Migration of Palestinian Christians: Drivers and Means of Combating it

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) conducted a public opinion poll among Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the period between 27 January and 23 February 2020. The poll sought to explore the reasons that drive Christians to emigrate from their homeland in Palestine to other countries and the various means that could potentially stem the flow. Total size of the sample is 995 Christian adults interviewed face to face in 98 selected locations in seven Palestinian governorates. Margin of error is +/-3%.

The findings clearly show that the desire to emigrate is much higher among Palestinian Christians than Palestinian Muslims. Indeed, the percentage among Christians in the West Bank is almost twice as much as that of Muslims. The largest percentage of those wishing to emigrate say that they would like to go to the US, and Canada and Europe placed second and third, respectively. The largest percentage indicate that their desire to emigrate stems from economic reasons, while a smaller percentage indicate a desire to search abroad for educational opportunities, a safer, more stable, and less corrupt place, and a place that allows greater liberties and religious tolerance.

The poll found other reasons for the emigration, some having to do with the conditions of the Israeli occupation and others with the domestic conditions. For example, Christians complain about the impact of occupation measures, such as checkpoints, settlers’ attacks, and land confiscation.

Others complain about the lack of safety and security and a majority believes that the Israeli occupation seeks to expel them from their homeland. Certain domestic conditions are also conducive to a greater demand for emigration. For example, there are complaints and worries about lack of safety, fear of crime and theft, absence of liberties and rule of law, and the spread of corruption. Moreover, there is evidence of worry about the existence of religious Salafist groups in Palestinian society and the presence of armed groups such as Hamas and those that represent political Islam.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Christians indicate that they face no irritation or harassment from their Muslim neighbors, or at schools and workplaces, findings do show that somewhere between a fifth and a quarter complain of hearing swearwords or curses and accusations of blasphemy. Indeed, a very large minority believe that most Muslims do not wish to see them in the country. Similarly, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority indicate that they do not suffer from religious discrimination, findings show that a fifth to a quarter feel discrimination when searching for jobs or when seeking PA services. The overwhelming majority indicate that they feel integrated into Palestinian society. Still, three out of ten do not see themselves integrated or feel hated by the Muslim citizens. About a quarter say that some of their Muslim acquaintances invite them to convert to Islam and seven out of ten say they have, at one time or another, heard a Muslim asserting that Christians will go to hellfire.

Findings also show that Christians, like Muslims, do not trust the Palestinian government or the PA security services and the justice sector. Indeed, the majority tend to have no trust in the Christian religious leaders or civil society organizations. The majority believe that corruption exists in the PA institutions. While the overwhelming majority indicates that the democratic system is the best, only one in ten describe the Palestinian system as democratic. Findings show that the overwhelming majority of Christians believe that one should be careful in his/her dealings with other people while only one in ten believes that it is possible to trust most people.

The poll found more than half of the Christians hope for a political settlement that leads to the creation of a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in which Palestinians and Israelis would have equal rights while three out of 10 prefer a two-state solution. Half of the Christians view the one-state solution as safer than the two-state solution for Palestinian Christians.

The poll also found that one additional reason for the larger Christian emigration is that a large percentage of Palestinian Christians have relatives who have emigrated in the past, and believe that those relatives would help them if they showed interested in emigrating. About half of the sample believe that immigration laws in counties of destination favor Christians. Other external factors, found among two-thirds of the sample, are the regional political developments, which constitute an additional driver pushing people out from Palestine and the entire region.

Finally, when asked about the means of combating the phenomena of Christian emigration, respondents focus on the need for Palestinian policy makers and the leaders of the church to pay more attention to the problem and to develop means to decrease the outflow. Respondents’ suggestions focused on the importance of improving economic conditions, such as creating job opportunities, providing financial assistance to those in need, facilitating greater access to homes and apartments. Other suggestions focused on improving conditions of safety and security, including greater PA capacity to enforce law and order, and promoting values of democracy and tolerance.

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