Christian populations across much of the conflict-stricken Middle East have rapidly declined in recent decades, and now many church leaders fear their ancient presence in the region could soon disappear, the Economist reported Friday.
While Muslims make up the vast majority of victims in the Middle East’s wars, minorities have been disproportionately impacted as Christians have seen their numbers dwindle across the region from 14 percent in 1910 to just 4 percent today.
Some have left due to violence, others due to economic unease. Still others complain of a generally hostile environment, including the spread of militant Islamic ideologies. Circumstances of Christian populations vary by country. Palestinian Christians, for example, widely complain Israeli policies — and not Palestinian militant groups — have hurt their communities, causing a massive exodus of Christians from the land that is at the heart of Christianity. For Christmas, hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza were granted rare approval to leave the besieged Palestinian enclave, and many were expected to look beyond Gaza and settle elsewhere. Ten years ago, there were some 3,000 Palestinian Christians in Gaza; today, little more than 1,000 remain.
“The blockade is one issue, and also the threat of another Israeli attack,” said the Rev. Alex Awad, the former dean of the Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank, who has worked in Gaza. “Who would want to endure Israeli bombardments in Gaza every 12 months or every two years, to live that nightmare of not knowing whether you are going to live through the bombardment or not?”
Perhaps the country where Christians have seen a most drastic decline recently has been in Syria where five years of war has created an unprecedented refugee crisis. Roughly half of the country of 23 million residents has been displaced, and 250,000 people have been killed, U.N. statistics indicate. With the growth of extremist Muslim groups, including the Islamic State group and al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, minorities have faced a particular and acute threat. Christians, as well as other minorities, are required to pay a special tax, convert to Islam or leave under ISIS rule.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said earlier this week the killing of Christians and other religious minorities by ISIS constitutes “genocide.”
SOURCE: MICHAEL KAPLAN
International Business Times