Blaming Israel for the Middle East’s Christian Exodus

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“Those who are leaving … because of the bad economic and political situation represent 87.3 percent of the total respondents,” the survey claimed, adding that 8 percent of the respondents attributed emigration to religious extremism.

The Sabeel and Kairos Palestine letters contradict the reports of human rights groups like the Barnabas Fund, which cite kidnapping of Christians in Hamas-governed Gaza and recurring physical threats against Christians as a primary reason for the departures. The anti-persecution advocacy organization also cited violence between Hamas and Fatah in 2007 as fueling Christian emigration.

“There is no doubt at all that it is a very anxious time for Christian communities,” Williams said in his radio interview. ”There have been extremist atrocities already, especially in Egypt.”

Identifying what he called a “fairly consistent pattern” over a number of months, the Archbishop noted that although leaders in Egypt’s Muslim community condemned the violence, other forces at work, possibly including extremists from outside Egypt, were involved. These “more traditional sites of extremism” included Saudi Arabia and northern Sudan, and the Archbishop did not rule out activity by al-Qaeda.

Warning that the “level of violence has been extreme,” the Anglican Communion leader added that violent extremism had made life unsustainable for Christians in northern Iraq, amounting to ethnic cleansing, and that in Syria, tensions between Christians and Muslims were burgeoning.

Kassis and Ateek did not address Williams’ comments about Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

According to the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, there are some 200,000 Christians throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (150,000 in Israel, and 50,000 in Palestinian territories, including 10,000 in East Jerusalem). At Israel’s creation in 1948, this number was nearer to 350,000. The Christian population inside Israel is believed to be growing, even as it continues to plunge in the territories governed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

According to the World Christian Database and U.S. State Department reports, between 1.1-2.4 percent of the population of Gaza and the West Bank is Christian, while in neighboring Syria the Christian population is 5.4-9.4 percent and in Jordan the number is between three and four percent. Egypt has the largest Christian population in the region, with estimates ranging anywhere from 8 to 16 percent of the country.  In the early 20th century, Christians were much higher percentages in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and in most Muslim majority countries of the region.   Their ongoing exodus began well before Israel’s creation.  Christianity’s future in the Middle East is grim for reasons having little to do with Israel.

Archbishop Rowan Williams deserves credit for pointing out an obvious truth that anti-Israel zealots like Sabeel and Kairos Palestine, along with their global network of allies, would understandably like to ignore. Some vulnerable Arab Christians no doubt know this truth but must protest otherwise for their own self-protection.   For this reason, Western Christians and other religious liberty advocates should speak loudly when persecuted Christians living under Muslim rule cannot themselves speak candidly.

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  • marc

    If these people are real Christians they would tell the truth.

  • WLIL

    These types of christians that pandered to islamic agenda excessively are just not worth talking about. That is another reason why their migration from middle east is such a farce. Are we able to trust those christians who kept on changing their allegiance whenever it suit them or whatever benefitted them? I just hope they know what is bad and what is good to prevent their problems from getting worse. I guess they would start telling the truth when they see the futility of supporting any irrational extremist groups.

  • Amused

    What they are not saying ,what they are AFRAID to say is , the reason for their troubles are the muslims themselves , who harrass and persecute them ,and defile their churches .But if they say that it will be worse for them .

  • jayne

    Demographics don't lie. the Christian population in Palestine before the 1948 mass exodus was 40-60 percent. It dropped dramatically after Irgun and Lehi troops began a campaign of terror, which included assassinations of British officials and horrific massacres such as Dier Yassin. Those who have stayed, the ones who were too poor to leave, were caght up in a nightmare of systematic abuse,opression,and genocide. They live under the Israeli boot to this day. This is the truth. These are the facts. If you don't believe me, google white phosphorus gaza.

    t.

    • Michael Dar

      Christian community in Israel grow while those in the Arab lands and under the Fakestinian authority decreases, subjected by Muslims to hardships of all kinds and even murdered. It is too long to go into the details of history during the British Mandate and the Arab-Fakestinian's fabricated narratives..which I by the way am ready to debate with you..but there was never any genocide by Israel. Look up the word you probably don't understand it. The Arabs, Muslims and Christians who remained in Israel in 1948 are by far better off than those in any of the surrounding Arab countries!

    • MixMChess

      Jayne, you are a LIAR.

      While Christians are unwelcome in Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, and most have been driven out of their longtime homes in Lebanon, Christians continue to be welcome in Israel. In fact, Israel is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population has grown in the last half century (from 34,000 in 1948 to 145,000 today), in large measure because Israel guarantees their equal rights and freedom to practice religion.

