Israel’s Christian community is growing, 84% satisfied with life here – report

Pre-Christmas study finds high education levels, contrasts with warnings from Church leaders that ‘radical’ Israeli groups are driving Christians from Holy Land

People gather around the giant Christmas tree outside the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Israel's northern city of Nazareth on December 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
People gather around the giant Christmas tree outside the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Israel's northern city of Nazareth on December 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Israel’s Christian community grew by 1.4 percent in 2020 and numbers some 182,000 people, with 84% saying they were satisfied with life in the country, the Central Bureau of Statistics said in a report released ahead of Christmas.

The report, released Tuesday, came several days after Christian leaders in the Holy Land warned that their communities are under threat of being driven from the region by extremist Israeli groups, and called for dialogue on preserving their presence.

However, the statistics released by the CBS painted a different picture, indicating the community was growing and prospering, with particularly high tertiary education rates compared to the rest of the population.

According to the CBS, Christians make up about 1.9% of Israel’s population and grew by 1.4% in 2020.

Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population, and 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab. The largest Arab Christian population centers in Israel are Nazareth (21,400), Haifa (16,500) and Jerusalem (12,900).

Among non-Arab Christians, the majority lived in the Tel Aviv area.

The statistics revealed that Arab Christian women had some of the highest education rates in the country.

People enjoy a Christmas festival at the New Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, December 16, 2021. ( Nati Shohat/Flash90)

It showed that 53.1% of Arab Christians and 35.4% of non-Arab Christians went on to get a bachelor’s degree after finishing high school, compared to 34% of the total number of high school graduates in the Arab school system and 47.2% of all high school graduates in Hebrew education.

“The proportion of women among the Christian students was higher than the women’s proportion among the total number of students in all degrees and particularly in advanced degrees: 64.1% and 53.2%, respectively, of those studying for a PhD, and 72.9% and 63.8%, respectively, of those studying for a master’s degree,” the report found.

The report also found lower numbers of Christians signing up for unemployment benefits compared to the Jewish and Muslim populations.

According to the CBS, 84% of Christians are satisfied with their life: 24% answered “very satisfied” and 60% were “satisfied.”

Other details released in the report included that 803 Christian couples married in Israel in 2019 with the average age for the first marriage of Christian grooms at 30.3, and that of Christian brides at 26.7.

In 2020, 2,497 babies were born to Christian women, with an average of 2.04 children per family.

The findings present a contrast to recent statements by Christian leaders.

Fr. Francesco Patton, the Catholic Church’s Custos of the Holy Land and guardian of the Christian holy places in the Holy Land, wrote in an opinion piece published Saturday by the UK’s Daily Telegraph that “our presence is precarious and our future is at risk.”

An American pilgrim walks to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nov. 30, 2021(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Last week, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem issued a joint statement similarly warning of the danger posed by radical groups they said are aiming at “diminishing the Christian presence.”

Patton wrote that in recent years, the lives of many Christians have been made “unbearable by radical local groups with extremist ideologies.”

“It seems that their aim is to free the Old City of Jerusalem from its Christian presence, even the Christian quarter,” he said.

Holy sites, including churches, have been desecrated and vandalized, while offenses have been committed against priests, monks and worshipers, Patton charged.

“These radical groups do not represent the government or the people of Israel. But as with any extremist faction, a radical minority can too easily burden the lives of many, especially if their activities go unchecked and their crimes are unpunished.”

Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, Guardian of the Christian Holy Places in the Holy Land on behalf of the Catholic Church (Courtesy)

Patton wrote that whereas the Christians were once 20% of Jerusalem’s population, today they are less than 2%. He issued an appeal to the world for support “so that we can continue to preserve the rich diversity of this Holy Land.”

More warnings came from Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in a joint article written with the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, published in the UK’s Sunday Times. They said the article was prompted by the statement last week from the Jerusalem churches, which Welby, in a tweet, called “an unprecedented statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem about the future of Christians in the Holy Land.”

In their article, Welby and Naoum wrote that there is a “concerted attempt to intimidate and drive” away Christians.

The archbishops said that the increase in Israeli settler communities, coupled by the restrictions on movement posed by the security barrier Israel built to stymie terror attacks from the West Bank, had “deepened the isolation of Christian villages.”

As a result, the two wrote, there is “a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere.”

The archbishops’ article drew a protest from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which focused on some of the assertions they made as to what is causing the waning of Christian presence in Israel.

Board president Marie van der Zyl wrote a letter to Welby in which she expressed “great regret” at his published remarks and called for a meeting to discuss “deeply troubling” aspects of his article, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

Stuart Weiner contributed to this report

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