When hundreds of Jewish nationalists marched through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City this month, waving banners and chanting songs in what has become an annual ritual, it wasn’t only Muslims watching warily. Christians were, too.
Religious tension is nothing new in a city that has been the home of three faiths for centuries. But the outlook for the Christian minority, squeezed inside the ancient walls of the Old City and caught in the midst of a months-long wave of violence involving Muslims targeting Jews, has seldom looked tougher.
While the Muslim population rises steadily, now making up 75 percent of the 38,000 residents in the city’s alleys, and the Jews increasingly make their presence felt via the annual march and their settlements beyond the Jewish Quarter, the number of Christians has not risen in 50 years, hovering around 7,000.
“If a thousand Muslims leave Jerusalem, that’s one thing,” said Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary near Bethlehem. “But if a thousand Christians leave, you threaten the identity of Jerusalem as a city of multiple faiths.”
That concern is clear to Basil Saed, 28, the owner of a gym in the Christian Quarter. After an attempted stabbing by a Muslim in the Old City several weeks ago, Saed came face-to-face with an Israeli military policeman hunting for the suspect.