Will There Be Room in the Inn?
Two thousand years ago a young Jewish woman and her husband came to the town of Bethlehem, in Jewish Judea, to be registered for taxation. Their permanent residence was Nazareth. But because they were of the house of David, they were required to return to Bethlehem in order to be registered. That is the well-known biblical and historical fact associated with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.
Last Christmas eve, after Bethlehem had been turned over to the predominantly Muslim Palestinian Authority, Chairman Yasser Arafat, with hands raised in the V-for-Victory sign, stood atop the roof of the Church of the Nativity looking down at a cheering throng of tens of thousands of Palestinian celebrants. There were very few Christians in Manger Square. The chairman’s portrait covered two stories of a building opposite the police station and dominated the square.
Among other things, Arafat promised the liberation of Jerusalem from Jewish control, promised a Palestinian state, and listened approvingly as the crowd cried, “In spirit and blood we will redeem Palestine.” It was hardly a scene reminiscent of the “peace on earth” theme heard by wondering shepherds two millennia earlier.
Arafat was, of course, saying what we would expect of a man who was achieving concessions from his former foes that he could not have dreamed of a few years ago. But he was also making a calculated point carefully designed to be funneled through the various Western news agencies covering the event.
“This,” he said, “is the birthplace of our Lord the Messiah, the Palestinian, the Palestinian.” Later in his address he returned to the subject: “This is the city of the Palestinian Lord, the Messiah of peace and freedom.” Arafat also said, “We pronounce this holy land, this holy city, the city of the Palestinian Jesus, a liberated city forever, forever, forever.”
His declarations in Manger Square on Christmas Eve were not the first time Yasser Arafat has taken liberties with the name and origin of Jesus. Nor was it the first time the press allowed the statement to go virtually unchallenged. Reuters News Service was one of the few agencies noting that Arafat’s revision of an essential element of the Christmas story was not well received in the local Christian community. “Eyebrows were also raised,” Dominic Evans reported, “when Arafat claimed Jesus as a Palestinian.”
That raising of eyebrows by some of Bethlehem’s Christians reflected more than a casual concern over a Muslim—Arafat—co-opting the name of Jesus. It manifested a fear for what the future holds for Christians in the town of Bethlehem and in the areas of Judea and Samaria that have been turned over to the Palestinian authority.
Christian Flight from Bethlehem
It is no secret, although not often reported in the Western media, that many Arab Christians have decided that they had better leave Bethlehem while they are able. As a matter of fact, Arab Christians are now a minority in a place where they once dominated. In 1931, Bethlehem was 79 percent Christian. Today that figure has fallen to just under 40 percent. There are 10,000 more Muslims than Christians in Bethlehem today. Part of the reason is economic. Young Christian Arabs tend to be better educated and find few opportunities in the place of their birth. Others are fleeing in fear.
Sue Fishkoff wrote in The Jerusalem Post, “In one sense, the new [Palestinian] administration speaks for them as Palestinians. But many local Christians view the change with trepidation, fearing continued financial and employment difficulties—already endemic in the region—compounded with an uneasiness about their status as Christians in a Moslem-dominated Palestinian authority.”
An elder Arab Christian shopkeeper said privately that he is afraid “our lives will be in danger as Christians.” Another businessman expressed concern about the thousands of Palestinian policemen arriving from North Africa, fearing they will be “vicious.” Another authoritative source describes Christians on the West Bank as a “threatened minority.”
Cases documenting their fears are already beginning to surface. On January 3, Bassem Eid, a prominent Palestinian human rights activist, was arrested by undercover Palestinian security forces. He had been working on the cases of several Palestinians who had converted from Islam to Christianity when he was detained. Eid was scheduled to meet with an Israeli journalist when he was arrested. He was involved at the time with the case of Chacour Saleh from the village of Sarta, who had been arrested by Palestinian security forces last May. Family members reported that Saleh was repeatedly beaten by his captors in a Jericho jail. Palestinian authorities claimed that he had collaborated with Israelis. Saleh’s relatives said they believed that he was detained because he had converted to Christianity in 1989 and was outspoken about his faith. They also denied that he had ever had undercover dealings with Israelis.
Saleh was released after former President Jimmy Carter and other peacemakers intervened on his behalf. Following his release, he reported that his captors forced him to sign a paper stating that he was not a Christian before they would allow him to leave. Saleh moved his family to another Arab village inside Israel, but he was forced to leave when PLO activists discovered that he was living in the village. He is now living somewhere in Tel Aviv.
One of the Arab Christians with whom Eid was meeting said he is convinced that Yasser Arafat’s new Palestinian Administration is “trying to placate Muslim militants” by harassing Christian converts. If this is the case, it is little wonder that Bethlehem’s Christian Arabs feel ill at ease. Andrew Meisals, of The Boston Herald, reports that while none of those he interviewed were willing to be quoted, many expressed concerns over rising Islamic fundamentalism, pointing to threatening incidents and such acts as the desecration of a Christian cemetery. CNN’s Walter Rodgers reported intimidation of Bethlehem’s Arab Christians by the Muslim majority and the expectation among many of the Christians that their community would disappear within a half dozen years.
All of this raises a question, one we would do well to consider carefully: Will Christian believers in Jesus—except those foreigners with money to spend—be able to find a room in the place of His birth?
Setting the Record Straight
Allowing Yasser Arafat to get away with pronouncing Jesus a “Palestinian revolutionary,” as he has repeatedly done, is a gross violation of the facts and an issue to be taken seriously by people who are committed to the truth.
