The number of Christians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is declining as a result of the suppressive political and economic conditions due to the conflict with Israel.
According to the Afro-Palestine Newswire Service, indigenous Christian Palestinians once constituted over 19 per cent of the population of historic Palestine, but number less than two per cent today, as the Arab-Israeli conflict has caused the majority of Palestinian Christians to leave their homeland.
During a conference held in Johannesburg last week hosted by the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA), Palestinian Christian theologians and activists addressed the Israeli restrictions preventing Christians from practicing their faith and being denied the right to worship at their most sacred sites in occupied Jerusalem.
Israel also denies Palestinians access to healthcare and employment opportunities, delegates heard, leading to a drastic decline in the Palestinian population, including that of Christians.
Restrictions on movement and opportunities of Palestinians include Israel granting travel permits late, and not allowing all members of a family to travel, forcing them to separate during holidays.
Many have also had land confiscated to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, causing families to lose their homes and sources of income.
According to Shireen Awwad Hilal, the coordinator of Musalaha Women's Ministry in Bethlehem, who spoke at the conference, explained: "Many Christians feel that there is little hope for a better future for their children under Israeli occupation, and this has contributed to the growing emigration of Palestinian Christians. Christian Palestinians are under threat from the Israeli occupation."
TEASA Secretary-General, Reverend Moss Nthla, explained the conference and the visit by the Palestinians was an effective attempt by the evangelical movement in South Africa to introduce an alternative narrative on the Holy Land.
Nthla claimed that the dominant account held is that the creation of the state of Israel was a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, which "weaponises the Bible against Palestinians and justifies the occupation of Palestine."
He told the Afro-Palestine Newswire Service: "As Christians, we need to change our role as unwitting collaborators with the oppression of Palestinian people. We must inform and equip ourselves to be part of a solution that has as its aim a just peace in Palestine, rather than being part of the problem."