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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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