The Wane of Christians in the Holy Land

You Can’t Say We Didn’t Know:
Some Perspectives on Israel, Palestine, and the Conflict

Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine
Diocese of Olympia
October 2016

By Claude Soudah

Across the Holy Land, where Christianity was born and once made up around 20 percent of the population prior to the war of 1948, Christians now represent a tiny minority. In the West Bank, Christians now represent between 1–2% of the population and continue to decrease at an alarming rate as a reflection of ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Institute for Middle East Understanding estimates that approximately 51,000 Christians live in Palestine: 38,000 in the West Bank, 10,000 in East Jerusalem and 3,000 in Gaza.[1] Approximately 161,000 Christians live in Israel, representing 1.1% of Israel’s population as of October 2015.[2]

The continued Israeli occupation has made it impossible for Christians, indeed for the whole Palestinian people of whom they are an integral part, to live with dignity, freedom and security. Palestinian Christians, like all Palestinians, want to live in peace and with justice. They yearn for freedom and life abundant. Christian churches have frequently been desecrated in an effort to intimidate Christians to leave the Holy Land. The pressure from some Muslim Palestinians also contributes to the dwindling number of Christian Palestinians.

Palestinian Christians have been denied their right of worship at traditional holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and many generations of Christians have never been able to reach either city to worship. Jerusalem, the holy city for all children of Abraham, is also a city of daily life for all her Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants connected to this place through family ties as well as the location of their places of worship, their schools, hospitals and work places. Daily they are confronted by the Separation Wall, checkpoints, and roadblocks guarded by Israeli soldiers who deny them movement and access to Jerusalem. Basic services such as water and electricity are withheld multiple times a week. All these conditions make living in the Holy Land extremely difficult, and many Christians consequently choose to seek new lives in other countries.

Holy Land Christians have a rich history, a language and a common culture with Palestinian Muslims with whom they have lived in peace for centuries. Christians have played a positive role in Arab society and facilitated relations between the different social groups.

The expansion of Israel and its search for security have become an obsession, a mythical ideology in the name of which gross injustice, intimidation and the use of violence are justified. In closing, I would like to quote Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, “One day, political leaders, the Israelis and Palestinians and the International community will come to understand that, beyond the game of interests and political ambitions, the nation and vocation of this Holy Land is to be chosen by God to unite all men to himself and to each other.”