As a country that is holy to so many different religions, Israel is home to Christians of different persuasions. They are not a homogeneous group, but are split up into different populations and denominations of Christianity. In early 2014, there were approximately160,000 Christians, representing about 2% of Israel’s population, 80% of whom are Arabs and the remainder are Christians whom immigrated with their Jewish families. The Christian population in Israel consists of different churches that differ from each other in their attitude to Judaism, their views of the country and their organizational structure. The main ones are the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches. Alongside these major churches, one may also find Monophysite Christians who form under the Syrian Church, the Coptic Church, the Assyrian Church, Maronite’s, Ethiopians and Armenians. Except for the national churches, most Christians are members of local congregations in Israel who speak Arabic.

 

For centuries, Israel has been a holy place to Christians, and throughout history, crusades have passed through the country, resulting in many residents converting to Christianity. Alongside these, many churches and monasteries have formed in Israel, which serve the Christian population to this day. As a country that is holy to Christianity, representatives of most Christian organizations can be found across many holy sites around the country. Not all organizations have a local congregation, and in most cases the representatives of organizations are temporary residents. Western countries are represented by monks and priests in Israel who are often involved in social, cultural and academic life in Israel. The State of Israel does not interfere in the lives of Christians in Israel, but a Christian Communities Affairs Division has been founded in the Ministry of Interior, serving as a link between the government and Christian communities. Christian communities can submit applications to this government department that involve issues requiring government assistance.

 

In Israel there are places that are holy to Christianity that are related to the life and death of Jesus Christ, and although most of them are in Jerusalem, other related sites can be found to the north and center of Israel. These sites include the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where according to belief Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. The room of Jesus’ last supper on Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. Other sites like Qasr el Yahud, according to Christian tradition is the site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus and his followers, and the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Additionally, there are cities and settlements that are identified with the Christian population in Israel, which include the towns of Nazareth, Maalot-Tarshiha, Haifa and Jerusalem and the settlements Eilabun, Iblin, Shfaram, to name but a few.

 

Alongside everyday life and pilgrim tourism, organizations have formed with the purpose of connecting Judaism to Christianity. Such an organization is the Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation, which deals with the Hebrew connection of Christianity and cooperation and forming a dialog between the two religions. The center conducts tours nationwide and seminars dealing with Jewish-Christian relations, biblical theology of religious festivals and study of the Bible from a Jewish perspective. Another organization is the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), an organization that was founded by Christian lovers of Israel, which has more than 60 delegations worldwide. The peak of activity of the organization is holding the Feast of Tabernacles, which is held during the Jewish Sukkoth festival each year in Jerusalem. At the feast, there is a demonstration of support for Israel alongside seminars and conferences on the connection between the People of Israel, the State of Israel, the return of Jesus and much more. This feast attracts Christian pilgrims from around the world and has been held for more than 35 years.