Why Christians are fleeing Bethlehem
In a particularly vicious piece of this genre in al-Guardian, Harriet Sherwood tries to create the impression that Christians are leaving Bethlehem because Jews are setting up 'settlements' on abandoned plots of land across the city line in Jerusalem, thereby 'choking' Bethlehem.
Amid plastic bags snagged on gorse bushes, rusting hulks of cars in a breakers yard and a few shabby trailers, traces of a biblical landscape are still to be found on a hillside between the ancient cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A couple of donkeys are tethered to a gnarled olive tree; nearby, sheep and goats bleat as they huddle against the chill December air.
But this terrain will soon be covered in concrete after the authorisation last week of the construction of more than 2,600 homes in Givat Hamatos, the first new Israeli settlement to be built since 1997.
It lies between two existing settlements: Gilo, home to 40,000 people, sits atop one hill; to its east, on another hill, stands Har Homa, whose population is around 20,000, with further expansion in the pipeline. Both are largely built on Bethlehem land.
Givat Hamatos will form a strategic link between these twin towns, further impeding access between Bethlehem and the intended capital of Palestine, East Jerusalem, just six miles away.
Israel considers these and other settlements across the Green Line to be legitimate suburbs of Jerusalem, which it claims as the unified, indivisible capital of the Jewish state. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and official bodies have announced a spate of expansion plans in recent weeks.
In the birthplace of Jesus, the impact of Israeli settlements and their growth has been devastating. In a Christmas message, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Bethlehem was enduring a "choking reality".
He added: "For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints."By the way, when Christianity started in this area, it started in Israel during the existence of the Jewish Temple which is denied by Abu Bluff.
But it's also important to point out that much of the land in question has actually been owned by Jews since long before 1948. Take Gilo, for instance.
The majority of Gilo, however, is built on land legally purchased by Jews prior to 1948. In the 1948 war, Jewish lands in Gilo were captured and confiscated by the Jordanian government. From 1948-67, Jewish landowners did not relinquish ownership to their land in Gilo, and when Israel recaptured the land in the Six-Day War, Gilo was built - not because of war victories, but because of longstanding legal land purchases.
You could never figure that out from reading Harriet Sherwood, could you?
Gilo lies within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries and is geographically contiguous to surrounding Jewish neighborhoods that pre-dated the 1967 reunification of the city.
Then there's the inevitable discussion of 'the wall.'
The wall already snakes around most of Bethlehem, its 8m-high concrete slabs casting a deep shadow, both literally and metaphorically. At the Christmas Tree restaurant, where there are almost no takers for the "Quick Lunches" on offer, business has slowed to a standstill since the wall blocked what was once the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem road. Scores of shops along the closed-off artery have shut down altogether.
A few hundred metres along from the empty restaurant, a long steel-caged corridor leading through multiple turnstiles to a checkpoint is the main exit from the city for Palestinians wishing to go to Jerusalem. The Israel Defence Forces issues thousands of extra permits to Christian Palestinians to allow them to visit holy sites in Jerusalem over Christmas, but the lack of routine access has had a dire impact on businesses and employment rates.The 'wall' (which is really nothing more than a fancy fence in much of the country) is there because it has reduced terror attacks outside it by a huge percentage over the last four years despite the fact that it is not yet complete. The reason it's a wall and not a fence in the Bethlehem area is because 'Palestinian' terrorists used Bethlehem's suburbs to shoot at the Jews of the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo during the early part of this decade, and that in Gilo they also have a wall where the 'Palestinian' gunfire most often hit. It's much easier to shoot through a fence than it is to shoot over a wall, although shooting over a wall is also not impossible. Just go visit Gaza.
But the most vicious libel here is the implicit one that Israel is somehow responsible for the declining Christian population. That's an out-and-out lie.
But it's not Israeli Jews who are causing Christians to leave.But then, we've come to expect out and out lies from al-Beeb, haven't we?
Since assuming control in 1995, Arafat has Islamized Bethlehem by changing the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem and its twin towns Beit Jallah and Beit Sahour. Together, they used to constitute the Christian enclave in Judea and Samaria. Arafat transformed the demography there by incorporating into the town three neighboring refugee camps, Dehaisheh, El-Ayda and El-Azeh. Thus 30,000 Muslims were added to the 65,000 residents in Bethlehem's municipal boundaries. He intensified the Islamization of Bethlehem by adding to its population a few thousand Bedouins of the Ta'amrah tribe, located east of Bethlehem, encouraging Muslim immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem, and inducing Christian emigration/flight away from Bethlehem. The Christian population has been reduced from a 60% majority in 1990 to a 20% minority (23,000) in 2001.I think those numbers speak for themselves.
