Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Walling in the Christian Narrative

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Walling in the Christian Narrative

Article excerpt

The Christians in the Holy Land are a small yet, in the eyes of the world, very significant community. So much so, in fact, that it has become an important part of Israeli strategy to attempt to surround their voice with a wall of silence, working to ensure that it is not heard.

Seeking to shiftblame from the fact that Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of a brutal occupation, the Israeli government continues to promote the misconception that the only place Christians "have it good is in Israel." In an April 22, 2012 interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" (available at ), Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said, "The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren't endangered but flourishing is Israel."

This and similar statements often reiterated by U.S. supporters of Israel are, however, based on two false assumptions: that Christians are in fact "flourishing" in Israel, and that their increasing numbers are evidence of that.

"Flourishing" in Israel?

The Christians actually living in the Holy Land disagree with Israel's self-serving assessment. About 155,000 Christians are citizens of Israel-less than 2 percent of its 7.9 million population, according to Haaretz. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has noted that they "suffer from over 35 discriminatory laws" affecting the population in everything from health care to education to where they can live or even worship. According to numerous polls and a recent EU Heads of Mission report: "Church leaders cite as reasons for increased emigration: Government of Israel-imposed family-reunification restrictions, limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to confiscation of church properties and building restrictions, taxation problems and difficulties in obtaining residency permits for Christian clergy."

Permanent vs. Non-Permanent Christian Communities

It is vital to define who the Christian Israelis are, as well as their actual numbers, for two reasons. First, so that the church can equip itself to adequately provide pastoral care for them. Secondly, so that politicians cannot use the Holy Land's Christian communities to further their own political agendas.

While on the surface some numbers may appear to be increasing, this is misleading, since they give no indication of permanence. There are in fact two categories of Christians in the Holy Land today: permanent and non-permanent.

The permanent Christian communities, whether in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank, are almost exclusively Palestinian. These are the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land, where they have lived for more than 2,000 years. Since the 1950s there has also been a small but growing community of Hebrew-speaking Christians. These number about 500 and comprise the Christian spouses of Jewish immigrants, Jews who have converted, and internally displaced Palestinians (those who have moved to larger cities within Israel looking for work and become more assimilated to the language).

In an attempt to artificially boost their numbers, Israel includes non-permanent Christian communities in its counts as evidence that the Christians in Israel are "flourishing." This, of course, is highly misleading. If one includes Christians who are there only temporarily, then the thousands of Christian tourists each year would also qualify as "Christians of the Holy Land. …

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