Jerusalem, Dec. 25 – Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wished Christians everywhere a Merry Christmas, saying Israel’s Christian community is strong and believers from around the world should come visit the Holy Land.
“Today, Christian communities throughout the Middle East are shrinking, and many of them are endangered. This is, of course, not true in Israel. Here there is a strong and growing Christian community that participates fully in the life of our country,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is proud of its record of religious tolerance and pluralism, and Israel will continue to protect freedom of religion for all. And we will continue to safeguard places of Christian worship throughout our country.”
Christians constitute about two percent of Israel's overall population, and their number is steadily growing. By the end of 2009, 151,700 Christians lived in Israel—constituting a 0.6 percent increase from the previous year.
In 1995, Israel's Christian population was 120,300. Israel's Christian population has grown some 26 percent since then.
Most Christians in Israel are of Arab descent. Many others came from the former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel with a Jewish relative. Ten percent of the Israeli Christians live in the Jerusalem district and 60 percent live in the north of the country.
The majority belong to different churches affiliated with Eastern orthodoxy (such as the Russian and Armenian orthodox churches), with dozens of other churches represented including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite and various Protestant churches.
“So as you celebrate Christmas and your holy holidays, we hope that you will recall the places where Judaism and Christianity emerged, and then come see our ancient land with your own eyes,” Netanyahu said. “Visit Nazareth and Bethlehem, wade into the Jordan River, stand on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And next year, come visit our eternal capital, Jerusalem. Happy holidays to all of you. May you all be blessed with a year of security, prosperity and peace."