Bethlehem's Orthodox Christians prepared to celebrate Christmas on Tuesday 6th January in accordance with tradition. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7th rather than December 25th which is recognised as Christmas Day by the Catholic Church. About 50% of the Palestinian Arab Christian community across all areas of historic Palestine (including the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel) belong to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.
Within the Orthodox community, much of the Greek Orthodox Church in Palestine has over recent years been at odds with its leadership in Athens over the alleged sale of church-owned land to Israeli settler groups in 2005. Lead by figures including Archbishop Atallah Hanna, many within the Palestinian Greek Orthodox church have been outspoken critics of such policies demanding that the church must reclaim all sold land.
Atallah Hanna and other leaders of the Palestinian Christian community have also stood firmly against the new law passed by Israel in September that attempts to divide Palestinian Christians and Muslims by reclassifying Palestinian Christians as Aramaic rather than Arab. Palestinian Christians see such attempts as further attempts by Israel to fragment the Palestinian community and have rejected these moves publicly.
Palestinian scout troupes welcomed visiting Christian leaders to the city on Christmas Eve although some troupes announced in recent days that they would not welcome the Greek Orthodox leadership from Athens in further protest against the sale of land to settlers.