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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid