In the birthplace of Christianity, the Palestinian Christian population is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Between 1922 and 2017, the Palestinian Christian population dropped from 70,000 to 47,000, according to Palestinian Authority census data. In Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace, the Christian population declined from 84% in 1922 to 22% in 2007, according to a 2020 survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) and the Philos Project.
Now less than 1% of Palestine’s population, treated like second-class citizens and caught in the middle of an ongoing conflict, Palestinian Christians continue to emigrate from the West Bank and Gaza to regions with greater economic and political stability.
“I shudder at the thought of a country where Christians (who have been in the same cities for centuries) are officially wiped out,” For the Martyrs founder, Gia Chacón said after visiting the West Bank herself.
Numerous factors have caused Palestinian Christians to emigrate: unending political instability, residency permit issues for both married couples and Christian clergy, limited space for the Christian community to expand in Jerusalem, disillusionment with the peace process and economic problems due to travel restrictions.
The main factor driving Christian emigration is persecution. In the survey conducted by the Philos Project and the PCPSR, over 40% of Palestinian Christians surveyed indicated that they feel that Muslims do not wish to see them in Palestine. Additionally, 44% feel that there is discrimination against Christians when seeking employment, and 50% describe their economic situation as “bad or very bad.” Nearly 30% have been called a “non-believer” or “crusader” by Muslims.
Palestinian Christians are no strangers to violence. Father Justinus, a monk at Jacob’s Well Monastery on the outskirts of Nablus, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, was beaten in January 2022. The elderly monk has survived 32 life-threatening attacks throughout his time at the monastery.
As tensions run hot between Israel and Palestine, Christians are caught in the middle. A recent PCPSR survey given to Palestine’s general population shows that over 40% of the Palestinians surveyed support violence as the best way to end the occupation. Additionally, over 50% of Palestinians support Hamas, an armed Islamic group, with 34% believing Hamas best represents the Palestinian people.
In contrast, nearly 70% of the Christians surveyed are worried about armed Palestinian groups like Hamas and others.
Life under Hamas has clearly contributed to the emigration of Christians from Gaza. A Christian man, with the pseudonym Boulos, described to Foreign Policy the conditions his family lives in: “No electricity. We are on the seventh floor. My father has a heart condition and has to climb the stairs every day. We have no clean water. The thing is, we are Christians; we suffer. But all of us, all Gazans, suffer the same deprivation.”
The West Bank Separation Barrier is a very clear and present reminder of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Built in 2000, the concrete barrier snakes across 400 miles between Israel and Palestine, isolating and limiting movement. Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, according to the U.S. State Department, have stated that the separation barrier has made it difficult for them to visit holy sites in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem, particularly the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Christians have inhabited the cities and land in Palestine, Jerusalem and Israel for centuries. It is where Jesus Christ walked and where Christianity began. However, soon Christians may disappear from the region altogether.
“I have concluded one thing from my travels to this region so far: Respect is not enough. We must love,” Chacón said. “We must teach our youth that their futures will not be bought with violence and hatred, but rather through love and forgiveness. We must seek Jesus in every person we encounter. Then, and only then, will we ever have a chance at peace.”
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