We commend your efforts to reinvigorate the peace process with last monthâ€™s international meeting in Annapolis, and your vision of â€œtwo states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.â€
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Dear Mr. President,
We commend your efforts to reinvigorate the peace process with last month’s international meeting in Annapolis, and your vision of “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.” As you work to achieve this vision, and as Christmas approaches, we wish to draw your attention to the decline of the Holy Land’s Christian community. A necessary element of a peaceful, stable Middle East— in which Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together—is the vitality of Christianity in the land of its birth. The small Palestinian Christian community is increasingly emigrating and it is clear that the achievement of a peaceful, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would greatly benefit the long-term viability of this vulnerable population.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects the lives of all peoples of the Holy Land – including the Palestinian Christians, who comprise a small minority that is today less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population. Caught in a storm of violent conflict, religious extremism and economic deterioration, often unable to access their holy sites, and lacking reliable law and order, many Christians are emigrating. Progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would greatly improve the lives of the Palestinian Christians, who will play a critical role in any future democratic and pluralistic Palestinian state.
The dwindling of the Christian community in Jerusalem, for 1300 years the shared focal point of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious devotion, is especially troubling. For all these centuries, the Christian community has breathed daily life into the sacred sites of Christianity – caring for them, worshipping at them, preserving them. However, while the overall population of Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem is increasing, the Palestinian Christian community is steadily declining. If this trend does not change, the sacred sites of Christianity will soon be reduced to museums for visiting tourists – and Jerusalem, with its universal and sacred importance, will cease to be the home of three living faith communities.
The fate of Palestinian Christians should not be a matter of interest only on religious and cultural grounds. Rather, the decline of this population, as well as the decline of other indigenous Christian communities throughout the Middle East, has serious implications for U.S. national security interests and the stability of the region. The presence of Christian populations and their active participation in civil society is critical to maintaining a pluralistic Middle East and developing tolerant, open, democratic forms of government that respect human rights, including minority rights. Ensuring the vitality of the Palestinian Christian community is integral to achieving peace and stability in the Holy Land and throughout the region.
Mr. President, we welcome the commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace that you articulated in Annapolis. As this process moves forward and you work to bring peace, stability, and security to the Holy Land and all of its inhabitants – and as hundreds of millions of Christians throughout the world celebrate Christmas – we ask you to keep in mind the plight of the Palestinian Christian community. The health and viability of this community, and indeed the coexistence of all three faith communities, is essential to the transformation of the Holy Land from the tragic symbol of strife and discord that it has become, into the powerful beacon of hope and tolerance that it can and should be – a beacon illuminating a path to better relations between peoples and religions in the region and around the world.
Christopher S. Bond John D. Rockefeller