Christians in the Middle East — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:45 am on 9th December 2011.

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Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench 10:45 am, 9th December 2011

My Lords, all speakers in this debate must deplore the long-standing and continuing decline of the indigenous Christian communities in the Middle East. Much of this has been due to what has been described as "creeping Islamisation"; some has also been due to economic causes. Some of the worst cases, such as the decimation of the Armenian, Syrian Orthodox and Nestorian communities in Anatolia, date back to the days of the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

I want to concentrate today on two current cases where the decline of the Christian population has been, at least indirectly, due to western policies or the failure of western policies. The first is Iraq, where the misjudged invasion eight years ago has led to the distressing reduction of some of the oldest Christian communities in the world-communities which, in many cases, long predate Islam. Statistics vary, but it seems to be agreed that a community that numbered some 1.5 million before 2003 has now fallen to less than 500,000 today, and a steady exodus continues.

The second case, to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention several times over the past year, is the appalling treatment of Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem as a result of Israeli discriminatory housing and planning policies that affect Muslims and Christians alike. Israeli abuse of the Christian Palestinian community is not the only problem that they have to endure. In the area of Israeli-occupied Bethlehem, where Christians made up some 85 per percent of the population a generation ago, and where the Christian population is now said to be less than 15 per cent of the total, extreme Islamists have made life for the Christians even worse than it was already, with all the frustrations and indignities caused by the occupation.

But the failure of the quartet, and particularly of the United States, to bring any effective pressure to bear on Mr Netanyahu's Government, is a shameful consequence of the failure of the United States Administration, and of Congress, to realise the damaging effect of their supine acceptance of the Israeli Government's blatant flouting of international law in both Jerusalem and the other occupied territories. It is tragic that even the President of the United States is unable to reverse the Judaisation of East Jerusalem or the illegal and continuing settlement policies of the Netanyahu Government.

In criticising the treatment by the Israeli authorities of their Christian communities, I pay tribute to the many brave Israelis who deplore and publicly demonstrate against the ill treatment of their Christian and Muslim neighbours. I would also like to mention my own recollection of Muslim Palestinian friends in Saudi Arabia who remembered fondly their experience of celebrating Christmas in the Holy Land with their Christian neighbours. One of the tragedies of the present situation in the Middle East is that radicalism and fundamentalism across all three Abrahamic faiths has made tolerance of that sort a rarity.