Christians in Bethlehem

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?
J.N.

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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4 comments:

  1. No, Fred, the Arab Christians were forced to leave Bethlehem by their neighbors the Arab Muslims. That is why there is a Muslim majority in Bethlehem today.

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  2. This is largely a myth propagated by Israelis and the Israeli government. I challenge you to come to Bethlehem with me for discussions with local Christians there, and hear from them their stories.

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  3. It is a great loss to Israelis and Bethlehem Arabs that there has been a massive decrease of Christians to this holy site. It was just a few years ago that the Arabs wanted to build a mosque in the square in front of the holiest church in Bethlehem. The Israeli mayor stopped this.
    I ask my fellow Christians to look at the thousands of Coptic Christians that have been murdered or escaped from Israel and around the world. We must do an Entebbe! As a Muslim once said to me:"First the Saturdaypeople,then, the Sunday people".

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  4. There was not a great many Coptic Christians in the Holy Land before the state of Israel was established. the vast majority of Christians in Israel/Palestine are Orthodox, mostly Greek. There are about 1,000 Copts today in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

    Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority is particularly friendly to indigenous Christians. In Israel and in the Palestinian Areas it is illegal to proselytize, to try and convert anyone to Christianity.

    In Israel preferential treatment is given to Jews, and in the Palestinian Authority Muslims are given preferential treatment in official matters. Mosrt Israelis have negative views of the local Christians and rarely differentiate between Muslims and Christians - they are all 'Arabs'. This is reflected in government policies, hiring practices and the general discrimination around the country.

    I have many Christian friends in Bethlehem and they call themselves Palestinians first, then Christians. Their political views don't differ much from their Muslim neighbours. They want to be free.

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