The sad exodus of Christians from the birthplace of Jesus





Impoverished by Israel's economic squeeze and persecuted by the Muslim majority, Christians are deserting Bethlehem.

The morning service at the Latin church in Beit Jala was packed, the enthusiastic congregation spanning generations filling the aisles and spilling out of the door, a powerful testimony of belief and faith. But, for many of the worshippers in the suburb of Bethlehem the driving wish was to secure their futures abroad, joining a Christian exodus from the land of the Bible.

According to Victor Batarseh, the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, the proportion of Christians here has slumped from 92 per cent in 1948 to 40 per cent. "It is a sad fact, but it remains a fact, that a lot of Christians are leaving," he says. One charge is that Muslims have been taking over Christian lands with the Palestinian authorities turning a blind eye.

Bethlehem has also been badly affected by Israel's separation barrier causing widespread economic hardship among both Muslims and Christians. Yusuf Nassir 57, is looking for a way to emigrate. "The problem is that we are a minority and minorities always suffer in times like these. My house was attacked [by Muslims] over nothing. There was a dispute between a Muslim and a Christian boy, this turned into a communal fight and then around 70 men turned on us. My sister got injured. She said to me 'you must leave for the safety of your family', but finding the money is not easy," he says. "I have also had Israeli soldiers fire at me, once when I was driving a car. The bullet missed me by about 25 centimeters.




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