04 November 2021, The Tablet

Economic contribution of Christians to Holy Land 'under threat'

Economic contribution of Christians to Holy Land 'under threat'

Archbishop Angaelos, pictured here meeting the Queen, emphasised the importance of defending religious freedom.

The $3 billion economic contribution made by Christian communities to Israel and surrounding regions remains under “grave threat”, according to a new report. 

A combination of philanthropic resources and other investments, especially in “humanitarian” fields such as education and health, brings the total benefit to the region’s economy from its Christian communities to $3 billion.

Launched in Westminister Abbey, Defeating Minority Exclusion and Unlocking Potential: Christianity in the Holy Land represents the latest initiative by the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre (ICoHS) to provide practical assistance to Christians living in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

Among the report’s suggestions are the creation of “high tech start up hubs” to encourage and coordinate international investment amongst Christians living in the Holy Land. 

Speaking remotely to an audience of parliamentarians, campaigners and media figures, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, extended his personal blessing to the initiative. In this, he was joined by several other Church leaders, including Fr Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, and Hosam Naoum, Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem.

Speaking in person at the event, Coptic Orthodox Archishop Anba Angaelos emphasised the importance of defending religious freedom for adherents of all faiths and none, alongside economic and social support for vulnerable communities.

Professor Francis Davis and Dr Georgios Tsourous, the report’s co-authors, stated that the “combination of rootedness, entrepreneurial agency, human solidarity, and vulnerable minority status” make the Christian community in the Holy Land “an intensively creative” one.

Christian tourism in the region provides over $3 billion to the economy of Israel alone, with Christians comprising 53 per cent of incoming tourism flights to the middle eastern nation. The future of Christians in Israel, Jordan and Palestine, was, however, “more vulnerable than it needs to be” in the words of Professor Davis, in part because their contribution had been “massively underestimated”. 

The position of Christians in the Holy Land has become increasingly marginal over the last few decades, with believers reporting “mistreatment on religious grounds” and feeling “threatened by abusive behaviour,” according to the report. Discrimination and a lack of funding compounds the risk of outwards migration and a continued decline in the number of Christians in the region, with 36% of Palestinian Christians considering leaving the region permanently. 

In response to these achievements – and challenges – the report proposes a raft of policy changes and international initiatives to build a secure future for the Holy Land’s Christian communities.

Although dwarfed by other religious groups – Palestine contains only around 50,000 Christians, Israel around 150,000, and Jordan 250,000 – Christianity in the region has a unique public and diplomatic significance, the authors added. 

Calls for further investment and support are likely to be welcomed by residents of the Holy Land, which was especially hard-hit during the pandemic, as lockdown restrictions prompted a collapse in the critically important tourism industry. The gravity of this financial crisis amongst Palestinian Christians prompted a special appeal for donations last year. 

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