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Christians Good Friday Jerusalem 248.88.(Photo by: AP)
Christians down to 2% of capital's population
Etgar Lefkovits
05/31/2009
Some 15,000 Christians live in Jerusalem, compared to 31,000 who lived in the city before the establishment of the state in 1948.
In a diminishing demographic trend, Christians make up only 2 percent of the total population of Jerusalem, according to the annual city statistics. The official number of Christians living in the city has remained relatively steady over the last decade, but the figure is substantially lower than half a century ago, due to increased emigration and low growth rates. Some 15,000 Christians live in Jerusalem, compared to 31,000 who lived in the city before the establishment of the state in 1948, the figures issued by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) show. During the division of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 freedom of worship was restricted by Jordanian authorities who were in control of east Jerusalem. By 1967, Christians made up 4 percent of city residents, the figures show. In all, 150,000 Christians live in Israel. "The main fear of the church leadership is that local Christian communities will disappear, and that the holy sites will be turned into museums with no supporting communities," said Dr. Amnon Ramon, an expert on the Christian community with the JIIS. He noted that the decline of the Christian community started a century ago and has continued ever since. "Compared to the Middle East, the situation of Christians in Israel is much better [here] even though it, too, is not simple," he said. "If you are only two percent of the population, every family that leaves is a blow to those who remain here," said Daniel Rossing, director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. "Even if the Christian population holds steady, their population rate in relative terms will continue to drop, due to low natural growth rates," he said. The bitterly divided Christian community in Jerusalem includes 4,500 Catholics, 3,500 Greek Orthodox, 1,500 Armenians and 850 Protestants, the figures show. In addition, about 2,600 Christian foreigners - mainly monks and clergymen - live in the city. A low growth rate, an older population, economic struggles, housing problems, the security barrier separating Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem and the lack of peace have all contributed to the dwindling Christian presence in the city, said Prof. Salim Munayer of Bethlehem Biblical College. "Despite the low natural growth, the number should have been double what it is today," he said. About two-thirds of the city's 760,000 residents are Jews, and a third are Arabs, with the Jewish growth rate 1.8 percent, compared to 3% for the Arabs last year. Based on current trends, Jerusalem will lose its Jewish majority by 2035.
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