JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres issued Christmas greetings.
“We celebrate Christmas with you, we know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel and to the city of Jerusalem, where so much of our common history was forged,” Netanyahu said in a holiday greeting on YouTube directed at Christians. ”We have a great past, we have common values, we have the desire to seize a common future of security, prosperity and peace.”
Peres also issued a greeting, joking that it was almost a white Christmas in Israel, which saw a major snowstorm two weeks ago.
“A holiday for one religion is a holiday for the whole county,” Peres said. “As a state we are responsible for your safety, freedom and holy sites and for your feeling as free and equal citizens that carry with them the hope that unites us for peace and a better world. The Lord is doing what he can but we must do what we need to do, to follow his wish and our destiny, to live in peace.”
Thousands of tourists and Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, during his midnight Mass sermon at the Church of the Nativity, called for a “just and equitable solution,” for the Palestinian quest for statehood. He also called on Christians not to forget “the prisoners and their families who hope for their release, the poor who have lost their land and their homes demolished, families waiting to be reunited, those out of work and all who suffer from the economic crisis.”
He said, “We are invited to be optimistic and to renew our faith that this land, home of the three monotheistic religions, will one day become a haven of peace for all people.”
The service was attended by attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Pope Francis prayed for “a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians” during his Christmas Day address Wednesday from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“True peace is not a balancing of opposing forces. It’s not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment,” the Pope said.
Most Christians in Israel and the West Bank are Arabs.