In early December the security situation had improved enough in Bethlehem for busloads of tourists to come back to visit the birthplace of Jesus and other holy sights in Israel and the West Bank. That was about the only the good news from the Middle East. In the Gaza Strip, the standoff continued between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.
Israel started blockading Gaza following Hamas’s takeover of the area in 2007. Though Israel no longer occupies Gaza, it controls its borders, airspace and coastline—and so controls imports. Early last month, Israel tightened the blockade against the 1.5 million people in Gaza, where over half are children and unemployment stands at 45 percent. One United Nations official described conditions as the worst ever in the territory.