In the early 19th Century, American travelers reported that
Christians made up more than a fifth of the population of Palestine,
including Jerusalem. Bethlehem and many smaller towns and villages
were majority Christian. Among Christians, more than two thirds were
On June 5,1967-the day before Israel attacked and occupied Jerusalem -
the Christian population of that city totaled about 15,000. Orthodox
were a plurality among a Christian majority in Bethlehem. Overall,
Christians in Palestine - Israeli and Arab - numbered about 10-14
percent of the population.
Today, Christians make up less than 4 percent of the population of
the Holy Land. There are fewer than 400 Orthodox households in
Jerusalem, and about the same number for other Christians. At this
rale, the Christian population in Palestine and Israel will disap?
pear in a couple of decades. The Christian presence in the lands
where Christ was born, taught, suffered, died and rose again will be
reduced to "holy museums." The greatest shrines of Christendom,
including the Most Holy Tomb in Jerusalem and the Basilica of the
Nativity in Bethlehem, will have foreign priests and monks as
curators and gawking tourists as the congregation. Christianity, and
especially Orthodoxy, will suffer a tragedy greater than the
disappearance of Hellenes from Constantinople.
Muslims know the tragic consequences of this exodus. For Muslims,
Christians represent the most vibrant and dynamic segment of the Arab
population. Christian Arabs created the concept of Arab nationalism
in the 19th Century and stood loyally by the short-lived Arab Kingdom
of Damascus, which the French and British dismantled in 1920.
Christians organized all the secular nationalist political parties &
tka -Arab. World, from the far right through the moderate center to
the communist left. Greek Orthodox Christians led the fiercest
resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Sadly, this destruction of Christianity in its birthplace can be laid
almost exclusively at the feet of Western Christendom and Western
politicians. Western Christendom has never disguised its hostility to
Eastern Christianity. The First Crusade massacred Muslims, Orthodox
and Jews without discrimination when those "Holy Warriors" liberated
the City of Jerusalem in 1099. A Latin Bishop, with hands still
stained with the blood of innocents, became Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The rightful bishop of the See of Saint James, the oldest in
Christendom, fled to Cyprus. He was not to return until 1187, when
Saladin restored both Muslim rule and a Greek Orthodox Patriarch.
In the ensuing centuries, Western Christendom did its best to
dislodge the Greek Orthodox and other Eastern Christians from the
Holy Land. The Vatican created the Uniates, euphemistically known
as "Byzantine Rite Christians" or "Greek Catholics." The Uniates are
nothing more than Bishops bribed Or intimidated to recognize the
political supremacy of the Pope. In order to make submission to Rome,
more palatable to their flock, the Vatican permits the Uniates to
retain Orthodox practices which they deny to other Western
Christians. Home permits Uniate clergy to marry, and to offer the
Blood of Christ lo the laity with leavened (as opposed to unleavened)
bread as the Body for the single purpose of undermining Eastern
The advent of Protestantism created fissures in Western Christianity,
but did little to relieve the unremitting Western hostility against
Eastern Christians. Protestant missionaries came to the East to
preach and to convert, but preached --and -converted--only-among
Eastern Christians. To the best of my knowledge, no Muslim has been
documented as a convert to Christianity in Palestine through the
efforts of Western missionaries.
Protestant and Catholic missionaries, financed by Western wealth,
targeted Eastern Christians through an insidious campaign by offering
education, hospitals and often cash to converts. To no one's
surprise, Orthodox Christians in Palestine and Jordan refer to
Protestants as "Shilling Christians." Apologists argue that the
Catholics and Protestants offered education innocently and charitably
because the Orthodox Church lacked the resources to do so. If that
were the case, one might ask why they did not bother to help through
the institutions of the native Church, rather than undermine them?
To indicate the determination of Western Christianity and its ac?
companying scholarship, one should learn about the Treaty of Omar. In
632 AD, Jerusalem sur?rendered to Muslim forces led by the Caliph
Omar al-Khatab. Omar granted then Patriarch Sophronios Christians'
rights in the Muslim World through this Treaty, which also recognizes
the Patriarch of Jerusalem as head of the flock. The Treaty concludes
with a curse on any Muslim who violates it. Orthodox Christians and
Muslims recognize the validity of the treaty, which has been reissued
until today by the Muslim authority to each succeeding Patriarch for
almost 1,400 years. Western "scholars," in their desire to undermine
Easter Christianity, question its validity. In other words, better to
undermine the entire Christian presence in the Muslim World rather
than allow the Orthodox to maintain their special privileges with
The post-World War I colonial occupation and the subsequent Israeli
occupation of Palestine accelerated the demise of Christianity in the
Holy Land. The Palestinians now perceive Protestants and Catholics as
a fifth column for the colonial powers, while they see the Orthodox
as their brethren. During the 1999 Camp David negotiations between
Yasser Arafat and the United States regards obstruction of Western
missionary activity as violating religious freedom. Somehow,
fraudulent land grabs, freezing of Orthodox bank accounts and trying
to undo the canonical election of a Patriarch are not, in the eyes of
the U.S. Government, a violation of religious freedom. Of note, only
representatives of Orthodox and Muslim countries attended the
enthronement of Patriarch Theophilos last November. The American and
non-Orthodox European Consuls in Jerusalem, all of them fervent
religious rights advocates, boycotted the enthronement. To their
credit, the Catholic and Anglican hierarchs in Jerusalem joined; the
Muslim clergy in attending the enthronement, but the other
Protestants were conspicuous by their absence.
The U.S. turns a blind eye to the Israeli Government's ongoing
campaign against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Recently, some Jewish American groups circulated accusations that the
Patriarch is an "anti-Semite," claiming he signed a letter promising
not to sell land to Jews. When challenged, they could not produce the
letter they all claim to have seen.
In a recent article which appeared in this paper (see Press
Clippings, April 22 edition, page 12), Robert Novak highlights the
catastrophic consequences of Israel's "separation wall," which runs
right through Christian Arab communities, separating farmers from
their fields and children from their schools. Novak also notes
propaganda efforts by Israelis and their evangelical Christian allies
to spread completely false accusations that Christians are fleeing
the Holy Land because of Muslim intimidation.
The truth is, Muslims have stood by their Christian compatriots,
while the Western World, as it did during the Crusades, turned
Easter came and went once more. Will the Greek Orthodox in America
and Europe continue to ignore the plight of their co-reli-gionisls in
the Holy Land? How many years remain before we will see the complete
disappearance of Christians from the Holy Land?
Ambassador Theros served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 36 years,
mostly in the Middle East, and was American Ambassador to Qatar from
1995 to 1998. He also directed the State Department's counter-
terrorism office and holds numerous U.S. Government decorations. He
is the Representative of the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the United.
States. Published on NATIONAL HERALD, APRIL 29,2006