What does the story of Bethlehem tell us today? Two things.
Under the control of Israel (1967-1995), the Christian population of Bethlehem grew by 57 percent. When Israel delivered the city of Jesus to the Palestinian Authority in 1995, Bethlehem had an 80 percent Christian population. Now it is just 20 percent.
This change took place because in the areas of the Palestinian Authority, as well as throughout the entire Middle East, Christians are under pressure and persecuted. Christians fled Bethlehem not because of the Israeli “occupation,” but due to the Palestinian Authority.
In recent years, there have been numerous acts of violence against Christians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
- Palestinian terrorists have taken the Christian houses of Beit Jala from where their snipers fired on the houses of the Jewish quarters of southern Jerusalem.
- Armed Palestinians occupied the Basilica of the Nativity, sacking it and using it as a latrine.
- Two churches in Nablus were burned in 2006 after Pope Benedict XVI's lectio in Regensburg.
The Christian fear of living under the Palestinian Arab-Islamic rule began after the 1967 war, when hundreds of Christian notables in Bethlehem turned to the Israeli government asking that they annex the city. In 1995, the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, turned to then PM Yitzhak Rabin and asked him not to withdraw from the city because of fear for the future of Christians in the city.
In 2003, when the security fence between Jerusalem and Bethlehem was erected, the ownership of the church near the barrier remained on the Palestinian Arab side and Christian leaders asked and obtained the right to change the route so as to remain on the Israeli side.
It is not a coincidence that the Palestinian Authority is 36th on a list of 50 states that repress Christians.
But the Palestinian Arab Bethlehem tells us something else. That if a Jew were to set foot in it today, a random Jew like Jesus, he would be lynched by the Palestinians. In the Middle East there is only one state where the number of Christians grows and that is the Jewish state of Israel.