The columnist for Asia Times addresses the decline of Arab Christianity and the causes of the “extreme rancor” that Arab Christians often express towards the Jewish State. “One of the big lies in the Middle East is that Israel somehow is responsible for the problems of Arab Christians,” Spengler writes. He also looks at a “prejudicial document” circulated by the most prominent Arab Christian in Pope Bendict’s circle.
A century ago, Christians dominated the intellectual and commercial life of the Levant, comprising more than one-fifth of the 13 million people of Turkey, the region’s ruling power, and most of the population of Lebanon. Ancient communities flourished in what is now Iraq and Syria. But starting with the Armenian genocide in 1914 and continuing through the massacre and expulsion of Anatolian Greeks in 1922-1923, the Turks killed three to four million Christians in Turkey and the Ottoman provinces. Thus began a century of Muslim violence that nearly has eradicated Christian communities in the cradle of their religion.
It may seem odd to blame the Jews for the misery of Middle East Christians, but many Christian Arabs do so – less because they are Christians than because they are Arabs. The Christian religion is flourishing inside the Jewish side. Only 50,000 Christian Arabs remain in the West Bank territories, and their numbers continue to erode. Hebrew-speaking Christians, mainly immigrants from Eastern Europe or the Philippines, make up a prospective Christian congregation of perhaps 300,000 in the State of Israel, double the number of a decade ago.
The brief flourishing and slow decline of Christian Arab life is one of the last century’s stranger stories. Until the Turks killed the Armenians and expelled the Greeks, Orthodoxy dominated Levantine. The victorious allies carved out Lebanon in 1926 with a Christian majority, mostly Maronites in communion with Rome. Under the Ottomans, Levantine commerce had been Greek or Jewish, but with the ruin of the Ottomans and the founding of Lebanon, Arab Christians had their moment in the sun. Beirut became the banking center and playground for Arab oil states.
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A vibrant Christian presence in the birthplace of Christianity benefits the world community. In its own interest, the State of Israel should foster a Christian presence, as a living link between the Jewish state and Christians around the world. In their short-sightedness, successive Israeli governments have not given enough attention to Christian concerns, particularly regarding the holy places. Residual antagonism towards Christians among Israel’s ultra-orthodox community represents another obstacle. Prime Minister Netanyahu made the wise gesture of meeting the pope in Nazareth during his May visit to the Holy Land.
Also see “Greek Orthodox patriarch blocks East Jerusalem land confiscation” in the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency.
Patriarch spokesman Father Issa Musleh noted that the process of stopping further Israeli land confiscations had become a priority for the church in Jerusalem. He insisted that challenging Israel over such projects is at the center of the patriarchate’s policy to defend holy sites and property, and overall part of the church’s goal to restore the Christian presence in the Holy Land.