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O, Troubled Town of Bethlehem

The Islamization of Jesus' birthplace

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Sunday, December 24, 2000

By: David Parsons

Bethlehem holds a unique place in the Christian faith, not only as the home of young King David and the resting place of Rachel, but also as that small village of Judean shepherds visited from on high two millennia ago. Each Christmas, Christians worldwide sing carols honoring that "little town" lost in "a deep and dreamless sleep," that would become universally known as the birthplace of Jesus. But just as the Jordan River is not "deep and wide," so our songs about Bethlehem no longer reflect its reality today - a bastion of Islamic fervor on the front-lines of a holy war against Israel and infidels.

Bethlehem, along with Beit Jalla to the west and Beit Sahour to the east, have been predominantly Christian for centuries, but in modern times they have been invaded by PLO/Muslim elements bent on an aggressive agenda to retake Jerusalem and the Islamic waqf of Palestine. In one generation, the entire area has undergone a dramatic transformation, as 60% of its Christian families have fled and Muslims have taken over, now constituting three-fourths of the local population.

This agenda has been on full display during the current Palestinian uprising, as Fatah's "Tanzim" militiamen - Muslims - have infiltrated Christian homes and churches in Beit Jalla night after night to shoot at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. The IDF has reluctantly responded to snipers firing from buildings whose owners were chased away at gunpoint. This is not Israeli spin, but first-hand testimony from local residents. Their stories are chilling. We have listened to grown men in tears talking of the Tanzim. Hundreds of Christians have fled. Last month, one family with nine children hid in a cave until they could cross safely into Jerusalem. This is the reality of Bethlehem this Christmas.

The truth is, Beit Jalla was initially targeted by Muslims at an Islamic conference in Baghdad in 1978, which raised money to build mosques in a village that - alarmingly! - had no mosque. Actually, at that time it had no Muslims either. Over the years since, some 50,000 Christians from Beit Jalla and the Bethlehem area have moved to Chile alone. Likewise, Bethlehem went from one mosque to 70 in a span of thirty years.

When Israel handed over Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority three days before Christmas in 1995, Yasser Arafat flew in and delivered a speech to an overwhelmingly Muslim throng pressed into Manger Square under banners of the PLO chief and the "Engineer," revered Hamas bomb-maker Yihye Ayyash. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men," proclaimed Arafat, invoking the angelic message found in the Christian account of the Nativity. "In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!" answered the crowd.

Christian pilgrims visiting Manger Square that Christmas were handed flyers in English prepared by the Palestinian Ministry of Information that stressed, not the biblical significance of Bethlehem, but Islamic claims to Jerusalem. Instead of Joseph and Mary, the focus was on Muhammad tying his winged horse "Buraq" to the Western Wall in his mythical night journey - thus rendering it an exclusive Muslim holy site.

Two days after that first "PLO" Christmas, Arafat had an editor of the Al Quds newspaper kidnapped and jailed for not following orders to place on the front page of the Christmas Day edition a photo of him and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. The picture was to be accompanied by a story comparing Arafat to the Caliph Omar, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem who was handed the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Sophronius. The editor's crime? He buried the story on page 7.

In years since, Palestinian officials admit tourism to Bethlehem has dropped and Christmas festivities have been marred by roving Muslim hooligans out to spoil Christian observances.

But this year may be saddest of all. The PA had worked with major production companies to stage Bethlehem 2000, with plans for a laser show and choirs from around the globe, to be beamed to a worldwide audience. The choirs cancelled weeks ago, due to the Palestinian uprising - and not any Israeli closure. Some traditional events will be held, but the Arab Christians of Bethlehem are in no mood for singing.

You will hear some Arab Christians - perhaps even in response to this column - telling a completely different tale, of Israeli abuses and good relations with the Muslims. But far too many of them have privately looked us in the eye and said they fear for their lives if they openly tell the truth. "We are forced to live with two faces," they lament.

So this Christmas, Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should say a prayer for the dear Christians who have managed to survive in Bethlehem. And keep in mind, they are singing the same cherished carols heard round the world - but with a gun to their heads.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem


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