Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2016
Christians in the State of Israel form a small minority of approximately 2 percent of the total population. Yet, their significance exceeds by far their small proportion of the population. Their unique position has been due first and foremost to their presence in the Holy Land in the vicinity of the Christian holy places, but also to their forming a minority within a minority in the Jewish state and living in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This paper discusses the Christian communities within the territory of the State of Israel including East Jerusalem but excluding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which have never been officially annexed to the state. It focuses on the social, cultural, and political aspects of the Christian communities rather than the Christian churches and their theologies and hierarchies. The paper starts with a historical overview of the Christians in the Holy Land. It continues with their demographic features and trends, viewing the concerns about their future existence. It then discusses the position of Christians in Israel – in theory and in practice: the promise for equality and religious freedom, its limits and deterioration. It continues with the collapse of intercommunal balance among Christians, Muslims, and Druze in the north of Israel. It discusses the restrictions put on Christians as part of the Palestinian Arab minority with the deepening of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most obviously in Jerusalem. Finally it discusses the position of Christians in Jerusalem and in Haifa as two different paradigms of Jewish-Arab relations.
HISTORICAL AND DEMOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVES
The Holy Land is the birthplace of Christianity. But from the fourth century onward, since the discovery of the holy sites by Queen Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Byzantine Empire, Christians in the Holy Land became marginal in the Christian world. The major center of theologian intellectual activity was shifted to Asia Minor and to Europe, where the major schisms within Christianity took place and created the Orthodox, non-Chalcedonies (Monophysite), and Uniate Catholic Churches. During the nineteenth century Protestant churches established centers in the Holy Land. Hence, no fewer than fourteen Christian communities exist in the Holy Land maintaining their church headquarters or representation in Jerusalem.