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How many Christians remain in the Middle East?
a. The largest Christian community of the Middle East is found in Egypt, which has ten to twelve million Copts. This Christian group comprises 1/5 to 1/6 of the country's population. Egypt is also a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid, despite blatant violations of religious freedom which occurs weekly in this country.
b. The Southern Sudanese are about six million. Christians are the largest monotheist group.
c. The Christians of Lebanon: about 1.5 million still reside there and more than 6 million live in the diaspora, including about a quarter of that number in the United States. Among the Lebanese Christians, the largest group is the Maronites, which are Catholics which follow Rome. Other smaller religious entities include the Melkites and Orthodox Christians.
d. The Assyro-Chaldeans: Around one million in Iraq with large concentrations in the Kurdish zone.
e. The Christians of Syria: About 1.2 million including Aramaics, Armenians, Melkites and Orthodox.
f. There are small but significant Christian communities in other countries such as Iran, Jordan, Israel, and less significant in Turkey, Algeria. By law there are no Christians in Saudi Arabia.
What has been the situation for Christians in Israel/Palestine?
In the last census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel in 1967 (after the Six Day War) showed just 11,000 Christians remaining in the city. This means that some 17,000 Christians (or 61%) left during the days of King Hussein's rule over Jerusalem. Their place was filled by Muslim Arabs from Hebron.
During the British mandate period, Bethlehem had a Christian majority of 80%. Today, under Palestinian rule, it has a Muslim majority of 80%.
Few Christians remain in the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank. Those who can - emigrate, and there will soon be virtually no Christians in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas. The Palestinian Authority is trying to conceal the fact of massive Christian emigration from areas under its control.
from PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS (Prime Minister's Office) November, 1997
As a result of unceasing persecution, the Christians are forced to behave like any oppressed minority which aims to survive. Christians in PA-controlled areas have taken to praying in secret. The wisdom of survival compels them to assess the "balance of fear", according to which they have nothing to fear from Israel but face an existential threat from the Palestinian Authority and their Muslim neighbours.
They act accordingly: they seek to "find favour" through unending praise and adulation for the Muslim ruler together with public denunciations of the "Zionist entity."
Middle East Digest - Nov/Dec 1997
Time magazine (April 23, 1990): "After years of relative harmony, friction between Christians and their fellow-Arabs [in the disputed territories] has intensified sharply with the rise of Muslim fundamentalism." (Time went on to cite various examples of Muslims pressuring Christian Arabs).
The Jerusalem Post (May 2, 1991): "Muslim activists have been trying to convert Bethlehem, home of some of Christianity's holiest sites and once predominantly Christian, into a Muslim town. In contrast to the world-wide fuss over the purchase of a hostel in Jerusalem's 'Christian Quarter' by Jews, this steady and often violent encroachment has met with a thunderous silence in the Christian world. The pattern of increased violence has been unmistakable. Last December 21, a school for nuns was torched. During the first week in March, there was an attempt to break through the wall of the Carmelite monastery, followed by a break-in at a Christian school. On March 3 vandals desecrated Bethlehem's Greek Orthodox cemetery, removing crosses and disinterring and mutilating corpses..."
La Terra Sancta (A Vatican publication, dated 1991): "The Christians are abandoning the Middle East... [although] the Jewish presence has alarmed the Arabs... more than anything else, the commercial, cultural and technological contacts of recent years have caused a confrontation between Western civilisation and Middle Eastern culture, or, as is commonly known, Islamic culture against Judeo-Christian."
The Jerusalem Post (May 6, 1994): In April 1994, Israel's Hebrew press reported that Christian Arabs had accused activists of Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO of harassing Franciscan nuns in the Aida convent near Bethlehem. One nun described as a "reign of terror" the behaviour of the activists, who allegedly regularly invaded the convent, vandalised graves, destroyed equipment and painted graffiti.
CNN (December 20, 1995): "Today, Bethlehem is a predominantly Muslim town. At Friday prayers, they spill into Manger Square [the traditional site of Jesus' birth], so crowded are the mosques. Christians complain they're publicly harassed and harangued for their faith. The Christian cemetery has been desecrated and vandalised... this Christian boy said the Muslims are fascists, bad people. Muslim families of 10 and 12 children leave smaller Christian families awash in an Islamic sea, afraid they will be overwhelmed by the refugee camps and Muslim villages around Bethlehem. Many of the town's Christians are afraid to talk openly now."
The Times (London, December 22, 1997): "Life in [PA-ruled] Bethlehem has become insufferable for many members of the dwindling Christian minority. Increasing Muslim-Christian tensions have left some Christians reluctant to celebrate Christmas in the town at the heart of the story of Christ's birth".
What can we do to help these Christians?
"only a Jewish-Christian alliance will be able to ensure the survival for both the Jews and the Christians in the Middle East"
- Professor Walid Phares, president of the World Lebanese Organisation
Fighting for their survival - A Christian Exodus from the Arab World
By Amira El Ahl, Daniel Steinvorth, Volkhard Windfuhr and Bernhard Zand
Violence, terrorism and the Islamists' growing influence pose a threat to Christianity in the Middle East. In some countries, members of an unpopular Christian minority are already fighting for their survival -- or fleeing for their lives.
In New Baghdad, the driver of a minibus, a Shiite named Ali, set out at 7 a.m. on the last Sunday before Christmas. A few hours earlier he had received a call on his mobile phone with instructions to pick up five passengers for a long trip outside the city. His first passenger, he had been told, would tell him who the other passengers were and what their destination would be. He was also told not to mention a word to anyone.
The first passenger was a 24-year-old man named Raymon, who was sitting on his suitcase a few blocks away. He directed Ali through the city's dreary east side, where having a Shiite as a driver is a smart move -- first to the Karrada district, where Amir and Fariz boarded the bus, and then to Selakh, where Wassim and Qarram were waiting. By 9 a.m., Ali had picked up all of his passengers and the bus left Baghdad and began traveling to the northeast -- for the 350-kilometre (218-mile) journey to Kurdistan, the only part of Iraq that is anything close to safe.
The five young men traveling in Ali's red Kia were the last seminary students at the Chaldean Catholic Babel College to leave Baghdad. Four priests have been abducted since mid-August, and two others were murdered. Father Sami, the director of the seminary, was kidnapped in early December. The community managed to raise $75,000 to buy his freedom, but after hesitating for weeks, Emmanuel III, the Chaldean patriarch, decided to withdraw the teaching institutions of his community from Baghdad. He ordered the evacuation of the city's four Catholic churches, the Hurmis monastery and the college in the city's Dura neighbourhood, but chose to remain behind in the city as the lonely shepherd of a rapidly shrinking congregation.
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