might have been born at a police roadblock. "The spirit of Christmas this year in Bethlehem is all about security, the closure of roads and the restriction of movement," says TIME West Bank correspondent Jamil Hamad. And the Palestinian authorities believe they have plenty to be nervous about. Their concerns include violence aimed at disrupting the peace process from both Israeli and Palestinian extremists, violence sparked by apocalyptic Christian cults and the need to protect the prime ministers of Spain and Italy as well as Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who are guests of Yasser Arafat over Christmas. And the fact that security concerns, amplified by U.S. State Department travel advisories, are keeping a number of tourists away and cutting into the Palestinian Authority's Christmas tourism dividend is making the holy season a bit of a bust for Arafat's administration. Israeli and Palestinian security services may not agree on many things, but on one point they're unanimous: January 2 can't come soon enough.