The period between Christmas and New Year’s is a time of reflection, and as thousands of Christians make their way to the Holy Land, they should be fully aware of our true situation. As a Middle Eastern Christian, I would like to inform you that, while Muslim leaders have tried to convince the West that Christians are doing well, quite the opposite is true. Furthermore, having been born and raised in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, I am certain that Israel is the only country in the region where Christians are thriving.
This might come as a surprise, due to a recent letter by Church leaders condemning US President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem. Again, the truth is much more complicated. Christians in the Middle East, including in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, are under enormous pressure from Muslim leaders. In recent years, the Christian community across the region has suffered from the rise of Jihadi extremists.
Take, for instance, the hundreds of thousands of displaced Christians from Syria and Iraq. Or the slaughter of Copts in Egypt. The same is also true in the West Bank. Just recently, a Palestinian terrorist embarked on a vehicular ramming attack in the Christian town of Beit Jala, wounding 18 people and demolishing 41 vehicles. I heard first-hand that the assailant’s declared goal was “to cleanse the infidels.” The Palestinian Authority (PA), who has the man in custody, released a false statement disregarding these charges and downplayed the incident, saying he was “disturbed.” This is just one more example of how the PA is disguising the danger that its Christian residents face from the rise of Islamic ideology in its midst.
It is then unsurprising that across the Holy Land, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, so many of his followers are escaping to the West. They are on the run from life-threatening danger imposed by radical Islamists. And close to home, many Christians are leaving the PA, despite what its leaders are saying. They exploit the local Christian minority for their own political goals. They speak as if Christians are treated with equality and respect, but this is only a mirage. The Christian exodus from Palestinian cities, including Bethlehem, is evidence of their maltreatment and their feelings of insecurity.
However, I am happy to report that there is one place in the Middle East where Christians are truly thriving — Israel. The Christian community in Israel continues to grow in numbers. Christians in Israel enjoy economic prosperity, independent educational systems that produce some of the country’s most successful schools, a great health system, and full civil rights. It is for this reason that a growing number of Christians choose to enlist in the Israel Defense Force, study, and live here.
We, the Israeli-Christian minority in Israel, are proud of the way our country treats and respects our faith and culture. I know this to be true, because together with my colleagues, both Christian and Jewish, we have the privilege of assisting dozens of my community members to integrate into the general Israeli society. By providing scholarships and mentoring, we alleviate this process for many young Christians. However, none of this work is possible without the desire of these young men and women to do so. So, I say to all the pilgrims, I hope you will see on your visit that, while Christians across the region are looking outward for a better future, here in Israel they are looking inward.
Elias Zarina is a resident of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. He co-founder and spokesperson for the Brotherly Covenant Association, an organization dedicated to the social integration of the Christian minority in Israel.