The Anglican Journal has an interview today with Canadian Anglican Primate Fred Hiltz, who just got back from a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. One item in the interview jumped out at me:
Q: What accounts for the dwindling number of Christians there? Is it mainly because of the political situation?
A: The political situation is one of the major factors. It has been difficult for Palestinians to remain there. The evidence of occupation is everywhere – the walls, the fences, the military roads, the checkpoints. It’s really quite amazing to see it and even around, not all holy sites but certainly – on Sunday morning we went to the Dome of the Rock, the great Muslim center in Jerusalem and the presence of soldiers even on that site was interesting. It was kind of unnerving. But the evidence of occupation is very real, the freedom of people to move in and out of Jerusalem itself was tight… Everywhere you go you see walls and fences and soldiers, Israeli settlements…every crest of hill around Jerusalem you see Israeli settlements. People see that as a gradual kind of encroachment even around Jerusalem.
*The Christian population of Israel itself has been growing in recent years, and has increased 270% since 1948, from about 34,000 to almost 130,000 in 2005.
*The Christian population of the West Bank dropped from 25,000 to 13,000 between 1948 and 1967, while the area was under Jordanian sovereignty.
*Just after the end of World War II, the Christian population of the West Bank and Gaza was about 20% of the total. That figure is now around 1.7%, with the majority of that loss having taken place before 1967.
*Muslim persecution, completely overlooked by Hiltz, has played a large role in the migration. The Palestinian Authority’s constitution embodies Islamic law (article 2 says, “Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations.”; article 5 says, “Arabic and Islam are the official Palestinian language and religion”; article 7 says, “The principles of Islamic Shari’a are a major source for legislation”–you get the point). Islamic thugs have made life miserable for Christians in the territories–I find it especially ironic that, according to the London Daily Telegraph, a dossier of dozens of incidents of persecution “includes a list of 140 cases of apparent land theft, in which Christians in the West Bank were allegedly forced off their land by gangs backed by corrupt judicial officials.”
In short, while Israeli occupation has no doubt contributed to at least some extent to the problem of Christian migration from the Holy Land, this is a problem that predates the occupation, and is in large part the result of Muslim actions. Would that the Anglican primate of Canada, and his other North American mainline colleagues, were aware of this.