Since the start of new clashes in the Middle East, 28 months ago, more than 2,000 Christian Palestinians have been forced to abandon their homes in the West Banks and Gaza Strip. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mgr Michel Sabah raised the issue at a conference of European, Canadian and America Catholic Bishops held in Jerusalem last week. Fr Ibrahim Faltas, spokesman for Church of the Nativity, also told the Missionary News Service: "It is clear that the Christians are leaving the zone because of the conditions we are forced to live in. Over a thousand have already left Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Saur". Fr Ibrahim explained that the resumption of violence had caused the tourist industry to collapse. The Christians, Catholics and Orthodox, represent around 2% of the inhabitants of the occupied Territories and mainly live in areas around the Christian shrines. In Bethlehem, he said, many Christian families ran small businesses that survived on the inflow of tourism and foreigners. That no longer exists. He said: "At least 80% of the active population of Bethlehem is without work. Do not forget that we have been under curfew for months. "It means that we cannot come out of our homes and the schools, stores, offices and small stalls remain closed for most of the day." Fr, who is also the director of the Holy Land College, said the students there, and at the University of Bethlehem, were very behind with their studies because they have been unable to get to classes. "I cannot understanding why Israel is inflicting this collective punishment on tens of thousands of people, to just punish a few."
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