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Extremism endangers Arab Christians of Israel

With every new missile lobbed across the Holy Land, the world's extremism becomes more acceptable, more "normal."

With every new missile lobbed across the Holy Land, the world's extremism becomes more acceptable, more "normal."

And a forgotten group moves closer to oblivion, the Arab Christians of Israel.

Some 15 million Christians still live in the Mideast, but their numbers are tiny and evaporating in Israel/Palestine, where Jesus walked. Their disappearance makes a bad situation worse, says Nashvillian Charlie Howell.

"I was taught to love everybody, but it's time to speak up for those folks," says Howell, retired businessman and former state legislator.

"The Muslims, Jews and Christians all want to claim the same God. OK, but the Christians there have a different sense of justice and peace. Christ said peace and love are the key to what we ought to do."

Sixty years ago, Palestinian Arab Christians represented 20 percent of the Palestinian population. Now it's less than 2 percent. Arab Christians, often more educated or more welcome in the West than their Muslim compatriots, are steadily emigrating to America and elsewhere. They're fleeing economic deterioration, Islamist hostility to non-Muslims, and Israeli hostility toward Palestinians.

"Arab Christians"? Not all Arabs are Muslims. A small percentage of Arabs have long been Christian . Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant. The fear now is these Palestinian Christians will be reduced to a mere handful of caretakers of the faith's great historic churches in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other sites of early Christianity. And churches themselves will become museums, and Christian-run schools, hospitals and social services aiding all Palestinians will shrivel in the incessant Israel-Arab crossfire.

Howell, whose wife's heritage is Christian Arab, met with a dozen local clergy and journalists recently to highlight this neglected Christian demographic. Many mainline denominations officially support them, but the Arab Christian public profile can't compete with extremists dominating the news now.

And like everything else in the Mideast, the Arab Christian issue is polarized. Pro-Israel Protestants here contend the Christians are leaving because of Muslim harassment. But others blame Israel's policies for making life insupportable there.

Palestinian Christians, as an Arab group that relates to the West, are historically a bridge between Muslims and Jews, say officials at the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Their depletion will only harden Israeli-Muslim extremism, they say.

Another organization, Churches for Middle East Peace, says Arab Christians align with Palestinian nationalism but customarily favor secular non-theocratic government, free enterprise and non-violence. Their plea to American churches: press Congress for a two-state Israel-Palestine solution, and advocate for this vulnerable minority.

That's no easy task in a new century where extremism is newly respectable, tapping religious passion and self-pity with macho posturing. It's running the show in the Mideast until others rise up to stop the blaming and the maiming.

2016-10-24T07:29:24+00:00 August 12th, 2006|Categories: News|