What will be the effects of displacing the Christian populations from towns like Bethlehem?
At present the "displacement" is happening rather slowly. As I wrote in my recent Newsweek piece, only about 1,500 of some 30,000 Christians in the Bethlehem area have left since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada, or about 5 percent. That's a significant number, but it doesn't yet seem to threaten the viability of the Christian community.
Still, if the erosion continues, it will raise questions about the fate of holy sites such as the Church of the Nativity and the St. Nikolas Grotto, and it would be a tremendous blow to the diversity of the Holy Land, which remains the vibrant hub of three of the world's great religions.
Population numbers in the Middle East are politically charged—whether it is Egypt or Lebanon or Israel/Palestine. As you have written about the declining numbers of Christians in Israel/Palestine, how do you get reliable numbers? What is the latest best estimate for the Christian population in the Occupied Territories?
The Christian Mayor of Bethlehem, Hannah Nasser, keeps pretty good tabs on the size of the Christian population in his area and in the Territories. There hasn't been a reliable census since, I believe, the mid-1990s, so one has to rely on the best estimates of church and political leaders in Palestine. Most agreed that we're talking about 50,000 to 60,000 Christians in the West Bank and perhaps a couple of thousand in Gaza.1
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