For the second year in a row, The Times has promoted the canard that Jews are driving Christians from the Holy Land. The article, by Times journalist Julia Llewellyn Smith, (“Trouble in Bethlehem: why Christians are leaving the Holy Land”, Dec. 24) blames the putative Christian flight to “microagressions” by Israeli extremists – including, evidently, in the Palestinian controlled Bethlehem, where there are no Jews.
In Bethlehem the Christian population has dropped from about 86 per cent in 1950 to about 10 per cent today – around 10,000 people…They are emigrating, worn down by economic pressures and microaggressions from fringe radical [Israeli] groups that are working to “reclaim” the city from other faiths. Many Israelis don’t support these organisations, but they are backed by some members of the recently elected far-right government.…In Jerusalem I meet, among others, a benign Greek Orthodox patriarch surrounded by icons and serving morning brandies and Ferrero Rochers to a cheery Franciscan friar sitting in front of an ornate chess set. Each tells the same story: intensifying hostility from specific Israeli settler groups (not Orthodox Jews in general) and anxiety at these groups’ “land grabs” in the Christian quarter.…Last Christmas, [Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hosam] Naoum, who is Israeli, born in Nazareth (and whose father, “believe it or not,” he adds with a laugh, “was a carpenter. Desmond Tutu, God bless him, used to call me ‘the kid from Nazareth’ ”), issued a joint statement with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, warning of “a concerted effort by fringe radical groups” to intimidate and drive Christians out of the Holy Land.
In posts we published last year in response to that statement (and op-ed) by Welby and Naoum, we noted that though the Christian community in PA controlled Bethlehem has decreased dramatically, in Israel the population continues to grow – increasing by another 2% in 2022. Since 1949, Israel’s Christian population has grown from 34,000 to 182,000.
The recent data also reveals that Israel’s Christian community is, in many respects, thriving.
In 2022, 53% of Arab Christians went on to get a bachelor’s degree after finishing high school, compared to 48% of all high school graduates in Hebrew education. The proportion of women among the Christian students was higher than women’s proportion among the total number of students in the advanced degrees: 65.2% and 53.1%, respectively, of those studying for a third degree, and 73.8% and 64.2%, respectively, of those studying for a second degree.
Further, according to surveys published last year, “84% of Christians are satisfied with their life: 24% answered ‘very satisfied’ and 60% were ‘satisfied’.”
More than two billion Christians around the world will remember Bethlehem in their prayers and carols this Christmas but in the modern West Bank city the centuries-old Christian population is dwindling and afraid. The city’s Christian population has dropped from 84 per cent of the total a century ago to about 20 per cent today, and is falling further in the face of discrimination and threats from elements of the Muslim majority.“
There is a campaign to buy Christian homes and businesses and on Friday you will hear the sheikh on the loudspeakers from the mosques speaking against Jews and Christians … it’s hatred you hear in their prayers,” one Christian leader told The Times on condition of anonymity.“They are pushing us out. You live among a people who doesn’t want you,” he added. “Christians are afraid and if they have the chance to leave, they do.”…
This year is the first for three years that the Church of the Nativity, a Unesco world heritage site, and other attractions have been open to visitors. But a fall in Russian and Ukrainian visitors due to the war, and fears about growing Islamist militancy from groups such as Hamas, have depressed numbers.
A recent poll of 1,000 Palestinian Christians by the Philos Project, a Christian advocacy group, found that their No 1 motive for emigration was economic. But Khalil Sayegh, a senior research fellow at the Philos Project, said the survey “also reveals a very high degree of concerns over sectarian discrimination targeting Christians by their Palestinian Muslim neighbours”.
The study found 75 per cent are worried about Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and 77 per cent worried about the influence of Salafist extremist groups in the region.
The Rev Munther Isaac, an Evangelical Lutheran pastor who is the dean of Bethlehem Bible College, said: “We are all afraid that the idea of an Islamic state will come here and many Christians are worried about this.”
As for the physical safety of Christians in Israel itself, assaults on Christians by Jews are extraordinarily rare. Last year, we contacted the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury asking them to provide the data that Welby was citing in his claim that frequent assaults on Christians by radical Jews were driving them from the region. A week later they sent us a 66-page research report published by the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre (ICoHS) titled “Defeating Minority Exclusion and Unlocking Potential: Christianity in the Holy Land”.
It turns out that, according to the footnotes in the document they provided, there were two reported racist assaults by Jews on Christians between 2020 and 2021. To put this in some perspective, according to the CST, there were 176 antisemitic assaults on Jews in Britain in 2021. That same year, there were 51 reported antisemitic assaults against Jews in the State of New York alone.
Indeed, annual reports by the NGO ‘Open Doors’, which fights the persecution of Christians around the world, shows that Israel is one of the few Mid-East countries where Christians are NOT endangered.
The data we cited simply reflects a fact that any serious observer of the region should already know: that Israel is, by far, the safest place for Christians in the Middle East .