The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) held a Capitol Hill briefing this week featuring four Christian mayors of Palestinian towns in the West Bank.
The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) held a Capitol Hill briefing this week featuring four Christian mayors of Palestinian towns in the West Bank. The panel focused on the causes for the population decrease of the Palestinian Christians to below 2 percent of the population, attributing it mainly to the economic stresses resulting from Israeli occupation measures such as checkpoints and the route of the separation barrier, a vast majority of which is built on occupied Palestinian land.
The mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Victor Hanan Jubrail Batarseh, referred to the wall as ‘a snake’, saying, it has ‘strangled the community; economically, psychologically, and educationally’ causing the Palestinian Christians to emigrate. Dr. Batarseh stressed the need for peace , asking for a ‘bridge of love,’ to be built, not a ‘wall of separation.’ The economic strangulation has led to nearly 70% of the West Bank population living under the poverty line, said the mayor of Birzeit, Mr. Yousef Nasser. He continued saying, “Unemployment has risen 200% due to the check points,” which not only inhibit the movement of people but also shipments of produce. Mr. Nasser stressed the need for the removal of the checkpoints in order for the economy to improve. Without an improved economy, the Christian population will continue to decrease. He added, "Emigration of either community has nothing to do with religious tensions between the two communities and attempts to portray it as such are meant to deflect blame away from the Israeli occupation.”
“Historically, it has been easier for the Palestinian Christian population to emigrate due mainly to family ties in the West, although Palestinian Muslims are emigrating in significant numbers too if they are able,” said ATFP executive director Rafi Dajani who moderated the panel.