How Yasir Arafat Drove Christians from Bethlehem

December 28, 2020 | David M. Weinberg
About the author: David M. Weinberg is a writer and lobbyist on defense, diplomatic, and Jewish affairs, and a former senior advisor to the Tikvah Fund in Israel. He also is a widely published kosher wine enthusiast.

With Christians in the Middle East, China, and elsewhere suffering from severe persecution, one might think the Western media would have used last week to call attention to their plight. Instead, some journalists engaged in what has become a tradition of Yuletide Israel-bashing. David M. Weinberg writes:

[T]he Western media annually devote considerable Christmas ink, and many Christian NGOs dedicate their Christmas appeals, to purveying the false impression that Christians are under assault by Israelis. And worse still, that Jews are [metaphorically] crucifying Christians smack in the heart of Bethlehem.

These screeds demonize Israel and seek to cover up the real reason for Christian decline in Bethlehem: the Palestinian Authority and radical Islam. It started with Yasir Arafat. Arriving from Tunis [in 1994], Arafat immediately set out to suppress the Palestinian middle class across the West Bank, which he understood could be the only real opposition to his planned dictatorial authority. He nationalized most business sectors and squeezed Palestinian small businessmen out of business. Especially hard hit were middle-class businessmen of Bethlehem, mainly Christian.

Arafat then sidelined the long-time Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, and Arafat’s henchmen led a campaign of terror and intimidation against Christian institutions and families in the city. Land theft, beatings, and intimidation of Christians in Bethlehem by PA security services and other gangs became routine. Forced marriages between Christian women and Muslim men were reported. In 2002, Arafat’s terrorists even took over and defiled the Church of the Nativity for 39 days, holding 200 priests as hostage as the terrorists sought to escape Israeli justice.

The result was an inexorable and ongoing Christian exodus from Bethlehem.

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