Migration of Palestinian Christians: Drivers and Means of Combating it
Results of a public opinion poll among Palestinian Christians

27 January-23 February 2020

This poll was conducted with support from the Philos Project: https://philosproject.org/ 

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted a public opinion poll among Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the period between 27 January and 23 February 2020. The poll sought to explore the reasons that drive Christians to emigrate from their homeland in Palestine to other countries and the various means that could potentially stem the flow. The period during the fieldwork of the poll witnessed several developments including the release of Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” and its immediate rejection by the Palestinian leadership. The Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo a few days later and unanimously rejected the plan. A similar rejection followed by representatives of the Islamic countries. Internally, Fatah and Hamas issued conciliatory statements calling for reconciliation, but this was not followed by any concrete measures or efforts to hold Palestinian elections. In Palestinian-Israeli relations, tensions rose significantly during the fieldwork period as popular confrontations developed in various cities and signs of an emerging trade crisis were visible. Total size of the sample is 995 Christian adults interviewed face to face in 98 selected locations in seven Palestinian governorates. Margin of error is +/-3%.

For further details, contact PSR director, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, or Walid Ladadweh at tel. 02-296 4933 or email pcpsr@pcpsr.org

Summary of Findings:

The findings clearly show that the desire to emigrate is much higher among Palestinian Christians than Palestinian Muslims. Indeed, the percentage among Christians in the West Bank is almost twice as much as that of Muslims. The largest percentage of those wishing to emigrate say that they would like to go to the US, and Canada and Europe placed second and third, respectively. The largest percentage indicate that their desire to emigrate stems from economic reasons, while a smaller percentage indicate a desire to search abroad for educational opportunities, a safer, more stable, and less corrupt place, and a place that allows greater liberties and religious tolerance.

The poll found other reasons for the emigration, some having to do with the conditions of the Israeli occupation and others with the domestic conditions. For example, Christians complain about the impact of occupation measures, such as checkpoints, settlers’ attacks, and land confiscation.

Others complain about the lack of safety and security and a majority believes that the Israeli occupation seeks to expel them from their homeland. Certain domestic conditions are also conducive to a greater demand for emigration. For example, there are complaints and worries about lack of safety, fear of crime and theft, absence of liberties and rule of law, and the spread of corruption. Moreover, there is evidence of worry about the existence of religious Salafist groups in Palestinian society and the presence of armed groups such as Hamas and those that represent political Islam.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Christians indicate that they face no irritation or harassment from their Muslim neighbors, or at schools and workplaces, findings do show that somewhere between a fifth and a quarter complain of hearing swearwords or curses and accusations of blasphemy. Indeed, a very large minority believe that most Muslims do not wish to see them in the country. Similarly, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority indicate that they do not suffer from religious discrimination, findings show that a fifth to a quarter feel discrimination when searching for jobs or when seeking PA services. The overwhelming majority indicate that they feel integrated into Palestinian society. Still, three out of ten do not see themselves integrated or feel hated by the Muslim citizens. About a quarter say that some of their Muslim acquaintances invite them to convert to Islam and seven out of ten say they have, at one time or another, heard a Muslim asserting that Christians will go to hellfire.

Findings also show that Christians, like Muslims, do not trust the Palestinian government or the PA security services and the justice sector. Indeed, the majority tend to have no trust in the Christian religious leaders or civil society organizations. The majority believe that corruption exists in the PA institutions. While the overwhelming majority indicates that the democratic system is the best, only one in ten describe the Palestinian system as democratic. Findings show that the overwhelming majority of Christians believe that one should be careful in his/her dealings with other people while only one in ten believes that it is possible to trust most people.

The poll found more than half of the Christians hope for a political settlement that leads to the creation of a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in which Palestinians and Israelis would have equal rights while three out of 10 prefer a two-state solution. Half of the Christians view the one-state solution as safer than the two-state solution for Palestinian Christians.

The poll also found that one additional reason for the larger Christian emigration is that a large percentage of Palestinian Christians have relatives who have emigrated in the past, and believe that those relatives would help them if they showed interested in emigrating. About half of the sample believe that immigration laws in counties of destination favor Christians. Other external factors, found among two-thirds of the sample, are the regional political developments, which constitute an additional driver pushing people out from Palestine and the entire region.

