When one looks at the actual numbers, the Christian population in the West Bank was 59,160 in 1945, before Israel even existed and according to the census conducted by the British authorities then in control of the territory. In 1967, before the six day war and with the West Bank under Jordanian control, the Christian population had dwindled to 42,494, or an actual decline in absolute numbers of 28 %. By 1995, after 28 years of Israeli occupation and before the West Bank cities were handed over to the Palestinian Authority, the Christian population numbered 51,163, or an increase of 20 % in absolute numbers. By 2005, after 12 years of Palestinian control, the population was 51,710 or essentially stable. Not growing, but not declining either. Yet the percentage of Christians in the West Bank has been in steady decline, going from 7.4 % of the total Palestinian population in the West Bank in 1945 to a mere 1.37 % in 2007; how can this be explained?
There is a marked difference between the population figures used by the British Authorities and the UN and those used by the Palestinians for the year 1948. In this way, the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center reports 350,000 Palestinian Christians in 1948 in all the territory of British Palestine, while the figures used by the Anglo-American Commission in 1946 and the United Nations Special Committee On Palestine in 1947 puts that number between 136,000 and 145,000. For that population to grow to 350,000 by 1948 would have required a 34 % annual growth. In other words, the 350,000 is plain wrong – yet that number is used to “prove” that the Christian population declined to 200,000 or so by today. If we, however, trust the numbers of the UNSCOP and the Anglo-American Commission, the Christian Population has grown between 1945 and 2011. The decline in percentages can be explained by the lower birthrate of Christians as compared with Muslims, a difference that existed for centuries in that region. Many Christians have also emigrated to the West in search of better economic and educational opportunities as well as family reunification, but these emigration numbers have also been exaggerated in the Inter-church Center studies.
So what about within Israel? The Israeli Christian population was 85,900 in 1945, declined to 34,000 in 1948 due mostly to the war, and has been increasing steadily ever since reaching 151,700 in 2009; an average annual growth of 1.56 % if we use the 1945 number as a basis or 2.48 % if we use the 1948 number.
It is true that the Palestinian Arab Christian population faces unique challenges and significant pressures such as unresolved conflicts, living as a minority among Muslims, a low birthrate and emigration – all of which contributes to the decline of the visibility of Christians as a part of Palestinian society. But asserting that the numbers are declining and blaming it on Israel goes obviously against what the numbers are telling. According to the numbers, in 1948 there were about 152,000 to 160,000 Palestinian Christians between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Today, in that same territory, there are 203,000. In 1948, immediately after the war, about 22 % of Christians lived inside the "Green Line". In 2009, that percentage is 74 %. Mark Twain once said that in this country, if one doesn't follow the news, one is uninformed – and if one does follow the news, one is misinformed. How true that is when it comes to the documentary presented by CBS!
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