Unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved peacefully and soon, emigration of Christians from the land of Jesus will leave very few ‘living stones” in the Holy Land

Unless the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved peacefully and soon, emigration of Christians from the land of Jesus will leave very few ‘living stones” in the Holy Land, several prominent Arab and other Christian leaders asserted at the Ninth Annual Conference of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF).  

    Over five hundred participants attended HCEF’s gathering at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, its annual Awards Banquet in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Children Conference at John Paul II Cultural Center on October 26-27.

    Insisting that “peace is part of the Christian vocation,” HCEF President Rateb Rabie invoked Jesus’ directive to “feed my lambs” in urging support of HCEF’s programs on behalf of the Holy Land’s remaining Christian population.  HCEF provides assistance in the areas of education, job creation, housing, and social welfare, often in collaboration with other like-minded organizations.

    HCEF also conducts Holy Land pilgrimages which feature Christian guides and visits to Christian churches and families, as well as to the traditional Christian holy places.  HCEF’s extensive educational outreach efforts provide information about the situation of Christians in the Holy Land and offer channels through which interested parties may help them.

    Only about two percent of the population of the Holy Land is Christian today, down from almost a quarter sixty years ago.

     The conference featured presentations by the Christian mayors of Bethlehem and four other Palestinian cities, as well as by the representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to Chile, a country which is home to about 350,000 Christians who trace their roots to the Holy Land.  That number exceeds the number of Christians who remain in Palestine/Israel.  

    The mayors stressed the dire conditions facing their citizens as a result of the continued Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories, the Israeli separation wall, the destruction of Palestinian homes and agricultural resources, and the lack of economic opportunities.    

    Under the constitution of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, there are thirteen “traditionally Christian” cities and towns in Palestine, and they must have Christian mayors.  The five who addressed the HCEF conference are four men,  Raji Zeidan, mayor of Beit Jala; Dr. Victor Batarseh, Bethlehem; Hani Naji Hayek, Beit Sahour; and Dr. Yousef Nasser, Bir Zeit; and one woman, Jannet Michael, Ramallah.  Mayor Michael noted that today there are more Christians from Ramallah in Detroit than there are in Ramallah.
    The mayors and other conference speakers stressed that harsh and often unpredictable Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods have caused great suffering among the Palestinians.  Palestinians who do not live in Jerusalem may not go there without a special permit, which is almost impossible to obtain; Palestinian agricultural products are commonly delayed at Israeli military checkpoints (there are over 700) until they spoil; the separation wall cuts farmers off from their fields and flocks, and families from their relatives and from their churches.  

    Mayor Zeidan of the majority-Christian town of Beit Jala (the name means “grass and flowers”) said that removing the separation wall, which has taken half of the land around the city, would be “the most important step we could take toward peace.”

    Newly imposed travel restrictions prevented on of the founders of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Palestinian Catholic priest Emil Salayta, from attending the HCEF conference.

    For more information on the Christians of the Holy Land, see www.hcef.org