Christians living in the Holy Land are a community with a future more vulnerable than it needs to be - challenged by violence, migration and lack of investment, a new study reveals.
Researchers discovered that the Christian community in Israel, Jordan and Palestine makes a wide-ranging contribution to building civil society, new start-ups, excellence in education and in health and other humanitarian sectors.
However they also found major concerns that, especially in Israel, an unfair visa system and lack of benefits may undermine recruitment and retention of clergy that the churches need to continue building the communities and life of the Holy Land.
Experts found that Christians reported mistreatment on religious grounds and feel threatened by abusive behaviour - for example, increasing grievance among Palestinian Muslims increased the risk of verbal and physical attacks against minority Palestinian Christian communities.
An absence of adequate data tracking and addressing Christian poverty was also undermining the community in Israel and the government’s claims to be improving in this area, whilst anecdotal and informal evidence of increasing poverty suggested its rapid increase.
University of Birmingham experts worked with counterparts at the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre (ICoHS) - publishing their findings today in the report ’Defeating Minority Exclusion and Unlocking Potential: Christianity in the Holy Land’.
Professor Francis Davis from the University of Birmingham’s Edward Cadbury Centre , commented: "Christianity in the Holy Land is globally and diplomatically significant because of its position at the heart of the region, but its economic, social and civic value for the people of the Holy Land have been massively underestimated.
"This contribution is disproportionate to the size of Christian communities, yet they are at grave risk - from war, inter-religious and ethnic conflict, constraints on international investment, and fears of economic and legal constraint provoked by migration. Their future is more vulnerable than it needs to be."
The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Further research into the cultural, economic, and civic contribution of Christians in the Holy Land and the value added by them and those offering and providing international support;
- A new programme of education, briefing and information in the Holy Land, UK, US, and Australia to increase understanding and engagement with the Christian communities’ contribution;
- Religious, government and civil society organisations should meet to explore how to reduce attacks on Christian Communities.
- Working with high-tech businesses in London, Cambridge and California to explore skills and mentoring swaps between Christian and sympathetic executives;
- Ongoing international parliamentary scrutiny should encourage particular attention to the role of city and town leaders in Israel in supporting Christian charities; and
- Exploring with the Israeli government how it can regularly publish departmental performance data relating to Christian communities.
Drawing on government data, desk research, bespoke fieldwork, interviews and other sources, the report focusses on helping all those concerned with the Holy Land’s well-being, pointing to the dangers that might emerge if support for Christian communities were to be diluted.