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Christian Emigration Report: Palestine

23 Jan 2002 – Christian emigration from the Holy Land is not a new story. From the late 19th century, Christian families seeking greater economic opportunity, freedom of social and religious expression and political stability have left the region to establish themselves in the West. In recent decades – particularly in the 1990s – the number of Christian emigrants from the West Bank and Gaza have increased considerably.

This steady stream of Palestinian Christian emigrants has raised fears that, in the future, the Christian presence in the Holy Land will be reduced to caretakers of empty churches, museums and institutions.

Emigration is not caused by one single factor, but by many factors, most of which are experienced by the broader Palestinian population. These include economic hardship, housing, political uncertainty, threats to personal security, education and challenges to religious identity.

Although statistics are limited, community leaders have verified the increase of Palestinian Christian emigration, especially in those areas of Christian concentration – Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah. And, to a large extent, Christian emigrants outnumber Muslim emigrants.

This report explores the current concerns of the Holy Land’s Christians and summarizes the causes of this exodus.


  1. Brief history of Christian emigration from the region, beginning in the late 19th century to present.
    1. Syria-Lebanon
    2. Palestine – two major flows from the central region
      1. Christians of Ramallah to North America
      2. Christians of Bethlehem area to South America – Chile, Argentina, etc.
    3. Explanations for early immigration:
      1. Contacts with early pilgrims and missionary schools
      2. Freedom from Ottoman rule
      3. Economic incentives – education, employment shift from agriculture to service and private sector employments, rural to urban orientation, etc.
    4. Socioeconomic outcomes contributing to present immigration trends:
      1. Family in the West – greater networks and family links overseas for Christians. An estimated 90 percent of Palestine’s Christians have relatives in the United States, Europe or Australia.
      2. More opportunities elsewhere for Palestinian Christians due to higher levels of education, work and travel experience – a heightened Western orientation.
      3. Christians leave to establish themselves permanently elsewhere, while Muslims leave to generate quick income and then return.
      4. Since 1948, some 230,000 Arab Christians have left the region (Dr. Bernard Sabella, Bethlehem University), including refugees from 1947 and 1967; moreover, some 35% of the total Palestinian Christian population has emigrated since the Six Day War, June 1967.

2. Collapse of the peace process: from post-Oslo optimism to today’s dismal reality.


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