TORONTO — Christians in Israel and the West Bank face radically different realities, says an Israeli analyst. While Arab Christians in Israel want to be integrated into Israeli society, their Christian brothers in the West Bank are caught uneasily between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Rabbi David Rosen said.
He spoke March 3 at a forum co-sponsored by the Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Rabbi Rosen, born in Britain and based in Jerusalem, is the international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
From 1979 to 1985, he was chief rabbi of Ireland. In 2005, the Vatican made him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great for his contributions to promoting Catholic-Jewish reconciliation. Speaking at College Street United Church, Rabbi Rosen said that almost 200,000 Christians live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, In addition, Israel is home to some 50,000 Christians from the former Soviet Union who immigrated there with their Jewish spouses and relatives.
The Russian Orthodox Church in Israel has benefited from their presence and tries to cater to their needs, Rabbi Rosen said. The Christian Arab community in Israel is growing despite suffering from a measure of prejudice.Christian high school students outpace their Muslim and Jewish counterparts in test results and graduation rates, he added. Israeli Christians also play a significant role in interfaith dialogue.
By contrast, Christians living under the administration of the Palestinian Authority are in a state of numerical decline. Since they’re disproportionately involved in the tourist trade, they’re directly affected by the political situation in the West Bank, Rabbi Rosen said. The second Palestinian uprising, which erupted in 2000, had a negative impact on their livelihood, he pointed out. Christians in the West Bank also have been affected by the route of Israel’s security barrier, which has divided families.
Christianity is historically rooted in the Holy Land, and Christians there are blessed with an enormously rich heritage, Rabbi Rosen pointed out. But Christians, divided into various sects, squabble endlessly among themselves and have a long history of trying to bring “truth” to the Holy Land. During a question-and-answer period, Rabbi Rosen was asked about Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He said they “complicate” efforts by the Palestinian Authority to win statehood. Quoting the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Rabbi Rosen advised Israel to take “responsible and calculated risks” to advance the currently stalled peace process.
Sheldon Kirshner, Staff Reporter