By Judith Sudilovsky
BEIT JALLA, West Bank — Nearly two-thirds of Christians in Jerusalem and the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem said in a survey that they would emigrate if given a chance, Bethlehem University sociologist Bernard Sabella found.
Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he was shocked that 62 percent of Christians indicated they would like to leave.
A similar survey in 2007 reported that only 26 percent of respondents said they wanted to exit the area.
Respondents cited a lack of employment as the primary reason for wanting to leave. Christians also identified the region’s difficult political situation, steep economic challenges, restrictions under Israel laws, measures that affect opportunities for a normal life, lack of quality education and lack of housing as other factors involved in their desire to leave, according to the survey.
“One problem Christian Palestinians always come back to is the absence of a political solution. It is clear the overwhelming majority of Christian Palestinians think the lack of advancement is a problem,” said Sabella, who presented the results at a press conference on May 16 in Beit Jalla.
He noted that as a community Christian Palestinians are committed to their faith and see it as part of their identity; 46 percent regularly attend Sunday Mass.
“Sunday Mass is a major event for most Christian families. It helps their identity and recreates the traditions of faith we have inherited from our forefathers,” he said.
Regarding the pope’s May 24-26 pilgrimage to the Holy Land May, 48 percent said they expected the pope’s visit to lead to improvement in interfaith relations with an additional 26 percent hoping it would lead to unity across denominations and Christian churches. At the same time, 47 percent do not expect the visit to have any influence on the region’s political situation.
Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, said there were 30,000 Christians in Jerusalem prior to Israel’s independence in 1948. The number has fallen to 8,000 today.