More than 1.3 million visitors took advantage of the relative peace between Israel and Palestine to visit Jesus Christ’s birthplace this year, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The streets around Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity—abandoned except for Israeli military jeeps just 6 years ago amid an uprising—are bustling with pilgrims, and this year’s influx beats a pre-uprising record set in 1999.
Tourism has doubled from last year, boosting the ailing Palestinian economy by 2%. Hotels are filled with Christmas guests, and Days Inn will soon open a branch in nearby Ramallah. Palestinians credit peaceful media images—fueled by a US-Middle East summit held last year—for luring tourists. Though the mood was festive, visitors still encountered Israeli security checks at Bethlehem’s gates.