It is becoming an annual Christmas tradition – blaming Israel for the dwindling Christian population in formerly Christian towns like Bethlehem.

Last year at this time, I noticed this new myth of the Middle East was being perpetrated by the so-called newspaper of record, the New York Times, in a story by Greg Myre. It began:

In the town where Christians believe Christ was born, the Christians are leaving. Four years of violence, an economic free fall and the Israeli separation barrier have all contributed to the hardships facing Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, one of the largest concentrations of Christians in the region.

There you have it. Why are the Christians leaving Bethlehem? At least partly, according to the New York Times, because of the Israeli security fence.

Now, ask yourself a question: Why would the security fence disproportionately affect Christians? If the security fence were contributing to the exodus, it should be causing an exodus of Muslims as well, right?

This year, perhaps taking their cue from the New York Times, the story was recycled in a thousand other news venues. Political leaders around the world took up the lie as their own. And, of course, Arab and Muslim leaders were only too happy to begin championing the cause of these poor, misplaced, mistreated Christians.

There’s just one problem. It’s a total, bald-faced lie – another one of those revisionist history lessons being written even while the history is still taking place.

Because, for the life of this New York Times reporter and his editors back home, they can’t think of a single legitimate way to blame Israel for the Christian exodus.

Here is the truth. Bethlehem, once a 90 percent Christian town, now only claims only about 20,000 of the 60,000 Arab residents – about 35 percent. The number drops day by day, month by month, year by year.

They haven’t left for no good reason. They have left for very good reasons. In fact, knowing the conditions these Christians face today, it’s surprising there are still 20,000 there.

But does it have anything to do with the Israeli security fence? No.

Five years ago, when the latest exodus began, the Israelis had not even started construction of the security fence.

Up until 1948, Bethlehem was more than 90 percent Christian. The Arab-Israeli war of 1948, begun by Arab states in response to the founding of Israel, brought an influx of Muslim refugees to the Bethlehem area and signaled the start of a demographic shift. Then five years ago, the exodus of Christians became a flood.

Buried in the New York Times story of last year was a key paragraph that explained why:

In the early days of the uprising, Muslim gunmen in the Bethlehem area took hilltop positions in Beit Jala, which is predominantly Christian. That afforded them a clear firing line at the southernmost part of Jerusalem. When the Israeli military responded, Beit Jala residents found themselves on the front lines of the conflict, and occasionally among its casualties.

In other words, Muslim terrorists have intentionally placed Christians in the crossfire between them and Israel. They did that when they seized the Church of the Nativity, nearly destroying it, defecating in the hallways, smashing statues and stealing precious objects. The Israelis, for their part, negotiated an end to the standoff rather than destroy the church that represents so much to the Christian world.

If the Israelis contributed in any way to the exodus of Christians, it was by withdrawing from Bethlehem and the so-called “Palestinian territories” in the West Bank. Since they left, the Palestinian Authority has waged a jihad against the Christian community, raping women, extorting businessmen, lynching “collaborators” and seizing homes.

That’s why the Christians have left and continue to leave. They enjoyed life while their towns were under the control of Israel. Once they were turned over to the terrorists, there wasn’t much left to keep them in the areas in which their families lived for generations.

It took WND Jerusalem Bureau Chief Aaron Klein to set the record straight this year.

“All this talk about Israel driving Christians out and causing pain is nonsense,” a Bethlehem Christian community leader told WND. “You want to know what is at play here, just come throughout the year and see the intimidation from the Muslims. They have burned down our stores, built mosques in front of our churches, stole our real estate and took away our rights. Women have been raped and abducted. So don’t tell me about Israel. It’s the Muslims.”

The story of religious cleansing in the Palestinian Authority today thus continues – and Israel gets the blame, even though it is perpetrated by the Muslim-controlled Arab leadership.

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