Photo Credit: Flash 90
Pope Francis greets crowds in Bethlehem in 2014.

Christian communities around the Islamic world have been on the defensive for centuries, nowhere more so than in the Holy Land. The Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in __ ushered in an extended period of persecution in the city, a period that arguably ended with Israel’s return to the Old City in 1967. 

Today, there is no quarter of the Islamic world in which Christians are not an endangered species – both in terms of waning numbers and of the threats against churches and Christian faithful. In Egypt, attacks on Christian groups occur regularly and have killed hundreds of people in recent years. Same for Nigeria, where the most recent blast by Fulani Muslims wiped out more than 100 innocents. Since 2012, Muslims have massacred Christians in no less than 18 countries around the world on at least two occasions, from Norway, England and the United States in the West to Syria, Iraq, Indonesia and other countries on the other side of the globe. 


In Israel, too, Christian communities around the country have callen victim to Muslim attacks, most recently in the town of al-Khader, next door to Bethlehem, when group of Muslims attacked a church, injuring seven worshippers. As a result, the Christian population has dropped in formerly majority-Christian cities around the country.

In Bethlehem, Christiandom’s holiest spot in Israel, the city’s Christian community has dropped from 80 percent of the population in 1995, at the birth of the Palestinian Authority, to about 30 percent today. In Nazareth, Christians say they feel threatened by the city’s growing – and increasingly hostile – Muslim population: There, too, the city’s Christian population has plummeted from 60 percent of the population on the eve of Israel’s birth to just 30 percent today. 

In Jerusalem, the 1922 British census found 15,000 Christians in the city over versus 13,000); today, they number under 2 percent of the city’s population. In the words of one Nazareth shop owner: “Most Christians will leave as soon as we can sell our houses and shops. We can’t live among these people [Muslims] anymore.”

Given those numbers it might come as a surprise to some readers to know that tensions between Muslims and Christians in Israel is yet another notch on Israel’s belt of anti-Arab aggression, at least according to a Lebanese paper. 

The headline in the Beirut Daily Star says it all: “Israel trying to sow sectarian discord ahead of pope visit.” As proof, the paper accuses Israel of  planning to transfer the David’s Tomb compound, located outside the Old City on Mount Zion, to Vatican control (as a side note, the paper accuses Israel of “occupying” the site in 1948, not 1967) in order to create tension between the Catholic Church and the Dajani family, the local Arab family that has served as custodian of the site since the 16th century. 

Jews revere the site the traditional burial place of King David. To Christians, the building is the traditional site of the Last Supper; as such, Pope Francis is scheduled to serve Mass at the site tomorrow (Monday). It is not clear what the Muslim historical or religious connection to the site is. 

In recent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has repeatedly assured Jewish leaders that Israel would not transfer sovereignty to the Vatican. 

Moving to harm relations

Furthermore, the Mr Dajani seems not to understand that the Vatican and the Catholic Church are synonomous. “Rather than an attempt to placate the Catholic Church, Israel is considering giving the Vatican control of the site in an effort to sow discord between Christians and Muslims,” Dajani, wold with The Daily Star. 

Dajani continued to claim that Muslims have “never had any problem as far as religion is concerned, and stressed the threat that Muslim-Christian unity presents to the Israeli “occupiers.” “You know, Israel is very, very angry that Christians and Muslims are unified,” Dajani said.



  1. GREATER ISRAEL: Coming to the Middle East soon!!! In reality, the 12 tribes of Israel (Ancient Israelites) have maintained ties to their historic homeland for more than 3,700 years. A national language and a distinct civilization have been maintained. The Philistines were an Aegean people – more closely related to the Greeks and with no connection ethnically, linguisticly or historically with Arabia – who conquered in the 12th Century BCE the Mediterranean coastal plain that is now Israel and Gaza. A derivitave of the name “Palestine” first appears in Greek literature in the 5th Century BCE when the historian Herodotus called the area “Palaistinē” (Greek – Παλαιστίνη).

    In the 2nd century CE, the Romans crushed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132 CE), during which Jerusalem and Judea were regained and the area of Judea was renamed Palaestina in an attempt to minimize Israelites identification with the land of Israel. The Twelve Tribes of Israel formed the first constitutional monarchy in Palestine about 1000 B.C. The second king, David, first made Jerusalem the nation’s capital. Although eventually Palestine was split into two separate kingdoms, Ancient Israelites independence there lasted for 212 years. This is almost as long as Americans have enjoyed independence in what has become known as the United States.

    Even after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the beginning of the exile, Jewish life in Palestine continued and often flourished. Large communities were reestablished in Jerusalem and Tiberias by the ninth century. In the 11th century, Jewish communities grew in Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea.

    Many 12 tribes of Israel (Ancient Israelites) were massacred by the Crusaders during the 12th century, but the community rebounded in the next two centuries as large numbers of rabbis and Israelites pilgrims immigrated to Jerusalem and the Galilee. Prominent rabbis established communities in Safed, Jerusalem and elsewhere during the next 300 years. By the early 19th century-years before the birth of the modern Zionist movement-more than 10,000 Israelite survivors lived throughout what is today Israel.

