Bethlehem (/ˈbɛθlɪhɛm/; Arabic: بيت لحم Bayt Laḥm; Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם Bet Leḥem) is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, about 10 km (6.2 miles) south of Jerusalem. Its population is approximately 25,000,[3][4] and it is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the State of Palestine. The economy is primarily tourist-driven, peaking during the Christmas season, when Christians make pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity.[5][6] The important holy site of Rachel's Tomb is at the northern entrance of Bethlehem, though not freely accessible to the city's own inhabitants and in general Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank due to the Israeli West Bank barrier.

Arabic transcription(s)
  Arabicبيت لحم
  LatinBeit Lahm (official)
Bayt Lahm (unofficial)
Hebrew transcription(s)
  Hebrewבֵּית לֶחֶם
Bethlehem skyline from Church of the Nativity
Location of Bethlehem within Palestine
Coordinates: 31°42′11″N 35°11′44″E
Founded1400 BCE (est.)
  TypeCity (from 1995)
  Head of MunicipalityAnton Salman[1]
  Municipality type A (City)10,611 dunams (10.611 km2 or 4.097 sq mi)
  Municipality type A (City)28,591
  Density2,700/km2 (7,000/sq mi)
Name meaningHouse of Meat (Arabic); House of Bread (Hebrew & Aramaic)
Bethlehem and surroundings from the air in 1931

The earliest known mention of Bethlehem was in the Amarna correspondence of 1350–1330 BCE when the town was inhabited by the Canaanites. The Hebrew Bible, which says that the city of Bethlehem was built up as a fortified city by Rehoboam,[7] identifies it as the city David was from and where he was anointed as the king of Israel. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke identify Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem was destroyed by the Emperor Hadrian during the second-century Bar Kokhba revolt; its rebuilding was promoted by 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 a revolt in 529, but was rebuilt a century later by Emperor Justinian I.

Bethlehem became part of Jund Filastin following the Muslim conquest in 637. Muslim rule continued in Bethlehem until its conquest in 1099 by a crusading army, who replaced the town's Greek Orthodox clergy with a Latin one. In the mid-13th century, the Mamluks demolished the city's walls, which were subsequently rebuilt under the Ottomans in the early 16th century.[8] Control of Bethlehem passed from the Ottomans to the British at the end of World War I. Bethlehem came under Jordanian rule during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and was later captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since the 1995 Oslo Accords, Bethlehem has been administered by the Palestinian Authority as part of Area A of the West Bank.[8]

While historically an Arab Christian town, Bethlehem has a Muslim majority, but is still home to a significant Palestinian Christian community.[9][10] It is now encircled and encroached upon by dozens of Israeli settlements and the Israeli West Bank barrier, which separates both Muslim and Christian communities from their land and livelihoods, and sees a steady exodus from both communities.[11]

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