      In fact, it was during Jordan’s control of Jerusalem from 1948 -1967 when Christian rights were infringed and Israeli Christians were BARRED from their holy places. The Christian population DECLINED during that time by nearly 50%, from over 25,000 to less than 12,500. Since Israeli rule over Jerusalem, the population has slowly been GROWING.

      The Christian population has been rapidly declining under Palestinian Authority rule. Currently, less than 27,000 Christians live among 3 million Muslim Palestinians. The proportion of Christians in Gaza and the W. Bank has dropped from 15% of the Arab population in 1950 to less than 1% today. Over 75% of all Bethlehem Christians now live abroad, and the majority of the city’s population is Muslim. The Christian population declined 29% in the W. Bank and 20% in Gaza from 1997 – 2002 ALONE. By contrast, during the same time period, Israel’s Arab Christian population GREW from 14% to over 27%.

      Of course the Palestinians regularly persecute Christians. For example, Samir Qumsiyeh, a journalist from Beit Sahur reported that Christians were being subjected to "rape, kidnapping, extortion and expropriation of land and property." Qumsiyeh, has a list of "93 cases of anti-Christian violence between 2000 and 2004" and specifically mentioned the case of a 17-year-old girl from his town who was raped by members of Fatah. He added that “almost all 140 cases of expropriation of land in the last three years were committed by militant Islamic groups and members of the Palestinian police” and that the "Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped from 75 percent in 1950 to 12 percent today." Qumsiyeh has warned that if that trend continues, “we won't be here any more in 20 years."

    • MixMChess

      "It dropped dramatically after Irgun and Lehi troops began a campaign of terror, which included assassinations of British officials and horrific massacres such as Dier Yassin."

      The Deir Yassin massacre is a myth created by the Arabs. The town was filled with hostile residents and foreign troops who opened fire on the approximately 100 Irgun fighters.

      The Irgun had provided ample warning for the civilians to evacuate the area, which many did. In fact, the irgun left open an escape corridor from the village and more than 200 residents left unharmed.

      Surprisingly, after the “massacre,” the Irgun escorted a representative of the Red Cross through the town and held a press conference. The New York Times’ subsequent described that more than 200 Arabs were killed, most of whom were soldiers or militants. No hint of a massacre appeared in the report.

      Contrary to claims from Arab propagandists at the time, and some since, there was no massacre and no women were raped. On the contrary, every villager ever interviewed has denied these allegations. Like many of the claims, this was a deliberate propaganda ploy, but one that backfired. Hazam Nusseibi, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service in 1948, admitted being told by Hussein Khalidi, a Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate the atrocity claims. Abu Mahmud, a Deir Yassin resident in 1948 told Khalidi “there was no rape,” but Khalidi replied, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.” Nusseibeh told the BBC 50 years later, “This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror."

      The Arab Higher Committee hoped exaggerated reports about a “massacre” at Deir Yassin would shock the population of the Arab countries into bringing pressure on their governments to intervene. Instead, the immediate impact was to "stimulate a new Palestinian exodus."

      Interestingly enough, just four days after the reports from Deir Yassin were published, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the director of the hospital. Another 23 people were injured. This massacre attracted little attention and is never mentioned by people such as yourself who are quick to bring up Deir Yassin.

    • MixMChess

      "If you don't believe me, google white phosphorus gaza."

      Another LIE by jayne. In 2009 the International Red Cross CONFIRMED that Israel never used white phosphorous illegally against any civilian populations.

      You failed to mention that white phosphorus was being used as a weapon against civilians by HAMAS, which fired mortar shells from Gaza into Israel filled with white phosphorus.

  • Ethan

    The real distortion is that there is any Palestinian Christian exodus. The Palestinian Christian population decreased more than 40 years ago. Since then, it has increased – under both Israeli and Palestinian rule in the West Bank – and it has increased significantly in Israel proper. Groups like the Sabeel Center have distorted the data to state that something different has occurred. They inaccurately argue that Israeli policies have caused an exodus of Palestinian Christians. It's a myth. The data tell a different story. The number of Christians has increased. They have decreased as a percentage – but only because the Muslim population is increasing exponentially. This is hardly the fault of Israel.

    Some Palestinian Christian leaders have lied to state there were 350,000 Christians prior to 1948 – more than doubling the actual number – no doubt to make the drop more dramatic. They have said that 5,000 Christians have left Gaza – a mathematical impossibility given that the population never included that many Christians in the first place.

    I have no doubt that Palestinian Christians suffer for many reasons. It is a shame that one of those reasons is the lack of integrity of their leaders.