Christians of the Holy Land

The exodus from the Holy Land of Palestinian Christians could eventually leave holy cities like Jerusalem and Bethlehem without a local Christian population. Bob Simon reports.

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Bob Simon: What do you say to them?

Claire Anastas: I tell them, we have to stay. We need to stay and struggle and fight. This is our cross.

For all Palestinians, just leaving Bethlehem is a struggle. Getting to Jerusalem, only seven miles away, whether it's to pray, go to a doctor, visit family members, or work, means going through this Israeli checkpoint. That can take hours but before Palestinians can get even this far, they need a permit from the Israelis which can take weeks or months to obtain and is frequently denied.

Michael Oren: We regret any inconvenience caused by the security precautions. But it's their inconvenience, it's our survival.

Michael Oren, who used to be Israel's director of Interreligious Affairs, is Israel's ambassador to the United States.

Michael Oren: We have to protect our country. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to survive.

For Palestinian Christians, the survival of their culture is in danger. In towns like Bethlehem, which used to be distinctively Christian, Muslims now are a clear and growing majority. The veil is replacing the cross. But inside Israel, in Christian towns like Nazareth, Arabs are Israeli citizens and, according to Ambassador Oren, they're thriving. The reason Christians are leaving the West Bank, he says, is Islamic extremism.

Michael Oren: I think that the major problem in the West Bank as in elsewhere in the Middle East is that the Christian communities are living under duress.

Bob Simon: And this duress is coming from Muslims, not from the Israel occupation?

Ambassador Michael Oren: I believe that the major duress is coming from that.

[Zahi Khouri: Great selling point. Easy to sell to the American public.]

Zahi Khouri is a Palestinian businessman. He owns the West Bank Coca-Cola franchise.

Zahi Khouri: I'll tell you I don't know of anybody and I probably have 12,000 customers here. I've never heard that someone is leaving because of Islamic persecution.

Ari Shavit, one of Israel's most respected columnists, believes Christians have become collateral damage.

Ari Shavit: I think this is a land that has seen in the last century a terrible struggle between political Judaism and political Islam in different variations.

Bob Simon: And the Christians are being squeezed in the middle between the Jews and the Muslims?