Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Christians "Keeping the Faith"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Christians "Keeping the Faith"

Article excerpt

Father Amjad Sabbara, pastor of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, revealed during a June 6 briefing at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC that, since the outbreak of the intifada in 2000, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped by 1,500 people. An alarming number of Christians are leaving the town that tradition holds is the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Although the Christian exodus from the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been ongoing since Israel's 1967 occupation of the territories, in the last two years the numbers have increased dramatically.

The growing numbers are significant given that, among the 150,000 people living in and around Bethlehem, a little more than 11,000 are Christian. The Israeli occupation and paralyzing restrictions on movement resulting from continued closures, curfews, and sieges have had a devastating impact on the Palestinian economy. Bethlehem's economy depends mainly on tourism, which plummeted as the violence increased and Israeli checkpoints choked the city. Six months after Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian cities, unemployment in Bethlehem reached an overwhelming 60 percent.

Trying to keep Christians from emigrating is one of the toughest challenges facing the church, Sabbara explained, since Palestinians want to live in security without the looming threat of death. As Israel grew more repressive, Sabbara pointed out, the temptation to leave became stronger. "We are afraid that our churches will become museums," he said.

Despite the hardships inflicted by the occupation, Sabbara still has faith in peace and reconciliation. Sowing what he called a "culture of peace," the church recently arranged for 25 Christian and Muslim students to meet with Jewish students to discuss coexistence. "We need to prepare the two nations for peace," Sabbara said. "The last two years have created a lot of hatred."

Father Sabbara also is working with local Muslim clerics to establish interfaith dialogue and to enhance a sense of brotherhood among Palestinian society's two predominant faiths. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.