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Holy Land's Christians Caught In Midst Of Conflict

Megan Goldin

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - A 76-year-old Greek Orthodox monk is beaten up by villagers, his carefully tended olive trees are uprooted and his isolated West Bank monastery is defaced with graffiti depicting nuns being raped.

The land of Jesus's birth is not always an easy place for Christians to live in 2006.

The population of Christians in the Holy Land, particularly in the Palestinian territories, is dwindling as more and more leave for a better life abroad, turning the community into a tiny minority squeezed between Muslims and Jews.

The traditional merchant class, heavily dependent on tourist money, has suffered a recession since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 and Israel walled off Bethlehem with a barrier.

The Israelis say it is designed to stop suicide bombers and Palestinians call it a land grab.

"(Christians) are suffering from both Islamic extremists and Israeli security concerns," said Canon Andrew White, a former Middle East envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Anglican Church.

While incidents as violent as the harassment of the Greek Orthodox monk are rare, life for Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has become more precarious in the past decade.

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