Israel: The Only Safe Place for Christians in the Middle East

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Some anti-Israel church activists in the West blast Israel in time for Christmas. Others choose Easter.  Recently, World Vision chief Richard Stearns, who heads one of the largest U.S. evangelical relief groups, proclaimed in the Huffington Post that Palestinian Christians are enduring a Holy Week of “trial and tribulation” thanks to Israel.

Claiming Israel allows only 2,000-3000 travel permits for Jerusalem during Holy Week to a population of about 50,000 Palestinian Christians, Stearns never bothered to acknowledge why Israel has security concerns about visitors to Jerusalem.  Quoting a Palestinian colleague who attended church in Jerusalem in 2010, Stearns ominously recalled: “The crowd, striving to stay joyful, could still feel the change of what Easter had now become and the dark cloud of checkpoints, police forces, and denial of entry that had obscured the joy of this holiday.”  Stearns announced he’s praying for the “miracle” of “full religious freedom to the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza.”

If he has time, maybe Stearns can pray for all Christians in the Middle East, whose problems entail considerably more than travel inconveniences.

Responding to Stearns, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said Israel has provided more than 20,000 permits this year for Palestinian Christians to enter Jerusalem for Holy Week, plus 500 permits for the handful of Christians left in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

“With the exception of the very few individuals who have raised security concerns, and notwithstanding the measures we must take to protect our citizens, any Christian from the West Bank can reach Jerusalem on Good Friday and Easter,” Oren said.  “Israel, the only Middle Eastern country with a growing and thriving Christian population, remains committed to maintaining its superb relations with Christian communities worldwide. Though we face serious and continuing defense challenges, we uphold the principle of free access to the Holy Places to all religions.”

Ambassador Oren has recently had to address the realities that confront the Middle East’s shriveling Christian populations while many Western Christians prefer silence or blaming Israel.   In   a Wall Street Journal op-ed recently he described the Christian exodus from Palestinian territories thanks to Islamist intimidation.  The Religious Left and its preferred Palestinian voices responded indignantly, since Oren had challenged their narrative that only Israel can be faulted for Christian difficulties in the Middle East.

Oren’s facts were indisputable. About 20 percent of the Middle East a century ago was Christian. Today it’s 5 percent and plunging, as churches are burned in Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere, forcing thousands to flee. Oren likened the Christian exodus to the 800,000 Jews forced from their homes in Arab lands after Israel’s creation.  The only safe place for Christians in the current Middle East is in Israel, he observed with understatement.

As a minority, Christians experience some “intolerance” in Israel, Oren admitted.  “But in contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged,” he wrote, “Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to ‘ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion.’”

In contrast, half of Gaza’s almost tiny Christian community has fled since the Hamas coup in 2007, Oren noted.   On the West Bank, the Christian community has fallen to under 2 percent.  Although Israel is commonly blamed for Christian emigration, most Palestinian Christians live in West Bank cities under the Palestinian Authority.  And the Muslim majority population continues to grow.  In Bethlehem, where Christians where once the majority, they have become 20 percent since the Palestinian take-over in 1995.

“The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude,” Oren concluded.   But an anti-Israel Christian group called Kairos Palestine denounced Oren’s op-ed as “inaccurate and manipulative” for faulting Muslims instead of Israel’s “illegal Israeli occupation.”  Their response, helpfully broadcast by the United Church of Christ’s Global Ministries Board, did not identify any specific inaccuracies by Oren.  Instead, the Palestinian activists blamed Christian “persecution” on the “occupation that systematically degrades all Palestinians” and the “underlying political oppression that afflicts Christians and Muslims alike.”

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  • NONAME

    RUBBISH RUBBISH!
    The only country that is safe for Christians is Lebanon.
    Israel has a past for killing Christians!!!!

    • Elliott

      Dear NONAME,

      I have two questions:
      1) What's your name / where do you live?
      (My name is Elliott and I live in the "Eretz Yisrael".)
      2) Please explain "Israel has a past for killing Christians".
      Do you mean "Israel has a past HISTORY OF killing Christians"?
      If so, please provide some data.
      If not, what do you mean?
      As you comment stands, it is GIBBERISH.

