Christians Returning to the Holy Land

For decades, the Holy Land has been experiencing a Christian exodus, a faint trickle that over the years grew into a steady stream. However, recent figures indicate that this long-lamented leak may finally have been staunched. A recent article in the National Catholic Register discusses this issue at greater length, and for input even draws upon CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine-Israel, Sami El-Yousef:

Earlier this year, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told a group of bishops that, for the first time in many years, more Christians returned to the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem than departed.

Citing statistics from 2009 — the most recent available — Fayyad said the ratio of returnees to emigrants “is positive for the first time.” He credited improvements in Palestinian civic society, governance and infrastructure for much of the reversal. …

Sami El-Yousef, who directs the Pontifical Mission-Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Jerusalem office, traces much of the stability to the end of the intifada and the Holy Land’s economic recovery beginning in 2006-2005.

From then on, El-Yousef said, many Palestinians who had emigrated to the West began contemplating their eventual return.

The economic gains in Palestine-Israel, coupled with the world financial crisis “meant that it became better to be here than anywhere else,” the administrator said.

Many of the Palestinians who emigrated still had family and often property to return to, El-Yousef noted. Most were single or people with young children looking for a better, more secure life outside of the turbulent Middle East. …

El-Yousef is convinced that most young Palestinian Christians would not contemplate emigrating — or would come back — if good jobs and affordable housing were more readily available.

A survey by the Catholic Aid Coordination Committee, a consortium of Christian aid organizations in the region supports his judgment. The study, conducted in 2010, concluded that that Palestinians between the ages of 14 and 35 still “have a great affinity to the land,” El-Yousef said.

“These young people said, ‘This is where I want to be, where I want to study and raise a family and be part of society.’”

The results were “a bit surprising,” El-Yousef added, because there is a popular belief that young Palestinians “can’t wait to graduate, study abroad and never come back.”

In reality, El-Yousef said, the new generation of young Palestinians are proud of their Christian and Palestinian identities, but want the aid organizations and churches to help them find jobs and apartments they can afford.

El-Yousef believes that if church-affiliated institutions — such as hospitals, clinics, social-service organizations and tourism-related enterprises—find a way to provide more jobs, Christian emigration could become a rarity.

“What these young people are saying is: ‘If we have decent employment and housing, why would we want to go anywhere else?’”

Read the full piece here!

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