As Christians celebrate Christmas around the world, it’s worthwhile to focus on the Christian population in the region.According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are some 177,000 Christians in Israel, a growth of 1.5% from last year. More than three-quarters (77.5%) of Christians living in Israel are Arabs, representing 7.2% of all Arab Israeli citizens, the CBS said. The majority of non-Arab Christians living in Israel immigrated together with Jewish family members under the Law of Return.Contrast these data with the figures in a report published by then-British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in July. The report found that the number of Christians in the Middle East has dwindled from 20% of the population a century ago to just 5% – most notably in the Palestinian territories, where they have dropped to below 1.5%. “We’ve all been asleep on the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians,” Hunt said.The organization Open Doors put “the Palestinian Territories” in 49th place – out of 50 – on its World Watch List, an annual report on the global persecution of Christians. The report cited “Islamic oppression” as the main source of persecution, adding that “Islamic extremist militants are also present in the West Bank, causing Christians to fear being attacked,” and that the persecution is particularly brutal for converts to Christianity.At least three incidents have affected Christians living under Palestinian Authority rule this year, according to a report by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies: A mob targeted the Christian village of Jifna near Ramallah, causing significant property damage and terrifying its residents, and a Maronite church in Bethlehem and an Anglican church near Ramallah were vandalized.“Though the Christians in the PA avoid saying so publicly, many of them fear – with good reason – that Muslim aggression against them will only escalate,” wrote Edy Cohen, a researcher at the center. “Such fears are all the stronger in light of the thunderous silence of the Western [and Israeli] media, in the face of the Christian minority’s ongoing disappearance from the PA and Islamic lands in general.” He added, pointedly, that “the ongoing international neglect of the plight of the Christians under PA rule can only lead to the vanishing of Christianity from the place where it emerged.”In the Gaza Strip, the Christian population has plummeted from about 3,000 a decade ago to an estimated 1,000 today, most of them Greek Orthodox.On Sunday, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reversed a decision made earlier this month, making the welcome announcement that in accordance with “security orders,” Gaza Christians would be allowed to travel to the holy cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and elsewhere in Judea and Samaria, for Christmas. The situation of Christians in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, has deteriorated dramatically in the last century, and especially since the PA took control of the city in 1995. In 1947, Christians comprised about 85% of the city’s population, but that figure had plunged to 16% by 2016, and is estimated since then.Bethlehem’s mayor at the time said that, “Due to the stress – either physical or psychological – and the bad economic situation, many people are emigrating: either Christians or Muslims, but it is more apparent among Christians because they already are a minority.”A study by the Pew Research Center found that the decline in the Arab Christian population was both a result of a lower birth rate among Christians compared to Muslims and the fact that Christians were more likely to emigrate than any other religious group. A statistical analysis of the Christian exodus cited a lack of economic and educational opportunities among a community known for its middle-class status and higher education.Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.4 billion adherents (almost a third of the world’s 7.8 billion people). While it may seem ironic that the only place in the Middle East where Christians are thriving is the Jewish state, it is also a cause for concern. We wish our Christian readers a happy Christmas – and pray along with them for those undergoing persecution for practicing their faith.