Bethlehem: the peace of those who have decided to stay

Jacopo Battistini23 February 2024

“My whole family is in Canada, they would like me close, but my life is here and I don’t know what to do.” So says Issa, a man in his forties whom he met by chance in a restaurant in Bethlehem. “Life here is difficult, I have two children, they are only teenagers, but they both want to leave Bethlehem as soon as they can.” He continues in a wistful voice: “When I finished my studies my parents moved to Canada in search of a better life, I decided to stay. In Bethlehem there are fewer and fewer Christians and this is my land, I was born and raised there and I want to stay. But with this war I will also be abandoned by my children.”

There are 1 million Christians from the Holy Land in the world, of whom only 250,000 still live here. Only a quarter of them have decided to stay, but both those who stay and those who leave open a wound within themselves.

“All my husband’s siblings and even our children live in Italy, they always ask us to go and live with them, but for now we want to stay here in Bethlehem.” Sarah and her husband are close to retirement, a family that is almost completely uprooted, but which still has in this couple a last bridge with their homeland. “We want to stay because our life is here now, and we don’t want our family to forget about Bethlehem, but then we won’t be able to see our children even once a year.”

Along with those who have decided, despite everything, to stay, there is also the voice of those who have decided to leave. “I studied economics in Italy, I could have stayed and lived there and probably had a better life, but I decided to come back. My community is here.” In her words, Rasha shows a very important value for the Christians of Bethlehem: the community, those people who have known you since you were born and who support each other in times of difficulty, especially now. But sometimes the community is not enough: “My two children were traumatized by the war, by the rockets of October 7 and by the images of Gaza that the news from here sends continuously. I love this city and this community, but I can’t accept that my children put up with this evil. I decided to go and live in Italy with my family.”

Among these people there are also those who, against all expectations, have decided to return: “My husband and I studied pharmacy in Italy, we could have stayed there but we decided to return to Bethlehem”. In a calm voice, Nadia tells her story: “Of course, I came back because my family wanted me near me and because I dreamed of a quiet life in my hometown, who wouldn’t want that? I don’t despair about this situation, I pray that peace can finally return and I try to raise my children by teaching them to love their neighbors despite everything, that’s how I try to have some peace, at least starting from my home.”

Many Christians from Palestine, over the years, have migrated all over the world, especially to South America, so much so that today in Chile there are more families originally from Bethlehem than in Bethlehem itself.

“My parents were born in Chile to Bethleheme parents, as soon as they got married they decided to return here. Anyone who leaves Bethlehem will always have the dream of being able to return and transmits this dream to his children, as I think happens to anyone who is forced to leave their homeland.” So Rose begins to tell us why her family decided to return to Bethlehem. “Of course, now the situation is difficult: the war, the economic crisis and all the rest, but my parents have returned because they are certain that a peaceful future can be built here. It’s difficult now, but I’m still convinced that coming back was a good idea: I pray and hope that things can get better.”

Rose, Nadia and her husband, like so many others, have decided to return because they are convinced that only the work of every single person can begin, tentatively, to build peace in this troubled land.