How are Christians in the Holy Land affected by the violence and tension?
Naturally we feel the massive decline in religious tourism. As compared to last year, we have had a 60 percent drop in visitors to the holy sites since the Gaza War. That is a dramatic decline. It is only climbing back up slowly. But those Christians who depend on tourism are used to this. These kinds of conflicts occur every few years. However, in addition to the economic dimension, frustration is also on the rise among Christians. Nineteen Christian families have left Bethlehem for Europe and America in the past two, three months.
Why did they leave?
All Christians are appalled by what is happening in Iraq at the hands of ISIS. It was also a horrendous shock for the Christians in the Holy Land. It strengthens the feeling that there is no future for Christians in the Middle East—that they are not wanted here. Added to this is the frustration that peace has failed to appear.
Two reasons are given to explain the emigration of Christians from Palestine: the consequences of the Israeli occupation and the Islamicization of Palestinian society. What do you consider the main reason?
The one does not exclude the other. From an economic standpoint, life in the Palestinian areas is very difficult. On the other hand, relations with the Islamic community are not the same as they once were. All of that plus everything else that is going on around us produces hopelessness.
Israel’s Parliament is currently discussing a bill that would establish the Jewish character of the state. Will this happen at the expense of Israeli democracy that is home to a large Arabian minority, including its many Christians?
It is nothing new that Israel considers itself a Jewish and democratic state. This has been the case ever since the state was founded. I believe that the bill currently under discussion will not fundamentally change the status of the minorities, including the Christians. However, it will intensify the feelings of reserve that some minorities in Israel harbor towards the state. It will make them even more convinced that they are not really wanted here.
Reprinted with courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need.