Christians in the Middle East
Reprinted from Daily Alert, December 27, 2013
The First Baptist Church of Bethlehem was bombed 14 times during the first intifada, and is now facing a legal battle with the Palestinian Authority, which doesn’t recognize it as a church. It was founded three decades ago by the Rev. Naim Khoury, who survived a bullet to the shoulder from a sniper while in the church parking lot five years ago.
Christianity is under assault across the entire Middle East. Iraq has lost at least half of its Christians over the past decade. Egypt has seen the worst spate of anti-Christian violence in 700 years. In Syria, jihadists are killing Christians and burying them in mass graves. Christians now make up only 5% of the population of the Middle East, down from 20% a century ago. As political Islam gains support, Christians can no longer find refuge in a shared Arab identity with their Muslim neighbors. (Christian Science Monitor)
On Christmas Day in Iraq, 37 people were killed in bomb attacks in Christian districts of Baghdad. In recent months, we’ve seen Coptic Christians gunned down in Cairo and churches burned. Thousands of Syrian Christians have fled to Turkey. “Where we live,” said one refugee, “10 churches have been burned down….When the local priest was executed, we decided to leave.” (Washington Post)
Long before the Assads came to power, Syria was a reliable refuge for the Christians of the Middle East. Syria took in many Christians driven out of Iraq a decade ago. Now those Iraqi refugees face a second displacement, while their Syrian hosts themselves live in daily fear of having to flee for their lives. (BBC News)
Since June, 84 Christians have volunteered for the IDF. Recruitment from the community has averaged 50 annually. “The last recruitment cycle is the largest observed in recent years,” an army source said Tuesday. A total of 140 Christian Arabs are currently on active service, while 400 are in the reserves.
Earlier this week, 90 active and reserve Christian soldiers gathered in Nazareth for a conference organized by the Forum for Enlisting Christians, led by Greek Orthodox priest Father Gabriel Naddaf. (Jerusalem Post)