On Christmas Day, Israeli Christians ‘Thrive’ While Middle Eastern Brethren Are Persecuted
(December 24, 2021 / JNS) As Christians face persecution and dwindling numbers across the Middle East, Christian Israelis face a different reality with increasing numbers and a high quality of life.
The number of Christians in Israel rose 1.4% in 2020 to 182,000 people, 84% of whom say they are satisfied with life in Israel, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
Israeli Christians make up about 1.9% of the state’s population, most of whom speak Arabic. Christians make up 7 percent of Israeli Arabs and 76.7 percent of Christians in the country are Arabs.
The majority of Christians live in Nazareth (21,400), Haifa (16,500), Jerusalem (12,900) and Shefar’am (10,400), according to the SCS.
Recent storms that have swept through the region, such as the war in Syria, upheaval in Iraq and the spread of Islamist terror, have left the Christian community in Israel unscathed.
According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Christian communities in Israel can be divided into four main categories: Chalcedonian-Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox like the Greek and Russian denominations); non-Chalcedonian Orthodox (Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Syrian); Catholic; and Protestant. They are predominantly Arabic speaking.
As the holiday season approaches, Christians in Israel are in a festive mood, says Captain (res.) Shadi Khalloul, head of the Aramaic Christian Israeli NGO and spokesperson for the Christian Israel Defense Forces Officers Forum.
He notes that the Jewish-run Haifa Municipality allowed a large Christmas tree and decorations on the main roads.
“It proves the beautiful coexistence, security, prosperity and freedom that people enjoy in the democratic Jewish state of Israel,” said Khalloul, who made the news in 2015 when he successfully led a campaign for her child’s state register to change from Arabic to Christian Aramaic at the Interior Ministry.
“Under the PA and other Arab countries, Christians fear showing their holiday symbols in public and are not protected by the state,” said Khalloul, who is also a former Knesset candidate.
âFor example, many Christian families living in Iraq and Syria are in poverty and cannot afford proper celebrations,â Khalloul continued.
The Maronite Christian community has shrunk and has become a small minority even in Lebanon, according to Khalloul. And as the economic crisis in the country has worsened, especially over the past year following a massive explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020 and the outbreak of the coronavirus, many have suffered.
There are Maronite Christian communities in Israel, including former members of the South Lebanon Army militia. The militia was allied with Israel during its invasion of southern Lebanon. About 2,000 of the 10,000 Maronite Christians in Israel are former militia fighters who fled to Israel when its forces withdrew from southern Lebanon.
According to a journal article by Israeli expert on Syria and Lebanon Eyal Zisser, Maronite ties with the Jewish community in Israel began as early as the 1930s and continued until independence in 1948. The Alliance Against the Muslim Arab World was built on the belief that Israel should serve as a home for the Jews and Lebanon for the Maronites.
“Israel defends Christians”
âWhile Christians in the Middle East are [for the most part] oppressed, in Israel they thrive, âKhalloul said.
Israel recently announced that it would allow 500 members of the Christian community from the Gaza Strip to enter Israel and the West Bank to celebrate the holidays.
The community in Gaza has about 1,000 Christians, and in the West Bank there are still a decreasing number as many have emigrated. According to CIA Facebook, Christians and other small non-Muslim and non-Jewish religions make up 8% of the West Bank population.
According to a 2018 NBC News report, Bethlehem’s Christian population had fallen from 80 percent in 1950 to about 12 percent.
However, Christian leaders have sought to blame Israel for the decline in the number of Christians in the disputed territories.
In an article from last weekend Sunday time, written jointly by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hosam Naum, warned of a crisis in Christian survival “in the Holy Land”. Religious leaders blamed the decline in the number of Christians in the disputed territories on the “growth of settler communities” and “travel restrictions caused by the West Bank separation wall”.
Alastair Kirk of Christians United For Israel UK challenged this portrayal and accused religious leaders of demonizing Israel.
âWhile there are serious issues to be resolved in the context of Christians in the Holy Land, Christians living in Israel proper enjoy the same freedoms as other Israelis,â Kirk said. âThere are real concerns for Christians living in the West Bank who, like so many others, are caught up in conflict, but rather than looking at the challenges facing Christians in the West Bank in a way that could bring the British public of understanding. they, the archbishops ignore the key facts, effectively demonizing Israel in the process.
Kirk continued, âAll over the world in 2021, Christians were being killed simply because of their faith. Millions of Christians have been uprooted. Many have been imprisoned. Churches have been attacked or forced into hiding. It is somewhat disturbing that the archbishops have found it appropriate to publicly use the occasion of Christmas, in which Bethlehem plays such an important role, to raise controversial issues that some will use to further vilify Israel.
Bishara Shlayan, an Israeli Arab Christian from Nazareth, told JNS that Israel stands up for Christians and provides security.
The Palestinian Authority is very weak and cannot provide adequate security for Christians living in the West Bank, he said.
âThe difference between Christians in Israel and in the Arab world is obvious. We are citizens and have equal political rights, while the situation in Arab countries is not good, âhe said.
Shlayan, who led a party that did not cross the electoral threshold in previous elections, emphasizes that “at least we have the right to run.”
Its political movement seeks to promote coexistence and local problems rather than fomenting conflicts. He criticized Arab parties in the Knesset, which focus on identifying with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Said Shlayan: âArab Israeli politicians should represent us and not serve as Palestinian representatives. “