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This article is about the city in the West Bank. For other articles subjects named Bethlehem, see Bethlehem (disambiguation).
Bethlehem (Arabic بيت لحم Bayt Laḥm "house of meat"; בית לחם "house of bread", Standard Hebrew Bet léḥem / Bet láḥem, Tiberian Hebrew Bêṯ léḥem / Bêṯ lāḥem) is a Palestinian city in the West Bank of Palestine. Under the Oslo accords, Israel handed over Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority in 1995.
Bethlehem is about 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem, standing at an elevation of about 765 meters above the sea, thus 30 meters higher than Jerusalem. The Bethlehem agglomeration also covers the small towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, the latter also having biblical significance. Bethlehem is home to a university .
Bethlehem has great significance to the Christian religion as it is the place where Jesus of Nazareth was born. The city's populated area and its attached suburbs are immediately adjacent the traditional site of Rachel's tomb which is important in Judaism. Bethlehem is also home to one of largest communities of Palestinian Christians remaining in the Middle East.
There is a Christian church still existing among the many in Bethlehem, built by Constantine the Great (A.D. 330), called the Church of the Nativity, over a grotto or cave called the Holy Crypt, and said to be the stable in which Jesus was born. This is perhaps the oldest existing Christian church in the world. Close to it is another grotto, where Jerome the Latin father is said to have spent thirty years of his life in translating the Scriptures into Latin. (See Vulgate).
The city, located in the "hill country" of Judah, was originally called Ephrath (Gen. 35:16, 19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11). It was also called Beth-lehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Beth-lehem-judah (1 Sam. 17:12), and "the city of David" (Luke 2:4). It is first noticed in Scripture as the place where Rachel died and was buried "by the wayside," directly to the north of the city (Gen. 48:7). The valley to the east was the scene of the story of Ruth the Moabitess. There are the fields in which she gleaned, and the path by which she and Naomi returned to the town. Here was David's birth-place, and here also, in after years, he was anointed as king by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:4-13); and it was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his heroes brought water for him at the risk of their lives when he was in the cave of Adullam (2 Sam. 23:13-17). But it was distinguished above every other city as the birth-place of "Him whose goings forth have been of old" (Matt. 2:6; comp. Micah 5:2). Afterwards Herod, "when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men," sent and slew "all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under" (Matt. 2:16, 18; Jer. 31:15).
The city was wrecked during Bar Kokhba's revolt (132-135 AD) and the Romans set up a shrine to Adonis on the site of the Nativity. Only in 326 was the first Christian church constructed, when Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, visited Bethlehem. Afterwards it grew slowly but steadily, achieving its pinnacle as a strong fortified city during the Crusader era, but the Ottomans razed the fortifications and reduced Bethlehem back into the village it was 2000 years earlier.
The setback proved only temporary, and despite the turbulence of the 20th century the town has (as of 2000) grown to an estimated 184,000 inhabitants.
In the 1947 resolution by the United Nations General Assembly to partition Palestine, Bethlehem was included in the special international enclave of Jerusalem to be administered by the United Nations. Jordan occupied the city during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Jordan retained control of the city until 1967, when Bethelem was captured by Israel along with the rest of the West Bank.
On December 21, 1995, Bethlehem became one of the areas under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. As 2000, the town has an estimated 184,000 inhabitants. 41% of the population is Christian, while 59% is Muslim.
With the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bethlehem has been the site of many sub-conflicts. In May 2002, the Church of the Nativity was occupied by Palestinian gunmen, and fleeing civilians. According to senior Tanzim commander Abdullah Abu-Hadid, the church was specifically chosen due to its abundant supplies of food, water, and as a focal point for international outcry. It became the site of a 5-week stand-off between the Israel Defense Forces. The number of people inside was estimated between 120 and 240 including at least 40 gunmen. Several groups of civilians were allowed out of the church during the 5 week siege . During the siege several Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli snipers. The siege ended with an agreement for 13 militants to be sent via Cyprus to various European counties and another 26 to be sent to Gaza. The rest were set free. The IDF stated that 40 explosive devices were found and removed from the compound after the standoff was concluded.  Since that time, Bethlehem has been roadblocked (at the point of Rachel's Tomb). The city was placed periodically under strict curfew, so that virtually no one could appear outdoors, creating a ghost town effect.
Bethlehem's mayor, Hanna Nasser, says an estimated 2,000 Christians in Bethlehem have emigrated during the period of 2000 - 2003. Fifty years ago, Bethlehem was overwhelmingly Christian. Today, Christians are 11,000 of a total population of 28,000. 
In ancient time, Bethlehem was also the name of a town in the Tribe of Zebulun. It is identified with Beit Lahm (Bet Lehem Ha-Gelilit), northwest of Nazareth. Some Archeology researchers believe that the New Testament actually refers to this town instead of the one south of Jerusalem.
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