Some 25 years ago I met with three major spokesmen of the Palestine Liberation Organization in my capacity as chair of Breira, a Jewish group supporting a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Two of the three PLO leaders were soon assassinated. My own life was threatened more than once by the Jewish Defense League.
As anyone following the news knows, Palestinians and Israelis offer two entirely different accounts of the violence (and two different accounts of what has happened in the region since the emergence of the state of Israel in 1948). The siege at the Church of the Nativity is one more example.
Journalists covering religion regularly cite membership figures for the various religious organizations. They want to give readers an idea of how many people might be affected by developments in a particular group or tradition.