(Editorial note: When Bethlehem was under Israeli control, the Christian population was over 80% of the city. Ever since the Palestinian Authority was given control, the Christian population has been continuously persecuted and it has dropped to around only 10% of the overall population.)
Growing up in the States, I have fond memories of the holiday period that started on Thanksgiving in late November and lasted to just after New Year’s in early January. There was something contagious about the holiday spirit.
My father converted to Judaism, so I had the opportunity to join my cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents in celebrating Christmas. I knew we celebrated Hannukah, so we were celebrating “their” holiday, but they were loving and inclusive and way before anyone spoke of the concepts of multiethnic or multiracial, our family was precisely that. We were family regardless of our differences.
I loved the nativity scenes spread around town, the decorative lights and to every “Merry Christmas”, responded with a heartfelt “thank you”, acknowledging people’s kindness, never ever offended by any of it.
I also loved the Christmas carols and songs. During the season to be jolly, I was the lone Jewish kid on the school bus, en route to the local public school, who was enthusiastically singing along. From the innocent “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle bells”; “Frosty the Snowman” and the favorite, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”; to the more religious ones, whose meaning was totally lost on an 8 year old – such as “Hark the Herald”; “The First Noel”; “Come All Ye Faithful”; “Joy to the World” (it cracks me up today thinking about these); and of course “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.
Twenty-some years later, as part of my duties as an Israeli government official, I had the opportunity of spending Christmas Eve in Manger Square in Bethlehem, that “Little Town” I had sung about in grade school all those years before.
It was 1994, an era of supposedly hope and promise of the Oslo “Peace” Agreements. In the coming year Israel was to transfer control over Bethlehem to the PLO, who were to self govern the area for the first time.
Bethlehem was at its peak in 1994. The predominately Christian city (Over 70 percent of the population) was enjoying an economic boom. Tourism was at an all time high. The proximity to Jerusalem and close relations with Israel deemed very prosperous for the Christians in Bethlehem.
The Christmas celebration was especially festive that year. The city was packed with pilgrims and tourists from Israel and around the world. It was a joyous and merry event, in the Christmas spirit I remembered. It was accompanied though, by a feeling of apprehension as well.
Christians were reluctant to have Bethlehem included in the transfer of authority to the PLO. They implored the Israeli leadership to keep the city under Israeli authority. The PLO on their part were adamant that Israel relinquish control over to them. In December the following year, the PLO had full control of the city.
The concerns of the Christians in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas were quickly realized. The PA applied a special tax on Christians, in effect penalizing them for the years of prosperity.
That was just the beginning of the harassment Christians would experience under Muslim control. The worst incident was during the Arab violence in 2002 when armed terrorists who were responsible for the murder of Israeli civilians, seeking to escape capture by Israeli forces, barricaded themselves in the holiest Christian site, the Church of the Nativity, violating and desecrating it while holding 250 people, including 46 priests, hostage.
Unsurprisingly, the brunt of the international and media criticism over that outrageous event was directed at Israel and not at the Arab terrorists. No condemnation by the UN or UNESCO over the destruction of such an important landmark.
All in all, very little is reported in the media on the systematic abuse and harassment of Christians in the city and in the areas controlled by the PLO and Hamas.
It is enough to note the dramatic decline in the number of Christians in Bethlehem to understand that something sinister is going on since the Arabs took control of the city. Today, Christians constitute only an estimated 17% of Bethlehem’s population, a city that had a Christian majority for hundreds of years.
This is following the pattern we are seeing throughout the Middle East, where Christian minorities are being persecuted and murdered. Many leaving places they have lived in for generations.
These atrocities are met with deafening silence by supposedly morally superior western societies.
While misguided college students and virtue signalling, social justice phonies in the west are focusing their contempt on Israel, a true ethnic cleansing of Christians is taking place throughout the Middle East in the name of Islam.
The crowds for Christmas Eve in Bethlehem have been dwindling for years. The Christmas spirit is being stifled not because of Israel or the US deciding to move its embassy to Jerusalem, as some would like us to believe. It is happening because Islam is intolerant towards any other religion.
We are getting dangerously closer to the day when there will be no Christians in Bethlehem. We will then truly experience a “Silent Night”, only it won’t be a holy night and all will not be calm or bright.