For most of us, the name Bethlehem immediately summons images of a manger and shepherds and a star shining brightly in the night sky, guiding visitors from far away eastern lands. Many hear the words Phillips Brooks, rector of the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia penned in 1868 following his return from a visit to the Holy Land.
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless streets
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The Everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
Few places in all of Israel better illustrate the lengths to which the enemies of the Jewish people will go to deny the truth of their heritage in the land for thousands of years than the fate of Bethlehem. This obscure village in Old Testament days became famous because it was the home of King David. And in fulfillment of prophecy, Bethlehem is where Jesus was born about 1,000 years later.
The name Bethlehem means “house of bread” in Hebrew, and it is located not far from Jerusalem. It is fitting that the Bread of Life would be born there to a young virgin named Mary who had made the lengthy and difficult trip from Nazareth with her espoused husband Joseph because they were both descendants of David. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marks the spot where, according to tradition, Jesus was born.
But today most visitors to Israel who go desiring to see the places where the important events of Scripture happened do not visit Bethlehem. The city is in territory controlled by the Palestinians, and the danger of attack is so high that many tours of the Bible lands no longer include a visit to the birthplace of Jesus. Many of the Christians who once lived there and in other areas of controlled by the Palestinian Authority have been forced to move because of the threat of violence.
In fact, the number of Christians of various denominations living in Palestinian areas is estimated to have declined approximately 90% in the last century, with most of the change happening in the recent past. Today the letter “N” painted on the outside of a house (symbolizing the residents are followers of Jesus of Nazareth) is often the precursor to vandalism or even a violent attack.
Yet because Bethlehem is currently under Palestinian control, the claim is often made that Jesus Himself therefore is a Palestinian rather than a Jew. This outrageous falsehood is declared publicly without shame (and too often without rebuttal from those who know better) by Palestinian leaders. At the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference—a gathering of liberal religious groups that harshly criticize and oppose Israel—earlier this year, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said that Jesus would not have been allowed to attend “simply because he was a Palestinian.”
Those who deny historical Jewish links to this land God promised to Abraham thousands of years ago are either ignorant or deliberately deceitful. This land is essential for Israel’s security and self-defense. It is not part of a historic Palestinian state, for there has never been one. Israel did not conquer Palestine—they defeated the forces of Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967 after Jordan had illegally seized the land during the War of Independence launched by Israel’s Arab neighbors in 1948.
We launched our Save the Bible Lands campaign to declare our support for the recognition of Israel’s right to the Bible lands of Judea and Samaria. The Jewish people who live there are not occupiers of enemy territory. They live in Israel. Land for peace has been proven to be folly because so many of the Palestinians do not want peace. They want Israel destroyed. Every friend of freedom and every friend of the Jewish people should stand with Israel when it comes to control of the Bible lands.