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Vatican blames Israel for driving out Christians

But locals say Muslim intimidation, persecution is main factor

By Aaron Klein

1/20/2010 Israel, Palestinian Territory (WorldNetDaily) – A Vatican document released yesterday blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s “occupying” of lands for driving Christians out and making life difficult for those who remain.

However, Christians here who fled their homes in Palestinian-controlled territory largely blamed Muslim intimidation for their plight in interviews with WND.

The Vatican document leaked to the media is reportedly a guide for discussions for an upcoming meeting of Mideast bishops convened by Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the plight of the Christian minority in the Middle East, which has an overwhelming Muslim majority.

According to the Associated Press, the meeting document made clear bishops in the Middle East believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central cause of several conflicts in the region. The document also claimed Israeli “occupation” was a major factor in driving Christian out of certain lands.

The Vatican is not alone in blaming Israel for fleeing Christians. Scores of media reports have claimed a security barrier that Israel constructed on a border with Bethlehem primarily had caused Christians to flee the historic Christian city.

Israel built the barrier seven years ago. But Bethlehem’s Christian population started to drastically decline in 1995, the very year the Palestinian Authority took over the city in line with the U.S.-backed Oslo Accords.

Bethlehem was more than 80 percent Christian when Israel was founded in 1948. But after the PA took control, the city’s Christian population plummeted to its current 23 percent. The statistic is considered generous since it includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Some estimates place Bethlehem’s actual Christian population as low as 12 percent, with hundreds of Christians emigrating each year.

Christian leaders and residents told WND they face an atmosphere of regular hostility. They said Palestinian armed groups stir tension by holding militant demonstrations and marches in the streets. They spokes of instances in which Christian shopkeepers’ stores were ransacked and Christian homes attacked.

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