Today I received an email with an important question so I thought to share my answer here.
I am confused. Why did the Christian Arabs living in Bethlehem leave?
Before the state of Israel was established, about 20% of the residents of Mandate Palestine were Christian. Many of them fled or were expelled during Israel's war of Independence and their numbers dramatically reduced.
Since then, due to the hardships for Arabs in Israel, in the West Bank - first under Jordanian occupation, then Israeli occupation, many more have left. Today only about 2% of the combined population of Israel and the West Bank are Christian, and they continue to leave.
I have many Christian friends in Bethlehem and know the city well. The city today is surrounded by the separation barrier and Jewish settlements, blocking access to Jerusalem and stifling social and economic development.
Christian Palestinians tend to be better educated and more sophisticated than Palestinian Muslims and are therefor better equipped to uproot and emigrate. Many still do.
Bethlehem today is a majority Muslim city. There is some tension between Christians and Muslims, especially in recent years with the growth of Islamic conservatism. However Bethlehem has a Christian Mayor, a testament to the generally good relations between Christian and Muslim Palestinians. They are united in their opposition to Israel's Occupation and their aspirations for national independence and a sovereign state within which they can flourish.
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