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As the number of Christian residents in the Holy Land continues to drop, an adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski called on the government on Sunday to ease restrictions on family reunification for Christian Arabs living in the capital.
"The first ones who will disappear from the city are the Christians," Motti Levy, the mayor's adviser for Christian and Arab affairs, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview.
"Our task as a municipality is to ease matters for the dwindling Christian population, and not to make things harder for them," he said.
About 10,000 Christians live in Jerusalem.
Levy noted that the ongoing exodus comes as the increasingly-educated and professional Christian residents emigrate to the West for better job opportunities and a higher quality of life.
"They are victims of their own success," he said.
In unusually frank language, the former Foreign Ministry official conceded that the economic situation in the capital was "not good" and equated the exit of middle-class Christians to that of Israelis leaving the city for better jobs in central Israel, or a better quality of life in the suburbs.
"So long as our situation in Jerusalem deteriorates, the Christians are the first who are willing to leave," Levy said. "Jesus is not going to make them stay in Jerusalem."
He noted that restrictions on family reunification for Palestinians made it difficult for Christians who found a spouse in the West Bank to live with them in the capital.
Levy said there was room for Israel to show flexibility on the issue because of the low number of Christian Arabs in the city.
Jerusalem has 720,000 residents, 66 percent of whom are Jews and 34% are Arabs.
Around 420,000 Jerusalemites - 57% of whom are Arabs and 43% of whom are Jews - live in areas that were added to the city after the Six Day War, according to city statistics released Sunday by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.
Meanwhile, the two-decade-old trend of Israelis leaving Jerusalem continued last year.
Some 17,200 Israelis left the capital last year, compared to 10,900 people - including 2,500 new immigrants - who moved to the city.
More than half of those who left moved to Jerusalem's suburbs, the survey found.
Over the last five years, the suburbs of Beit Shemesh, Betar Ilit, Ma'ale Adumim, Modi'in Ilit, Mevaseret Zion and Givat Ze'ev attracted the largest number of former Jerusalemites.
A recent study by Hebrew University demographer Prof. Sergio Della Pergola predicts that if the situation - and Jerusalem's borders - remains unchanged, only 60% of Jerusalem's residents will be Jews by 2020, with the remaining 40% Arab. Another survey forecast that the number of Jewish and Arabs in the city will reach parity in a quarter century.