“As Christians, we have no future here.” By Elizabeth Day in the Daily Mail, with thanks to Twostellas:
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.
Meanwhile, the breakdown in security is putting off tourists, leading to economic hardship for Christians, who own most of the town’s hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops….
Bethlehem’s hotel owners estimate that tourist numbers have dropped sharply, from 91,276 each month for the millennium celebrations in 2000 to little more than 1,500 a month now.
During the past six years, 50 restaurants, 28 hotels and 240 souvenir shops have closed.
Samir Qumsieh is general manager of Al-Mahed – Nativity – which is the only Christian television station in Bethlehem.
He has had death threats and visits from armed men demanding three acres of his land – and he is now ready to leave.
“As Christians, we have no future here,” he says.
“We are melting away. Next summer I will leave this country to go to the States. How can I continue?
“I would rather have a beautiful dream in my head about what my home is like, not the nightmare of the reality.”