Israel says Christian community is growing despite bishops’ claims

Israel said its Christian population was growing, days after the Church of England’s top cleric backed accusations of a “concerted attempt” to drive out the community.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said on Dec. 21 that there were 182,000 Christians in the country, an increase of 1.4 percent from last year.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has angered Israel by decrying alongside Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum a “steady decline” among Christians in East Jerusalem.

“Church leaders believe there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem,” the two men wrote in an article published by The Sunday Times.

They said an “escalation in physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy and vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups” was a “concerted attempt” to drive Christians out of Israel.

Their joint letter follows a December 13 plea from Jerusalem church leaders who alleged that “radical groups continue to acquire strategic properties in the Christian quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence.”

The Christian population in Israel – including in Jerusalem – enjoys full freedom of religion and worship, continues to grow, and is part of the unique fabric of Israeli society.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the accusations were “baseless and distorted the reality of the Christian community in Israel”.

“The Christian population in Israel – including in Jerusalem – enjoys full freedom of religion and worship, continues to grow, and is part of the unique fabric of Israeli society,” he said in a statement Monday. .

Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not recognized by most of the international community.

It is home to Christian holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where worshipers believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

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Welby and Naoum said Palestinian Christians were leaving the Israeli-occupied West Bank due to “the growth of settler communities” and movement restrictions.

The Foreign Ministry said Israel was “committed to freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well as ensuring freedom of access to holy sites.”

“The statement by religious leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence on the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East suffering from discrimination and persecution,” he added.

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