UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Palestine - Religion

The PA requires Palestinians to declare their religious affiliation on identification papers. The US government estimates the population is 2.7 million in the West Bank and 1.8 million in the Gaza Strip (July 2014 estimates). Roughly 98 percent of the Palestinian residents of these territories are Sunni Muslims. According to the 2014 Statistical Yearbook of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 515,200 Jews live in Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 62 percent of the city’s population. The Israeli Ministry of Interior reported in 2012 that 350,150 Jews reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Although there is no official count, in 2008 there were approximately 52,000 Christians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem according to a survey conducted by the Diyar Consortium, a Lutheran ecumenical institution. According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has accelerated since 2001. A lower birth rate among Palestinian Christians is also a factor in their shrinking numbers. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Armenian Orthodox, Copts, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, and members of Protestant denominations. Christians are concentrated primarily in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus, although smaller communities exist elsewhere. Approximately 400 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) as well as a small number of evangelical Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses reside in the West Bank.

The PA respects the 19th century status quo agreements reached with Ottoman authorities. These agreements specifically established the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Assyrian, Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Syrian Orthodox churches. The Episcopal (Anglican) and Evangelical Lutheran churches were added later to this list. These religious groups are permitted to have ecclesiastical courts whose rulings are considered legally binding on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities. Civil courts do not adjudicate such matters.

The Israeli government, which exercised varying degrees of legal, military, and economic control in the Occupied Territories, restricted Palestinian access to religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, more frequently in 2014 than 2013. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understandings with Jordanian authorities that manage the site, limited Jewish religious observance at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Some Jewish groups sought to legally overturn this policy or modify it to permit Jewish prayer. Some Jewish groups sought to visit the site for religious purposes, actions that were at times followed by a violent response from Muslim worshippers.

The Israeli government continued to control access by Muslims to the site referred to as Haram al-Sharif (containing the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque), and by Jews to the Temple Mount (which is the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples). The location has been under Israeli control since 1967 when Israel captured the eastern sector of the city (the Israeli government formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and Israel applies its laws in East Jerusalem, although no other country, including the U.S., has recognized this annexation). Although many Orthodox rabbis continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, other prominent rabbis reiterated the view that entering the site was permissible, and Jewish proponents of accessing and performing religious rituals at the site were increasingly vocal.

Islamic or Christian religious courts handle all legal matters relating to personal status, including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support. For Muslim Palestinians, personal status law is derived from sharia, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians. All legally recognized religious groups are empowered to adjudicate personal status matters, and most do so in practice. The PA does not have a civil marriage law. Legally, members of one religious group may agree to submit a personal status dispute to a different denomination for adjudication. Churches the PA does not recognize must obtain special permission to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters; many unrecognized churches advise their members to marry or divorce abroad. Religious education is compulsory for students in grades one through six in schools the PA operates. There are separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.

Islamic institutions and places of worship receive preferential financial support from the government by law. The Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments) and Religious Affairs pays for the construction of new mosques, the maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and the salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank.

The ministry also provides limited financial support to some Christian clergy and Christian charitable organizations. The PA does not provide financial support to Jewish institutions in Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the Israeli government controls most Jewish religious sites in the West Bank.

PA President Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the CRIHL continued to denounce so-called “price tag” attacks, which are property crimes and violent acts, often but not exclusively committed by settler groups, primarily against Muslim and Christian Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, their religious sites, and cemeteries. The Israeli government continued to designate “price tag” vandals as members of “illicit organizations,” and an Israeli police unit specializing in nationalist crimes, including “price tag” attacks and attacks on places of worship, investigated such criminal acts. The Israeli National Police (INP) reported investigating all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and making arrests where possible, although NGOs, religious institutions and press reports noted that those arrests rarely led to successful prosecutions. Dozens of persons, including minors, were arrested in connection with “price tag” attacks during 2014.

Mainstream independent Palestinian news outlets, including Al Quds, Al Ayyam, and Ma’an, generally avoided publishing material that promoted hatred and limited their criticism to governmental policies and actions of individuals and not of ethnic or religious groups. They sometimes, however, carried anti-Semitic opinion pieces. Language in op-eds directed accusations of war crimes, barbarism and colonialism, at Israeli “Zionists,” “settlers,” and “the occupation army.” Media outlets sometimes carried cartoons demonizing Israel and broadcast anti-Semitic rhetoric, including by academics and clerics, accusing Jews of trying to take over the world and exploiting the Holocaust to their advantage.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-12-2015 17:01:00 ZULU