Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 13:56 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Palestine : Christians

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Palestine : Christians, 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49749cd12.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Profile

Approximately 200,000 Christian Palestinians live in the occupied territories. They are concentrated in the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Jerusalem. Christians tend to be among the more highly educated cadres of the population. Among them are members of every Eastern Christian denomination and most Western ones. They identify strongly with the rest of the Palestinian community against the Israeli occupation and dislike being treated as if they were a distinct minority.


Historical context

Palestine is the cradle of Christianity, and the West Bank and Jerusalem form much of the heart of the Christian Holy Land. This legacy attracted Crusaders from Europe during the Middle Ages, as they attempted to 'free' the area from Muslim rule. In modern times, however, Christian-Muslim tension has been overshadowed by Israeli-Palestinian tension.

The founding of Israel in 1948 displaced Palestinian Christians as well as Muslims, and to the extent that Israel has engaged in collective punishment of Palestinians in succeeding years, Christians have suffered alongside Muslims. Yet Christians have emigrated in higher numbers than their Muslim neighbours, and have had lower birth rates, leading to a drop in the Christian share of Palestine's population over the decades – from an estimated 10 per cent in 1948 to around 4.5 per cent today.

Christians have been represented in Palestinian Authority governments, Christian children have separate religious classes in school, and family law for Christians is left to Christian ecclesiastical courts. However, since the launch of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Christians have also faced some increase in religious discrimination, especially since the onset of the second intifada in 2000. Some Christians, especially land-owners in Bethlehem, reported that officials of the Palestinian Authority singled them out for extortion, or at least failed to act against criminal gangs engaged in extortion.

In addition to these problems, Christians also faced problems from Israeli authorities. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Israeli security wall begun in 2002 'made it particularly difficult for Bethlehem-area Christians to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and it made visits to Christian sites in Bethany and in Bethlehem difficult for Christians who live on the other side of the barrier, further fragmenting and dividing this small minority community.'

In 2004 the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group reported that Islamic militants were firing on Israeli targets from Christian areas because they felt that Israeli return fire on Christians would draw more international sympathy to the Palestinian cause.


Current issues

Following controversial remarks by the Pope about Islam in September 2006, seven churches in the occupied territories were set on fire. While Hamas leader and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniya condemned the Pope's statement, he also denounced the attacks on Christian churches.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported in 2007 that according to both Christian and Muslim Palestinians, Israel was attempting to drive a wedge between the two communities by exaggerating reports of religious tension between them.

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