Christianity at Risk in the Holy Land

By William Hughes - December 24, 2002.

“Palestinian Christians are leaving the Holy Land at such an alarming rate that there may be, in the near future, no Christian presence left to speak of,” said Father Emil Salayta. He is a co-founder of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (see, www.hcef.org). It’s an organization which was established in 1999, to halt the exodus of the indigenous people from their homeland, and to gain support in this country for the plight of the Palestinians living under the harsh Israeli rule. Father Salayta spoke at an ecumenical service, supporting a peace with justice settlement in the Middle East conflict. It was held at the R.C. Church of the Resurrection, on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2002. The church is located just southwest of Baltimore, in Ellicott City, the home of the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. “The Peace Process,” Father Salayta said, “is a big lie. It’s a media device, a decoration. They are not dealing with the real problem, the real issue, which is the brutal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces. In 1948, the Christian population of the Holy Land was over 18 %. In 1999,” Father Salayta underscored, “it is less than 2 %.” He added how: “700,000 Palestinians were displaced by the terror tactics of the Israelis in 1948, and ten of thousands more in the 1967 War. Every day the situation becomes even more desperate. “In Jerusalem,” Father Salayta continued, “the Christian population has shrunk from 30,000 to 2,000, since 1944, slightly more than 1 % of the city’s population. Three times as many Christians live in the Palestinian Diaspora as in Bethlehem itself. Three hundred families from Bethlehem recently moved to Flint, Michigan. Meanwhile, 1,200,000 Russian Jews have been permitted to emigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union. And just over the last weekend, 60 more Palestinians homes were demolished in Gaza by the Israelis,” he emphasized. Father Salayta is of Bedouin stock and his family’s lineage can be traced back thousands of years in the Holy Land. He acts, too, as an advisor to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and has also served as Catholic priest in war torn Ramallah, among other areas in the occupied territories. He is very proud of the fact that the Catholic school where he was stationed had both Christian and Muslim students. “The Christians and Muslims are one people and Palestinian is their common identity. Do not believe the disinformation about any rifts between our peoples. We are all one,” he exclaimed. “The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation,” Father Salayta, said, “has received the endorsement of the National Conference of U.S. Bishops and his Excellency William (Cardinal) Keeler of Baltimore. It is an American-based organization, that is looking to build solidarity, a bond, between American and Palestinian Christians through pilgrimages, publications and communications. It hopes, too, to provide humanitarian aid, improve living conditions, create jobs and enrich the lives of the people in the occupied territories. One of the main objectives is to educate Americans, who are subjected to so much Zionist propaganda, about the serious human rights situation facing the Christians in the Holy Land . It can only get worse for the Palestinians, unless something is done very soon to help. “The Sharon regime,” Father Salayta, said “has only brought more suffering and more violence to the Palestinians. How, President George W. Bush Jr. could call Sharon a ‘man of peace’ is beyond me. Even some of the Israelis, especially on the political Left, have nothing good to say about him. Yitzhak Rabin, however, was a very courageous man. He knew real security for the Israelis wouldn’t come out of any artificial borders or weapons. But, unfortunately, he was killed by a right-wing Jewish fanatic. “The Mother Church in the Holy Land, which is over 2,000 years old, is dying as I speak to you tonight,” said Father Salayta. “The Christians that remain there are paying a price for all the Christians throughout the world. The people in America should think about the Holy Land as a reality. It is not a symbolic figure. There are people there, Palestinian Christians. And they are suffering as a result of the Israeli occupation. People in America must learn the truth. Christians in Bethlehem are deprived of the joy of Christmas. They are not celebrating it. The Christian Church in the Holy Land is a suffering church. It suffers on behalf of all Christians everywhere, since they are bearing witness to the faith there and to all of the injustices inflicted on them by the Israelis. All Christians,” he underscored, “must be responsible for the Mother Church in the Holy Land. “Supporting Israel,” Father Salayta continued, “should mean saying ‘no’ to their demolitions, illegal settlements, checkpoints, road closures, and to their arbitrary rule. I feel sorry for the Israeli society. It is strong and it could make a difference, but it lives terribly in fear and insecurity.” Father Salayta concluded his remarks by urging America’s Christian community “to take immediate measures, practical measures to help all the Palestinian people, before it is too late!”

William Hughes is a Baltimore attorney and the author of "Andrew Jackson vs. New World Order" (Authors Choice Press), which is available online.