With the controversial, anti-Zionist Christ at the Checkpoint conference starting on Monday in Bethlehem, here’s a revealing counter-narrative by my colleague Robert Nicholson:
In 1990, Christians made up a majority of Bethlehem’s residents; today they make up only 15%. Some say Israel is the reason for the decline, but then why is the Muslim population of Bethlehem growing when both sectors face the same exact set of circumstances? Jewish sovereignty does not, ipso facto, lead to Christian emigration. Inside Israel, the Christian population has been growing steadily for decades. The decrease of Christians inside the Palestinian territories is due more to rising Islamism and bad governance by the Palestinian Authority.
It is no coincidence that Bethlehem was mostly Christian until the 1990s. Until then, Bethlehem was ruled directly by Israel. Palestinian Christians (and Muslims) could travel freely inside Israel, visit the beach, and shop in Jewish neighborhoods. That all changed in the mid-1990s when Israel agreed to let the PLO rule parts of the West Bank and Gaza under the Oslo Accords.
The Palestinian Authority is, by its own constitution, an Islamic state that embodies the principles of shari’a, and Christians are relegated to the status of second-class citizens. It is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity. Moreover, living as a Christian, one is constantly reminded that he or she is not a member of the majority culture. In public, Bethlehem Christians laud their happy coexistence with their Muslim neighbors. They don’t have a choice. They are hostages inside their own city.