Holy Land Christians Dwindling as Hostility Intensifies

|PIC1|Hostility against Christians is intensifying in the land that gave birth to Jesus and to the religion that claims more than 2.1 billion adherents.

Reports indicate that an increasing number of Christians in the Holy land, particularly in the Palestinian territories, are emigrating to look for a better life, leaving behind a small minority of Holy Land Christians amongst Muslims and Jews.

"[Christians] are suffering from both Islamic extremists and Israeli security concerns," Canon Andrew White, a former Middle East envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, told Reuters Tuesday.

"The world has got to wake up to the reality of what is going on and not just view it as a political matter, taking one side or another, and realise that Christians are the people caught in between," White said.

Christians made up the majority of the Holy Land when Islam began to rise in the 7th century and decreased their numbers to about 20 percent of the population up until a century ago, according to Reuters.

Today the Christian population has dwindled to about 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories (about 1.5 percent of the population) and about 100,000 Christians in Israel (approximately two percent).

|PIC2|Samir Qumsieh, a Palestinian-Christian businessman is fearful of the consequence of Christians leaving the Holy Land.

"If the situation continues, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity will become cold, empty museums," said Qumsieh, referring to two of the holiest Christian shrines, according to Reuters.

Estimates suggest that about 1,000 Christians a year are leaving their homeland.

Reasons for Christians leaving the Holy Land include the migration of educated, middle-class Christian population in response to violence by Arab-Israeli wars in the 20th century, corruption and lawlessness, and persecution.

Recent harassment of Christians include the beating of a 76-year-old Greek Orthodox monk, the twice firebombed parish school in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and graphic graffiti found on monastery property depicting nuns being raped last year.

In Gaza, the Palestinian Bible Society bookstore was bombed by unidentified militants on Feb. 3 using two small pipe bombs which destroyed the steel and glass doors. The bookstore was reopened on Apr. 3 after a five-week-long closure in response to threats to bomb the building, reported the pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, Hanna Massad, to Open Doors USA. Massad’s wife is the Bible Society bookstore’s director.

The Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, has voice his concern about the situation of Christians in the Holy Land this week.

|TOP|“This year, on this Good Friday, I am particularly mindful that our focus turns on Jerusalem where Jesus becomes the fulfillment of God’s promises to us,” Griswold said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“As I read and watch news accounts of the deteriorating political situation unfolding in the City of Peace and throughout the Holy Land, I am fearful that an impending humanitarian tragedy is unfolding,” he continued. “Regardless of one's political views, we are all called to respond to human suffering, and to take all necessary measures to alleviate and prevent any tragedy wherever possible.”

The bishop concluded with a plea to government bodies and the Church membership to help provide the necessary aid to those suffering for the “deteriorating political situation."

Prayers were also requested for peace and reconciliation of the “ongoing and devastating conflict.”

Michelle Vu
Christian Today Correspondent