“At Christmas, there’s no more significant spot than this place,” said Fox News host Pete Hegseth, standing at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. “Today, this site… is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The number of Christians here is dwindling.”
In Fox Nation’s new documentary, “Battle for Bethlehem,” Hegseth traveled to the Holy Land to investigate why Christians are leaving the birthplace of Jesus Christ. He spoke to experts on all sides of the issue and took viewers through a history of the holy place, beginning with the most significant event in Christianity.
“For centuries, Christian pilgrims from around the world have been drawn here to celebrate,” narrated Hegseth, as he and his camera crew went into the cave where Jesus was born.
“In the Church of the Nativity, three different denominations control it. The Armenians, the Greeks and the Catholics,” said Hegseth from inside the shrine. “Each day for the Catholic Church at twelve-noon, there’s a procession down to the cave, the manger scene, the birthplace of Jesus. So you can see day by day, every single day, at the same time, Catholics, Armenians, Greeks are honoring this holy place and the birthplace of Jesus Christ.”
Hegseth spoke to American journalist Brian Schrager, who lived in a Palestinian Chrisitian town in Bethlehem, about why the Christian population is leaving the city.
“For Christians here it’s actually fairly complex,” said Schrager. “Christians are a minority in greater Bethlehem.”
“Most Christians have been pushed out,” suggested Hegseth.
“Exactly,” agreed Schrager, “The Muslim population, the Christian population often clash. So it’s not uncommon to hear, shall we say, unkind sentiments expressed by one toward the other,”
Both Schrager and Hegseth noted that it is difficult to get Palestinian Christians to express that feeling on-camera.
Hegseth said that his Fox Nation team set up multiple interviews with Christian business owners in Bethlehem, but all the meetings were canceled at the last minute, even after Hegseth offered to disguise their identities.
Eugene Kontorovich, the director of the Kohelet Policy Forum, an Israeli non-profit think tank, told Hegseth that Christians fear reprisals from the Palestinian government under which they live.
“People who are in danger don’t say so. It’s just like when journalists used to go to the Soviet Union and ask people in communist Russia, ‘Are you happy here under the communists?'” said Kontorovich. “But in fact, we can see people vote with their feet and they overwhelmingly vote to leave.”
For a different perspective, Hegseth spoke to Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian Christian who teaches at Bethlehem University.
“The stats that we’ve seen show that the Christian population has dramatically plummeted in Bethlehem to under 10 percent today,” said Hegseth. “I think for a lot of Americans, that’s a huge surprise and would look at Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and assume it is a Christian town.”
Qumsiyeh said Israel is to blame for the shrinking Chrisitan population.
“Israel, when it was founded, pushed both Christians and Muslims out. Economic pressures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are different than pointing a gun and saying, ‘Everybody leave.'”
“When you have economic pressures,” he continued, “those with the wherewithal leave more than those without the wherewithal… Most Muslims could not leave. That is why Christians ended up leaving at a higher percentage.”
Schrager does not agree.
“Well, that’s actually shifting the blame,” said Schrager of Qumsiyeh’s explanation, “because what’s happened is that Christians here have found it increasingly difficult to live to do business the way things are done here — legally with the police and with the courts. They’re subject to the Palestinian Authority. And that’s just become increasingly difficult.”
In conclusion, Hegseth acknowledged that despite the conflicting opinions, the reality of Christians in the Holy Land marches on.
“In Bethlehem, time moves forward, but life here can still feel timeless.”
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