Out of a population of some 150,000 Christians living in Israel, only 10 percent live in Israel’s capital city. The number is substantially lower than the 31,000 Christians who lived in the holy city before the end of the British Mandate in 1948.
The Leaving Stones
Only 10 days ago, Pope Benedict XVI completed a visit to Jerusalem, which was aimed to draw attention to the difficult situation of the Christian-Arab communities in the Holy Land.
“The main fear of the Church leadership is that local Christian communities, which are sometimes called the ‘leaving stones,’ will disappear,” and that the holy sites will be turned into museums with no supporting community,” explains Dr. Amnon Ramon, an expert on the Christian community at the JIIS.
“The decline of the Christian community started at the beginning of the 20th century and has continued since then.”
“I believe that this is a great loss for the city,” Ramon says. ”It is bad for both Israeli and Palestinians as the Christian-Arab population has always acted as a bridge between East and West."
Ramon added that Christianity had always played a major role in Jerusalem.
“Christianity, even more than Judaism, has publicized the name of Jerusalem, and gave the city an international dimension,” says Ramon. “The richness of more than 12 Christian communities in the city is a great tourism resource, but it will get lost if it won’t be supported by a live community.”
According to Ramon, the Christian community hasn’t recovered from the defeat of Arab states in 1948. Many of the Christian-Arabs emigrated after the war to nearby Jordan and overseas, mainly to the U.S., Canada and South America. The vast majority of the rest of the non-Arab Christian population left as well.
The number fell to 4.1% in 1967 before the Six Day War and continued to decline due to increased emigration and low fertility rates. Today, the Christian community is only comprised of 15,000 people, including some 2,600 foreigners, mainly monks and clergymen.
The Christian community is also suffering from internal division. The majority (25%) are Catholic (4,500), while the rest are Greek Orthodox (3,500), Armenian (1,500), Protestant (850), and others.
The figures are part of the Annual Jerusalem Statistical Book published by the JIIS and appear on the new Website of the institution:
The JIIS has invested heavily in the site in an attempt to turn it into a major source of information about the holy city for policymakers, diplomats, journalists and others who need the most up-to-date information about Jerusalem.
Some of the major figures for 2008 in the report:
• The general population of Jerusalem includes 760,800 residents, 10% of Israel’s overall population.
• Jewish and non-Arab population accounts for 65% of the overall population (492,400) with Arabs accounting for some 268,400.
• The Jewish population increased by 1.8% last year, with the Jewish population rising by 1.8% and the Arab by some 3%.
• If the current trends continue Jerusalem will lose its Jewish majority by 2035.
The full report in English can be found on JIIS site at http://www.jiis.org/
About the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies
The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, an independent, non-profit organization which aims to act as a bridge between the academic and the practical, was founded in 1978. It maintains a balance of highly qualified academics and practitioners, and provides a constant flow of relevant, accurate and in-depth data, policy papers and professional analyses for use by decision-makers, researchers and the general public. Its studies serve as a valuable resource for a variety of governmental bodies, public institutions and civil organizations.
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