The Real Root of the Christian Exodus

With his recent segment for 60 Minutes, CBS News reporter Bob Simon has once again stoked the perennial debate over why so many native Palestinian Christians have been leaving the Holy Land in recent decades. Sadly, he addressed this important issue with a very superficial brand of journalism. The report relied mainly on one local Palestinian cleric – notorious Israel-basher Rev. Mitri Raheb – to single out the “Israeli occupation” as the scapegoat for this Christian flight. There was no need to dig deeper, since Simon knew the report was sure to be a sensation from the moment Israeli ambassador Dr. Michael Oren caught wind of the production and intervened with his bosses at CBS News.

If Bob Simon had truly wanted to know why Arab Christians have been fleeing in droves from Palestinian areas, he should have asked those émigrés now living in Toronto, Sydney and Santiago. Because that is where the majority of Palestinian Christians now reside – in dispersed communities in Canada, Chile, Australia, Germany, the United States and elsewhere.

The disturbing truth is that more than 60% of the Arab Christians born in Palestinian areas over the past several generations now live abroad. Yet the same holds true for Lebanese Christians, as a similar 60% of their beleaguered community now live in foreign lands.

Indeed, there has been a widening Christian exodus from all the surrounding Arab countries, with Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christian community collapsing from 1.5 million to as few as 250,000 since the Second Gulf War commenced in 2003. The Coptic Church in Egypt is also losing tens of thousands of parishioners in the wake of the Arab Spring.

So it is indisputable that Arab Christians are fleeing all across the Middle East, and surely the Israeli occupation is not to blame. Rather, this flight has been primarily due to local conflicts and the rise of Islamic militancy, as noted by Ambassador Oren, and the Palestinian Christians are no exception to this trend. The lone exception, in fact, happens to be the state of Israel, the only place in the entire region where Arab Christians are growing in number and are afforded their democratic rights.

Still, some Palestinian clerics insist that Muslims and Christians would co-exist in perfect harmony if not for the Jews and their settlements. That, sadly, is a living portrait of a people in denial. How else to explain that Palestinian Christian flight from the Holy Land predates the “occupation” by decades?

For instance, the last British census in 1948 recorded 29,000 Arab Christians living in Jerusalem, while the first Israeli census in eastern Jerusalem in 1967 found only 11,000. That means two-thirds of the Arab Christian population had fled during the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem.

The real root of the current exodus actually lies in the historic interplay between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East ever since the Islamic conquests began in the seventh century. The region’s Christians and Jews became dhimmis – suppressed minorities living under Muslim dominance. They could keep their faith but had to accept second-class status. To survive, both communities adopted a code of silence which dictated that they never challenge the system nor say anything bad about Islam in public.

This system of dhimmitude basically held until modern times. The Crusades may have brought temporary relief for some Christians, but only terror for the Jews.

When Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the dynamic finally began to change. The Great Powers of Europe moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations. Western missionaries also brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions. With their better education and job skills, Arab Christians became more mobile and many began to migrate to the West to escape the prison of Islam. Thus the modern-day Christian exodus began.

Meanwhile, the Zionist movement arose with a dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty back in their ancient homeland. Israel’s emergence in 1948 challenged the system of Muslim dominance over Christians and Jews, an achievement the Arab world has never truly accepted.

For many Christians in the Middle East, the rebirth of Israel actually stands as a light and model of freedom from Muslim tyranny. But for Palestinian Christians, the conflict that seeks to destroy the Jewish state has been too close for comfort. They are powerless to end it and struggling to survive.

Thus many Palestinian Christian leaders have taken to patriotically waving the flag of Palestinian nationalism higher than even their Muslim neighbors, in the hope such loyalty to the cause will safeguard their flocks. They rail against the Israeli occupation and the settlements as the reason for their dwindling presence. The checkpoints and security barrier may create hardships for them, but it is not the core reason why proud Christian families who have weathered many turbulent centuries here are now pulling up roots.

We must all understand that they are employing an ancient survival mechanism ingrained through centuries of Muslim oppression. Unable to name the real culprit, Palestinian Christians often deflect Muslim anger away from themselves by directing it at the Jews. Meantime, Ambassador Oren is giving voice to the very things they cannot say.


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Sixty-three Years Since Israel Was Born

Dear Friends,

The modern state of Israel has reached 63 years of age. This is nothing short of a miracle, because she is actually an ancient nation which has been restored and achieved unbelievable successes in just a short a time and in the face of many wars aimed at her demise. Israel’s existence is clear evidence of God’s faithfulness to His promises given to Abraham some 4000 years ago. So we salute Israel today and rejoice with her, but we also weep with those who have fallen in her defence. Most of all we know her future is secure because God watches over her day and night! Thus the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem congratulates the people of Israel on this, their 63rd national Day of Independence.

On this momentous occasion, we are also proud to announce the launch of an updated version of our global ministry’s website, redesigned and greatly enhanced so that together we all can be better equipped to take our stand with Israel. The new site provides closer integration with our worldwide network of branches and informs you of more ways to get involved with Israel and the ICEJ.

Shalom from Jerusalem!

