“The plight of Christian Arabs remaining in the PA is, in part, attributable to the adoption of Muslim religious law in the PA Constitution. Israel, by contrast, safeguards the religious freedom and holy places of its Christian (and Muslim) citizens.”
Justus Reid Weiner reports for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (thanks to Looney Tunes):
* The Christian population of the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has sharply declined in recent decades, as tens of thousands have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral properties to live abroad. Those who remain comprise a beleaguered and dwindling minority. In sharp contrast, Israel’s Christian community has prospered and grown by at least 270 percent since the founding of the state.
* While Israel understands that the construction of the security barrier inconveniences some of the Christian communities living in its vicinity, Israel has shown sensitivity to Christian interests in planning the route of the barrier.
* The plight of Christian Arabs remaining in the PA is, in part, attributable to the adoption of Muslim religious law in the PA Constitution. Israel, by contrast, safeguards the religious freedom and holy places of its Christian (and Muslim) citizens. Indeed, in recent years Israel has been responsible for restoring many of the churches and monasteries under its jurisdiction.
* The growing strength of Islamic fundamentalism within the Palestinian national movement poses problems for Christians, who fear they will be deemed opponents of Islam and thereby risk becoming targets for Muslim extremists. This is exacerbated by the fact that Hamas holds substantial power and seeks to impose its radical Islamist identity on the entire population within the PA-controlled territories.
Who Threatens Christians in the Holy Land?
Palestinian Christians have a higher rate of emigration compared to Palestinian Muslims and the Christian population of the West Bank and Gaza has plunged from about 20 percent after World War II to less than 1.7 percent now.1 Tens of thousands have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral properties to live abroad.2
Some senior Christian clerics claim that the dramatic rise in Christian emigration from PA-controlled territories is a result of the Israeli “occupation.”3 However, in-depth research demonstrates that the precipitous decline in the Christian population is primarily a result of social, economic, and religious discrimination and persecution within Palestinian society in the West Bank and Gaza.
In a July 3, 2006, article, “Who Harms Holy Land Christians?,” syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, a long-time critic of Israel, paraphrased a letter from Michael H. Sellers, an Anglican priest in Jerusalem, to U.S. Congressmen Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY), who were circulating a draft resolution blaming the Christian decline on the discriminatory practices of the Palestinian Authority.4 Sellers insisted that “the real problem [behind the Christian Arab exodus] is the Israeli occupation – especially its new security wall.”
Yet two-thirds of the Christian Arabs had already departed between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip, prior to the “occupation” and decades before construction began on the security barrier to protect Israel’s population from waves of deadly suicide bombers. During the same period, hundreds of thousands of Christians were leaving other Muslim-ruled countries in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa. Every one of the more than twenty Muslim states in the Middle East has a declining Christian population. In fact, Israel is the only state in the region in which the Christian Arab population has grown in real terms – from approximately 34,000 in 1948 to nearly 130,000 in 2005.5
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