Palestinian Christians


Palestinian Christians

Palestinian Christians are Arabic-speaking Christians descended from the people of the geographical area of Palestine. Within Palestine, there are churches and believers from many Christian denominations, including Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholic (Eastern and Western rites), Protestant, and others. In both the local dialect of Palestinian Arabic and in classical or modern standard Arabic, Christians are called Nasrani (a derivative of the Arabic word for Nazareth, al-Nasira) or Masihi (a derivative of Arabic word Masih, meaning "Messiah").[1]. In Hebrew, they are called Notzri (also spelt Notsri) which means "Nazarene" in Hebrew

Christians comprise less than 4% of Arabs living within the borders of former Mandate Palestine today. They are approximately 4% of the West Bank population, less than 1% in Gaza, and nearly 10% of Israel's Arab population. According to official British Mandate estimates, Mandate Palestine’s Christian population varied between 9.5% (1922)[2] and 7.9% (1946) of the total population. Today, the majority of Palestinian Christians live outside of Palestine because of emigration in response to the 1948 War, the Six-Day War in 1967, occupation by Jordan, Egypt, and Israel, and Muslim pressure,[3] but many still live in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

Contents

Demographics and denominations

Many ethnicities have lived in the area of Mandate Palestine dating back thousands of years. Consequently, Palestinian Christians are the descendants of the many peoples who have lived in the area.[4]

Today, the majority of Palestinian Christians live abroad. In 2005, it was estimated that the Christian population of the Palestinian territories was between 40,000 and 90,000 people, or 2.1 to 3.4% of the population. Most are in the West Bank, but there is a community of 5,000 in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Christians in Israel number between 144,000 and 196,000, or 2.1 to 2.8% of the total population,[5] and about 9.8% of the non-Jewish Arab population.[6]

According to the CIA world factbook, as of 2009, the following statistics are available on Palestinian Christians.[7][8][9]

Population group Christian population  % Christian
West Bank* 167,000 8
Gaza Strip 10,000 0.3
Arabs in Israel 123,000 9.1
Non-Arabs in Israel** 29,000 0.4
Total (only Arabs) 302,000 6.0
Total (including non-Arabs) 331,000 3.0
* The value includes Samaritans and other unspecified minorities.

** Non-Arabs in Israel don't necessarily identify as Palestinian.

Around 50% of Palestinian Christians belong to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, one of the 16 churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. This community has also been known as the Arab Orthodox Christians. There are also Maronites, Melkite-Eastern Catholics, Jacobites, Chaldeans, Roman Catholics (locally known as Latins), Syriac Catholics, Orthodox Copts, Catholic Copts, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Quakers {Friends Society}, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans {Episcopal}, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Baptists and other Protestants; in addition of small groups of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and others.

The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theófilos III, is the leader of the Palestinian and Jordanian Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, but Israel and some church members have refused to recognize his appointment.[10] If confirmed, he would replace Patriarch Irenaios, whose status within the church became disputed after a term surrounded by controversy and scandal given that he sold Palestinian property to Israeli Orthodox Jews.[11] Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia is the highest ranking Palestinian clergyman in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, is the leader of the Roman Catholics in Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus . The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem is Suheil Dawani,[12] who replaced Bishop Riah Abou Al Assal. Elias Chacour, a Palestinian refugee, of the Melkite Eastern Catholic Church is Archbishop of Haifa, Acre and the Galilee. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan is the president of the Lutheran World Federation and the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).

History

Background and early history

Interior of the house of a Christian family in Jerusalem. By W. H. Bartlett, ca 1850

The earliest Christian communities in Palestine were of Jewish descent. Those were joined in the first and second centuries by Greeks.[13] To the contrary of the rest of oriental Christians, the vast majority of Palestinian Christians followed the Byzantine Christianity of the emperors after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., and were known by other Syrian Christian as Melkites (followers of the king).[14] The Melkites were heavily Hellenised in the following centuries abandoning their distinct Western Aramaic languages in favour of Greek. By the 7th century, Jerusalem and Palestine became the epicentre of Greek culture in the orient.[14]

Soon after the Muslim conquests, the Melkites began abandoning Greek for Arabic, a process which made them the most Arabicised Christians in the Levant.[14]

Most Palestinian Christians nowadays see themselves as Arab Christians. In addition, they claim descent from a mixture of Jews who converted to Christianity in the first three centuries AD (also known as Jewish Christians) [15], Byzantine, pre-Islamic Arabs (Ghassanids), Crusaders and Armenians. The region called Israel/Palestine is considered the Holy Land by Christians. Major Christian holy cities such as Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are located in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Recent history

