What has happened to Christians living in Israel and neighboring areas?
Although the history of Christians in Middle East goes back to as far as the first century, the most important date is 636, the time of Muslim Arab Conquest. Before the Conquest, Middle East was populated by Christians and Jews from the times of Byzantine Empire. When Muslim Arabs took over, they ruled the region for over thirteen centuries, converting a huge population into Islam. All the remaining minorities were given the right to practice their religions. However, the situation changed when the smaller portions of Jews started to gain power in Israel and soon became a competitor population. Judaism started showing intolerance towards other religions as soon as they gained influence. Christians were persecuted and deteriorated on the very land where Christ once walked and where many of the Christian Holy events occurred.
According to most recent estimations, there is only 2-3% Christians out of the entire population of Israel. More than 80% of these Christians being Arabs while the non-Arab Christian comprises of the people hailed as a result of immigration of 1980s and 1990s from Russia and Ethiopia. Members of the Messianic congregations, evangelical Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the three most active missionary movements in Israel among others. However, the followers of these groups have faced continuous protests and objections from Yad LeAchim, a Haredi anti-missionary group. Other following groups like Scientology and Hare Krishna has also seen similar insinuation and record-keeping for their activities by the Jews. There are also events where Messianic Jews have tried to evangelize other Jews and have attempted arsons on the messianic congregations. The extent goes to as much as burning hundreds of copies of the New Testament. Missionary activities have been regarded illegal in Israel and attempts have also been made to ban all missionary activities altogether.
Christian minorities in the terrain has been observed to be the victims of violence and the orthodox Jewish sects have spread negative image about the missionaries and their activities. A meeting was also held between Christian leaders in Israel, members of the Jerusalem municipality, Haredi community and Israeli Foreign Ministry to discuss the growing issue of interfaith assaults. Such incidents of violence and discretion towards the Christian community have damaged the relations between Jews and Christians. A small but radical group of Jews objected on the presence of Christians and this state is prevalent even before the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. One example is the discretion of Christian churches on May 13, 1948, two days before Israel was founded. According to a Catholic Priest, Father Deleque:
“Jewish soldiers broke down the doors of my church and robbed many precious and sacred objects. Then they threw the statues of Christ down into a nearby garden.”
He also added that the Jewish leaders promised to respect the religious sites however they did not remain true to their words. A group of leaders from the Christian Union of Palestine stated that Arab forces kept their promise of respecting the Christian institutions but the Jewish forces has brutally occupied the Christian structures and did not show mercy in shelling their churches.
Another incident of the discretion of churches occurred during the 1967 war at the time of Israel’s occupation of all of the Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza. Discretion of the churches has not remained limited to the times of war but an Israeli soldier with the name Daniel Koren set on a shooting rampage in St. Anthony Catholic Church, firing bullets in the alter, causing no injuries however. Koren later admitted that he had been subjugated for this attack by his Judaic convictions.
Prejudice shown towards Christian population resulted in a drastic decrease of Christian inhabitants in Israel in the mid 90s. Christians no longer remained a major section in Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Ramallah. Since the time of the establishment of Israel in 1948, the 200000 population of Christians has come down to only one percent of the whole population, with 400000 of the present Christian Jew population living mainly in Americas. This reveals that Israel defied its own claims of projecting harmony among different religions through its actions.