Christians flee Bethlehem
A report has been received of the on-going situation in Bethlehem, where the Christian population continues to endure appalling persecution:
Over the past century, a combination of Arab secular nationalism (Nazi and Communist leaning), re-invigorated Muslim rule and, more recently, violent Islamism has seen the Christian population of the Middle East decline. Latterly, the last refuge of Christians in the Middle East has been the Jewish State.
Now, with the misguided efforts to seek peace and Palestinian statehood on the back of Islamic violence, even that last redoubt of Christianity is under threat. The statistics from Bethlehem are indeed shocking, but they are the conclusion of a trend across the whole of the Middle East which began in the aftermath of the First World War.
It is only by viewing the plight of the Arab Christians of Bethlehem in isolation that the Western Church is able to point the finger at recent innovations in Israeli security as the cause of Christian grievance and flight.
The disappearance of Christians from ancient centres of Christianity in Syria and Lebanon and from the scattered Christian communities of Iraq, Kurdistan and Jordan, together with the plight of the Coptic Church in Egypt - these provide the proper and decades-long context for what is now happening in Bethlehem.
Arab nations cynically exploited the successful establishment of Israel and expelled their centuries-old Jewish communities, so that the Arab Middle East became Judenrein. The ancient Christian communities of the Arab world were subjected to a less dramatic attrition which is culminating in the flight from Bethlehem.
While the Christian churches in the West wring their collective hands over Israeli checkpoints, it is well to remember the high point of the Palestinian assault on the Christians of Bethlehem: on April 2nd 2002, between 150-180 Palestinian gunmen, among them members of the PA Fatah Tanzim militia, invaded the Church of the Holy Nativity and held the priests and nuns to ransom. The New York Times reported: "Palestinian gunmen have frequently used the area around the church as a refuge, with the expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near the shrine." The IDF employed exemplary and patient tactics to lift the siege, to the relief and gratitude of the clergy of the several Christian denominations domiciled there.
During this 39 day stand-off, the footsoldiers of Islam invaded and desecrated and despoiled a Christian Holy Site, using it as a fortress, not a place of sanctuary.
That siege stands as abiding testimony to militant and official Palestinian regard for Christians in the Holy Land.