Palestinian Christians dwindling in number due to political situation
Senior Palestianian churchmen blame Israel, the US, and Germany
Church representatives from Palestine in Dublin yesterday. From left: Canon Naim Ateek, Archbishop Theodosius Hanna and the Rev Fr Peter Madros. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Since the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948 at least 35 per cent of Palestinian Christians had left the Holy Land, a senior Palestinian churchman said in Dublin yesterday. “It has been the greatest de-Christianising influence there since the Ottomans,” Fr Peter Madros of the Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarchate of Jerusalem said yesterday.
“In 1945 there were 32,000 Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, now it’s 10,000 to 11,000,” said Rev Dr Naim Stifan Ateek, Canon Emeritus of St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem.
Archbishop of Sebastia,Theodosios Atallah Hanna, of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchiate of Jerusalem, pointed out “we are different [Christian] denominations but all Palestinians. We’ve suffered a loss of freedom and injustice that has led to the exile of many Palestinians.”
He described the decline of the Palestinian Christian community to between 1 and 2 per cent of the population as “a disaster not only for Palestinian Christians but for all Palestinians.” The three churchmen are members of a delegation that arrived in Ireland a week ago on a trip sponsored by the Sadaka group. It supports “a peaceful settlement in Palestine/Israel based on the principles of democracy and justice, be that in two states or in one state.”
Fr Madros said “the unconditional support of America [for Israel] hurts us most. It wounds us most”.
This isolation was “an additional injustice” where Palestinian Christians were concerned, he said, “as nobody in the Holy Land can survive without support from abroad.”
Rev Dr Ateek said that within Israel Christians were being treated “as second-class citizens.”
At “almost at every level of life there is discrimination,” against Christians, he said. “The word ‘apartheid’ has been used by some Israeli activists,” he added. Fr Madros said “the Christian faith and its symbols is the most frequently attacked in the Israeli mass media”.
Since their arrival in Ireland the churchmen have had an informal meeting with the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs. They’ve also met Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, his Church of Ireland counterpart Archbishop Michael Jackson, and the Catholic Bishop of Down and Conor Noel Traenor.
Yesterday they met officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs where they discussed the labelling of goods produced by Jewish settlers in Palestine.
They have also been encouraging “an economic boycott of everything produced by the occupation”.
The delegation returns to Palestine tomorrow.