O, Muslim town of Bethlehem…

And as usual, anything the pali’s touch is destoyed. But of course, these “wonderful” people deserve their own country, that is, according to the International community.

All is quiet in Bethlehem. On Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity stands in the pale gloom of dusk, its doors open to passing pilgrims. But inside, the nave is empty of visitors and the collection boxes depleted of coins. In the candlelit grotto downstairs, a silver star marks the spot where Jesus is supposed to have been born. It is one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, but there are no tourists queuing to see it.

Just 500 yards down the road, Joseph Canawati is not looking forward to Christmas. The expansive lobby of his 77-room Hotel Alexander is empty and he says: “There is no hope for the future of the Christian community. “We don’t think things are going to get better. For us, it is finished.” Life for Palestinian Christians such as 50-year-old Joseph has become increasingly difficult in Bethlehem – and many of them are leaving.

The town’s Christian population has dwindled from more than 85 per cent in 1948 to 12 per cent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006.
There are reports of religious persecution, in the form of murders, beatings and land grabs.

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The town, according to the Cardinal, is being “steadily strangled”. The sense of a creeping Islamic fundamentalism is all around in Bethlehem.

A mosque on one side of Manger Square stands directly opposite the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, while in the evening the muezzin’s call to prayer clashes with the peal of church bells.

Shops selling Santa Claus outfits and mother-of-pearl statuettes of the Virgin Mary have their shutters painted a sun-bleached green, the colour of Islam. And in the Al-Jacir Palace, Bethlehem’s only luxury hotel, there is a baubled Christmas tree in reception and a card showing the direction of Mecca in the rooms.

George Rabie, a 22-year-old taxi driver from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala, is proud of his Christianity, even though it puts him in daily danger. Two months ago, he was beaten up by a gang of Muslims who were visiting Bethlehem from nearby Hebron and who had spotted the crucifix hanging on his windscreen. “Every day, I experience discrimination,” he says. ” “It is a type of racism. We are a minority so we are an easier target. Many extremists from the villages are coming into Bethlehem.”

Jeriez Moussa Amaro, a 27-year-old aluminium craftsman from Beit Jala is another with first-hand experience of the appalling violence that Christians face. Five years ago, his two sisters, Rada, 24, and Dunya, 18, were shot dead by Muslim gunmen in their own home. Their crime was to be young, attractive Christian women who wore Western clothes and no veil. Rada had been sleeping with a Muslim man in the months before her death. A terrorist organisation, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement claiming responsibility, which said: “We wanted to clean the Palestinian house of prostitutes.” Jeriez says: “A Christian man is weak compared to a Muslim man. “They have bigger, more powerful families and they know people high up in the Palestinian authority.”

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