Christians residing in the West Bank and Jerusalem are being confronted with a dire situation as the war in Gaza and escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continue to take their toll according to recent information received by the international foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

With an unemployment rate of 72 percent an unprecedented record in the history of the Holy Land the region is experiencing a widespread economic crisis, leaving numerous families in a fight for simple survival after losing their sources of income due to the total paralysis of the tourism sector, mass layoffs and severe restrictions on freedom of movement.

On the other hand, the decision of the Israeli authorities to replace Palestinians in the labour market has created a long-term problem. Over 80 thousand Indian workers are expected to arrive in the country to take over jobs once held by Palestinians. This information, which has been circulating in Israeli media, has been confirmed to ACN by several local sources and could be partly linked to a reprisal for the attacks of last October, aimed at isolating and marginalising the Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike.

“Unfortunately, the relationship of trust between Israel and the Palestinians has been torn apart, and it is unlikely that it will be restored over the next decades”, a local source, who for safety reasons prefers to remain anonymous, tells ACN. “This will have a deep effect on the Christian community in the Holy Land.”

But the economic situation is not the only challenge in the daily life of a Palestinian Christian, a population which is increasingly facing threats when it comes to displaying its identity in public. “Wearing a cross can get you into trouble. Sometimes you have to hide your identity in your own homeland, to avoid problems. The presence in the area of groups with increasingly radical elements makes our situation even more difficult. Christians are caught between two fronts, a particularly vulnerable position”, the source confirms, in reference to both ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim extremists in different parts of the region.

In Jerusalem there have been repeated cases of verbal abuse aimed at priests, religious or Christian pilgrims, such as the case of youths who spat on the Benedictine abbot of the Church of the Dormition, Nikodemus Schnabel, in early February.

In cooperation with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ACN has implemented professional rehabilitation, internships and vocational training programmes to help the unemployed, mainly youth and workers from vulnerable families. A total of 62 people has benefited from the first phase of this programme, although 700 remain unemployed, and many are still waiting to attend similar programmes.

862 families from the West Bank and Jerusalem have received aid from ACN

ACN is also providing emergency medical and humanitarian aid to the families directly affected by the economic crisis in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. So far, 862 families have benefited from the foundation’s assistance, for a total of 3,448 people in both the West Bank and in Jerusalem. Of these, 602 have received food subsidies and 122 received health aid, in the form of medicine or medical treatment. In 128 other cases, the Christian families received financial help to pay overdue utilities bills, to avoid being cut off from essential services. The project has also benefited the families of migrant workers in very vulnerable situations.

Yousef, a 65-year-old who lives in Ramallah, is one of the beneficiaries. He lost his job as a labourer in Israel. His wife works as a cleaner but makes barely enough to provide for Yousef and their three children, all of whom are at university. Yousef has an increasingly serious heart condition, so ACN is supporting him with the purchase of the necessary medication.

Majdi is another example. This Bethlehem resident is 60 years old and lost his job in the tourism sector because of the war. His two daughters also have difficulties, one has diabetes, and the other is in financial distress since her husband lost his job. ACN is providing the family with food vouchers.

Michelin is 52 years old. She is separated and lives with her three children in a small flat in Jerusalem, which belongs to the Custody of the Holy Land. Because of the war she lost her job at a nursery. One of her daughters also lost her part-time job at a hotel due to the war. Her son is the only breadwinner in the family, but he earns little as a labourer at a local hotel. The family has received funds to help pay their overdue bills, as well as food coupons, but their situation remains very difficult.

A final example is Suleiman, a father of three, who benefits from food coupons and help towards his utilities bills. He and two of his children worked as security guards at a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Suleiman and his two children were fired as a reprisal for the 7 October attacks. Since then, they have faced significant difficulties, and are currently fighting just to put food on the table. The support they receive from ACN is crucial to helping this family on its path towards stability and self-sufficiency.