O Muslim town of Bethlehem…
And stiller, and stiller.
The Telegraph paints a bleak picture of the City of David this Christmas. Manger Square is not bustling with tourists, the Church of the Nativity is devoid of pilgrims, and no-one is worshipping in the candlelit grotto where the Lord Jesus is believed by tradition to have been born. Along with Jerusalem and Nazareth, Bethlehem is one of the most sacred sites for the world’s Christians, but this Christmas sees it cleansed of the faith that has sustained it for the past 60 years. The town's Christian population has dwindled from more than 90 per cent in 1948 to just 35 per cent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006, and this is diminishing by the week.
Christian hotels are empty, Christian businesses are boycotted, the souvenir shops are closed, Christians are verbally and physically abused, and there are murders, beatings and land grabs. If there is a job vacancy, it goes to a Muslim, not a Christian. One dare not display a cross or crucifix, and women wearing anything but Islamic dress are frequently spat upon by male Muslim youths.
The situation has become so desperate that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, are leading a joint delegation to Bethlehem to express their solidarity with the beleaguered Christian population.
The Cardinal said that Bethlehem is being ‘steadily strangled’. He did not say ‘by Islamic fundamentalism’ for fear of incurring the same wrath that befell the Pope in Regensburg, but this is surely what he meant. The problem is heightened now that Bethlehem finds itself behind Israel’s 400-mile-long security wall, which divides the Jewish and Palestinian areas, separating the sheep and the goats. In 2004, half the Israeli fatalities caused by suicide attacks were committed by extremists from Bethlehem. It has become a prison for Christians, and a paradise for Mohammedan terrorists.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has hung a large banner on the security wall, with the message ‘Peace Be With You’. Cranmer is reminded of the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.
How silently, how silently the world beholds this ethnic cleansing.