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Palestinian Christians are Palestinians who belong to one of a number of Christian denominations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, including Oriental Orthodoxy, Anglican, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholic (Eastern and Western rites), Protestant, and others. In both the local dialect of Palestinian Arabic and in classical or modern standard Arabic, Christians are called Nasrani (a derivative of the Arabic word for Nazareth, al-Nasira) or Masihi (a derivative of Arabic word Masih, meaning “Messiah“). In Hebrew, they are called Notzri (also spelt Notsri), which means “Nazarene”.
Today, Christians comprise less than 4% of the Palestinian population of Israel and the Palestinian territories – approximately 8% of the Arab population of the West Bank, less than 1% in the Gaza Strip, and nearly 10% of the Arab population in Israel. According to official British Mandatory estimates, Palestine’s Christian population in 1922 comprised 9.5% of the total population (10.8% of the Palestinian population), and 7.9% in 1946. The Palestinian Christian population greatly decreased from 1948 to 1967. A large number fled or were expelled from the area during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and a small number left during Jordanian control of the West Bank for economic reasons. Since 1967, the Palestinian Christian population has increased in excess of the continued emigration.
Worldwide, there are nearly one million Palestinian Christians in these territories as well as in the Palestinian diaspora, comprising over 10% of the world’s total Palestinian population. Palestinian Christians live primarily in Arab states surrounding historic Palestine and in the diaspora, particularly in South America, Europe and North America.
Demographics and denominations
In 2009, there were an estimated 50,000 Christians in the Palestinian territories, mostly in the West Bank, with about 3,000 in the Gaza Strip. Of the total Christian population of 154,000 in Israel, about 80% are Arabs, many of whom also self-identify as Palestinian. The majority (56%) of Palestinian Christians live in the Palestinian diaspora.
|Population group||Christian population||% Christian|
|Arab Christians in Israel**||123,000||10|
|Non-Arab Christians in Israel||29,000||0.4|
|Total Arab Christians||349,000||6.0|
|Total Christians (including non-Arabs)||378,000||3.0|
|* The figure includes Samaritans and other unspecified minorities.[dubious ]**Arab Christians in Israel do not necessarily identify as Palestinian.|
Around 50% of Palestinian Christians belong to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, one of the 16 churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. This community has also been known as the Arab Orthodox Christians. There are also Maronites, Melkite-Eastern Catholics, Jacobites, Chaldeans, Roman Catholics (locally known as Latins), Syriac Catholics, Orthodox Copts, Catholic Copts, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Quakers (Friends Society), Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans (Episcopal), Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Baptists and other Protestants; in addition to small groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others.
The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theófilos III, is the leader of the Palestinian and Jordanian Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, but Israel has refused to recognize his appointment. If confirmed, he would replace Patriarch Irenaios (in office from 2001), whose status within the church became disputed after a term surrounded by controversy and scandal given that he sold Palestinian property to Israeli Orthodox Jews. Archbishop Theodosios (Hanna) of Sebastia is the highest ranking Palestinian clergyman in the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, is the leader of the Roman Catholics in Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus. The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem is Suheil Dawani, who replaced Bishop Riah Abou Al Assal. Elias Chacour, a Palestinian refugee, of the Melkite Eastern Catholic Church is Archbishop of Haifa, Acre and the Galilee. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan is the president of the Lutheran World Federation and the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).