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


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

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs