The rest of the article is interesting, too, and the Israeli leadership doesn't get off scot free (gangs that intimidate Christians in Nazareth are reportedly ignored by Israeli police, for example) but it also deals with army service for Israeli Christians and how they are reacting to the idea, as well as a nascent movement to redefine themselves as Arameans and not Arab.
"We used to be many. Now there are so few of us left. Everyone is trying to leave," says Samir, another salesman in a neighbouring shop selling Orthodox icons. Worrying about the consequences of complaining about the situation, Samir declined to use his real name.
"My mother doesn't like to walk in the street at night because her hair is uncovered, and people come up behind her and make rude comments," he tells me. During Christmas celebrations last December, women in their twenties on a visit from London with their parents and siblings complained of being harassed by a gang of male youths as they stood watching a festive performance in Manger Square. The gang did not desist until some local women came to stand nearby and told the boys to stop.
Everyone agrees that economic hardship and the low birthrate of the Christian community are the primary causes for decline. Yet in recent years Christians in Bethlehem also complain of a growing climate of intimidation from Islamic extremists.
"We announce to the nation joyously that with the grace of God the ideology of global jihad has attained a foothold in the West Bank, after everyone had tried to abort every seed planted there," stated the message from the Mujahideen Shura Council, an al-Qaeda-linked group as it declared its presence in the West Bank last December. Three of its members were killed by the Israeli Shin Bet (security service) after they were suspected of planning a terror attack.
Members of the Salafi movement — an ultra-conservative current within the Sunni branch of Islam — have been based in the Gaza Strip for the past decade or so, but in recent months their presence has spread to the West Bank. While most Salafis are non-violent, the extremist fringes have a strong jihadist element that borrows from al-Qaeda's ideology, as can be witnessed in Gaza, Syria and the Sinai, where in recent years such groups have thrived. The stated endgame of the extremists is to establish an Islamic caliphate — and Christians, Jews and others are considered infidels.
In Bethlehem, residents talk about an increasingly antagonistic climate between faiths. Just weeks prior to the Pope's visit, a proselytising group of Muslims stood near the entrance of the Church of the Nativity, handing out copies of the Koran in multiple languages, and telling people on their way to the church to pray to Allah instead. "It was insulting. I feel like I don't live in a Christian place any more," says Samir, adding that such events are happening more and more often.
A few days after the incident outside the Church of the Nativity, he describes celebrating the feast of St George in another church a few miles outside Bethlehem when a violent brawl between Christian and Muslim worshippers broke out. Stones were thrown, and a video of the event shows people running away in fear. Samir said the event was terrifying. "They will throw us out of our own country."