    When Israelite’ survivors began to immigrate to Palestine in large numbers in 1882, fewer than 250,000 Arabs lived there, and the majority of them had arrived in recent decades. Palestine was never an exclusively Arab country, although Arabic gradually became the language of most the population after the Muslim invasions of the seventh century. No independent Arab or Palestinian state ever existed in Palestine. When the distinguished Arab-American historian, Princeton University Prof. Philip Hitti, testified against partition before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946, he said: “There is no such thing as ‘Palestine’ in history, absolutely not.” In fact, Palestine is never explicitly mentioned in the Koran, rather it is called “the holy land” (al-Arad al-Muqaddash).

    Under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the term Palestine was used as a general term to describe the land south of Syria; it was not an official designation. In fact, many Ottomans and Arabs who lived in Palestine during this time period referred to the area as “Souther Syria” and not as “Palestine.” After World War I, the name “Palestine” was applied to the territory that was placed under British Mandate; this area included not only present-day Israel but also present-day Jordan.

    Leading up to Israel’s independence in 1948, it was common for the international press to label Jews, not Arabs, living in the mandate as Palestinians. It was not until years after Israeli independence that the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians. In fact, Arabs cannot even correctly pronounce the word Palestine in their native tongue, referring to area rather as“Filastin.”

    The word Palestine or Filastin does not appear in the Koran. The term peleshet appears in the Jewish Tanakh no fewer than 250 times. Though the definite origins of the word “Palestine” have been debated for years and are still not known for sure, the name is believed to be derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word peleshet. Roughly translated to mean “rolling” or “migratory,” the term was used to describe the inhabitants of the land to the northeast of Egypt – the Philistines

    Prior to partition, Palestinian Arabs did not view themselves as having a separate identity. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to choose Palestinian representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, the following resolution was adopted: We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds.

    In 1937, a local Arab leader, Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, told the Peel Commission, which ultimately suggested the partition of Palestine: “There is no such country [as Palestine]! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.”

    The representative of the Arab Higher Committee to the United Nations submitted a statement to the General Assembly in May 1947 that said “Palestine was part of the Province of Syria” and that, “politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity.” A few years later, Ahmed Shuqeiri, later the chairman of the PLO, told the Security Council: “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.”

    Palestinian Arab nationalism is largely a post-World War I phenomenon that did not become a significant political movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel’s capture of the West Bank.

    Israel’s international “birth certificate” was validated by the promise of the Bible; uninterrupted Ancient Israelites settlement from the time of Joshua onward; the Balfour Declaration of 1917; the League of Nations Mandate, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration; the United Nations partition resolution of 1947; Israel’s admission to the UN in 1949; the recognition of Israel by most other states; and, most of all, the society created by Israel’s people in decades of thriving, dynamic national existence.

  2. No “Palestinian Arab people” existed at the start of 1920, but, by December, it took shape in a form recognizably similar to today’s. Until the late nineteenth century, residents living in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean identified themselves primarily in terms of religion: Moslems felt far stronger bonds with remote co-religionists than with nearby Christians and Jews. Living in that area did not imply any sense of common political purpose. Then came the ideology of nationalism from Europe; its ideal of a government that embodies the spirit of its people was alien but appealing to Middle Easterners. How to apply this ideal, though? Who constitutes a nation and where must the boundaries be? These questions stimulated huge debates.

    Some said the residents of the Levant are a nation; others said Eastern Arabic speakers; or all Arabic speakers; or all Moslems. But no one suggested “Palestinians,” and for good reason. Palestine, then a secular way of saying Eretz Yisra’el or Terra Sancta, embodied a purely Jewish and Christian concept, one utterly foreign to Moslems, even repugnant to them. This distaste was confirmed in April 1920, when the British occupying force carved out a “Palestine.” Moslems reacted very suspiciously, rightly seeing this designation as a victory for Zionism. Less accurately, they worried about it signaling a revival in the Crusader impulse. No prominent Moslem voices endorsed the delineation of Palestine in 1920; all protested it.

    Instead, Moslems west of the Jordan directed their allegiance to Damascus, where the great-great-uncle of Jordan’s King Abdullah II was then ruling; they identified themselves as Southern Syrians. Interestingly, no one advocated this affiliation more emphatically than a young man named Amin Husseini. In July 1920, however, the French overthrew this Hashemite king, in the process killing the notion of a Southern Syria.

    Isolated by the events of April and July, the Moslems of Palestine made the best of a bad situation. One prominent Jerusalemite commented, just days following the fall of the Hashemite kingdom: “after the recent events in Damascus, we have to effect a complete change in our plans here. Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine.” Following this advice, the leadership in December 1920 adopted the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Within a few years, this effort was led by Husseini.

    Other identities – Syrian, Arab, and Moslem – continued to compete for decades afterward with the Palestinian one, but the latter has by now mostly swept the others aside and reigns nearly supreme.

  3. Er uh nice try the Pope wanted to visit All Three Areas! To tour to learn to share to teach and to pray hey that’s his area of expertise! I’m sure he desired to visit Lebanon too for the same reasons. But as it is for many to do the same there – it’s just a weeeee bit too dangerous! The Pope could have avoided going there he knew it could have been dangerous but he knew he was meant to go there I’m sure. Did it help and make a difference? Only time and Devine Assistance will only tell ….

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