The Christian population of Bethlehem has declined precipitously over the past 25 years, so much so that, once a majority, Christians now make up only 15 percent of the city’s population. Responding to claims that this decline is somehow the result of the security barrier that cordons off Bethlehem and much of the West Bank from the rest of Israel, Robert Nicholson argues that the truth is very different:
It is no coincidence that Bethlehem was mostly Christian until the 1990s. Until then, Bethlehem was ruled directly by Israel through a military administration. Although they were not full citizens of Israel, Palestinian Christians (and Muslims) could travel freely inside the country, 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 (PA) . . . is, by its own constitution, an Islamic state [based on] the principles of sharia law. Christians living under the PA are “accorded sanctity and respect,” but . . . are relegated to the status of second-class citizens. . . . Discrimination against Christians under the Palestinian Authority isn’t just legal—it’s also social. Living as a Christian, one is constantly reminded that he or she is not a member of the majority culture. . . .
I’ve spoken to numerous Palestinian Christians who describe how Muslim terrorists would commandeer Christian homes and use them to direct sniper fire at Israeli soldiers. Others speak of systematic discrimination in hiring, housing, and education. Of course, all of these conversations take place in private meetings and hushed tones. Christians in Bethlehem rarely interact with Muslims beyond the marketplace and are, in fact, very much afraid.