      Chag Sameach

      • Elliott

        Sorry about my typing errors:
        a) should be 'and I live in "Eretz Yisrael"
        b) should be "As your comment stands.."

        • stern

          Elliot, no need to apologize. You ask outstanding questions – and I'm willing to bet you get no reply, because "NONAME" cannot honestly reply to you.

      • johnnywoods

        Elliot, His name is "NoName" and he has no sense.

    • Laura

      Is that why Lebanon's Christian population has fled to the point where Christians in Lebanon are now a small minority whereas once they were the majority?

      Whenever there is an article about Israel, the demented Jew-haters crawl out from under their rocks, spewing their lies and vicious blood-libels.

  • Bartimaeus

    Having visited Arab speaking churches in Israel, it is true that they enjoy freedom of religion. However, in the West Bank and Gaza there is far less freedom for real Christians. Professing Christians that are willing to pacify the Moslems by watering down the truth of Christianity will get by much better of course, but they pay a high price.
    Secondly, this whole concept of “illegal occupation” is actually a lawless term.
    It proves that the Arabs who were on the losing side in WW1 were not willing to accept international law that gave the right to deal with the land arrangements to the victors of that war. The Arabs of the region essentially started another war (or series of wars) showing that they were lawless as regards any arrangements by the west that would settle any Jews on their ancient homeland. They can play the victim card as much as they like but it does not change the facts. The Arabs of the region are their own worst problem.

  • Son-of-Chezwick

    Not just Christians. The Bahai faith, though its origins and majority of adherents are from Iran, has established its international headquarters in Israel.

    Why? Quite obviously, it was the only country in the region in which they wouldn't be persecuted. In Iran they are routinely harassed, fired from their jobs, imprisoned and sometimes executed…and all because their religion came AFTER Islam and is therefore seen by Muslims to be illegitimate.

    Christians seek refuge in Israel because it is a safe-haven from Muslim persecution. The same applies to the Bahai. But this beacon of tolerance is despised not only by the surrounding Muslim states, but by the European and American Left. It's jusr more evidence proving the symmetry of values between the Western Left and Islam.

    • Emanuel

      The Bahai faith had its headquarters in Palestine long before there was any earthly entity called Israel. So, stop peddling lies.

      • johnnywoods

        Was the Bahai faith headquartered in Palestine/Israel more than three thousand years ago? You need to check your facts Emanuel.

      • Son-of-Chezwick

        The Bahais had a presence in "Palestine" long before Israel, but it was only AFTER the creation of the Jewish State that the Bahai were allowed to obtain legal possession of their historical sites.

        "After `Abdu'l-Bahá's death, Shoghi Effendi was the head of the religion, and he directed the development of a number of separate projects in the area…in the 1950s secured legal possession of the lands around the building and created a number of gardens. He also obtained possession of other sites around Acre related to Bahá'u'lláh's life including the House of `Abbud. Around Haifa he expanded the Shrine of the Báb by developing the golden-domed superstructure around it from 1948–53 and he purchased lands surrounding the Shrine of the Báb and created gardens. Shoghi Effendi had also decided that the buildings housing the institutions of the religion indicated in Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Carmel, including the Universal House of Justice, the then future governing body of the Bahá'ís, would be designed on an arc and surrounded by gardens. The fulcrum of arc would be Monument Gardens, which hold the graves of some of the members of the Bahá'í holy family. During his own lifetime he started the construction of one of the building of the Arc, the International Archives building."

        The other buildings of the Arc, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, and the Seat of the International Teaching Centre, were completed in 1982, 1999 and 2000 respectively.[8][13] The fifth and yet to be built building, the International Bahá'í library, is planned to be eventually built at the eastern end of the Arc.[13] The terraces around the Shrine of the Báb were also completed in 2001.[13]

  • Schlomotion

    The interesting moment in this article is when Tooley, citing Kairos Palestine, admits that Palestinian Christians don't actually want his help. But they are quickly branded as stupid. Still, admitting also that there is nothing he can do about that, Tooley spits venomously at the UCC for "exploiting" (e.g. making successful outreach where he failed to take over) the same group. Tooley apparently feels that IRD should be kingmaker in Palestine's Christian community, even though they don't want him. What naked arrogance.

