Saturday, February 12, 2011

Losing the "leaven"?

An unexpected casualty of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Occupation of Gaza and the West Bank since 1967, is that the Christian Church in Palestine is dwindling and perhaps even threatened with extinction. It’s hard to get accurate figures, but the numbers I have heard are that Christians now represent less than 2% of the population overall in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and the number keeps dropping. For example, Bethlehem, one of the predominantly Christian areas, used to be about 70% Christian. Since the 2002 seige of the Church of the Nativity, that number has dropped to around 30%.

Most of the Palestinian Christians I have met are committed to nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation and the injustices they experience. But during the second intifada, some in the Palestinian community launched attacks against Israelis from Christian areas (like Bethlehem and Beit Sahour), and then the Israeli forces would strike back forcefully, punishing everyone including Christians. Christians who would not take up arms were chastised by some in their Palestinian community, their loyalty to their people questioned; but at the same time, they suffered at the hands of the Israelis.

When Israeli forces laid siege to the Church of the Nativity in 2002 (in response to some attacks on Israel and in an attempt to capture a few who fled to the church for refuge), Christians reportedly believed it would be over in a matter of hours, that “the international community would never allow Israel to touch holy Christian sites.” But when the siege of the Church of the Nativity went on for 40 days, Palestinian Christians were left in shock, convinced that if the international community would allow that, Israel would be able to get away with anything. And so they left in droves, and the flow continues to this day.  Every church leader we spoke with said that keeping Christian young people in the land is one of their greatest challenges.

And the question that comes to my mind is, does the Israeli government really want all the Christians to leave?

Jesus said that his people would be like “leaven” in the society. What will happen in Palestine if this “leaven” is gone? It doesn’t seem that the prospects of peace will be improved.

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