Palestinian Christians celebrating the Eve of the Epiphany (Paramony) at Bethabara, on the Western bank of the Jordan River (West Bank, near Jericho), in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Christians within the Palestinian territories constitute around one in seventy-five residents.[16] In 2009, Reuters reported that 50,000 – 90,000 Christians remained in the West Bank, with around 17,000 following the various Catholic traditions and most of the rest following the Orthodox church and other eastern denominations.[17] Both Bethlehem and Nazareth, which were once overwhelmingly Christian, now have Muslim majorities. Today about three-quarters of all Bethlehem Christians live abroad, and more Jerusalem Christians live in Sydney, Australia than in Jerusalem. Christians now comprise 2.5 percent of the population Jerusalem. Those remaining include a few born in the Old City when Christians there constituted a majority.[18]

In a 2007 letter from Congressman Henry Hyde to President George W. Bush, Hyde stated that "the Christian community is being crushed in the mill of the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and that expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were "irreversibly damaging the dwindling Christian community".[19][20]

There have been reports of attacks on Palestinian Christians in Gaza from Muslim extremist groups. Gaza Pastor Manuel Musallam has voiced doubts that those attacks were religiously motivated.[21] However, the Palestinian President, Prime Minister, Hamas and many other political and religious leaders condemned such attacks.

After Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam in September 2006, five churches not affiliated with either Catholicism or the Pope—among them an Anglican and an Orthodox church—were firebombed and shot at in the West Bank and Gaza. A group called "Lions of Monotheism" claimed responsibility.[22] Former Palestinian Prime Minister and current Hamas leader Ismail Haniya condemned the attacks, and police presence was elevated in Bethlehem, which has a sizable Christian community.[23]

Armenians in Jerusalem, identified as Palestinian Christians or Israeli-Armenians, have also been attacked and received threats from Jewish extremists; Christians and clergy have been spat at, and one Armenian Archbishop was beaten and his centuries old cross broken. In September 2009, two Armenian Christian clergy were expelled after a brawl erupted with a Jewish extremist for spitting on holy Christian objects.[24]

In February 2009, a group of Christian activists within the West Bank wrote an open letter asking Pope Benedict XVI to postpone his scheduled trip to Israel unless the government changes its treatment.[25] They highlighted improved access to places of worship and ending the taxation of church properties as key concerns.[25] The Pope began his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Sunday, May 10, planning to express support for the region's Christians.[17] In response to Palestinian public statements, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor criticized the political polarization of the papal visit, remarking that "[i]t will serve the cause of peace much better if this visit is taken for what it is, a pilgrimage, a visit for the cause of peace and unity".[26]

In November 2009, Berlanty Azzam, a Palestinian Christian student from Gaza, was expelled from Bethlehem and was not allowed to continue her studying. She has two months left for the completion of her degree. Berlanty Azzam said the Israeli military handcuffed her, blindfolded her, and left her waiting for hours at a checkpoint on her way back from a job interview in Ramallah. She described the incident as "frightening" and claimed Israeli official treated her like a criminal and denied her an education because she is a Palestinian Christian from Gaza.[27]

Historic denominations

The 1922 census of Palestine recorded over 200 localities as having a Christian population.[28] The totals by denomination for all of Palestine were: Orthodox 33,369, Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) 813, Roman Catholic 14,245, Greek Catholic (Melchite) 11,191, Syrian Catholic 323, Armenian Catholic 271, Maronite 2,382, Armenian Church (Gregorian) 2,939, Coptic Church 297, Abyssinian Church 85, Church of England 4,553, Presbyterian Church 361, Protestants 826, Lutheran Church 437, Templars Community 724, Others 208.[28]

Political and Ecumenical Issues

Mayors of Ramallah, Birzeit, Bethlehem, Zababdeh, Nazareth, Jifna, Ein 'Arik, Aboud, Taybeh, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour are Christians. The Governor of Tubas, Marwan Tubassi, is a Christian. The former Palestinian representative to the United States, Afif Saffieh, is a Christian, as is the ambassador of the Palestine in France, Hind Khoury. The Palestinian women's soccer team has a majority of Muslim girls, but the captain, Honey Thaljieh, is a Christian from Bethlehem. Many of the Palestinian officials such as ministers, advisers, ambassadors, consulates, heads of missions, PLC, PNA, PLO, Fateh leaders and others are Christians. Some Christians were part of the affluent segments of Palestinian society that left the country during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by Israel. In West Jerusalem, over 51% of Christian Palestinians lost their homes to the Israelis, according to the historian Sami Hadawi.[29]

Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center: Sabeel

The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, is a Christian non-governmental organization based in Jerusalem; was founded in 1989 by the Anglican (Episcopal) Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, former Canon of St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem.[30] According to its web site, "Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, to promote unity among them toward social action. Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on love, justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities. The word "Sabeel" is Arabic for ‘the way‘ and also a ‘channel‘ or ‘spring‘ of life-giving water."[31]

Kairos Palestine

In December 2009, prominent Palestinian Christian leaders released a historical document, the Kairos Palestine Document, "A moment of truth." The document call echoes a similar summons issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanize churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid. Among the authors of the document are Patriarch Michel Sabah, Archbishop Attalah Hanna, Father Jamal Khader, Rev. Mitri Raheb, Rev. Naim Ateeq and Rifat Kassis who is the coordinator and chief spokesperson of the group.

The document declares the Israeli occupation of Palestine a "sin against God" and against humanity. It calls on churches and Christians all over the world to consider it and adopt it and to call for the boycott of Israel. Section 7 calls for “the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel.” It states that isolation of Israel will cause pressure on Israel to abolish all of what it labels as "apartheid laws" that discriminate against Palestinians and non-Jews.[32]

Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation

The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) was founded in 1999 by an ecumenical group of American Christians to preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land. HCEF stated goal is to attempt to continue the presence and well-being of Arab Christians in the Holy Land and to develop the bonds of solidarity between them and Christians elsewhere. HCEF offers material assistance to Palestinian Christians and to churches in the area. HCEF advocates for solidarity on the part of Western Christians with Christians in the Holy Land.[33][34][35]

Christians of Gaza

Gaza’s Christian community mostly lives within the city, especially in areas neighbouring the three main churches: Church of Saint Porphyrius, The Holy Family Catholic Church in Zeitoun Street, and the Gaza Baptist Church, in addition to an Anglican chapel in the Al-Ahli Al-Arabi Arab Evangelical Hospital. Saint Porphyrius is an Orthodox Church that dates back to the 12th century. Gaza Baptist Church is the city’s only Evangelical Church; it lies close to the Legislative Council (parliamentary building). Christians in Gaza freely practice their religion. They also may observe all the religious holidays in accordance with the Christian calendars followed by their churches.[36]

Those among them working as civil servants in the government and in the private sector are given an official holiday during the week, which some devote to communal prayer in churches. Christians are permitted to obtain any job, in addition to having their full rights and duties as their Muslim counterparts in accordance with the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, the regime, and all the systems prevailing over the territories. Moreover, seats have been allocated to Christian citizens in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in accordance with a quota system that allocates based on a significant Christian presence.

A census revealed that 40 percent of the Christian community worked in the medical, educational, engineering and law sectors. Additionally, the churches in Gaza are renowned for the relief and educational services that they offer, and Muslim citizens participate in these services. Palestinian citizens as a whole benefit from these services. The Latin Patriarchate School, for example, offers relief in the form of medication and social and educational services. The school has been offering services for nearly 150 years.

In 1974, the idea of establishing a new school was proposed by Father Jalil Awad, a former parish priest in Gaza who recognized the need to expand the Latin Patriarchate School and build a new complex. Today, the Holy family school has 1,250 students and the Roman Catholic primary school, which is an extension of the Latin Patriarchate School, continues to enroll a rising number of young students. The primary school was established approximately 20 years ago. Aside from education, other services are offered to Muslims and Christians alike with no discrimination. Services include women’s groups, students' groups and youth groups, such as those offered at the Baptist Church on weekdays.[citation needed]

International Christian Concern reported that in October 2007, the Baptist manager of the only Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip was murdered, following the firebombing of his bookstore and his receipt of death threats from Muslim extremists angry at what they viewed to be his missionary activity.[37]

Christian emigration

A pre-1948 celebration of the Feast of St. Elias, on Mount Carmel, on July 20

Christians began to emigrate from Palestine after the establishment of the state of Israel. Many Palestinian Christians emigrated to countries such as Australia, Jordan, Lebanon, the United States and Canada, and a larger number to Latin America with the most settling in Chile and Argentina. The Palestinian Authority is unable to keep exact tallies.[17] As well, Muslim Palestinians have higher birth rates than the Christians, which strongly affects the demographics.[5][11]

