Bethlehem

Bethlehem ( “House of Meat” , lit. “House of Bread”; , Modern: , lit. “House of Bread”; ) is a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank, about 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem. Its population is approximately 25,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate. The economy is primarily tourist-driven. It is thought the original name was Beit Lachama, from the Canaanite god Lachama. The earliest mention of the city is in the Amarna correspondence c.1350-1330 BCE as “Bit-Lahmi”. The Hebrew Bible identifies it as the city David was from and where he was crowned as the king of Israel. The New Testament identifies Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. The city is inhabited by one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, although the size of the community has shrunk due to emigration. Bethlehem was destroyed by the Emperor Hadrian during the second-century Bar Kokhba revolt; its rebuilding was promoted by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who commissioned the building of its great Church of the Nativity in 327 CE. The Church was badly damaged by the Samaritans, who sacked it during the Samaritan Revolt in 529, but was rebuilt a century later by the emperor Justinian I, in very much its present form. Bethlehem was seized by the Arab Caliphate of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb during the Arab conquest in 637, seized again by Egypt and then the Seljuks, and, in 1099, by Crusaders, who replaced its Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. In the mid-13th century, invading Mamluks demolished the city’s walls, which were subsequently rebuilt in the early 16th century, after Bethlehem became part of the Ottoman Empire. Control of Bethlehem passed from the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire at the end of World War I. Pursuant to the proposed United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine of November 1947, Bethlehem was to be included in an international zone, controlled by Britain. The Arab League states rejected the Partition Plan, and launched the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to prevent the creation of a Jewish state. During the war Jordan forcibly seized Bethlehem and occupied it – Jordan claimed to annex the west bank territories in 1950, though this was only ever formally recognized by Britain. Bethlehem was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, and since 1995 – per the Oslo Accords – Bethlehem has been governed by the Palestinian National Authority. Bethlehem has a Muslim majority, but is also home to one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities. Originally, Bethlehem was a lodging point for Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem during the three holiest days of the Jewish year. Bethlehem’s chief economic sector is tourism which peaks during the Christmas season when Christians make pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity, as they have done for almost two millennia. Bethlehem has over thirty hotels and three hundred handicraft workshops. Rachel’s Tomb, an important Jewish holy site, is located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem.

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