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.