Monday, December 17, 2012

Bethlehem Loses Christians

Nadene Goldfoot
Bethlehem came under Palestinian control on December 22,  1995 as the Oslo Accords had Israel control transferred.  Bethlehem had 45,000 residents and was the 6th West Bank city to come under the PA rule.  The others were Jericho, Jenin, Tulkarm, Nablus and Kalkilya.  Right next door to Bethlehem is the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.  The PA police are to keep order.

A ceremony saw the transfer, but afterwards, crowds pulled down a fence surrounding the police station at Manger square.  Church bells rang and fireworks were lighting up the sky over the square,  jammed with merrymakers, vendors selling kebab and cotton candy and dancing boys in circles to recorded music.  Arafat's picture was in many windows.  Along Manger Street, many Santa Clauses passed out candy to children.  The Muslims were happy about it.

Not on Christmas day was everyone enthused about the change.  1,200 opponents of the Oslo Accords were outside the city limits rallying with the banner saying, "We have come to dispel the darkness," and vowed that Israel would regain control.  Jews were also upset about Rachel's Tomb being under PA control.  Israel's government did not allow this rally, so they moved to the Mar Elias monastery, north.

King David of Israel was from Bethlehem and crowned there as King of Israel.  His ancestors, Ruth and Boaz were married here, so it is a special city to Jews as well.  

 "Bethlehem's chief economic sector is tourism which peaks during the Christmas season when Christian pilgrims throng to the Church of the Nativity.  Bethlehem has over thirty hotels and three hundred handicraft work shops. Rachel's Tomb,  an important Jewish holy site, is located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem."  Jacob's 2nd wife was Rachel, who died in childbirth of Benjamin.  Jewish women like to go to her tomb to pray for children.

The Christian community privately expressed fears of falling under the control of Muslim Palestinians, but were afraid of speaking out publicly.  That was 17 years ago.  Today, the Christian population has dwindled.  In 1948 they were  85% of the population of Bethlehem.  It has now shrunk from 20,000 of 1995 to 7,500.

Bethlehem, which is 5 miles south of Jerusalem,  was a center of terrorism during the 2nd Intifada of 2000 to 2005.  Israel then built a security wall around the city in 2005 to fight terror, which may be one of the factors in driving Christians away.  Then again, Christians most likely have family in the US, Canada, Australia, and South or Central America. Christians have sought education and employment out of the city.  They are also suffering from Islamic extremism due to signs of disturbing anti-Christian feelings among parts of the Muslim population, even though they have had a tradition of coexistence.  The Muslims have intimidated the Christians and practice land theft, discriminate in the public sector in employment, along with abuse and economic hardships.  This all makes the Palestinian Christian leaders feeling insecure, and so place the blame on Israel when they speak on record.

At any rate, they expect to have thousands of tourists to celebrate Christmas.

Reference: A Star Sets in the East by Tamara Zieve, Herb Keinon and archives of Jerusalem Post

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