As a result, more Beit Jallah Christians reside in Belize (Central America) than are left in Beit Jallah itself! A similar process has also afflicted the Christians of Ramallah, now down to 20,000.
Aware of what was likely to happen under Arafat, Christian leaders had sought to prevent the transfer of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority. Between the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords and the 1995 transfer of Bethlehem to the PA, Palestinian Christians lobbied Israel against the transfer. The late Christian mayor, Elias Freij, warned that it would result in Bethlehem becoming a town with churches but no Christians. He urged Israel to include Bethlehem in the boundaries of Greater Jerusalem, which had been the Jordanian practice until 1967. On July 17, 2000, upon realizing that then Prime Minister Barak recklessly proposed to repartition Jerusalem, the leaders of the Greek-Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Churches sent a letter to Clinton, Barak, and Arafat, demanding to be consulted before such action was undertaken. Barak's proposal triggered a flood of requests for Israeli I.D. cards by East Jerusalem Arabs, who dreaded PA rule with its oppressive track record.
Setting out to "religiously cleanse" Bethlehem, in 1995 Arafat, defying tradition, slapped Christians in the face by appointing a Muslim from Hebron, Muhammed Rashad A-Jabari, as its governor. Arafat fired the Bethlehem city council (nine Christians and two Muslims) replacing them with a council equally balanced between Christians and Muslims. The entire top level of bureaucratic, security and political officials have been cleansed of Christians. The area is run by the local Muslim Fatah leader and his thugs, along with Tanzim gunmen, mostly Ta'amrah Bedouins. The PA has seized control of the Church of the Nativity, and has tightened the pressure on the Greek-Orthodox, Armenian, Latin,, and Franciscan Order in East Jerusalem. The Abraham's Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron was seized by the PA on July 5, 1997, which then violently evicted its monks and nuns.
In addition, Arafat and the PA embarked on a campaign of physical and psychological intimidation of Christians. During anti-Israel PA rallies the chant is heard: "After we do away with the Saturday People, we shall take care of the Sunday People." Mosques have mushroomed adjacent to--and usually taller than--churches, implementing the tradition of Saladin, who constructed two taller mosques, Al Khanqa and Abdul Malek, contiguous to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The curriculum at church schools has been altered, adding Islamic--and reducing Christian--studies. Loudly magnified Muslim sermons have been aired during Christian services, including the April 2000 address by the Pope in Bethlehem, which had to be recessed until the purposely-loud Muslim sermon was concluded. Abusing Church tradition, the PA has transformed a Greek Orthodox monastery, located next to the Church of Nativity, into Arafat's official residence in Bethlehem.
There has been congressional testimony on Arafat's oppression of Christians. According to former Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), "[The Palestinian Christian] was arrested and detained [by the PA] on charges of selling land to Jews. He denied the charge, since he owned no land. He was beaten and hung from the ceiling by his hands for many hours. After two weeks, he was transferred to a larger prison where he was held for eight months without trial... These Christians conveyed to me a message of fear and desperation." (Senate speech, March 3, 2000, www.senate.gov/~mack/issue/statement.htm).
The PA has imported to Gaza, Judea and Samaria in general, and most especially to Bethlehem, its oppressive legacy of Lebanonization. The Christians of Bethlehem, Beit Jallah, Beit Sahour and Ramallah are now undergoing the experiences of Lebanese Christians from 1970 to 1982. They are perceived by the PA--as were Lebanon's Christians--as a potential Fifth Column. Accused of wearing "permissive" Western clothing, Bethlehem Christian women have been intimidated by PA personnel. Rape of Christian women has occurred frequently (especially in Beit Sahour) as was the case in Lebanon. Islamic hostility, disregard for civil liberties and economic jealousy have been harnessed by Arafat and his 20,000 terrorists imported from Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon in their campaign against the Christian infidel. Christians who dare oppose PLO oppression are accused of "collaboration" with Israel and face execution.