Bethlehem inns as crowded as night Jesus was born (12-23-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (December 23, 1944)

Bethlehem inns as crowded as night Jesus was born

G.I.’s and British soldiers pack holy city, fill chapels for Christmas Eve services

Bethlehem, Mandatory Palestine (UP) –
A troubled Christmas approached the Holy Land, birthplace of Christ, as reinforced police continued their campaign today to eliminate the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern gangs, comprised of hundreds of political extremists.

Using trained dogs, the police are hunting the terrorists who in the past 12 months have killed some 60 policemen, wounded Sir Harold MacMichael, former High Commissioner, and killed Lord Moyne, British Resident Minister to the Middle East in Cairo.

At the same time, Palestine is worn by war and everywhere a little down-at-heel. Yet, it enters the season of goodwill with more hope than it has for a long time.

Still many soldiers

There are still many soldiers in Jerusalem, but not quite as many as there have been in the past few Christmases.

In appearance, Palestine is rather thin and shabby. There is not much fresh paint. And there are not many new clothes to be seen. Hopes that utility suits would be made available under a government-controlled scheme were dashed when 50 Irgun Zvai Leumi desperadoes raided the government stores in Tel Aviv and stole $400,000 worth of goods.

There is a housing shortage in Palestine’s three principal towns, which has been accentuated by new arrivals from the 10,000 Jews who have been given immigration certificates under the last of the 1939 White Paper.

Palestine overflows

English-speaking people here – troops from Britain and the United States – are wondering whether this is the last time they will eat Christmas turkey in the Middle East. There are soldiers from liberated Europe with new hope in their eyes. And there are British and American civilians here who have not been home since before the war.

The comfortable U.S. Army leave camp somewhere in Palestine is filled to overflowing, and Terra Santa College in Jerusalem has been appropriated to billet G.I.’s.

The big YMCA building in Jerusalem with its pencil-thin belfry from which most servicemen get their first bird’s-eye view of the Holy City, is packed with Doughboys on leave and is fragrant with the smell of roasting turkeys.

Chapel reserved for G.I.’s

The Chapel of Innocence in the Church of the Nativity has been reserved exclusively for Americans and mass will be conducted there at 10 o’clock on Christmas Eve by an American Roman Catholic chaplain.

Hundreds of Americans converge on Bethlehem for Christmas Eve services from a radius of 1,000 miles – from Dakar on Africa’s Atlantic Coast, the periphery of the Indian Ocean, the tropical islands off Arabia and the Soviet frontier in Iran.

The eyes of all the world are on this little market town a few miles from the capital – a crescent-shaped village with steep rocky streets which cling to the curving side of a hill in Judea.