Life in the Middle East could be greatly improved for most people if the Christians living there would be given a greater chance to exercise their talents, a new study claims.
But Christians living in the Holy Land face significant challenges, such as an unfair visa system in Israel, says the study, from the University of Birmingham, England.
The community is also challenged by violence, migration and lack of investment, the 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.
But experts found that Christians reported mistreatment on religious grounds and feel threatened by abusive behavior — for example, increasing grievances 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,” the University of Birmingham said.
Experts at the university worked with counterparts at the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre (ICoHS) – publishing their findings in the report “Defeating Minority Exclusion and Unlocking Potential: Christianity in the Holy Land.”
“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,” said Professor Francis Davis from the University of Birmingham’s Edward Cadbury Centre. “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 organizations 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.
The Tablet reported that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, spoke remotely to an audience of parliamentarians, campaigners and media figures at the report’s October 21 release and extended his personal blessing to the initiative. He was joined by several other Church leaders, including Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, and Hosam Naoum, Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem.
Speaking at the event, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Angaelos emphasized the importance of defending religious freedom for adherents of all faiths and none, alongside economic and social support for vulnerable communities, the Tablet said.