Washington, Mar. 9 - Israel is the only safe place for Christians in the Middle East, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said in an editorial article published Friday.
“In contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged, Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to "ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion," the Ambassador wrote on the Wall Street Journal opinion page.
Christianity has its biblical roots in places like Nazareth, Jerusalem, and the Galilee regionwhich are part of Israel. The Christian minority in Israel, around 154500 people, is extremely active in civic and economic life while enjoying equal political rights and representation.
In his piece, the ambassador noted that half the Christian population in Gaza Strip has fled since the Hamas takeover of the territory. Hamas prohibits Christmas decorations and public displays of Christian symbols, he wrote.
Oren explained that while Christians once made up 15 percent of the West Bank's population, today that number is as low as 2 percent.
The uprisings against longtime Arab dictators have left Christian communities around the Middle East in a precarious and often violent situation. In Egypt, the Coptic Christian community, about 10 percent of Egypt’s 81 million people, has come under repeated attacks by mobs since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. In Syria, the Christian community has been targeted as part of the government’s continuous assault on protesters since demonstrations against President Bashar Assad began last March.
Oren also noted that Iraq has seen a wave of church destructions and in Iran, conversion to Christianity is punishable by death.
“The extinction of the Middle East's Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude,” Oren said.
Yet Israel has seen an explosion in its Christian population, a trend Oren said was due to the freedom and opportunity given to the minority community.
“The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren't endangered but flourishing is Israel. Since Israel's founding in 1948, its Christian communities (including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants) have expanded more than 1,000 percent,” he said.
Israel’s protection of Christians could provide a useful model for its neighbors, said Oren.
“Israel provides an example of how this trend can not only be prevented but reversed. With the respect and appreciation that they receive in the Jewish state, the Christians of Muslim countries could not only survive but thrive," Oren wrote.