The causes of this Christian exodus are hotly debated, with various possibilities put forth.[16] The vast majority of Palestinian Christians blame the exodus on Israel.[38] Reuters has reported that the emigrants left for better living standards rather than any other reason.[17] The BBC has also blamed the economic decline in the Palestinian Territories as well as pressure from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the exodus.[5] A report on Bethlehem residents stated both Christians and Muslims wished to leave but the Christians possessed better contacts with people abroad and higher levels of education.[39] The Vatican and the Catholic Church blamed the Israeli occupation and the conflict in the Holy Land for the Christian exodus from the Holy Land and the Middle East in general.[40]

The Jerusalem Post (An Israeli newspaper) has stated that the "shrinking of the Palestinian Christian community in the Holy Land came as a direct result of its middle-class standards" and that Muslim pressure has not played a major role according to Christian residents themselves. It reported that the Christians have a public image of elitism and of class privilege as well as of non-violence and of open personalities, which leaves them more vulnerable to criminals than Muslims. Hanna Siniora, a prominent Christian Palestinian human rights activist, has attributed harassment against Christians to "little groups" of "hoodlums" rather than to the Hamas and Fatah governments.[16]

According to a report in The Independent, thousands of Christian Palestinians "emigrated to Latin America in the 1920s when Palestine was hit by drought and a severe economic depression."[41]

Today, Chile houses the largest Palestinian Christian community in the world and Jordan has the second largest Palestinian Christian community outside of Palestine. Around 600,000 Palestinian Christians reside in Chile, most of whom were from Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahur.[42] Also, El Salvador, Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries have significant Palestinian Christian communities, some of whom immigrated almost a century ago during the time of Ottoman Palestine, but most of Christians were expelled from their homes in 1948 by Israel.[43] During the 2008 Gaza War, Palestinian Christians in Chile demonstrated against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. They were hoping to direct the government's attention to alter their relations with Israel.[44] Latin America has a population of about 3 million Palestinian Christians or almost 40% of the Palestinian Christian population worldwide.

In a 2006 poll of Christians in Bethlehem by the Palestinian Centre for Research and Cultural Dialogue, 90% reported having Muslim friends, 73.3% agreed that the Palestinian Authority treats Christian heritage in the city with respect, and 78% attributed the ongoing exodus of Christians from Bethlehem to the Israeli occupation and travel restrictions on the area.[45] Daniel Rossing, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs' chief liaison to Christians in the 1970s and 1980s, has stated that the situations for them in Gaza became much worse after the election of Hamas. He also stated that the Palestinian Authority, which counts on Christian westerners for financial support, treats the minority fairly. He blamed the Israeli West Bank barrier as the primary problem for the Christians.[16]

The United States State Department's 2006 report on religious freedom criticized both Israel for its restrictions on travel to Christian holy sites and the Palestinian Authority for its failure to stamp out anti-Christian crime. It also reported that the former gives preferential treatment in basic civic services to Jews and the latter does so to Muslims. The report stated that, generally, ordinary Muslim and Christian citizens enjoy good relations in contrast to the "strained" Jewish and non-Jewish relations.[11] A 2005 BBC report also described Muslim and Christian relations as "peaceful".[5]

The Arab Human Rights Association, an Arab NGO in Israel, has stated that Israeli authorities have denied Palestinian Christians in Israel access to holy places, prevented repairs needed to preserve historic holy sites, and carried out physical attacks on religious leaders.[46]

Notable Palestinian Christians

Beatified

  • Blessed Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas — founder of the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, the only Arab religious order in the Holy Land to date