Jesus was not a Palestinian. He was, at His birth in that stable in Bethlehem, a Jew. Mary was Jewish. Joseph was Jewish. Bethlehem was in Jewish Judea. It was the city of David, king of the Jews. Jesus was a Jew!
For most of his life, Yasser Arafat led a vicious campaign of terror to slaughter Jewish people and wipe their nation from the face of the earth. For him now to callously adopt Jesus, misrepresent His heritage, and infer that He was somehow a champion of causes now represented by Muslims is not only an affront to Jewry but should bring immediate international repudiation from every Christian on the face of this planet. Sadly, what Arafat is doing with the name of Jesus could only be done in an era of historical illiteracy. This generation has been conditioned to accept out-and-out lying as an acceptable means to achieve their agenda.
A brief history lesson may be in order.
When the place was known as Ephrath, it was where Jacob, from the line of Isaac, not Ishmael, buried his beloved wife, Rachel. “And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem” (Gen. 35:19).
After the conquest of Canaan, it was called Bethlehem-Judah. “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab” (Ruth 1:1).
It was the home of Boaz. “And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you” (Ruth 2:4).
At Bethlehem, Boaz’s great-grandson, David, kept his father Jesse’s sheep and was anointed king of Israel by the Prophet Samuel. “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day onward…But David went and returned…to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Sam. 16:13; 17:15). Henceforth, the town became known as “the city of David.” “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David)” (Lk. 2:4).
And, lest we forget: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).
When Jesus came, King Herod (the Great), “when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all its borders, from two years old and under” (Mt. 2:16). The tyrant was convinced that by slaughtering the innocent babies of Bethlehem, he was killing the future King of the Jews.
Ironically, two thousand years later, as a triumphant Yasser Arafat raised the V-for-Victory sign from the roof of the Church of the Nativity in response to the masses’ cry, “In spirit and blood we will redeem Palestine,” it may have been more in the spirit of Herod than Jesus.
Incidentally, the term Palestine was not coined until after the defeat of Jewish forces by the Romans in the Bar Kochba rebellion (135 A.D.). It was done by the Romans to humiliate the Jews and attempt to alter perceptions of the history of the region. The word Palestinian referring to Arab residents of the region was not popularized until relatively recent times. It was employed as a political device to infer the Arabs’ prior claim to the Holy Land.
It is patently clear from biblical and historical documentation that Bethlehem is definitely not a Muslim city. If Arab Christians are forced out for fear of Islamic militants, and Jews are harassed in their efforts to visit the tomb of Rachel, it will be a sad day in the history of that little hamlet.
To Jews, Bethlehem is the city of David and therefore a place revered by Jewish people. Without question, it should be preserved as a place that Jews can frequent in safety while they savor sacred associations with their Jewish heritage.
For Christians, it is the storied village where our Savior drew aside the veil of eternity and stepped into time. We can well identify with a Christian cleric from Bethlehem who, upon hearing Arafat refer to Jesus as a Palestinian, said, “Jesus was not a Palestinian. He is King of the universe. He is the Prince of Peace. We may say He was from Bethlehem, but He is not just for one people.”
Indeed, the Jesus from Bethlehem, although we revere those associations, was never just for Bethlehem, nor for one people. The light from the stable door in Bethlehem illuminates the world—for He is the light of the world. This is what makes the difference for Christians. And, yes, it is right that our Christian Arab brethren make their homes in the place of His birth, that they continue to operate the shops where Christians from all over the world can come to move and linger among mementos of the nativity. The church bells of Bethlehem should never fall silent because they are an offense to radical Muslim usurpers.
If Yasser Arafat wants what he claims—harmony between Muslims, Christians, and Jews—he could have made a start by allowing, as has been done for years, Christian Arab residents of Bethlehem to greet worshipers who had come to commemorate His birth. Instead, he chose to posture on the roof of a Christian church, declaring another triumph on the road to Muslim supremacy in the land called holy. Millions of Christians bristled at the sight and, in a sense, joined pious Jews who only days before had lined up at Bethlehem’s Tomb of Rachel to tear their garments and weep over the new occupation of their holy ground—ground that clearly falls within territory mandated to Jewry by God Himself.
The Darker Side
The most alarming aspect of the entire scenario is the pattern projected by Arafat that, in one way or another, is being manifested in many movements today—the remaking of Jesus. For Arafat, it is divesting Him of His Jewishness and transforming Him into a Palestinian of convenience, a reconstructed Christ who can be a way to further denigrate Jews while forging an alliance with elements among nominal Christians who are willing to fall for his propaganda ploy.
The Neo-Nazis, following the lead of their demonic hero, Hitler, have created an Aryan White Supremacist Christ—again, not Jewish—bent on killing Jews and Christians who stand against them as well.
Louis Farrakhan makes Jesus a black prophet associated with his Nation of Islam’s hate-driven rhetoric against Jewish people and Christians, who are deemed the enemies of his brand of enlightened Islam.
There are other examples too numerous to mention, but collectively they make a point. We are living in an era of demonically driven idolatry—idolatry that comes in many forms. The worst form is found among those who, like ancient crafters of gods of wood and stone, attempt to carve the image of Christ into an exploitable commodity.
Can we expect the trend to diminish in these last days? No! Not until He appears to clarify once and for all just who He is. A few years ago I wrote of Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, and what it all means. Perhaps the last few words of that piece will serve to place the focus in the right place.
Then herald forth the joyous word,
Our voices lift as one:
The Babe who slept in cattle stall
Is God’s triumphant Son.