Thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square yesterday to celebrate Christmas while trusting their security to Palestinian security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas. “We expect about 40,000 visitors in Bethlehem this week,” said Khouloud Daibes-Abu Dayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of tourism, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The estimate includes Christians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel and the rest of the world.
“It has been an excellent year,” Bethlehem’s Mayor Victor Batarseh said, forecasting 1.25 million visitors by the end of 2008 and noting a halving in local unemployment. He continued, “We don’t have any empty beds. Two years ago, all the hotels were empty.”
But for Israelis along the border with Gaza, where the six month cease-fire with Israel just expired, the situation is anything but peace on earth, good will toward men as Palestinian rockets rain down from Gaza on Israeli border towns.
The difference? The wall that now runs hundreds of miles along Israel’s Green Line separating Israelis from the Palestinian neighbors. It appears the old adage is right: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Bethlehem, the “city of David” and birthplace of Jesus Christ, was primarily a Christian city when Israel was reborn as a state in 1948. At that time it was 85 percent Christian.
From that time, under Israeli rule, Bethlehem’s Christian population was protected and preserved. In 1993, when Yasser Arafat attended Mass at Manger Square on Christmas Eve to declare Jesus a Muslim, the Christian population remained essentially unchanged at 85 percent.
But in the 15 years of the Palestinian Authority rule over Bethlehem since then, the Christian population has declined to less than 12 percent.
It is important to remember that the Christian community in Bethlehem predates Islam by at least 600 years. When the Islamic armies led by Caliph Omar invaded the territory around Bethlehem in A.D. 638, the first thing they did was to sack the then-300-year-old Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
In recent times, the city’s Christian Arab majority flourished under Israeli rule between 1967 and 1993. But as soon as the Palestinian Authority took over, Christians began to flee for their lives.
Where were the usually vociferous protests of U.N. Human Rights people? The conventional international lie from the UNHRC perspective is that Israel pushed the Muslims Arabs off their traditional land over the past 60 years and replaced them with Jews.
However, the truth is that under Islamic rule, the Muslims pushed out almost 70 percent of the Christian Arab population in less than a decade. How is it that there was not a peep of protest from the international community?
It is for this reason I have been endlessly fascinated by accounts from the Palestinians that blame Israel for the flight of Christians from the little town of Bethlehem.
The UK Independent ran a column decrying Israeli “occupation” and the existence of “the Wall” as the reason for Arab Christian flight from the city of David.
The truth is that the media ignore the reduction in terrorist activities since the wall was constructed. Instead of recognizing this, they credit the four-fold increase in tourism to “improved Palestinian security forces.”
The Arab Media Network also reached the absurd conclusion that it is Israel that is persecuting Arab Christians by virtue of its fence designed to prevent terrorists from attacking Israeli civilians.
The Arab Media Network concludes that, “the wall prevents hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims from reaching their holy places, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in East Jerusalem.”
Spiraling out further into the absurd, they say that it isn’t the wholesale persecution of Christians under Palestinian rule that has decimated the Palestinian Christian community. Instead, they allege that the culprit is Israel’s protective wall.
The Arab Media Network caps off its irrational charges by saying, “As a result of the fragmentation of the Christian and Muslim Palestinian communities in and around East Jerusalem, Jerusalem imminently risks losing its historic character of housing vibrant communities of Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
But the truth of this matter is spelled out in the Quran. All non-Muslims living under Muslim rule are relegated to a second-class citizenship known as “dhimmis.” They are to be subjected to a special heavy tax for the privilege of living among Muslims. They are legally treated as having no rights. They are threatened and intimidated by Muslims with no legal defense. The testimony of any Muslim who accuses a dhimmi is superior to the counter testimony of any number of dhimmis.
I know many Christian Arabs whose families lived for generations in Bethlehem. They prospered under Israeli rule in their Christian artifacts stores. But when the Palestinian Muslims assumed control of Bethlehem, they immediately began to persecute them. Without any legal authority, groups of PA terrorist thugs invaded their stores and “confiscated” hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of materials for the “support of the Palestinian liberation movement.”
It wasn’t the Israeli protective wall that drove them out; it was the threat of the sword of Islam.