Monks

Clergymen

Palestinian Roman Catholics

  • Category:Palestinian Roman Catholics

Politicians

  • Raymonda Tawil — poet, political activist, journalist, writer and the mother-in-law of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat[47]
  • Antonio Saca — President of El Salvador from 2004 to 2009
  • Justin Amash — a U.S. Representative for Michigan's 3rd congressional district which encompasses the Grand Rapids area, and a member of the Republican Party
  • Azmi Bishara — Arab-Israeli politician[16]
  • Janet Mikhail — the current mayor of Ramallah
  • Karim Khalaf — attorney and politician who served as the Mayor of Ramallah, but was removed from office in 1982 by Israel
  • Victor Batarseh — mayor of Bethlehem
  • Elias Bandak — the former mayor of Bethlehem
  • Hanna Nasser — the former mayor of Bethlehem
  • Elias Freij — the mayor former of Bethlehem
  • Emil Habibi — politician born in British-mandate Palestine, leader of the Israel Communist Party and Member of the Israeli Knesset
  • Ameer Makhoul — the founder of the Haifa-based Ittijah (the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations, a network for Palestinian NGOs in Israel), who is currently jailed in Israel, after some claims for spying on behalf of Hezbollah.[48] Amnesty International expressed concern that "his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians" may be the reason for his imprisonment.[49]
  • George Habash — Politician, founder of the PFLP and the Arab Nationalist Movement[16]
  • Nayif Hawatmeh — Palestinian politician, founder and General Secretary of the DFLP[16]
  • Dr. Hanan Ashrawi — politician, legislator, activist, and scholar. Currently, she is a leader of the Third Way party.[16] She was previously notable as a spokesperson for Arafat.[18]
  • Afif Safieh — diplomat and currently Palestinian ambassador to the Russian Federation
  • Jawad Bolous — political lawyer
  • Joudeh George Murqos — ex-Palestinian minister of tourism
  • Ghazi Hanania — member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Fatah
  • Emil Ghuri — the former Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the official leadership of the Arabs in the British Mandate of Palestine. He was also the general secretary of the Palestine Arab Party
  • Hanna Nasser (academic) — academic, political figure and ex-president of Birzeit University
  • Ghassan Andoni — a professor of physics at Birzeit University, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and founder of the International Middle East Media Centre
  • Daud Turki — poet and was the leader of the Jewish-Arab left-wing group called the Red Front
  • Imil Jarjoui — former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PLO executive committee
  • Huwaida Arraf — rights activist and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
  • Michael Tarazi — lawyer and former adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization
  • Kamal Nasser — PLO political leader, writer and poet

Cultural figures

  • Edward Said — Palestinian literary theorist, cultural critic, political activist
  • Rosemarie Said Zahlan — historian and writer
  • George Antonius — founder of modern Arab nationalist history
  • Khalil Beidas — scholar, educator, translator and novelist during the Al-Nahda cultural renaissance
  • Khalil al-Sakakini — educator, scholar, poet, and Arab nationalist during the Al-Nahda cultural renaissance
  • Tawfiq Canaan — physician, researcher of Palestinian popular heritage
  • May Ziade — poet, essayist and translator during the Al-Nahda cultural renaissance
  • Anton Shammas — writer and translator
  • Elia Suleiman — Palestinian film maker and actor
  • Raja Shehadeh — lawyer and writer
  • Rifat Odeh Kassis — human rights activist
  • George Saliba — Professor of Arabic and Islamic Science at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University, New York, United States
  • Rami George Khouri — journalist and editor
  • Hisham Zreiq — an award-winning independent film maker, poet and visual artist
  • Ray Hanania — Palestinian-American journalist also known for his stand-up comedy[50]
  • Joseph Massad — an Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University
  • Rim Banna — singer, composer, and arranger who is well-known for her modern interpretations of traditional Palestinian folk songs
  • Amal Murkus — singer
  • Anton Shammas — an essayist, writer of fiction and poetry and translator
  • Fady Andraos — singer and actor
  • Karl Sabbagh — Palestinian-British writer, journalist and television producer
  • Sabri Jiryis — writer and lawyer
  • Leila Sansour — film director
  • Makram Khoury — actor
  • Clara Khoury — actress

Other

See also


Further Reading

  • Morris, Benny, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, (2009) Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300151121
  • Reiter, Yitzhak, National Minority, Regional Majority: Palestinian Arabs Versus Jews in Israel (Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution), (2009) Syracuse Univ Press (Sd). ISBN 9780815632306

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  47. ^ israel-palestinenews.org
  48. ^ Israeli Arab who spied for Hezbollah jailed for nine years
  49. ^ "Palestinian Human Rights Activist Jailed in Israel". Amnesty International date=30 January, 2011. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/palestinian-human-rights-activist-jailed-israel-2011-01-30. Retrieved 2011-2-2. 
  50. ^ A Palestinian Refusenik's Open Letter To the Jewish People
  51. ^ PA minister visits family of imprisoned Palestinian Christian
  52. ^ Israel's First Female Arab Combat Soldier
  53. ^ IDF Spokesperson Announcement
  54. ^ 'It's about time someone did this': Exclusive photos from first Arab magazine cover to feature model wearing a bikini
  55. ^ workers.org

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