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Missing ingredient

"Missing ingredient" Continued...

Issue: "Bird flu," June 10, 2006

The expansion of Israeli settlements is another key concern of Christians in the region. Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz recently approved the expansion of four settlements in the West Bank as part of the effort to beef up some parts of the territory before drawing final borders. The Christian triangle of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala in the south is already surrounded by Israeli settlements.

"The staff report indicates that in some areas housing and land shortages are limiting the natural growth of the community," Ms. Garlock said. Settlements in the West Bank have been characterized as illegal by the United Nations, although not all international law scholars agree with this ruling.

But the source of Palestinian Christian emigration does not rest entirely on the shoulders of Israeli policy. Emigration of Christians from the West Bank spiked under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967, and a Palestinian government laden with an increasingly extreme Islamic presence does little to encourage Christians to remain in a territory where Shariah, or Islamic law, could be a part of a future state.

Palestinian towns also suffer from gunfire and military bombardment from both sides, and Muslim rioters have chosen the rooftops of Christian homes as outposts, inciting Israeli retaliation upon the Christian population.

All of these factors contribute to what some are calling the "museumification" of the indigenous Arab Christian population in Israel and Palestine. Dwindling numbers could lead to its disappearance several decades from now, with churches becoming mere museums and Christians only visible as tourists and tour guides.

Yet despite Palestinian Christians being caught in the middle of the conflict's gridlock, very few invitations to join negotiations are extended toward this community. "We need two states with three faiths," Mr. Rabie said. Lacking real representation in any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, many find the Christian communities of the West more welcoming. Mr. Rabie says the number of Christians has diminished to about 50,000 in the Palestinian territories as many leave.

Mr. Hyde's report hasn't won widespread approval on Capitol Hill, but members of the International Relations Committee will meet with Vice President Dick Cheney's staff this month. "This is not an attack on Israel. We are just adding another perspective-as reported to our staff by the Christian community-to the table that has not been considered and may be important in the effort to establish peace in the region," Ms. Garlock said.

Mr. Rabie, however, is looking for help elsewhere. "We need some action from the Eastern church," including prayer, financial support, and empowerment to build ties between Israelis and Arabs, Mr. Rabie said. "If we empower the Christians there, they can be the bridges between the Muslim Palestinians and the Israeli Jews."

He would also like to see changes in word and deed by both parties in power: "We have two governments based on faith, and both are doing the same thing: creating unrest. Both need to come to their senses."

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