The land where Jesus Christ himself lived on earth is not an easy place to be a Christian. Competing claims to the territory mean that it has long been a site of violent uprisings and instability. Believers in the Holy Land may experience hostility both from ultra-Orthodox Jews and from Palestinian Muslims.
Christians make up just 2% of the population of Israel, and are sometimes made to feel unwelcome by ultra-Orthodox Jews. At least 17 Christian sites have been vandalised in the last three years; two were daubed with slogans insulting Jesus Christ. Church leaders, nuns and seminary students in Jerusalem’s Old City are almost daily subjected to abuse by ultra-Orthodox youths. Messianic Jews are particularly vulnerable to harassment.
Around 52,000 Christians live in the Palestinian territories. Christians in Gaza, who are thought to number only about a thousand, have been under Hamas’ Islamist yoke since 2007. Whilst they are officially tolerated, they are subject to discrimination and threats by Muslim extremist vigilante groups. And Christian schools in Gaza are now vulnerable to closure, since Hamas banned co-educational institutions in 2013.
Conditions in the West Bank are also difficult, mainly owing to continued economic decline and societal discrimination against Christians. In the 1950s, 90% of Bethlehem’s population were Christian, but today, the Christian population is estimated at only 30%. The economy of Bethlehem is heavily dependent on the tourist trade, but after the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) began in 2000, tourist numbers dropped. Many Christians were employed in the tourist trade and therefore lost their jobs.