Christians in Jerusalem

There are Christians in Jerusalem who care very much about the ultimate control of that city. Their interest is usually ignored in the current arguments over whether Israel should or should not be permitted to consolidate its hold on the entire enlarged area which it now claims as Jerusalem.

West Jerusalem is not seriously in dispute. This area which lies to the west of the old walled city is almost entirely inhabited by Jews. It has been built up by them since 1948 into a modern city. An insignificant number of Christians live in West Jerusalem. There are a few Christian shrines and churches, but not the important ones.

From the point of view of historic religious places Christians are primarily interested in the walled city and in the areas to the east, north, and south of it which are known as East Jerusalem. And it is in East Jerusalem that many Christians live, both Arab Christians and other Christians.

The others include Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians from Europe and the Americas, Coptic Christians from Ethiopia, Greek and other Orthodox Christians from Greece and Slavic countries. There is also a substantial Armenian Christian community.

Most Christians in the Holy Land are Arabs. There are about 70,000 Arab Christians in Israel out of a total Israeli population of 3.5 million. There are about 143,000 Christians in Jordan and the West Bank occupied territories out of a total population of slightly under 3 million. The largest concentration of Christians inside Israel is in Nazareth where the majority are Christians. The main Christian concentrations in Jordan and the occupied territories are in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and East Jerusalem. Roughly a fourth of the 100,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem are Christians, but this number has been declining since Israel took control over Jerusalem after the 1967 war.

Non-Arab Christians (Europeans, Greeks, Armenians, etc.) believe, correctly or incorrectly, that Israel is pursuing a deliberate policy of pushing them out. They claim that, when a member of one of the Roman Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox communities leaves Jerusalem or dies, there is difficulty about residence visas for replacements. Tourists come in freely under Israeli control , but Christians who want to serve in the Christian institutions (monasteries, convents, churches, etc.) say that they have difficulties getting in.

It is widely believed in the Christian community that Israel is methodically erasing physical and architectural remnants of early Christianity. A Western photographer on a recent trip to Jerusalem wanted to photograph the road to Emmaus. It no longer exists. An Israeli housing complex sits where Jesus last walked with his disciples. Christians as well as many Israelis and Muslims deplore on aesthetic grounds the rim of modern high-rise housing which now surrounds almost all of old Jerusalem and has almost ruined its familiar skyline. The once soft "Hills around Jerusalem" are mostly lost.

Palestine Christians find it easier to associate with Muslims than with Israelis. The story of Jesus, including virgin birth and ascension, is in the Koran. There is a Muslim mosque of the ascension in East Jerusalem. Christians are permitted to hold their services in the courtyard on the day of the ascension.

One of the most severe points of friction between Israeli military authorities and Arabs has been the Protestant Christian university at Bir Zeit and the predominantly Christian Arab city of Ramallah nearby.There has also been friction between the occupation police and the Catholic university at Bethlehem. Arab Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, feel that the Israeli occupation officials have been particularly hostile to them.

If the Christians (largely Arab) who live in Jerusalem had a voice in the disposition of the various parts of Jerusalem they would accept international control over the old walled city. They would overwhelmingly favor a restoration of Arab sovereignty over East Jerusalem. They were happier and more comfortable and they feel that their interests as Christians were treated with more consideration when East Jerusalem was part of Jordan than they have been under the Israeli occupation.

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