how many palestinians are christian
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Palestinian Christians (Arabic: مَسِيحِيُّون فِلَسْطِينِيُّون, romanized: Masīḥiyyūn Filasṭīniyyūn) are Christian citizens of the State of Palestine. In the wider definition of Palestinian Christians, including the Palestinian refugees, diaspora and people with full or partial Palestinian Christian ancestry this can be applied to an estimated 500,000 people worldwide as of 2000. Palestinian Christians belong to one of a number of Christian denominations, including Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Catholicism (Eastern and Western rites), Anglicanism, Lutheranism, other branches of Protestantism and others.
Bernard Sabella of Bethlehem University estimates that 6% of the Palestinian population worldwide is Christian and that 56% of them live outside of historic Palestine. In both the local dialect of Palestinian Arabic and in Classical Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic, Christians are called Nasrani (the Arabic word Nazarene) or Masihi (a derivative of Arabic word Masih, meaning “Messiah”). Hebrew-speakers call them Notzri (also spelt Notsri), which means Nazarene (originated from Nazareth). As of 2015, Palestinian Christians comprise approximately 1–2.5% of the population of the West Bank, and less than 1% in the Gaza Strip.
According to official British Mandatory estimates, Palestine’s Christian population in 1922 constituted 9.5% of the total Mandatory Palestine population (10.8% of the Palestinian Arab population), and 7.9% in 1946. A large number of Arab Christians fled or were expelled from the Jewish-controlled areas of Mandatory Palestine during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and a small number left during the period (1948–1967) of Jordanian control of the West Bank for economic reasons. From 1967, during the Israeli military rule, the Palestinian Christian population has increased while as a percentage of the population continued to decrease.
There are also many Palestinian Christians who are descendants of Palestinian refugees from the post-1948 era who fled to Christian-majority countries and formed large diasporan Christian communities. Worldwide, there are nearly one million Palestinian Christians in these territories as well as in the Palestinian diaspora, comprising around 6–7% of the world’s total Palestinian population. Palestinian Christians live primarily in Arab states surrounding historic Palestine and in the diaspora, particularly in Europe and the Americas.
Demographics and denominations
In the 1922 census of Palestine there were approximately 73,000 Christian Palestinians: 46% Orthodox, 40% Catholic (20% Roman Catholic, and 20% Eastern Catholic.
The census recorded over 200 localities with a Christian population. The totals by denomination for all of Mandatory Palestine were: Greek Orthodox 33,369, Syriac Orthodox (Jacobite) 813, Latin Catholic 14,245, Greek Catholic (Melkite) 11,191, Syriac Catholic 323, Armenian Catholic 271, Maronite 2,382, Armenian Orthodox (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.
In 2009, there were an estimated 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories, mostly in the West Bank, with about 3,000 in the Gaza Strip. Of the total Christian population of 154,000 in Israel, about 80% are designated as Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian. The majority (56%) of Palestinian Christians live in the Palestinian diaspora.
Around 50% of Palestinian Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, one of the 15 churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. This community has also been known as the Arab Orthodox Christians. There are also Maronites, Melkites, Jacobites, Chaldeans, Latin Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Orthodox Copts, Coptic Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Quakers (Society of Friends), Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans (Episcopal), Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Baptists and other Protestants; in addition to small groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others.
The Patriarch Theophilos III is the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem since 2005. He replaced Irenaios (in office from 2001), who was deposed by the church synod after a term surrounded by controversy and scandal given that he sold Palestinian property to Israeli Orthodox Jews. The Israel government initially refused to recognize Theophilos’s appointment but finally granted full recognition in December 2007, despite a legal challenge by his predecessor Irenaios. Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia the highest ranking Palestinian clergyman in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is the leader of the Latin Catholics in Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus. The office has been held by Pierbattista Pizzaballa since his appointment by Pope Francis on 6 November 2020. George Bacouni, of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, is Archbishop of Akka, with jurisdiction over Haifa, Acre and the Galilee, and replaced Elias Chacour, a Palestinian refugee, in 2014. Moussa El-Hage, of the Maronite Church, is since 2012 simultaneously Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Haifa and the Holy Land and Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem and Palestine.
The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem is Suheil Dawani, who replaced Bishop Riah Abou Al Assal. 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).
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Christians that nobody is talking about
As Christmas approaches, it is sad to reflect on the fact that Palestinian Christians are leaving the birthplace of Christianity in droves. For Israel, this exodus is a boon as a Palestine without Christians will enable it, in a world rife with Islamophobia, to portray its conflict with Palestine as a religious war. Ramzy Baroud explains.
Palestine’S Christian population is dwindling at an alarming rate. The world’s most ancient Christian community is moving elsewhere. And the reason for this is Israel.
