A contact from the Emmaus group in the UK recently returned to Bethlehem to assess any changes in the status of the Christian community there.
Below is part 1 of his report.
Since my last visit in 2012 there have been some notable changes. An overwhelming sense of fear and anticipation now pervades the Christian community, fuelled by their belief there is little they can do to change anything. They are now a minority representing just 4.8% of the population living among a Moslem majority of 95.2%, with a fragile constitution built on Sharia that affords them less rights or equality. It would be unfair to say they have given up hope, but there is a growing sense of hopelessness.
Palestinian society as a whole seems to be deteriorating with increasing levels of debt, violence, discrimination and lack of interest in even trying to explore ways forward with the Israel. Many are just too tired and weary.
Fear was present in most conversations as was anger. There is deep frustration with the Palestinian Authority who, in their opinion, has failed them completely. Basic infrastructures are absent or of poor quality with no credible law and order, health service, social services or education.
This is despite the vast amounts of aid flowing in over twenty years. While I was there, three days of shootings occurred with gunfights in the street at night, and a police officer killed. Hospitals and medical facilities are avoided for fear of catching disease and government schools are seen as incubators of radicalism.
It is unsafe for Christian women to walk in parts of some cities and although not a new phenomenon, the areas in which women will now not walk has widened. Kidnapping is a growing concern, exacerbated by the very recent attempt to take two young female Christian schoolteachers on their way to work. Christian schoolchildren will not travel in taxis unless the driver is a Christian and known personally to the family. There are rumours (unconfirmed) of young children being kidnaped in Beit Sahour, a neighbouring town to Bethlehem, for the harvesting of body organs. Even school Facebook pages are warning parents to be vigilant. It is believed that Beit Sahour is being targeted because it has a higher proportion of Christians.
“Israel is holding us together, otherwise radical Islamists groups like Hamas would have taken us over” 27yr old Hebron Resident