- (Photo: AP / Khalil Hamra)
A recent survey performed by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has found that the Christian population in the country is growing, and currently comprises two percent of the total population.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country in a Christmas message that the country's Christian communities are "strong, growing, and wholly integrated into the life of the country," according to Catholic Culture.
The survey, conducted by the CBS and reported on by The Jerusalem Post, found that currently, 158,000 Christians live in Israel, the majority of which, at 80 percent, are Arabs living in the north of the country, while the remainder are mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who returned to the country to seek citizenship.
The Jerusalem Post also noted that the Christian population holds a growth rate of 1.3 percent, compared to 1.8 percent for the Jewish population and 2.5 percent for Muslims.
Additionally, the CBS report found that 64 percent of Christian high school students receive a graduation diploma, the highest of percentages compared to Muslim and Jewish citizens.
Although the CBS report proves promising for Israel's Christian population, critics contend that it does not shed light on the intense internal struggles among religious factions within the county.
For example, in early December, the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem's Sacher Park was vandalized with graffiti messages which condemned Christianity and touted Judaism.
The vandalism was reportedly done by a group of right-wing extremists, according to Haaretz.
Similarly, a late-December article published by the Guardian indicated a growing fear among Christians in the Israel and Palestine territories who fear growing Israeli settlements will further tear apart the historical Christian community in these areas.
"For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a Christmas address.
As Catholic Culture points out, many local Christians dispute the claim that their population is growing in Israel, arguing that it continues to diminish as the years pass.
Still, many Christians continue to see the Israel and Palestine areas as the Holy Land of their religion.
For example, on Monday, Dec. 24, thousands of Christians embarked on a pilgrimage from Jerusalem's Old City to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Manger Square.