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Tuesday, 11 January 2011 15:50

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Palestinian Christians are the descendants of the original indigenous Christians who first believed in Jesus Christ. They are the descendants of the disciples of Jesus Christ & the descendants of other Jews, Philistines, Arabs, Aramaeans/Eremites, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Persians & Samaritans... who accepted the Messiah when He was with them in the flesh. Today, they live in Nazareth, Bethlehem, Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Jenin, Taybeh, Birzeit, Jifna, al-Bireh, Zababdeh, Tel Aviv, Tubas, Azzun, Aboud, Tiberias, Sakhnin, Shefa-'Amr, Galilee, Jish, Amman, & other places in the Biblical Palestine & Jordan, in addition to the exile. They are Arab Christian Believers of Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic (eastern & western rites), Protestant, Evangelical & other denominations, who have ethnic or family origins in Palestine. 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"). Christians comprise less than 4% of Palestinian Arabs living within the borders of former Mandate Palestine today (around 4% in the West Bank, a negligible percentage in Gaza, and nearly 10% of Israeli Arabs). According to official British Mandate estimates, Mandate Palestine’s Christian population varied between 9.5% (1922) and 7.9% (1946) of the total population.

Demographics and Denominations

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, though there is a community of 5,000 (though shrinking) 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, and about 9.8% of the non-Jewish Arab population.

According to the CIA world factbook, as of 2009, the following statistics are available on Palestinian Christians.

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 since the 1890s. There are also Maronites, Melkite Greek Catholics, Jacobites, Chaldeans, Roman Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Copts, Armenians, Anglicans/Episcopals, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Born Again, Baptists, Jehovah Witnesses, and other Protestants among them.

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. 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. 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 Palestinian Roman Catholics. The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem is Suheil Dawani, who recently replaced Bishop Riah Abou Al Assal. The Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and Jordan is Dr. Munib Younan. Elias Chacour of the Melkite Eastern Catholic Church is Archbishop of Galilee

 

History

Background and early history

Estimates of the number of Arab Christians in the Arab world vary. Christians today make up 9.2% of the population of the Near East. In Lebanon they now number around 39% of the population, in Syria about 10 to 15%, in Jordan around 5%. The number of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza are now 3.8%. Palestinian Christians in Israel constitute 2.1% (or roughly 10% of the population of Arab citizens of Israel). In Egypt, they constitute between 9-16% of the population (the government claims 6%). Around two-thirds of North and South American and Australian Arabs are Christian, particularly from Israel, West Bank and Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

Most Palestinian Christians see themselves as Arab Christians, although some, echoing similar narratives in the Lebanese Maronite community, reject this label and claim to be descended from Levantine people who were present before the coming of the Arabs, and claim to have lived in what they call Palestine, for thousands of years. In addition, they may also descend from a mixture of Armenians, Jews who converted to Christianity in the first three centuries AD, Byzantine, pre-Islamic Arabs (Ghassanids), and Crusaders. The region called Palestine or Israel is considered the Holy Land by Christians, and major Christian holy cities like Bethlehem, Nazareth ,and Jerusalem are located in the Palestinian Autonomy and Israel, respectively.
Interior of the house of a Christian family in Jerusalem. By <a mce_thref=W. H. Bartlett, ca 1850" width="200" height="154" />
Interior of the house of a Christian family in Jerusalem. By W. H. Bartlett, ca 1850

During the Ottoman period, the number of Christians approached 40%. Emigration to the predominantly Christian-populated areas of neighboring Lebanon, as well as South America drastically reduced the number of Christians by the beginning of the 20th century. The Palestinian Authority's first lady, Suha Arafat, was a Christian. The current Palestinian ambassador to the United States, Afif Saffieh, is a Christian, as is the ambassador of the Palestinian Authority in France, Hind Khoury. The Palestinian Authority's women's soccer team, which has a majority of Muslim girls also happens to have a Christian captain, Honey Thaljieh, a Christian from Bethlehem. However, the Christians were also often found in the more affluent segments of Palestinian society that fled or were expelled from the country during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War; in West Jerusalem, over 51% of Christian Palestinians lost their homes to the advancing Israeli army, according to the historian Sami Hadawi.

Today, Chile houses the largest Palestinian Christian community in the world, and the second largest Palestinian community outside of Palestine after Jordan. Reports show that around 600,000 Palestinian Christians reside in Chile, most of whom from Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahur. El Salvador, Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries also have significant Palestinian Christian communities, some of whom that have immigrated almost a century ago during the time of Ottoman Palestine, while most of Christians were expelled from their homes in 1948 by Israel. During the 2008 Gaza war, Palestinian Christians in Chile demonstrated to voice their frustration of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, they were hoping to direct the government's attention to review their relations with Israel. Latin America is said to have a population of about 3 million Palestinian Christians, or almost 40% of the Palestinian Christians population worldwide.

 

Recent history

Palestinian Christians celebrating the Eve of the <a mce_thref=Epiphany (Paramony) at Bethabara, on the Western bank of the Jordan River (West Bank, near Jericho), in Eastern Orthodox tradition." width="200" height="150" />
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.

The proportions of Christians in the Palestinian territories is such that they only constitute around one in seventy-five residents. In May, Reuters reported that 50,000 - 90,000 Christians remained in the West Bank, with around 17,000 following the Roman Catholic tradition and most of the rest following the Orthodox church, and a significant number of Protestants and Evangelicals. 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. Indeed, Christians now comprise just 2.5 percent of the population Jerusalem, they comprised around 51% in 1947, those remaining include a few born in the Old City when Christians there constituted a majority.
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".

Most Christians in Gaza blame the Israeli occupation pre-2005, the current siege on the city and the war on Gaza 2009 to be the reason for their exodus from Gaza. During the recent war on Gaza, three churches, Baptist, Orthodox & Catholic, were damaged by Israeli shelling, and many Christians including 15-year-old Christine Turk , lost their lives during the Gaza offensive. There have been some minor attacks on Palestinian Christians in Gaza from small Muslim extremist groups reported through 2007, most notably Ramy Ayyad. Gaza Pastor Manuel Musallam has voiced doubts that those attacks were religiously motivated. 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, among them and Anglican and an Orthodox church - not affiliated with either Catholicism or the Pope - were firebombed and shot at in the West Bank and Gaza. A group called "Lions of Monotheism" claimed responsibility. 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.

Armenians in Jerusalem, identified as Palestinian Christians, have also been attacked and received threats from Israeli and Jewish extremists. In September, two Armenian Christian clergy were expelled after protesting against Jewish extremists for spitting on holy Christian objects...

 

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Last Updated on Monday, 07 March 2011 14:49
 

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