After I hung the last ornament on our Christmas tree, I climbed the ladder and placed our hand-carved wooden star on top. That star has an entire creche scene carved into it. Dan and I bought it in Bethlehem. From a Christian Palestinian. Of whom there are many in the area. Or at least, there were.
I always assumed that Bethlehem was part of Israel. It is not. It’s a walled-in city, under firm control of the Palestinian Authority.
“It is hard, hard for us to live here,” the man who sold us the star lamented. “We cannot get jobs. Our churches are firebombed, and our families harassed and threatened. The Muslims want us out.”
Evidently, they are getting their way. For the past seven years, an estimated one thousand-plus Christians have been leaving annually. The Christian population, a 60% majority in 1990, slid to a 40% minority in 2000. Today it stands at about 15%. That means only 10,000 to 13,000 Christians remain.
The Palestinian Authority doesn’t have an official policy of persecuting Christians, but they surely haven’t done enough to provide security for them. The star seller wasn’t the only person we heard whispering complaints. Families who have been Christian for generations are tolerated, but woe be to any Muslim who turns to Christ.
“Soon there will be no Christians left here,” the man who sold us the star said. “And who will care? Few Westerners even know we exist.”
We didn’t. But of course, Christians have been in the Holy Land since. well, since the time of Christ!
“Don’t forget us,” the man said as he handed us our package.
We won’t. Not ever.
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!…
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by…