United Christian Communities' Blog

The Last Christian Shop-Owners in Jerusalem’s Old City
November 24, 2014, 4:48 pm
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From the Jerusalem Post. “Try the shop with the green awning,” the Arab shop-owner says. “I think there are still some Christians who work there.”

The stalls in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem may be adorned with crucifixes, images of the Madonna and holy water for sale, but [don’t assume they are owned by Christians. Today] mainly Muslim vendors run and operate the shops in the Christian Quarter.

The Salman brothers are two of the last Christian shop-owners in the Christian Quarter. . . .  The two brothers (who wished to keep their first names anonymous). . .  have owned and run Salman Souvenir shop for the past 50 years. Before that their father owned the shop, and before that their grandfather did.. . .

The Salman brothers say that it’s [mostly] Christians they see coming to visit the Holy Land. (In 2013, 53 percent of Israel’s tourists were Christians.) . .  To Christians, the Temple Mount [in the Old City of Jerusalem and the site of the Al Aksa Mosque] holds great historical significance . . . The temple played a prominent role in the life of Jesus Christ, and is mentioned in the New Testament on three separate occasions. . . .

Despite this, Christians are advised against praying at the holy site, much like Jews. Throughout the current debate, no Christian leaders have stepped in to advocate for Christian prayer upon the Temple Mount. . . . “But”, Salman says, “Jesus had been praying on the mosque. It was a temple in the time of the Lord. But now, everything has changed here.”  [The tiny Christian minority that remains in the Holy Land tries to stay away from politics.]  Salman adds: “There is Jewish and there is Muslim, and they are interested in politics. But we are neutral.”

. . . The Salman brothers say that the population of Christians living in the Old City is decreasing as a result of politics and, what they feel, is a lack of governmental concern for Israel’s Christian population. “If it stays like this there will be no Christians living in Jerusalem. So many people have left because of the dirty politics” says the co-owner of their shop.

Click here to read the full article.


Palestinian Women Empowering Palestinian Women.
November 24, 2014, 4:47 pm
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palestinianwomenA video report of the Media Line reports that: “Iman Darawi, a soft-spoken Muslim woman wearing a traditional grey headscarf, doesn’t look like a pioneer. But [the] divorced self-employed Palestinian seamstress from the town of Beit Sahour [a largely Christian village] near Bethlehem, is a symbol of how roles are changing for Palestinian women. [She] is responsible for seven seamstresses in Beit Sahour who produce  traditional Palestinian embroidery that is sold in the Al-Balad workshop in Jerusalem’s Old City.

[The Al-Balad workshop a project of the Arab Orthodox Society, one of the oldest women’s organizations in Jerusalem. Established in 1926, its mission is the empowerment of women through enterprise and economic self-reliance by creating job opportunities for them within Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Society’s Chairwoman is Nora Kort, a Christian born and raised in Jerusalem. Click here to visit the website of the Arab Orthodox Society.]

“We are trying to teach the women how to fish, not just to give them fish,” Hala Jahshan, who runs the Jerusalem shop, said.  Palestinian society remains traditional, and many men frown on women working outside the home. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, women make up only 18% of the labor force. Women marry young, and especially in the villages, have many children.

“When many of these women come to us, they are broken,” Ms. Kort said “When a man doesn’t work, he often takes out his anger on his wife. But once these women start working, I see the development of their feeling of value and self-worth.”

She says many of the women use the money for their daughters’ education, which especially pleases her. Although about one-third of the women she employs are either illiterate or have only a rudimentary education, most of their daughters attend university.

Ms. Kort says that when tourism is good, the project can employ up to 500 women.  They each make about $200, which can go far in the West Bank where food is comparatively inexpensive.

Ms. Kort also says she sees the shop as a way of preserving traditional Palestinian culture, and helping to build a Palestinian identity. “Palestinian skills and crafts have died out because of the competition with China,” she said “Chinese items are all over the place and they’re very cheap.”

Ms. Kort sees the traditional embroidery as a way to unite all three religions in Jerusalem. Many of the shop’s customers are Israeli Jews, a few of whom have even asked for embroidery lessons. The women who sew are both Christian and Muslim.

“Religion is important to us but not religious fundamentalism”” Kort says. “Religion is tolerance, love and peace, and I read a lot of these messages in the symbols of the embroidery.”

Click here to see the video.

There Is a Place Where Christians, Jews and Muslims Get Along Peacefully . . . It’s Mbale, Uganda! 
November 24, 2014, 4:45 pm
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mirembaThe Times of Israel reports that there is a place where Christians, Jews and Muslims get along peacefully: Mbale, Uganda.

Christians are the majority in Uganda as a whole but Muslims are a majority in the Mbale region. Jews are a tiny minority in Uganda, with only 2,000 members, mostly around Mbale.

Mbale hosts a cooperative of 2,000 Jewish, Christian and Muslim coffee farmers who grow coffee called “Mirembe Kawomera,” which translates as “Delicious Peace” in the local language of Luganda.

The cooperative started in 2004.  Previously, Jews and Muslims had argued over land ownership issues because some synagogues had been appropriated as mosques and churches during the Amin years. Today members of the three faiths enjoy celebrating their holy days together. Muslims and Christians are regulars at the Passover seder table and Jews regularly join Christmas celebrations or Eid festivals.

Ugandans are worried about the influence of extremist Muslim violence. . . . This interfaith cooperative is a preemptive strike against fanaticism, by creating close working relationships across religions so children grow up in a more tolerant environment.”

Click here to read the full article.

