By Sara Gomez Armas
Jerusalem/Beit Sahour (West Bank), Dec 19 (EFE).- Divided by Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank, harassed by Jewish extremists, and threatened by the continued migration of their members, Christian communities in the land where Jesus lived are at risk of extinction.
Palestinian Christians concentrating in Jerusalem and on the other side of the wall, in Bethlehem’s towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, as well as priests and church archbishops, say they fear their declining numbers would turn churches into just destinations of pilgrims and tourists.
“Jerusalem is a universal city where Jews, Christians and Muslims live together, but the Christian community is the most vulnerable one because it is the smallest one,” the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, tells Efe.
Around 180,000 Christians, including those holding Israeli citizenship, live in the Palestinian and Israeli territories, making up a little more than 1% of the current population, compared to 12% in 1967 and over 25% before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Christian migration out of the Holy Land is not new.
It began in the Ottoman period but churchgoers say it was triggered by the second intifada, a major Palestinian uprising that started in 2000 and ended five years later, as well as the West Bank barrier Israel constructed in the early 2000s.
“We are running out of time. We can disappear from the land of Jesus after one or two generations. Some 80% of young Christians want to migrate and our birth rates are low,” says Sameer Qumsieh, a Palestinian Christian who runs al-Mahd Channel, the only Christian TV station in the West Bank.
Although Qumsieh’s friend, Burhan Jarayseh, says he is against migration, most of the 82-year-old man’s children and grandchildren live in the United States and Germany for a better life and opportunities.
The rest of his family lives in Nazareth, an Arab city with a Christian majority inside Israel that he cannot visit due to movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians by Israel.
PRESSURE FROM JEWISH RADICALS
The precarious economic and security situation pushes Christians out of the Palestinian side, but the 10,000 who reside in Jerusalem experience extra pressure from radical Jewish groups.
From insults and attacks to vandalism of places of worship, “hate crimes” against Christians by Jewish extremists have been on the rise since last year.
There are also the legally questionable acquisitions Israeli settler organizations such as Ateret Cohanim and Elad conduct to purchase more buildings in the heart of Jerusalem, including the Imperial Hotel and Petra Hostel that belong to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III believes that there should be room for everyone in the city, calling for coexistence and mutual respect.
“Jerusalem has a specific identity, mission and location to be a universal city, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims are at home,” Pizzaballa adds.
Hence, 13 Christian leaders in Jerusalem have joined an international campaign to protect the Christians of the Holy Land.
“We are a united front. We are in the same boat,” Father Julio of the Armenian minority tells Efe.EFE