Endangered Species

The Christians of the West Bank

westbank

BY Fred Barnes

September 13, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 48

Jerusalem

Sister Sophie is a French-speaking nun from Lebanon who runs the Creche, an orphanage in Bethlehem sponsored by the Vatican. She’s maybe 80 years old, though she won’t say. And it doesn’t matter. She shows the energy of a teenager as she takes care of 40 infants whose prospects of adoption are close to nil. Sister Sophie also has the heart of a saint.

Adoption isn’t banned in the West Bank, but there’s a catch. It is subject to sharia law. Orphans can only be adopted by Muslim families. But they rarely adopt. It’s frowned upon in Muslim culture. So the orphans, some with serious birth defects, stay with Sister Sophie until they’re passed on to an orphanage for older children.

Their sad plight is a reflection of the adversity endured by Palestinian Christians in a largely Muslim society. They do wonderful things. They operate colleges, schools, and hospitals, open to all. But from the Palestinians and the Israelis who control the West Bank, they get little in return. Their motivation comes from Christ’s teachings, their thanks from the grace of God.

Christians play an important institutional role here, taking care of many holy sites. (This is what the Crusades were about.) But the various Christian sects, small as they are, bicker among themselves, notably over who should control the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. As a result, a prominent Muslim family handles access to the church.

The custodial job at sacred sites will get more difficult as the Christian population continues to dwindle in Israel and the West Bank. “It’s been declining since 1948 [when Israel became a state] and is declining very sharply,” says Alex Awad, dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College. “I’m afraid in 15 years, forget about Christians in the Holy Land.” In the West Bank and Gaza today, Christians are probably less than 2 percent of the population.

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