Haaretz, Dec 26, 2017


Rafat Alsoos has seen most of his Palestinian family and friends leave the West Bank since 2000, echoing the exodus of Arab Christians from the Middle East. To compound matters, he’s also the only pig farmer in an area that’s increasingly Muslim


Customers, including a Franciscan monk, shopping at the Aziz Butcher and Farm shop in Beit Jala, December 2017. Dina Kraft

Alsoos and an older sister are the only members of his immediate family still living in Beit Jala. For most of its centuries-long history, this was a majority Christian village. Now, though, it has a growing Muslim population and a shrinking Christian one. Their parents and five other siblings live in Canada, in a suburb of Toronto.

[...] “This is my homeland, I grew up here,” he says with a broad smile. “It’s a good thing to be in your homeland, no? It’s a different feeling. It’s like something inside you – you can’t leave it, especially this country and this city. Jesus was born here,” he adds, referring to Bethlehem just down the road.

“It’s the Holy Land,” he says, emphasizing the word “holy.” An olive wood cross hangs on the white tile walls behind him, next to a row of postcard-sized images of various saints, including St. George and St. Nicholas.

Just down a steep road from his butcher shop is the gold-spired Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, built on the spot where tradition says the fourth-century bishop once lived in a cave. When Alsoos was a boy, he remembers it was full here on Sundays and other services. Now, though, he feels the pews thinning out.