A Christian community leader and researcher from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Sahour provided journalists with a very candid explanation for the exodus of Christians from the birthplace of Jesus: encroaching Muslim extremism.
While most public figures among the Palestinian Arab Christian community will without blinking an eye blame Israel for all their woes, Samir Qumsieh, who operates a small local TV station, says these Christian leaders are “cowards” who are either deceived or compelled into toeing the line of the official Palestinian narrative.
In remarks carried by the Times of Israel, Qumsieh acknowledged that the regional conflict and ongoing Israeli security measures have taken their toll on the Christian community, but did not seem to lay overall blame on the Jewish state.
Instead, Qumsieh insisted that the greatest threats facing local Christians, who now make up only one-third of Bethlehem’s population, are emigration, low birth rates and subtle, but mounting discrimination at the hands of the Muslims.
Qumsieh explained that local Christian families typically only have two children, far fewer than the average Muslim family. Combined with over a decade of Christian emigration, and you have a net loss, which, according to Qumsieh, is only encouraging the Muslims to become more aggressive.
Currently, incidents of discrimination, such as removing crosses from locally-sold products, are so subtle as to not elicit any serious foreign attention. “The discrimination is concealed,” said Qumsieh, “and that makes it more dangerous.” But he believes a storm is coming, as evidenced by the arrival of more radical groups like Al Qaeda.
Christian political leaders, such as Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, remain adamant that “when we talk about the Christian-Muslim relationship in Palestine [sic] we talk about a very healthy relationship.”
But, as Qumsieh told the Times of Israel, “In her position, [Baboun] couldn’t say otherwise.”