News / Middle East

    Christian Exodus From Holy Land Fueled by Israeli Occupation, Lack of Opportunity

    Israel put up this security barrier to protect itself from terrorist attacks by West Bank Palestinians, Oct 2010
    Israel put up this security barrier to protect itself from terrorist attacks by West Bank Palestinians, Oct 2010

    Multimedia

    The plight of Christians in the Middle East was the subject of a two-week meeting of Roman Catholic bishops at the Vatican in October. Thousands of Christians are leaving the region each year, some due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

    In the cradle of Christianity, though, it also is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that is pushing many Christians to go. In the past six decades, their population has plummeted from roughly 8 percent to just over one percent in the West Bank.

    Suha Asfour - born in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus - comes from a long line of Christians. Her relatives and the memories of them are in these photos. She is the last of her siblings left in Bethlehem. The others have gone to America.

    Now, her husband - a renowned Bethlehem doctor - wants to pack up their home and leave, too. Dr. Samir Asfour, also a Palestinian Christian, said, "The financial situation is getting backwards. The wall is creating problems to the work, the living, to the everyday commuting from one town to the other. This makes life miserable for everybody, for all the Palestinians, not only the Christians."

    Israel put up a security barrier and checkpoints to protect itself from terrorist attacks by West Bank Palestinians. For Suha Asfour, the barrier and restrictions on movement have brought suffering. She is bitter about having to leave her ancestral home, but feels she has no choice.

    "It's like a prison," she said. "When you can't go out of Bethlehem, it's like in a cage.  It's like putting a bird in a cage, that can't go anywhere. So, the life is very hard. No job opportunities, no studying opportunities."

    Christians were once the majority in Bethlehem and nearby towns. Their population was overwhelmed after 1948, when Israel's war of independence caused the displacement of thousands of mostly Muslim Arabs from present-day Israel to towns and refugee camps in the West Bank, like this one - the Aida camp in Bethlehem's outskirts.

    Muslims and Christians have sometimes clashed, but overall they historically coexisted in Bethlehem. Publicly, both play down any suggestion of underlying religious tensions.  This Muslim resident of the Aida camp, like many Christians, accuses the Israeli occupation of creating divisions, both perceived and real.

    "If you walk with Christians at the checkpoint, sometimes they (Israeli soldiers) stop you because you are Muslim and they allow the Christian to go. And sometimes they stop the Christian and allow the Muslim to go."

    Compared to Muslim Palestinians, Christians tend to be wealthier, more educated, and better able to integrate in the Western world. This makes it easier for them to leave.  

    The thought of being foreigners in a faraway land is a painful one. But the Asfours say they will do it for the sake of their children. "At least you'll find your liberty," said Dr. Asfour. "You'll live not to suffer, but to enjoy life. This is enough."

    Suha Asfour still holds out hope, though, that conditions will change so that her family does not have to go. "I pray to God that things will be better soon. We always hope for the better for the Christians, for the Palestinians, and for the sake of our children. We want them to live like any other child in the world. To feel the freedom, liberty, to enjoy their life."  

    For the Asfours, the only thing that could change life on this land is peace.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora