As of Christmas Eve 2011, the Christian population within Jerusalem stood at a tiny 1.9%. The impact of this factor, however, is immense – because Christians in Jerusalem are not a mere number but a bona fide representation of the many faces of Christians the world over. And yet, JIIS research has found that the official Israeli approach to Christian affairs is problematic. "Despite the great importance of Jerusalem in the eyes of the Christian world, and despite church leaders’ strong influence on world opinion and decision makers, this issue lies right at the bottom of the Israeli government’s list of priorities," states Dr. Amnon Ramon, who is conducting the research. The combination of words, "Christian" and "Jerusalem," he continues, "only makes headlines when something dramatic happens, such as violent clashes in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, clergymen’s visa problems, or a Papal visit." Even the question of who is in charge of matters pertaining to the churches and Christian communities in Israel falls “between the cracks.” Moreover, "the bureaucratic and legal obstacles that thwart efforts on behalf of local Christian churches and communities are often based on fear of setting a precedent that might inspire Muslim or Jewish action one way or another." Together with researcher Aviel Yelinek, he plans to develop recommendations for a more appropriate municipal and government policy on Christian affairs both in relation to Jerusalem, including tourism and pilgrimages, and in relation to Christian Arab communities in the Galilee.
This is important for a number of reasons. First, the Christian dimension is of the utmost importance in strengthening Jerusalem’s universal standing; in that context, both Israelis and Palestinians have a clear interest in preserving the status of the Christian element (in all its denominations), he says. In addition, the Christian contribution to the city’s panorama and uniqueness – particularly in the basin of the Old City – is immense. And the economic importance of pilgrimage-based tourism is also decisive, he adds.
"Jerusalem is the only city in the world that is sacred to all Christian denominations and organizations as well as to Judaism and Islam. The disappearance of Christian communities and churches from the panorama of the city and its surroundings would strike a severe blow to the charm of the city and to its special standing, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Historically, you could say, Christianity was to a large extent the 'loudspeaker' that broadcast the holiness of Jerusalem throughout the world and made it a 'global city.'" Now what is being broadcast is a call to preserve that status.
Ramon's research, titled Christians and Christianity in the Jewish State, will be published by JIIS in the coming weeks.