Print Blog Article

O Little Town of Bethlehem - The Persecution of Christians In The Modern-Day City of Jesus' Birth

Mon, Dec. 15, 2014 Posted: 07:42 PM

The town of Bethlehem lies within the territory assigned to the tribe of Judah. At that time, it was very fertile country, situated on an impressive ridge, 2700 feet above sea level and approximately six miles south by west from Jerusalem. Known for its beauty and terraced hills, covered with vines and fig trees, the surrounding valleys yielded abundant harvests of grain.

According to the Bible, Jacob buried Rachel near the gate of Bethlehem and it was the town that both Ruth and David called home.

The area to the east of the city is believed to be the area in which shepherds were "keeping watch o'er their flocks by night," according to the Bible. Several churches have been built to, in effect, memorialize this event. And, even now local shepherds are frequently seen tending their flocks in this same area--including on Christmas eve.

The following is no doubt the most famous scripture regarding Bethlehem:

Luke 2:4 - 11

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."

Though sparsley populated in Jesus' day, Bethlehem now has a population of 22,000, with Christians constituting 18% of the population. In the early 1900s, it was 90% Christian. In 1990, Christians were still in the majority, representing 60% of Bethlehem's population, but the Christian population dropped down to 40% by 2000.

Bethlehem is surrounded on three sides by the West Bank wall and its most famous attraction is the Church of the Nativity, which was built on the site at which Christians believe Jesus was born. This particular building is the oldest standing church in the Holy Land. Originally built by Constantine's mother in the 4th century, Emperor Justinian overhauled the current structure in the 530s. It appears that it was spared destruction by Persians in 614 because they saw the depictions of the Magi on the walls. Click here for more information on the Church of The Nativity.

A Brief History of Bethlehem:

Christian tradition, perhaps as early as the second century CE, identified a cave as the site of Jesus' birth. About 338 CE Constantine, the Roman emperor and his mother, Helena, built a church over the grotto and In 527 Justinian the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire resettled in Bethlehem, his reign was one of great prosperity and expansion of churches. The site of the Nativity is a central pilgrimage destination for Christians from all over the world.

Bethlehem was a city of importance to the Crusaders, who conquered it in the year 1100. Over years of wars between the Crusaders and the Muslims the city was destroyed, and then subsequently rebuilt. The Turks destroyed the city in 1244, but the church somehow escaped, Bethlehem was rebuilt once again.

When finally the Crusaders were driven from Palestine in 1291, the Moslem rulers used the holy places for political and financial ends. Although Bethlehem was still nominally endowed, collection of revenue from the land was impossible. In 1332 Pope John XXII wrote to Edward III of England, to David II of Scotland and to Simon of Meopham, Archbishop of Canterbury, asking them to help the bishop of Bethlehem to regain his interest and so enable him to return to Bethlehem and carry out repairs. It seems little was done.

Decay and destruction proceeded over the years as a result of fighting between the local Christian and Muslim residents.

The Population of Bethlehem today is made up of Christians and Moslems. Among the Christians: Catholics of Latin, Syrian, Malachite, Armenian and Maronite rites and Orthodox of Greek, Syrian and Armenian denominations. Protestants are present in the Judean town.

As a result of the Six-Day War, Bethlehem came under Israeli rule.

In December 1995, the town of Bethlehem reverted to Palestinian control. Israelis still have access to Rachel's tomb, on the northern outskirts of the city. Unfortunately, occasional outbreaks of violence continue to occur between Palestinian demonstrators from Bethlehem and Israeli troops stationed outside the city's limits."

Click here to view Israel's History in Pictures: Bethlehem in December,1875-1900

Today Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. During the first several hundred years of rule by Muslims, Christians eventually became a minority in the Holy Land. Moreover, the proportion of Christians in the Palestinian population has consistently and incrementaly decreased since World War I. This was due to constant Christian emigration and a higher Muslim birthrate. Christians began migrating from Palestine during the late nineteenth century, in search of better economic opportunities and to escape severe Ottoman treatment and induction on the eve of World War I.

 And, now life for most Christians in Bethlehem is far from idyllic. According to CBN:

Arab Christians in Bethlehem have been suffering from human rights abuses and economic hardships for years. But some are trying to bring a message of hope into their lives.

It could be described as a modern day exodus: Christians are leaving Palestinian Arab-controlled areas like Bethlehem in great numbers.

"It's my prediction that if the remaining Christians in the West Bank and Gaza -- Gaza only has maybe a thousand, two thousand Christians," human rights lawyer Justus Weiner told CBN News. "If their needs are not addressed in 10 or 15 or at most 20 years, there won't be any Christians in the cradle of Christianity. This will be a kind of memorial, a museum."

Weiner said the threat of persecution, including beatings and forced marriages between Christian women and Muslim men, are some of the reasons Christians have left.

Although tourism and the economy picked up last year, uncertainty still prevails."

Read more about the issues Christians are having in the birthplace of Jesus here.

According to Fox News, ever since the Oslo Accords it’s been the unspoken rule that “what happens to Christians in Bethlehem stays in Bethlehem.” That is beginning to change, though--thanks to a brave Christian woman by the name of Christy Anastas. In a powerful video released earlier this year, Christy describes what life was like for her and her Christian family while residing in Bethlehem. She explains why she felt it was important to speak out against the discrimination, injustices, lack of free speech and outright abuse of women in Bethlehem.

Fox News reports:

“Breaking through the silence and fear faced by so many Palestinians,” Luke Moon reported, “Christy described how her uncle, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, had to pay the al-jizyah, protection money that is often levied against non-Muslims. After some time her uncle refused to pay…. Because of his refusal to pay up he was murdered in front of his house.”

Christy even dared to say that if she had been Israel’s Prime Minister during the 2nd Intifada, she too would have put up a security barrier to stop the suicide bombings. This is especially poignant, because her family home is surrounded by the wall – on three sides.

Her story is alarming – she has received political asylum in Britain because of death threats from one of her own family members; others have disowned her. During a recent interview, I found Christy to be not only brave and eloquent, but utterly convincing."

Watch this compelling video:

Another incident reported on by Fox News involved an attack on a Greek Orthodox church in Bethlehem:

Recently a young Bethlehem man – who will remain unnamed – told me about an attack on a Christian church. I passed it on to Dexter VanZile, who posted the story for CAMERA SnapShots.

“A Bethlehem Greek Orthodox Church (St. George's Church -- Khadar -- near Beit Jala) was attacked by Muslims during its annual St. George's Day services on May 6. ... Some local Muslims either tried to park a car too close the church and/or tried to enter the church during a service honoring St. George -- the initial instigation isn't clear. …Several then started throwing stones at the church.”

Windows were broken, one worshipper was stabbed, and several others were injured. We later learned later that a young man’s face was badly beaten, requiring two surgeries. And as a smart-phone video revealed, the police didn’t arrive promptly enough to prevent damage, injuries and terror."

The followng are recent Bethlehem news headlines, which demonstrate the volatile atmosphere that is now present in the city of Jesus' birth:

And, there are many more. Violence and fear are constants in Bethlehem, and in the Palestinian territories in general.

Below are photos of Bethlehem at Christmas time:

Candice Lanier