    • fmd36

      The UCC, Christian Peace Conference, etc. has a very long history supporting leftist causes. I would doubt almost anything they have to say. Speaking from personal experience.

  • Marty

    The islamic strategy is to purify the middle east for muslims. Never mind that christians and other minorities have contributed culturally, economically, and scientifically for centuries. muslims much prefer to live in a medieval and primitive society that is stagnant and repressive. They are getting their wish. christians get to live in peace and prosperity in a democratic society in Israel. No other place in the middle east is able or willing to provide such an environment. Even christians from sudan are somehow making their way through egyptian torment and persecution to Israel to save their lives. The political left in europe and the United States, of course, sees nothing wrong with muslims slaughtering christians. For the left this is only payback because of the poor oppressed palestinians. The left and other totalitarians are capable of only throwing pity parties for islamic thugs and genocidal sociopaths.

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  • RonCarnine

    The Palestinian's have cut off their noses to spite their face (as Grandma used to say) They have control of Christian holy sites (like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem) which would have brought millions in tourist dollars. They were chased their by IDF a number of years ago. While there they used Bibles for toilet paper and generally trashed the church. What if Christians had done something like that to a mosque? All hell would have broken loose. Israel is the only safe place for Christians in the Middle East. American Church organizations bad mouth Israel for being security conscience but who can blame them? UCC and others like them do not speak for the majority of Christians. They do not speak for me.

  • Viewpoint

    Israel is the first I pray for daily, and I’ve defended Israel more times than I can count… and will continue to do so…. however, although Christians are not routinely killed in Israel… as they are in Muslim nations… they are still persecuted in Israel on a regular basis… and has tragically resulted in some deaths. Christians, derogatorily called, “Missionaries,” in Israel have been sentenced to jail/prison sentences for merely mentioning the name of Christ over a casual cup of coffee. Christians in Israel routinely cope with menacing groups of Haredi Ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists gathered in front of their homes with bullhorns demanding they immediately leave… this harassment is even extended to Messianic Jews. Businesses of Christians are routinely threatened, boycotted and burned by proud Israeli Jews.

  • Viewpoint

    Israeli Jews routinely collect New Testament Bibles and burn them in an annual bon fire. Every other group may obtain citizenship in Israel… including Muslims, Atheists, and even Satanists… only Christians are routinely denied Israeli citizenship. At one point, this led me to believe that Muslims have mimicked their extreme stereotypical intolerance from the Jews. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made attempts to protect the Christians of Israel… by highlighting the fact that no other group has been more loyal to Isael than American Evangelical Christians. This post is not meant as additional fuel to the fire of hatred that burns and consumes anti-Semitics, but the truth must be said… and must be good enough, worthy of being placed on the table of open discussion.

    Persecution Of Christians In Israel (www.oneforisrael.org) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E7Ruusn1QM

    Persecution of Messianic Jews in Israel – Part 1 of 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EII5Km3jN3U

  • Jessica

    Hello, my name is Jessica… i'm an American, and my husband has been currently living in Iraq and Afghanistan as a contractor. He's been doing this for three years just about and we've only seen each other 5 months total in 3 years. :-/ i'm 25 and he's 28. He loves his job!!!! and i could never take that away from him. I have been doing some research on a SAFE place for an American woman to live (we have no children) in the middle east. We've discussed this before, but I think after the 3rd year and never seeing each other… I'm willing to give up all I have here in the US to be closer to my husband. Give up my job, our car, our apartment which is so close to the ocean and i LOVE it… even the family dog. … just to be closer to my husband. Does anyone have any suggestions? I hear Kuwait and Dubai are good places… but i have no idea where to even start. Please email me if you could…. THANKYOU for all the support and answers. ja6mg13@gmail.com