United Christian Communities Opens Palestinian Branch
November 24, 2014, 4:43 pm
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United ChristianCommunities has opened a branch in Palestine comprised entirely of Christians living in Palestine. The mission of United Christian Communities is:

  • To halt and then reverse the flight of Christians from the Holy Land,
  • To encourage those who have left the Holy Land to return,
  • To help to ensure a vibrant, living Christian presence in the place where Christianity was born

In fulfilling its mission United Christian Communities focues on helping to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality and civil rights of minority peoples in the Holy Land by encouraging positive change through dialogue with governmental, civic, business and religious leaders and through civic engagement and action by citizens across the political, religious, ethnic, economic and social spectrum.

The specific programmatic agenda of the Palestinian Branch will be set by the Christian Palestinians who comprise the branch. These men and women represent a broad segment of professions and Christian society in Palestine.

An Israeli branch is expected soon.

ABCnews: Christian Exodus Shadows Papal Visit to Holy Land
May 21, 2014, 6:48 pm
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ABCnews reports that “Pope Francis will arrive this weekend in the land where Christianity was born — and where Christians are disappearing. This ancient community has dwindled to around 2 percent of the region’s population as economic hardship, violence and the bitter realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have sent Christians searching for better opportunities overseas. 

The Christian exodus, underway for decades, has reached critical levels in recent years. Emigration is a central concern to local Vatican officials, who are trying to stave off the flight with offers of jobs, housing and scholarships.

“I am sad to think that maybe the time will come in which Christianity will disappear from this land,” said the Rev. Juan Solana, a Vatican envoy

….For the Church, the phenomenon is particularly heartbreaking in the cradle of Christianity. …The pope said in a November speech that “we will not be resigned to think about the Middle East without Christians,” lamenting that they “suffer particularly from the consequences of the tensions and conflicts underway” across the region.…

The Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the custodian of the Roman Catholic Church’s Holy Land properties, said the native Christians who have left are middle-class and well-educated, some of the most vital members of the community.

… The decline began with high Jewish immigration and Christian emigration after the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s establishment, and has been abetted by continued emigration and a low birthrate among Christians who stay… 

Israeli-Palestinian violence has also pushed people to leave, and instances of Islamic extremism, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, have made some Christians feel unwelcome in some cases, though relations between Palestinian Christians and Muslims are generally friendly.…

In recent decades, the Church has built 60 apartments in the West Bank city of Ramallah and rented them to Christians at a discounted rate [to help Christians remain in the Holy Land], said the Rev. Raed Abusahlia, Ramallah’s parish priest.…

Properties abandoned by Christian emigres over the years have become a battleground for local priests seeking to keep a Christian presence in the Holy Land.

In the West Bank, many Christians left without selling their homes and land, hoping they might one day return. In some cases, squatters — Muslims and Christians — have occupied these homes and asserted ownership of lands, said the Rev. Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Bethlehem’s sister city, Beit Jala.

Maha Abu Dayyeh, a Palestinian Christian, said she came back from visiting her daughter in Sweden last year to find a Muslim family had taken over her mother’s old house and thrown out the furniture. She said men threatened her son if she did anything to fight it.

“It will cost us only one bullet,” she said they told her son. She indicated the squatters’ motives were more criminal than religious.

… Israeli restrictions in the occupied West Bank have also persuaded Christians to leave.

The concrete and fence barrier Israel built to keep out Palestinian attackers has choked cities like Bethlehem and separated Palestinians from their farmlands. Many Palestinian Christians are prohibited from entering Jerusalem except during holidays.

Click here to read the complete article. 

May 8, 2014, 6:48 pm
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Thousands of Palestinian Christians marched in cities and villages across the Holy Land on “Holy Saturday” to receive the holy fire as it arrived from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Holy Saturday marks the day following Good Friday, when Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem, and the day before Easter, which marks his resurrection from the grave.

Palestinian Christians as well as Eastern Orthodox Christians from around the world believe that on the Saturday between these two holidays, a miraculous fire appears above his tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Every year, thousands gather in Jerusalem’s Old City to welcome the fire, which is subsequently brought to churches in Palestinian towns and villages throughout the Holy Land.

For Palestinian Christians, Holy Saturday is an important celebration of community and faith that unites Christians of all sects and ties them to their holy sites .

May 8, 2014, 6:46 pm
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In Issue 19 of the Connection we reported that Moshe Ahrens, who served as Israel’s Minister of Defense three times, once as Minister of Foreign Affairs and is generally considered a conservative politician wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Sixty five years have passed since [the Israeli army drove out the Arab armies and occupied] the villages of Biram and Ikrit, whose villagers offered no resistance.  They were asked to evacuate the villages and promised that they could return once security had be established in the area. The villagers followed the order to evacuate, but the promise was not kept.  Three years later the [army] blew up the houses in both villages, leaving only the churches standing.”   Click here to read the full article by Ahrens.

  Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority on May 24-26. Recently  Haaretz reported that some of those expelled from the Upper Galilee village of Ikrit sent a letter to the Pope asking him to pressure Israel to allow them and the  former residents of the nearby village Biram to return to their villages and rebuild them.

 “We implore you to intensify your sacred efforts to exert pressure on the Government of Israel to end the injustices it has inflicted upon our community,” said the letter, dated Monday. “We hope that your upcoming visit to Palestine and Israel will serve towards that purpose.”

 Nemi Ashkar, who heads the Iqrit Community Association, said the request to the pope is just one way of trying to get Israel to implement its pledge to allow residents to return.  Click here to read the full article.