All is quiet in Bethlehem. On Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity stands in the pale gloom of dusk, its doors open to passing pilgrims.But inside, the nave is empty of visitors and the collection boxes depleted of coins.
In the candlelit grotto downstairs, a silver star marks the spot where Jesus is supposed to have been born.It is one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, but there are no tourists queuing to see it.
The town's Christian population has dwindled from more than 85 per cent in 1948 to 12 per cent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006.
There are reports of religious persecution, in the form of murders, beatings and land grabs.
Jeriez Moussa Amaro, a 27-year-old aluminium 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 organisation, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement claiming responsibility, which said: "We wanted to clean the Palestinian house of prostitutes."
Jeriez says: "A Christian man is weak compared to a Muslim man."They have bigger, more powerful families and they know people high up in the Palestinian authority."
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