King Abdullah warns of threats against Christians in Jerusalem

Shireen Abu Akleh,
The parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Tla’ Al-Ali, in cooperation with the Catholic Center for Studies and Media, holds a memorial service Sunday for Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-Christian reporter who was gunned down during an Israeli raid of Jenin. (Photo/ Ameer Khalifeh Jordan News).
AMMAN — His Majesty King Abdullah’s warning last week against the continuous impediments facing Christians in the Palestinian Territories, especially in Jerusalem, and the continued pressures that could threaten their presence in the region, has resonated with pundits in Jordan.اضافة اعلان

At a meeting in New York with a number of Christian leaders in the United States on Monday, His Majesty reaffirmed that Arab Christians are an integral part of the Middle East’s past and present, and are vital to its future, stressing the need to work collectively to safeguard the Christian presence in the region.

The meeting came two days before Christian-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. Abu Akleh’s killing last Wednesday caused an uproar in many corners of the world, sending anti-Israeli sentiments on the rise in Arab countries.

A sombre memorial service was held for Abu Akleh in Amman’s Sacred Heart of Jesus church.

According to a US State Department’s 2019 report on international religious freedom, about 50,000 Christian Palestinians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem. According to media reports and religious communities, there is nearly 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza.

The report pointed out that according to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian Immigration has continued at rapid rates.

A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder are Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere.

According to various sources, there is a near-consensus that the number of Christians in Palestine has dropped by nearly 10-fold in the last 70 years.

Palestinian columnist and commentator Ramzy Baroud wrote in 2019 that 70 years ago, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was 86 percent 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.

Baroud added that Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem have been driven out from their historic city in large numbers. According to the city’s mayor, Vera Baboun, as of 2016, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped to 12 percent, merely to 11,000 people.

The most optimistic estimates place the overall number of Palestinian Christians in the whole of occupied Palestine at less than 2 percent.

According to Baroud, the study concluded that ‘the pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians’, who are finding themselves in “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves”.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted a public opinion poll among Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the period between January 27 and February 23, 2020.

It found that the desire to immigrate is much higher among Palestinian Christians than Palestinian Muslims.

Indeed, the percentage among Christians in the West Bank is almost twice as much as that of Muslims. The poll found that in addition to economic reasons for the Immigration, some have to do with the conditions of the Israeli occupation and others with the domestic conditions. For example, Christians complain about the impact of occupation measures, such as checkpoints, settlers’ attacks, and land confiscation.

Israel has repeatedly prevented Gaza Christians from entering the West Bank and Jerusalem to mark Christian religious festivities. And as recently as last month, Israel put restrictions on the number of Palestinian Christians, who were allowed to celebrate Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media, Father Rifat Bader, told Jordan News that the visit demonstrates the King’s interest in the situation of Christians in Palestine and the region, and stresses the importance of sanctities in Jerusalem.

He added that the “His Majesty the King stresses in all his meetings the importance of preserving the constants in Palestine, including religious pluralism, and that religion cannot, in any way, be linked to terrorism.”

He indicated that “the Christian presence in the East was subjected to harassment and displacement, and that is why His Majesty the King wanted to clarify the religion as a religion of peace and affection, and that it is the duty of Muslims to defend Christians at all times.”

He stressed that “the main reason for the displacement of Christians from Palestine is the Israeli occupation, and that this visit would stop the Immigration, especially since about eight thousand Christians left East Jerusalem, and this is a huge loss for Jerusalem, especially that what distinguishes Jerusalem is its religious pluralism.”

He pointed out that “their displacement sounds the alarm bell of the need to preserve Christians in Palestine”, stressing that the decrease in their number is a great loss; “because we do not want Palestine to become free of its people, whether Christians or Muslims.”

“Certainly, His Majesty the King’s recent visit has a great role in reminding the world of the importance of religious pluralism and the preservation of Christians in Palestine. Undoubtedly, concerted efforts will play a major role in that”, he said.

Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem Atallah Hanna, told Jordan News that “His Majesty the King is keen, in all his meetings, to defend Jerusalem and its Christian and Islamic sanctities, and to reject the violations that Palestine is being subjected to.”

“Wherever His Majesty the King is, he will be an ambassador for justice and peace”, he said and added “therefore, we salute the Hashemite leadership, especially regarding the King’s meeting in the United States of America with Christian leaders for the noble stances and support for the Palestinian people and their just cause.”

He said that “stopping the displacement, whether Christian or Islamic, is linked to a just solution to the Palestinian issue; when the issue is resolved, the occupation is removed and the Palestinian people enjoy their full rights, only then can the migration flow to Christians and other citizens stop.”

Hassan Al-Momani, a political writer and analyst, told Jordan News that Jordan, represented by the King, is in the forefront of defending and protecting the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Palestine.

“His Majesty the King is a person who believes in interfaith dialogue and peace and has a strong presence and influence among the whole world, especially that Jordan has a very important historical and religious role,” Momani said.

Political commentator and journalist Dawoud Kuttab told Jordan News that the King’s meeting with US Christian leaders was a wise and clever move.

He added that “his warning constitute a real pressure before world opinion to stop the repeated attacks on Palestine.”

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