I live in the Judean Mountains south of Jerusalem. Outside my front door, across the valley from my house, I see, and hear, Bethlehem. How do I hear Bethlehem? Twice a day, if the wind is blowing right and if I am paying attention, I hear church bells from Bethlehem. Every time I hear the church bells, I pray silently that I will hear them again the next day, and the day after.
Why do church bells inspire me to pray? Because under the right conditions, I also hear the Moslem call to prayer five times a day. These start as early as 4:30am. It’s not that the Moslem call to prayer happens five times and the church bells only twice a day. It’s that not long-ago Christians were the majority in Bethlehem and nearby Arab villages. Now, Christians are not just a minority in Bethlehem of all places, but a persecuted minority.
Bethlehem is synonymous for Christian life throughout the Palestinian Authority (PA) where it's increasingly unwelcome, if not dangerous, to be a Christian.
Recently I chatted with someone on social media about this. This person wrote to me “As much as I appreciate your cause I am really concerned about Christians being driven out of Bethlehem by Muslims (and) Jews too. I have been there twice and witnessed the difference between each visit and noticed who is behind it. Please continue to push your program and also maybe get others to recognize what is happening to Christians there too.”
I was a little taken aback because the reality of what is happening to Christians in Bethlehem (or the Palestinian Authority) versus the disinformation he “noticed” is not a consequence of Jewish action. It is a consequence of the lack of Jewish presence there, ceding control of Palestinian Arab population centers to the PA which is increasingly Islamist, and increasingly hostile to Christians.
I replied, “The problem for Christians in Bethlehem and under the PA is serious. Since the PA took over, the situation there with Christians fleeing and being threatened has increased dramatically. It’s a big concern, but living here I disagree that it’s in any way because of Jews. Jews don’t control the major Arab population centers. In fact, if you look at the situation in the entire Middle East, you’ll see that Israel is the only place where Christians can live and worship freely without persecution or fear for their lives.”
What’s happening in Bethlehem and throughout the PA is blatant anti-Christian discrimination. A mafia like thuggery threatens those from even thinking about exposing this reality not to do so, for fear of further retributions. I have Christian Arab friends who, in the discretion of our candid conversations, will share the threats they face. But because of this, I cannot expose their names or stories other than to say things like shooting and firebombing Christians and Christian properties are not unusual, nor is the practice of Moslem men marrying Christian women, because according to Islam a child’s religion is that of the father. Coupled with driving Christians out physically, this diminishes the Christian population because they do not marry other Christians and raise their children as Christians.
Recently, it was reported that the PA is outright stealing church land in Bethlehem. With a risky and brazen act of just reporting this, several Greek Orthodox ministries signed a statement protesting the PA’s attempts to take control the plaza in front of the Church of the Nativity. This should come as no surprise. In 2002, Palestinian Arab terrorists desecrated the Church of the Nativity itself, hiding out there while holding worshipers hostage.
Outcry from the Christians became so widespread online that the Bethlehem City Council released a statement saying it does not intend to take Christian land. How refreshing, and sad, that such a statement had to be issued.
As the city in which Jesus was born, Bethlehem benefits from significant tourism, and therefore the PA needs to keep a remnant of Christianity alive. However, according to the CBN report, the PA is slowly replacing the religious significance of Bethlehem and making it part of their Palestinian Arab culture, where they state openly that Jesus was a Palestinian, not a Jew. “Christmas ceremonies are gradually turning from a religious Christian event to a national event sponsored by the PA, even though in recent years it has acted to deprive Christians of their properties,” an anonymous source said.
Another recent report by the Gatestone Institute highlights how deep these problems run. In summary, Gatestone cites “Palestinian Christians are suffering from the same patterns of persecution — including church attacks, kidnappings and forced conversion — that their coreligionists suffer in other Muslim nations. The difference, however, is that the persecution of Palestinian Christians receives “no coverage in the Palestinian media."
The PA’s MO is to portray Palestinian Arabs as victims of Israeli aggression and discrimination. This would be jeopardized if it became public internationally that Palestinians are themselves persecuting other Palestinians because they are Christian.
"The only thing that interests the PA is that events of this kind not be leaked to the media. Fatah exerts heavy pressure on Christians not to report the acts of violence from which they suffer, as such publicity could damage (their) image. The PA (does not) want to be depicted as a radical entity that persecutes religious minorities. That could have negative repercussions for the massive international, and particularly European, aid the PA receives."
Christianity is on the verge of extinction in Bethlehem. According to international lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, "The systematic persecution of Christian Arabs living in Palestinian areas is being met with nearly total silence by the international community, human rights activists, the media and NGOs... In a society where Arab Christians have no voice and no protection it is no surprise that they are leaving."
As an Orthodox Israeli Jew, I believe we have a special obligation to work together as Jews and Christians, to protect the status of Christians persecuted by Moslems, in Bethlehem of all places. Please join me.