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Bethlehem (//; Arabic: بيت لحم Bayt Laḥmi; Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם Bēṯ Leḥem) is a city in the West Bank, Palestine, located about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south of Jerusalem. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate, and has a population of approximately 25,000 people. The city's economy is largely tourist-driven; international tourism peaks around and during Christmas, when Christians embark on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity, revered as the location of the Nativity of Jesus. At the northern entrance of the city is Rachel's Tomb, the burial place of biblical matriarch Rachel. Movement around the city is limited due to the Israeli West Bank barrier.
|• Arabic||بيت لحم|
|• Latin||Beit Laḥm (official)|
Bayt Laḥm (unofficial)
|• Hebrew||בֵּית לֶחֶם|
|Country||State of Palestine|
|Founded||1400 BCE (est.)|
|• Type||Area A City (from 1995)|
|• Head of Municipality||Anton Salman|
|• Municipality type A||10,611 dunams (10.611 km2 or 4.097 sq mi)|
|• Municipality type A||28,591|
|• Density||2,700/km2 (7,000/sq mi)|
|Etymology||House of Meat (Arabic); House of Bread (Hebrew, Aramaic)|
The earliest-known mention of Bethlehem is in the Amarna correspondence of ancient Egypt, dated to 1350–1330 BCE, when the town was inhabited by the Canaanites. In the Hebrew Bible, the period of the Israelites is described; it identifies Bethlehem as the birthplace of David as well as the city where he was anointed as the third monarch of the United Kingdom of Israel, and also states that it was built up as a fortified city by Rehoboam, the first monarch of the Kingdom of Judah. In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke identify the city as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. Under the Roman Empire, the city of Bethlehem was destroyed by Hadrian, who was in the process of defeating Jews involved in the Bar Kokhba revolt. However, Bethlehem's rebuilding was later promoted by Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great; Constantine expanded on his mother's project by commissioning the Church of the Nativity in 327 CE. In 529, the Church of the Nativity was heavily damaged by Samaritans involved in the Samaritan revolts; following the victory of the Byzantine Empire, it was rebuilt a century later by Justinian I.
Amidst the Muslim conquest of the Levant, Bethlehem became part of Jund Filastin in 637. Muslims continued to rule the city until 1099, when it was conquered by the Crusaders, who replaced the local Christian clergy—composed of representatives from the Greek Orthodox Church—with representatives from the Catholic Church. In the mid-13th century, Bethlehem's walls were demolished by the Mamluk Sultanate. However, they were rebuilt by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, following the Ottoman–Mamluk War. At the end of World War I, the defeated Ottomans lost control of Bethlehem to the British Empire. It was governed under the British Mandate for Palestine until 1948, when it was captured by Jordan during the First Arab–Israeli War (see Jordanian annexation of the West Bank). In 1967, the city was captured by Israel during the Third Arab–Israeli War. Since the Oslo Accords, which comprise a series of agreements between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, Bethlehem has been designated as part of Area A of the West Bank, nominally rendering it as being under full Palestinian control.
While it was historically a city of Arab Christians, Bethlehem now has a majority of Arab Muslims; it is still home to a significant community of Palestinian Christians, however. Presently, Bethlehem has become encircled by dozens of Israeli settlements, which effectively separate Palestinians in the city from being able to openly access their land and livelihoods, and has likewise triggered their steady exodus.