Is the Christian Population in the Holy Land Really Shrinking?

On April 22, 2012 the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes ran a controversial segment featuring correspondent Bob Simon, in which he stated, “the Palestinian Christians have been leaving [the Palestinian territories] in large numbers for years. So many, the Christian population there is down to less than two percent.”

Father Marwan Dides, a Franciscan, expressed this dire concern that the continuing presence of Christians in the Holy Land is non-negotiable, “If there is no people, no Christians here, it will never continue.” He offered no proof that Israel is making any attempt to rid the Holy Land of Arab Christians.

Theophilos the third, the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church has witnessed the alleged decline of Christians in the land of the Bible.  Simon asked the patriarch of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, “When you first came here in 1964, what was the percentage of Christians in the old city?” Theophilos responded, “There were around 30,000 of – Christians living in the Old City.” In response to Simon’s request for an update, the Greek Orthodox cleric said, “Very few.”  Simon hmself added information from CBS’ research, “So few, some 11,000 Christians out of a population of almost 800,000 – just one and half percent.” Palestinian Crowd

I am blogging the 60 Minutes segment once again because the journalistic approach taken by CBS is very significant.  The reporting of the major media outlets like CBS, ABC, CNN and NBC are quick to paint Israel as an “evil nation,” but offer no proof other than inferences.  Their reporting lacks the data and figures verified by experts of the claims they are making about the shrinking Palestinian Christian population due to the “occupation.”

The underlying question is “why is the Christian population in the Holy Land shrinking?” Simon called the Palestinian Christian an “invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements.”

The Underlying Anti-Israel Message by the Media

The message CBC correspondent Bob Simon is driving at is exposed in his discussion with Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.  Oren argued the duress experienced by Palestinian communities in the West Bank is from Muslim extremists.  Simon shot back, “And this duress is coming from Muslims, not from the Israel occupation?”

So is the shrinking Palestinian Christian population from Israeli policies due to what opponents of Israel call “the occupation” or is it due to Islamic mistreatment of Christians as we are currently witnessing in Egypt?

According to a report published by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the idea that Israel’s policies are causing a mass exodus of Palestinian Christians from Israel is a myth. In fact, the narrative of a decreasing population among Palestinians Christians is a major argument used to build support for and sympathy for their cause. When this message plays among evangelical Christians the results are even more serious.  The more evangelicals Palestinian Christians can convince to support their cause, the more evangelical leaders will publicly criticize Israel and join the growing cry for anti-Israel initiatives including boycott, divestment and sanctions.

According to the JCPA report from August 2011 Christians in America are being sold a bill of goods by Palestinian Christians,

. . . the JCPA report reveals, the Palestinian Christian population has grown in both Israel and in the West Bank – and has growing been since 1967. This flies in the face of a misinformation campaign that has been used by anti-Israel groups to add “urgency” to their criticism of Israeli policies.

Debunking the Myths about the Shrinking Arab Christian Population in the Holy Land

Some of the fallacies used by those who want to make it appear as though Israeli policies are pushing the Palestinian Christians ut of the Holy Land are as follows:

  • they over-report the population prior to Israel’s creation, sometimes by more than 200%. In turn, they underreport the current population, sometimes by comparing the entire region in 1948 with smaller areas today.
  • they fail to report the West Bank Christian population dropped under Jordanian rule but has increased since 1967, when it came under Israeli and later Palestinian Authority control.
  • they fail to report how Palestinian Christians are being persecuted by the Palestinian Authority. The First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, pastored by Rev Naim Khoury, who is openly supportive of the State of Israel, has been denied legitimacy by the Palestinian Authority. Fire-bombed fourteen times in the past, the church has been told that any birth, death, or marriage certificates it issues will not be recognized.
  • They make a major blunder in not reporting that the Christian population in Israel proper has increased even more dramatically – in some years outpacing Jewish growth. This, of course, stands in stark contrast with surrounding Islamic countries in which the decrease of Christian communities is astounding and very real. Over and over I hear Israeli dignitaries claim Arab Christians living in Israel as Israeli citizens experience more freedom to worship than in any other Middle East country.
  • they use questionable figures that fit their own view of how much the Palestinian Christian population should have grown. According to Palestinian Christian advocates, they state their population should have grown at 2% annually. However, it has not reached that growth due to emigration related to Israeli policy. However, the average growth worldwide today is almost half that.

I would recommend reading the full report put together by the JCPA. By reading this report one starts to realize all the issues not reported correctly or fairly by the CBS report.  The JCPA admits to the pressures the Palestinian Christian community faces due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Palestinian Christians face restrictions on visas and travel, family reunification, poor economic opportunities and the difficulty of living everyday with checkpoints and the security.  Let us not forget that most of these restrictions are in response to Palestinian terrorism.  No one is wild about the security barrier that separates Palestinian communities from Israel proper. However, ever since the wall was erected, terrorism within israel by Palestinian terrorists has decreased 90% according to Michael Oren. Bob Simon had no response to that fact.

The Poor Conditions of Palestinian Christians Due to the Muslim Majority

The Palestinian Christian community also faces pressures related to the Muslim majority inside the territories as cited above.  These factors also contribute to Palestinian Christians leaving the West Bank.

Let us not forget that Christian communities throughout the Middle East are decreasing.  However, the Palestinian Christian narrative fails to focus on persecution they experience from Muslims.  When confronted with the duress they experience from the Palestinian Authority or Muslim extremists, they blame the Israeli occupation for the “radicalization of Muslims.” No matter what the narrative of the Palestinian Christian, they are out to demonize Israel for their problems.

The Questionable Data Used to Verify the Shrinking Palestinian Christian Population

Then there is always the reality of faulty calculations in reporting changes in the Palestinian population.  Once again, I quote from the JCPA report:

There are many complexities in analyzing changes in the Palestinian Christian population.  First, the data are scarce. The PA either doe snot collect or doe snot broadly report information related to the Christian population. Second, demographic data are often inconsistent in how they treat cities and regions. Third, some data have been misreported in the past. These unsubstantiated data have been used in subsequent, inaccurate, analysis.

The JCPA report even states the PA Prime Minister reported that “data from 2009 indicates that for the first time in years, more Palestinians are returning than leaving.”

In the JCPA all the references for these statements are accurately provided. Many charts and graphs related to population growth among Christians in the Holy Land are included. In contrast, CBS’ Bob Simon failed to refer to any studies or reports from Palestinian Christian sources. He only relied on his “cleric on the street” interviews. The fact Simon did not provide any figures from the PA on the alleged shrinking Palestinian Christian population says it all. He was out to demonize Israel and he ignored any contrary evidence to his major premise that “occupation” is causing Palestinian Christian to leave the Holy Land.

Here’s the bottom line: Christians in America are being exposed to a steady stream of propaganda by Palestinian Christians aimed to convince the evangelical world to reject Israel as a legitimate state and to jettison their beliefs that the return of the Jews to the Promised Land is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

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