Israel vows to improve protection of its Christian community following attacks

A nun stands at the scene of a fire in the Church of Loaves and Fishes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, on June 18, 2015.Reuters

The Israeli government has vowed to step up its efforts in protecting its country's Christian community following attacks by fringe groups in some Christian areas in the past few years.

The government, which has prided itself in protecting minorities inside the Jewish state, has decided to undertake fresh measures to protect the local Christian community, CBN News reported.

The special advisor to Israel's Ministry of Internal Security on Minority Affairs, Dr. Moti Zaken, has set up a series of conferences between government ministries and Christian leaders to foster cooperation between the two parties.

"We think it's very important that we will be cooperating to solve problems (and) to improve the relations because we value the Christian groups and their representatives as a very important asset to the Jewish state," Zaken said during the fourth meeting.

Relations with the state can be improved, said David Pileggi, who serves as rector at Christ Church, the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East.

"Our relationship with Israel as the Christian community is good, but it can be better," he said.

"What we appreciate about this meeting is that we can raise practical concerns and hear reports from different government ministries, the police, the army and find out how they are improving the situation for the Christian minority."

Last month, one of the Holy Land's most famous Catholic churches, the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, was burned down, the most recent in a series of arson attacks on churches and mosques in Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

The attack was one of 18 arson cases involving Christian sites in the past four years, none of which has been resolved. Up to now, the culprits remained unidentified and have not been charged, Christian sources said.

As Christians elsewhere in the Middle East are suffering from persecution, Israel remains a refuge for them.

"It's the only country in the Middle East—in the whole Middle East—that actually has a growing Christian population. That says a lot because (in) all the other countries around this region, the Christians are fleeing as fast as they can because of the persecution, Islamic persecution," said Chuck Kopp, senior pastor of Jerusalem's International Congregation.

"So we can be happy that Christians are well represented and that they are an integral part of this country," Kopp said.

Pileggi said Christians in Israel even have more religious freedom than in other countries.

"There's certainly no comparison between the Christian population here and what's happening all through the Middle East and in many places in Africa and China—and certainly even in the United States. I would say that in many regards, we might have more religious freedom here in Israel than folks would back in the United States," he said.

The Israeli government also wants to enhance its services to Christian pilgrims from different parts of the world.

"It is one of the major, I would say, issues for the Ministry of Tourism to get to know how to approach the Christian world, both outside the country of course—abroad, all over the world—and, of course, inside Israel," said Ahuva Zaken with the Tourism Ministry.

Part of this plan includes visas for Christians, according to the Interior Ministry.

"We want to give a good answer to the Christian population, also to the Christian foundations in Israel, and this is also important to the State of Israel, and I am doing my job, to give every service with all my heart, whatever we can do to make things easier for the Christian population in Israel," said Cesare Marjieh, director of Christian Communities for the Interior Ministry.