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Exodus from Bethlehem

Exodus from Bethlehem

By Joseph Farah                                        Posted: December 22, 2006

© 2006 

On one thing we can all agree this Christmas: Bethlehem is no longer a Christian town.

But why?

    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.

If you believe the New York Times or former President Jimmy Carter, the Israelis are to blame. Those nasty Jews built a security fence around the town, apparently with the specific purpose of persecuting Christians, who have fled the town in droves.

Here's what Carter had to say in calling the security fence a crime against Christianity: "[It] ravages many places along its devious route that are important to Christians. ... In addition to enclosing Bethlehem in one of its most notable intrusions, an especially heartbreaking division is on the southern slope of the Mount of Olives, a favorite place for Jesus and his disciples.

Tracing this particular myth of the Middle East is easier than many others. It first gained urban legend status two years ago when the New York Times blamed Israel's security fence for the dwindling Christian population in formerly Christian towns like Bethlehem.

While Snopes did nothing to bust this hoax, I did my best when I first read the 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. And, of course, the New York Times is Jimmy Carter's gospel.

But, as I pointed out then, the claim defies common sense. Just 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?

Last 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.

Here is the truth. Bethlehem, once a 90 percent Christian town, now claims only 12 percent of its population of 60,000 Arab residents as Christians. The number drops day by day, month by month, year by year. Last year, for comparison purposes, the town was 35 percent Christian.

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 some around. But the exodus of Christians has nothing to do with the Israeli security fence.

Six 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 six years ago, the exodus of Christians became a flood.

Buried in the New York Times story of two years ago 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 [Israel] 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 last 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."

*Joseph Farah is founder, editor and CEO of WND and a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. His latest book is "Taking America Back." He also edits the weekly online intelligence newsletter Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin, in which he utilizes his sources developed over 30 years in the news business.

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