Arab Christian emigration from Israel is continuing, leading to new ethnic composition of Christians in this nation, according to a recent paper at the recent 1st World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies.
At the congress, which took place in Mainz (Germany) on Sept. 8-13 and was attended by RW, Israeli scholar Daphne Tsimhoni of Hebrew University, presented her research on Christian Arabs and their identity in the State of Israel.
It is well-known that the proportion of Christians in the Palestinian population has steadily decreased since World War I. Especially from the 1960s, the Muslim population in Israel has exploded, while the growth of the Christian population has been very slow: its number is now approximately the same as the number of Druzes in Israel (about 2 percent of the total population each in 2000, with Jews making 78 percent and Muslims 15 percent of the Israeli population).
The birthrate of Christians is slightly lower than the Jewish birthrate and significantly lower than the Muslim and Druze birthrate. Moreover, the emigration rate of Christians is higher than the emigration rate of other non-Jews (a phenomenon observed everywhere across the Middle East).
Tsimhoni also notes that there have been changes in the internal subdivisions of the Christian population: while more than 90 percent of the Christians in Israel used to be Arabs 50 years ago, this was transformed during the 1980s and 1990s by the influx of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, a number of whom are Christians, as well as foreign workers who managed to stay in the country (illegally or by marrying local people). This is leading to the emergence of a non Arab Christian population in the country — and several churches in Jaffa or Haifa, which had become historical monuments following the 1948 war, have revived a communal life.
Christians used to enjoy a higher status. They were perceived as less threatening by the State of Israel, and they managed to stay in larger percentage after the creation of the new State. They also tended to be the spokespersons of the Arab community, Tsimhoni: adds; until the end of the 1970s, more than 50 percent of the Arab members of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, were Christians.
But this position has eroded for a variety of reasons, including the coming of age of an educated Muslim elite and the perception by Israeli parties that Muslims had to come to represent a more important voting potential.
— By Jean-François Mayer