Last updated on: 6/25/2008 5:05:00 PM PST

What Demographic Challenges Face Palestinian/Israeli Christians?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Bernard Sabella, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, Bethlehem University, in a Jan. 24, 2004 Al-Bushra essay titled "The Situation of Palestinian Christians: Some Food for Thought," wrote:

"In the mid-nineties of the twentieth century, the total number of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip was estimated at around 49,702 distributed among the various denominations as follows:


Greek Orthodox
Greek Catholics

(Source: Christians in the Holy Land, Edited by Michael Prior and William Taylor, London, 1994 originally from a compilation by Dr. Bernard Sabella based on different sources and estimates of the various churches in Jerusalem.)

The demographic situation has changed since the mid-nineties. Today, we speak of the Palestinian Christians being less than 2% of the entire population. Some would even suggest that we are approaching the 1.5%. The decline is not simply due to emigration, estimated among Palestinian Christians in the last three years since the start of the Second Intifada at around 2,600 Christians. There is also the fact of the continuing higher birth rate among the general population and the fact that the average age of Palestinian Christians is higher than that of the entire population. Besides the marriage habits of Palestinian Christians tend to take place later in life which means the number of children per Christian family is lower than that among the average family in the general Palestinian population.

  • The majority of Palestinian Christians reside in the West Bank with only 2,500 living in the Gaza Strip.

  • Jerusalem by itself has the largest concentration with 10,900 Christians.

  • Bethlehem (6,559 Christians) Beit Jala (6,343 Christians) and Beit Sahour (7,335 Christians) make up 20,237 Christians.

  • Ramallah, a traditionally Christian town, has now 6,450 Christians and hence in 3rd place to the greater Bethlehem area and Jerusalem, in terms of Christian population figures.

  • Some of the larger Villages with significant Christian populations are Zababdeh in the north of the West Bank with 2,251 Christians; Bir Zeit with 2,158 Christians; Taybeh with 1,100 Christians; and Aboud with 1,017 Christians. The last three mentioned villages are in the Central West Bank in the vicinity of Ramallah.

  • The Growth Rate of Palestinian Christians is estimated at 2.2 percent per annum or roughly 1,093 Christians. However, because of a high rate of emigration, it is estimated that at times of great instability and political upheaval, 500 to 600 Christians leave the West Bank each year.

  • The Christian population hence does not grow annually by more than 1.0 percent at best during these difficult times. If this rate is taken to predict how the Christian population will grow in future years, there is no comfort in saying that if things continue as they are it will take the Christians of Jerusalem and the West Bank at least 70 years to double their numbers. Given, however, that most who leave are younger members of the community then it is most likely that the growth rate will even become smaller.

  • This all means that by 2020 the growth rate of the Christian population is expected to be zero percent. If, however, major problems develop then the Christian numbers would most likely be reduced further leading to the shrinking of Christian communities in the Holy Land.

  • While Christians will not disappear from the Holy Land, the viability of their communities and churches as vibrant entities would most likely be negatively affected by the exit of younger members of the churches."

  • Jan. 24, 2004 - Bernard Sabella, PhD 

    Daphne Tsimhoni, PhD, Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute, Hebrew University, in a 2001 Middle East Forum essay titled "Israel and the Territories – Disappearance," wrote:

    "Despite their continuous demographic decline, Christians in Israel and in the PA [Palestine Authority] have remained prominent in political and socio-economical arenas; however, their position has eroded with the advent of Islamism. Looking ahead, Christians are unlikely to disappear from the Holy Land, although some of their smaller traditional communities may continue to lose their ability to function as vibrant socio-cultural Christian entities.

    The fate of Christians in Israel and to a greater extent in the PA is closely connected to the ebb and flow of diplomacy. Resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict may draw them from their present marginal position to the center of Arab society. As traditional entrepreneurs and white-collar professionals and having the experience of living within two cultures, the Muslim and the Jewish ones, they can now convert their historic disability into an advantage and use their experience to become a link between Israel, the PA, and the Arab world at large, thereby playing an important economic function.

    Contrarily, deadlock in the peace process implies the isolation of Christians in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and the growing influence of Islamists. The second intifada has created serious repercussions on the Christians in Israel and more so in the PA. The Christians in these towns have reluctantly become hostages of Palestinian snipers and heavy Israeli retaliation. If continued, this crisis is liable to increase Christian emigration and cause a drastic decline of the already dwindling Christian population."

    2001 - Daphne Tsimhoni, PhD