JERUSALEM, Israel – The Palestinian Authority (PA) is slowly chipping away at Bethlehem’s dwindling Christian population by gradually claiming Christian property as its own, Israeli media reports.
Tazpit Press (TPS) reported Sunday that 11 institutions associated with the Greek Orthodox Church signed a statement protesting the PA’s attempts to control the Plaza in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the place where many believe Jesus was born.
Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said in the letter that the PA has been trying over the last few years to expropriate Christian lands in Bethlehem and turn them over the government.
The outcry from the Christian community reportedly became so widespread online that the Bethlehem City Council had to release a statement saying it does not intend to take Christian land.
However, a source told TPS that the PA has repeatedly tried to take over Christian land in Bethlehem in retaliation for the Orthodox Church selling land to Jews in Jerusalem.
A Bethlehem official told the news agency that the number of Christians in the city where Christ was born is growing smaller and believers only make up 22 percent of the population where they were once the majority.
Christmas is a huge tourism event for Bethlehem but TPS reports that the PA is slowly taking Christ out of the center of the celebration.
“Christmas ceremonies are gradually turning from a religious Christian event to a national event sponsored by the PA, even though in recent years it has acted to deprive Christians of their properties,” an anonymous source said.