News release issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales - Monday 9 March

Coronavirus shuts down Bethlehem - Friends of the Holy Land launch a Bethlehem Appeal to support the vulnerable population directly through our office in Bethlehem.

This means the Church of the Nativity and other places of worship in Bethlehem are shut, all tourism and religious sites across the West Bank are closed and all tourists banned from the West Bank for an unspecified amount of time.

The Israeli army, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, are enforcing a closure on Bethlehem, banning Israelis and Palestinians from entering or leaving the city.

Whilst this precautionary action is understandable and reflects similar situations in other countries, the impact on the Bethlehem economy is expected to be disastrous, especially in the lead up to Easter one of the key tourism seasons for the city.

Tourism is Bethlehem's main industry. More than 30% of the working population is employed in the industry with much more reliant on visitors’ business in shops, cafes, taxis etc. Tourism accounts for approximately 65% of the city's economy with around two million visitors last year. Employment conditions for most in the industry are fragile, hand-to-mouth with no safety net of social support.

As reported this morning by our office, this lockdown is already having a devastating impact on the lives of most Christians in Bethlehem.

Our office staff provide front line support to the neediest every week. We ask you to help us gear up our levels of this support to offset those immediately affected by this lockdown in the weeks ahead - just £40 per week can put food on the table to feed a typical family whose breadwinner is now unemployed.

We also ask you to pray for our brothers and sisters for their relief and recovery as in the reports we have already received from our office, there is a great deal of fear in Bethlehem whose residents have been isolated from the West Bank and the World; a difficult step for a multi-cultural society which is used to welcoming so many visitors.