Vandals had cut the electric cable surrounding the sign to ensure that it would not be lit up during the night. Barraged with phone calls from the local community, the municipality informed Pastor Khoury that many are campaigning asking us to take down the sign.
Christians have been forced out of Bethlehem and the city went from a Christian majority under the Israelis to a Muslim majority under Palestinian Authority rule. A telling sign of how bad things have gotten is that the last time municipal elections were held in Bethlehem, Hamas won almost half the seats on the municipal council.
The mayor of Bethlehem is an Arab Christian, but she's also a pawn of Fatah, which these days has turned more explicitly Islamic and at times even Islamist. And Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority.
And you can tell from this account of how the War on Christmas came to Bethlehem how bad things have gotten
"In the birthplace of Christianity, we have seen over the years that the Christmas holiday has been reduced to snowmen and bells," said Pastor Steven Khoury of Holy Land Missions; the ministry behind putting the 1200 square foot sign up. He added, "The essential message of the holiday season has been taken away for fear of what the dominant factors in Bethlehem would say."
Vandals had cut the electric cable surrounding the sign to ensure that it would not be lit up during the night. Barraged with phone calls from the local community, the municipality informed Pastor Khoury that many are campaigning asking us to take down the sign. ...The billboard sign is located at Manger Square with the slogan "Jesus born to die and rose again. Invite him into your heart so you might live - Merry Christmas" has caused some people to come out of their cars and take pictures.
Out of fear of repercussions, no one is willing to sell electricity access to the billboard. So Pastor Khoury has been going out with a portable generator and several high beam spotlights and lighting the sign up himself. Anticipating that the sign might be coming down any time, Khoury quickly did one last film next to the billboard sign.
Christians used to make three-quarters of Bethlehem's population. Now they make up a third. There are still laws on the books requiring that the mayor and the majority of the council be Christians, but this is a facade. Bethlehem is a majority Muslim city run by Muslims and their appointed Christians.
(It's instructive to note that Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority was founded by Christian refugees escaping persecution in what would become Jordan. Once Jordan took over Ramallah, the city became a Muslim majority territory.)
As Mayor of Bethlehem, Verba Baboun followed the Fatah line of deemphasizing Christmas and emphasizing Palestinian nationalism, transforming Christmas into the celebration of the Israeli handover of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority a few days before Christmas.
Some of the persecutions that have driven Christians out of Bethlehem have been chronicled.
George Rabie, a 22-year-old taxi driver from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala, is proud of his Christianity, even though it puts him in daily danger.
Two months ago, he was beaten up by a gang of Muslims who were visiting Bethlehem from nearby Hebron and who had spotted the crucifix hanging on his windscreen.
"Every day, I experience discrimination," he says. "
"It is a type of racism. We are a minority so we are an easier target. Many extremists from the villages are coming into Bethlehem."
Jeriez Moussa Amaro, a 27-year-old aluminum craftsman from Beit Jala is another with first-hand experience of the appalling violence that Christians face.
Five years ago, his two sisters, Rada, 24, and Dunya, 18, were shot dead by Muslim gunmen in their own home.
Their crime was to be young, attractive Christian women who wore Western clothes and no veil. Rada had been sleeping with a Muslim man in the months before her death.
A terrorist organization, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement claiming responsibility, which said: "We wanted to clean the Palestinian house of prostitutes.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is a sub-group of Fatah which runs the Palestinian Authority.