Christian leaders from Palestine and South Africa sounded the alarm at a conference in Johannesburg on 15 October. Their gathering was titled ‘The Holy Land: A Palestinian Christian Perspective’.
One major issue that highlighted itself at the meetings is the rapidly declining number of Palestinian Christians in Palestine.
There are various estimates on how many Palestinian Christians are still living in Palestine today, compared with the period before 1948 when the state of Israel was established atop Palestinian towns and villages. Regardless of the source of the various studies, there is a near-consensus that the number of Christian inhabitants of Palestine has dropped by nearly 10-fold in the last 70 years.
A population census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 concluded that 47,000 Palestinian Christians are living in Palestine – with reference to the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Ninety-eight percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the West Bank – concentrated mostly in the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem – while the remainder, a tiny Christian community of merely 1,100 people, live in the besieged Gaza Strip.
70 years ago
The demographic crisis that had afflicted the Christian community decades ago is now brewing.
For example, 70 years ago, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was 86% Christian. The demographics of the city, however, have fundamentally shifted, especially after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in June 1967 and the construction of the illegal Israeli apartheid wall starting in 2002. Parts of the wall were meant to cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem and to isolate the former from the rest of the West Bank.
‘The Wall encircles Bethlehem by continuing south of East Jerusalem in both the east and west,’ the ‘Open Bethlehem’ organisation said, describing the devastating impact of the wall on the Palestinian city. ‘With the land isolated by the Wall, annexed for settlements, and closed under various pretexts, only 13% of the Bethlehem district is available for Palestinian use.’
According to the city’s mayor, Vera Baboun, as of 2016, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped to 12%, merely 11,000 people.
The most optimistic estimates place the overall number of Palestinian Christians in the whole of Occupied Palestine at less than 2%.
Beit Jala, Palestine – The Israeli occupation of Palestine is the main factor behind the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the region, according to a new study.
The research carried out by Dar al-Kalima University in the occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala, concluded that only small percentage of Christians had left Palestine because of concerns over Muslim religious conservatism.
Researchers interviewed more than a thousand people, roughly half of whom were Christian and the other half Muslim, on their outlook on life and, if negative, the causes of their pessimism.
Sense of hopelessness
“The pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians,” the study said.
These conditions have put Palestinian Christians in “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves,” it added.
Bernard Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and one of the authors of the study, said: “It is not the fear of disappearance Palestinian Christians fear the most, rather losing their space in society”.
He stressed that the conflict with Israel and the lack of a political solution to the occupation of Palestinian territories served as the main causes for the reduction in the number of Palestinian Christians.
In Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Christianity, Palestinian Christians are rapidly disappearing under the current political and economic conditions.
“Palestinian identity needs to be highlighted and emphasised,” Sabella added.
The study also found that 50 percent of interviewed Christians and 54 percent of Muslims were optimistic that their situation would eventually improve and attributed their optimism to the belief that God is on their side.
“This finding reflects the religiosity of the Palestinian people,” said Varsen Aghabekian, another of the study’s authors.
Only two percent of Christians attributed their pessimism to “religious extremism”, while the percentage among their Muslim counterparts was double that at four percent.
About 200,000 Palestinian Christians currently reside in the Holy Land, descendants of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Israel forbids Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to enter Jerusalem without permits, which are extremely difficult to obtain. Christian Palestinians who are citizens of Israel also suffer from widespread discrimination.
- The majority of Palestinian Christians are Greek Orthodox, with smaller numbers of Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Copts, Episcopalians, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Maronites, Syrian Orthodox, and several other Protestant denominations.
- There are no official figures on the number of Palestinian Christians in the occupied territories, but according to the Lutheran ecumenical institution the Diyar Consortium there are 51,710 Christians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
- Christians comprise roughly 2% of the population of the West Bank, while Gaza’s estimated 3,000 Christians account for less than 1% of the coastal enclave’s population. The number of Christians in the occupied territories has continued to dwindle as many emigrate as a result of the difficulties of living under Israeli military occupation. (See here for a 2012 report from the program 60 Minutes on the plight of Palestinian Christians.).
- According to Israeli government figures, as of 2009 there were about 154,000 Christian citizens of Israel, or about 2.1% of the population. Of those, approximately 80% are Palestinian Arabs, including 44,000 Roman Catholics, while the rest are non-Arab immigrants, mostly spouses of Jews who came from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
- In recent years, settlers have begun so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to Israeli government actions that displease them, such as the dismantling of settlement “outposts” (nascent settlements built without official approval from Israeli authorities). Often, such attacks take the form of vandalism and desecration of Muslim and Christian holy sites.
- In the occupied territories, Palestinian Christians suffer from the same restrictions, including on movement, applied to all Palestinians living under Israel’s 45-year-old military rule. These same restrictions do not apply to the more than 500,000 Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
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