Malcolm Hedding
Executive Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Israel at 63: Some interesting facts

  • As Israel marks its 63rd Independence Day, the population has grown to approximately 7,746,000 residents. At the time of the establishment of the State, it numbered 806,000 residents.
  • This includes approximately 5,837,000 Jewish residents (75.3%); 1,587,000 Arab residents (20.5%); and 322,000 (4.2%) other non-Jewish residents.
  • Since last Independence Day, approximately 178,000 babies were born, and 24,500 immigrants arrived in Israel. Factoring in departures and deaths, the total population of Israel has grown by about 155,000 residents, up 2.0% from last year.
  • In 1948 there was only one city in Israel with more than 100,000 residents – Tel Aviv. Today, 14 cities number more than 100,000 residents, of which six number more than 200,000 residents: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon LeZion, Ashdod, and Petah Tikva.

The Struggle Within the Dream

By David Parsons, ICEJ Media Director

As Israelis prepare to celebrate the 63rd Anniversary of the nation’s rebirth in May 1948, many will think back longingly to when the Jewish State marked fifty years of modern independence.  Those were heady days, when the Oslo process still filled many with hope that the long search for peace with their Arab neighbours was about to bear lasting fruit. In his keynote address at the official ceremonies for Israel’s 50th birthday, then-US Vice President Al Gore struck heart chords with his reference to the Patriarch Jacob who – like Israel today – had to endure the “struggle within the dream”....

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The Struggle Within the Dream

As Israelis prepare to celebrate the 63rd Anniversary of the nation’s rebirth in May 1948, many will think back longingly to when the Jewish State marked fifty years of modern independence.  Those were heady days, when the Oslo process still filled many with hope that the long search for peace with their Arab neighbours was about to bear lasting fruit. In his keynote address at the official ceremonies for Israel’s 50th birthday, then-US Vice President Al Gore struck heart chords with his reference to the Patriarch Jacob who – like Israel today – had to endure the “struggle within the dream”.

Indeed after two thousand years of exile culminated with the Holocaust, the Zionist movement’s objective of restoring the scattered Jewish people to their historic homeland in Eretz Israel still seemed like a distant dream. But it also was a noble dream whose time had come. And so the world held its breath on 14 May 1948 when provisional leader David Ben Gurion declared the founding of the new state of Israel on its ancient soil.

In its Declaration of Independence, he recited the religious, historical and moral bases for reconstituting the Jewish commonwealth. The vision was to revive a nation that in ages past had “created cultural values of national and universal significance, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books”.

Israeli's dancing the "hora"“To build and be built”, vowed the early Zionist pioneers. The re-born Jewish State would seek to bring together the gifts and skills of a talented but battered people that – despite the millennia of wanderings – had still managed to “bless” the world in so many ways. Their collective energies could once again contribute so much more to the benefit of humanity.

Pursuing this dream, the small but determined nation of Israel has produced scientific, medical and technological advances far beyond her size and natural resources. Innovative agricultural techniques have reclaimed wastelands and caused the desert to blossom like a rose (Isaiah 35:1). In more recent times, she has been at the cutting edge of the high-tech revolution, and drawn some of the largest global companies to open research and development branches here that are vital to their competitive success. Once again, Israel is inspiring the world.

Within this dream, however, there is a difficult struggle. In its first three decades, Israel faced an existential threat from conventional Arab armies, fuelled largely by the ideology of pan-Arab nationalism, as championed by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. This militantly secular ideology held that the Arab nations were actually one language, culture, land and people that had been artificially carved up by the Western powers. The Zionist movement in particular had planted an alien entity in the heart of this pan-Arab nation, effectively splitting it in two. It was a ‘cancer’ that had to be forcefully removed for the Arab peoples to realise their own destiny, and a series of wars were launched to that end.

Yet a young and vulnerable Israel somehow mustered the strength to withstand the onslaughts. Each time – in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 – the IDF took the battle to enemy territory and away from the country’s civilian population. Its bold military doctrine demanded that the commanders lead the citizen army into the front lines. Ordinary men like Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon became living legends. Some Arab states like Egypt and Jordan finally realised they could not defeat Israel on the battlefield and decided to make peace with her.

But then a new and even greater peril to Israel’s existence emerged. Over the past 30 years, the nation has faced the scourge of suicide terrorism and the growing threat of missile arsenals potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction. The new ideology driving her adversaries is radical Islamism, which preaches the unity of the same Arabic peoples but under a religious banner promising a new ‘Golden Age’ for Islam that will be heralded by the eradication of the same ‘cancerous’ Israel.

Yet the region in which Israel lives is notoriously unpredictable and recent months have witnessed unprecedented waves of political protests seeking to throw out long-serving Arab rulers. Some forecast these oppressive regimes will be replaced by democratic leaders, while others predict more of the same military-backed dictators or even worse – radical Islamists.

How well Israel confronts the daunting challenge ahead will affect her own course as well as the entire world in the years to come. Her people have proven resilient and resourceful. They are being forced to live in a bubble of security barriers and anti-missile defence systems, but still the dream carries them onward. We can take encouragement that the Bible promises the destiny of this long journey is not Israel’s annihilation, but rather her ultimate redemption in God.


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