Holy Land Fund Undercut by Name Confusion: Situation of Christians Deteriorates as Foundation Sees Donations Drop. (World)

By Patterson, Margot | National Catholic Reporter, March 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Holy Land Fund Undercut by Name Confusion: Situation of Christians Deteriorates as Foundation Sees Donations Drop. (World)


Patterson, Margot, National Catholic Reporter


The Holy Land Foundation has been getting a bad name recently and is feeling the pinch because of it. Donations to the charity founded in 1994 to stem the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land have dropped since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The shortfall in giving that most U.S. charities have experienced -- except those serving the victims of Sept. 11 -- has been made worse by the Holy Land Foundation being confused with the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the United States. The latter was accused by the Bush administration of having links to terrorist organizations and was shut down in December.

Franciscan Fr. Peter Vasko, president and principal spokesman for the Holy Land Foundation, said the mix-up between the two groups has created an image problem for his organization, which is now considering changing its name. News reports seldom cited the full name of the Muslim charity when on Dec. 4 President Bush announced the closing of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The Washington, D.C., headquarters of Vasko's organization received about 300 hate letters and calls from people who thought they were contacting the Muslim charity. "They just ranted and vented," said Vasko. About 70 percent of people apologized once they were informed of their mistake, the priest added.

An ecumenical entity established by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the Holy Land Foundation aids Christian Palestinians with scholarships, housing and employment. Since 1996, the foundation has given away a million dollars in scholarships and has spent about $700,000 constructing new housing.

About 3 million Palestinians live in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza out of a total population of 8.7 million people. Of this 3 million, about 165,000 are Christians. Vasko said a century ago 13 percent of the local population was Christian. Today, only about 2 percent is.

Vasko said political and economic problems in the region are prompting a steady flow of emigration. Palestinians earn an average annual income of $5,000 to $6,000 in contrast to the $24,000 to $26,000 earned by Israelis, he said. …

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