Arizona Daily Star archives

Perhaps it seems like an old story: There are a lot of people visiting Bethlehem and all the hotels are full. There's just no room at the inn.

This wasn't some 2,000 years ago, however. It was 1959. People wanted to spend Christmas in the birthplace of Christ. Too many people.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Thursday, Dec. 24, 1959:

Familiar Rejection

There's 'No Room In The Inn'

Tourists, Pilgrims Crowd Into Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, Jordan, Dec. 23 (AP) — The hotels and boarding houses of Bethlehem were turning away customers Wednesday night with words equivalent to the ages-old "No room in the inn."

Hotels in the Jordan section of Jerusalem were packed too.

The tinkle of camel bells still is heard on roads winding through the Judean hills but for thousands of foreign tourists and pilgrims converging on the little town of Bethlehem, the air age definitely has come to the Holy Land.

In addition to the regular flight traffic at Jerusalem airport, 9 chartered planes loaded with tourists arrived Tuesday and 10 Wednesday. At least as many will be arriving daily the next 10 days as Jerusalem and Bethlehem enjoy the busiest Christmas tourist season in many years.

Government tourist officials estimate from the number of applications that at least 3,000 more tourists would have arrived had accommodations been available.

All this means prosperity. Most of the inhabitants in this area depend on tourist trade for their livlihood.

The main reason for the bulge in tourism is that the Holy Land has had a year relatively free of tension.

In the Christmas festivities themselves, however, are grim reminders that the Holy Land still is divided between Arabs and Israelis and that a state of armed truce exists.

Early Thursday 1,732 Arab Christians will be allowed to walk from Israel into Jordan for 36 hours with their own people on the Arab side of the armistice line.

This is the only time of year the barriers are lifted to allow Arabs to cross the line from Israel.

A second reminder of trouble is the arrival of a new kind of tourist — soldiers from Scandinavia, Canada and other foreign climes, wearing their own uniforms but the blue berets of the United Nations. These are troops of the United Nations Emergency Force, deployed along the Gaza Strip separating the forces of Israel and Egypt. UNEF troops getting leave are flying to Jerusalem. At one point along the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem you can see Israeli guard posts less than 200 yards away.

Just outside Bethlehem is a sprawling camp of huts and tents. Here Arab refugees from the other side of the line have lived on meager United Nations rations since 1948.

Within rifle shot of the Israeli guards Wednesday, a 10-year-old Arab shepherd boy sat on a stone boulder playing a whining tune on a reed flute while his scrubby sheep and goats foraged among the stones. Obviously he was bitterly poor but happy. His simple optimism reflected a general feeling found among dwellers in the Holy Land at Christmas 1959 — quiet confidence that real peace one day will return to this troubled area.

So, crowded inns and a shepherd boy? The "little town of Bethlehem"? All we need are choirs of angels and a pregnant couple being turned away from one of those crowded inns. Is there a stable nearby?

We don't make light of the situation that existed and currently exists in the area. We just couldn't help but notice the similarities to the famous Bethlehem story.

Johanna Eubank is an online content producer for the Arizona Daily Star and tucson.com. Contact her at jeubank@tucson.com