Palestinian persecution of Christians: Postscript to ’95 Guardian story on Israeli withdrawal from Bethlehem

A Guardian Archive story (which they republished today) from 1995, titled “Big day in the little town of Bethlehem” begins with the following celebratory passage:

There will be no star over Bethlehem this Christmas. The Israeli flag, which has flown over Manger Square for 28 years, was lowered yesterday for the last time, as the town was handed over to the Palestinian self-rule authority.

As the last small contingent of paramilitary forces moved out, Manger Square was filled with wildly celebrating crowds

 On the outside a thick crust of spectators responded gleefully to every [sign of Israeli withdrawal]

Jewish withdrawal from Christian Bethlehem: What’s there not to love?

Brown continues:

Last year the mayor of Bethlehem threatened to cancel Christmas because the Israelis would not let him fly one small Palestinian flag from the town hall. Now, the hall and most neighbouring buildings are all but obliterated by the national colours.

Yes, the Jews who almost stole Christmas.

Finally, Brown acknowledges Christian fears of Muslim rule:

There has been speculation that the coming of the PLO to Bethlehem will speed the exodus of Christians from the West Bank. But there was little sign of rivalry yesterday. Samir Sharer, one local Christian, said he was convinced that this year’s Christmas would be joyful. “Everything will be OK…”

As we can be assured that a follow-up report by the Guardian won’t be forthcoming, here are the sad demographic facts of Christian life under Palestinian/ Muslim rule.

Due primarily to religious persecution, the Christian population in the Palestinian Territories has dropped dramatically.

For instance, the persecution of Christians in Bethlehem has caused the population to slump to 7,500 from 20,000 in 1995, the year the IDF left the city. (Since Israel’s withdrawal Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.)

Today, Christians make up just 1% of the mainly Muslim population of the Palestinian territories, down from around 10% in 1948.

Inversely, the Christian population in Israel proper has risen from 34,000 in 1948 to over 150,000 today.

That the only growing Christian population in the entire Middle East exists in the sole country in which Islam does not prevail is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world – context about the contrasting religious freedom, tolerance and democratic values in the only Jewish state the Guardian will never report.

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