Five years of Palestinian violence, known as the second intifada, have destroyed Bethlehem's economy, which is heavily based on tourism. Bethlehem's mayor, Dr. Victor Batarseh, says the violence is forcing people to leave their city, and most affected are Bethlehem's Christians.
"Due to the stress, either physical or psychological, and the bad economic situation, many people are emigrating, either Christians or Muslims, but it is more apparent among Christians, because they already are a minority, and it is because it is easier for a Christian family to emigrate, because they have family abroad already, in the U.S. in South or Central America, or Australia, or Canada," said Dr. Batarseh. "That is why Christian emigration is more apparent. We need this city to remain as a model of co-existence between the two religions. The more emigration we get this model will dissolve."
More than 3,000 Christians, or about 10 percent of Bethlehem's Christian population, have left the city since the Palestinian uprising began five years ago. Until the middle of the 20th Century, Bethlehem was about 90 percent Christian. However thousands of Muslim Palestinian refugees poured into the city following the establishment of Israel in 1948, beginning a population shift that continues to this day. Now Muslims far outnumber Christians, who now make up about 35 percent of Bethlehem's 60,000 residents.