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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

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.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid