Will Christians Cease to Exist in Holy Land Within 60 Years? (Exclusive)
The Israeli Barrier Wall separates farmers from their farm lands, workers from their jobs, the sick from hospitals, and families from their loved ones. It was built to put an end to violence, but it has become a symbol of oppression, confinement, and division. It was built to bring peace to a country torn by violence between Israelis and Palestinians, but it has led to economic and political pressures for our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Holy Land—pressures which are leading to an unprecedented Christian exodus from the land where Jesus walked.
Christians have long been a minority in the Holy Land, but their numbers have dramatically decreased in the last few decades. In Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’s birth, which enjoyed a Christian majority of 86% in 1950, Christians have fled at a rapid pace, leaving only 12% of the population – 11,000 Christians. As a whole, more than 300 Christian families leave the Holy Land each year. If this exodus continues, current estimates indicate that within the next sixty years, the Christian community will cease to exist in the Holy Land. Our most Holy Sites will become mere museums and tourist destinations, with no living, breathing, worshipping community. Moreover, the example of mercy, peace, and love that Christians provide will be lost in the midst of a culture of vengeance-filled “justice.”
An honest look at the cause of the Christian exodus from the Holy Land will reveal many causes, not the least of which is economic, particularly in Palestine. The average Palestinian income is about one-third that of Israelis, and nearly 1 in every 3 Palestinians is unemployed. Entire families live in single-room apartments, often sharing a single kitchen and bathroom with several other families. Hot water is considered a luxury—one which many Christian families cannot afford—and ancient homes are drafty, leaky, and infested with mold.
Employment difficulties were compounded in 2002 when Israel began to construct the Barrier Wall which separates Palestinian territories from Israeli-controlled territories. At the time, many Palestinians – including our Christian brothers and sisters – worked within walking distance of their homes. When the Wall went up, it separated them from their shops, offices, and farmlands. They were forced to obtain permits to pass through the Barrier Wall—permits which specify exactly when and where they can pass. For many of them, an 8-minute commute turned into an 80-minute one, and on days when security is heightened, long lines at the security checkpoints can turn 80 minutes into three or four hours—sometimes even more.
Of course, these people only get paid when they’re at work. Four hours standing in line at a checkpoint means four hours not being paid. For families who already live hand-to-mouth, that loss of income leads to an inability to provide for the most basic needs of food, water, and shelter.
For Christians, difficulties in the Holy Land are not limited to Palestine, however. Even those living in Israeli-controlled areas struggle against prejudice, discrimination, and social pressures. They feel the limitations of movement created by the Barrier Wall, and they experience the persecution of vandalism to their churches and homes. A Christian student in Jerusalem might sit for hours waiting for a Palestinian teacher who is being held at a security checkpoint. That same Christian might never receive permission to travel to Bethlehem—less than six miles away—to visit family, or to visit the holy site where Christ was born. Likewise, a Christian in Bethlehem may never be able to visit the Holy Sepulchre, where Christ was crucified, died, and rose again.
These are problems that might seem distant to Christians living in Canada and the United States. Yet, if current predictions of a Holy Land devoid of Christians are realized, what will happen to our most holy sites? Who will worship in the churches? Who will maintain their grounds? Will pilgrims even have access to these sacred places? Moreover, will a Holy Land devoid of the Christian example of love and mercy ever find peace?
Fortunately, there is a great deal we can do, even from thousands of miles away. First and foremost, our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land need our prayers. Secondly, they need our financial support. Organizations like the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land can aid us in providing both – as their website and social media posts maintain our awareness of the Christian plight in the Holy Land, as well as providing a vehicle through which we can help financially with scholarships, housing resources, and job creation and placement. Finally, making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land provides not only a life-changing religious experience for the pilgrim, it also gives much needed income to Christian guides, shop-owners, and workers, not to mention the joy and hope of witnessing the value their great land holds for every Christian throughout the world.
Our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Holy Land stand as an important presence in our most sacred land. Our prayers and support can help maintain that presence and ensure that our holy sites remain our own.
Stephanie Engelman is the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land Director of Communications.
Established in 1994, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) seeks to maintain the Christian presence in the Holy Land through housing, education, and social programs. It is a four-star Charity Navigator Charity. For more information, visit www.ffhl.org.
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