'Fence driving Christians out of Holy Land'

Archbishop of Canterbury tells 'Post': Barrier contributing to "decline" in Christian population.

security fence 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
security fence 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Socioeconomic hardships caused by the West Bank security barrier are contributing to the decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "I recently met with Christians in Bethlehem, people by no means extreme, and they told of the daily burdens driving in and out of the city that were created by the wall," Williams said by telephone during a break in his 24-hour visit to these parts. Williams did not mention other, long-standing, explanations for the exodus from traditionally Christian towns. Muslim violence against Christians coupled with Hamas's victory in the latest Palestinian Authority election and economics hardships caused, in part, by Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel, are the most commonly cited reasons for the steady decrease in the number of Christians living in the PA. Williams said he was aware of "claims" that the project had reduced the number of victims of Palestinian terrorism, but felt that in the long-term, building a barrier between two populations was "causing deeper problems" for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. "The fence does not solve the basic underlying causes of the conflict. That's why I am unhappy with it," Williams said. It was not just the present route of the barrier that he opposed. Rather, barriers between populations were inherently problematic, he said. This is not the first time that Williams, the spiritual head of the 77-million member Anglican Communion, has voiced criticism of the security barrier or of Israeli policy regarding Palestinians. The official reason for Williams' visit was a meeting with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem Wednesday. The Reverend Michael Jackson, bishop of Clogher, and Haifa Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen were present as leaders of their delegations to the Anglican Jewish Commission, as was Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Suhail Dawani. Last year the leaders decided to convene in alternate years in London and Jerusalem. The meetings and the creation of the Anglican-Jewish Commission, which includes religious leaders and academics from both religions, are meant to foster mutual understanding and trust. In a joint statement, the chief rabbis and Williams called for "the release of hostages and in particular for the release of [abducted IDF soldiers] Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, and Gilad Schalit." They also referred to the Iranian threat, saying, "Continuing use of aggressive language by President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad of Iran toward Israel is wholly unacceptable to us." Williams said that he and the chief rabbis encouraged the use of educational material conducive to peaceful coexistence. The archbishop said he did not know for certain, but "we hear that there are learning materials being used in Palestinian schools that are defamatory against Jews and that present Judaism in a false and misleading way."