Finally, when asked about the means of combating the phenomena of Christian emigration, respondents focus on the need for Palestinian policy makers and the leaders of the church to pay more attention to the problem and to develop means to decrease the outflow. Respondents’ suggestions focused on the importance of improving economic conditions, such as creating job opportunities, providing financial assistance to those in need, facilitating greater access to homes and apartments. Other suggestions focused on improving conditions of safety and security, including greater PA capacity to enforce law and order, and promoting values of democracy and tolerance.

Migration Trends Among Palestinians

Official Israeli statistical sources indicate that the total net emigration among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the period between 1967 and 1989 stood at around 300,000, which means 13,000 per year. For the period between 1990 until the end of 1994, while highlighting the return of the PLO and its security forces to these Palestinian territories, Israeli sources indicate a net return of 30,000 Palestinians after subtracting those who emigrated during that period. For the period between 1995 and 2003, the same Israeli sources indicate a net loss of 88,000, an annual average of 11,000 emigrants. Findings of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) pointed out in a survey conducted in 2010 that 33,000 emigrated from the Palestinian Territories during the period between 2005 and 2009, an annual average of 7,000 and that during this same period more than 30,000 immigrants returned home to Palestine. There are no published or credible numbers on the current conditions, but estimates suggest that the annual average of emigration during the past ten years might be more than 10,000. Moreover, the opening of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt in a semi-permanent manner in 2018 might have opened the door, according to unconfirmed reports, of about 24,000 emigrants from the Gaza Strip in that year alone, while Israeli governmental sources believe the number to be 35,000.

Among Palestinian Christians, the historic record indicates that emigration has been greater than that of Palestinian Muslims. With the end of the Ottoman era in Palestine and the beginning of the British Mandate in 1922, Christians constituted 11% of the population of the entire historic Palestine with the number standing at 70,429. In 1946, the percentage declined to 8% as the British Mandate was about to end, despite the fact that the number had increased to 145,063. In 1949, the number of Christians in the West Bank stood at 51,053 and in the Jordanian 1961 census, 45,855. As the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip started in 1967, the percentage of Palestinian Christians in the occupied Palestinian territories stood at 6% with a total number of 42,719. When the first PA census was completed in 1997, three years after the creation of the PA, the number of Palestinian Christians stood at 40,055, constituting 1.5% of the total Palestinian population. The second PA census in 2007 indicated a slight increase in the number, now standing at 42,565 but constituting only 1.2% of the population. In 2017, the third census showed 46,850 Christian citizens making up only 1% of the population.

The decline in the Christian population has been attributed first and foremost to emigration, particularly among the youth. But other factors have also contributed to this development. For example, population growth has been slower among the Christians compared to Palestinian Muslims. Higher age of marriage among Christians has been another factor. The Palestinian Arab Barometer poll, conducted at the end of 2018, found that 39% of the Christian population in Palestine was over the age of 50, compared to only 21% among the Muslims.

The decline in the Christian population during the past 100 years is evident in the makeup of some of the main Palestinian cities that have traditionally been Christian. For example, the Christian population of Bethlehem declined from 84% in 1922 to only 28% in 2007; in Beit Jala from 99% to 61% and in Beit Sahour from 81% to 65% during the same period.


The Demographic Characteristics of the Christian Poll Sample

PSR selected a sample of 995 Christians from all West Bank and Gaza Strip governorates with a Christian population. The numbers were distributed based on the number of Christians in each governorate with the exception of the Gaza Strip in which 100 people were added and the sample size was reweighted to reflect the proportionate size of Christians in that area. Moreover, 20 Gazan residents presently residing in the West Bank were selected randomly from a list of 100 provided by a Christian source familiar with status of those Gazans. The total number of Christians in the various governorates was obtained from PCBS census data. But PCBS did not provide data on the number of Christians in the various locations in each governorate and therefore fieldwork was conducted in order to assess the distribution in each governorate. Some areas, with a very small number of Christians, were excluded from the sample. With the assistance of local councils and churches, estimates of numbers were made in the various locations. These were cross tabulated with PCBS data to ensure harmony. Maps were developed for all of the locations that were selected, and were drawn and subdivided based on the number of homes in each location. PSR selected 98 locations, and 10 adult Christians were interviewed in each of the selected locations. Using Kish table, one individual was selected in each home. The interviews were conducted face to face by data collectors that were trained for that particular purpose. One focus group was organized by PSR with more than a dozen Christian participants before the conduct of the fieldwork in order to assess the utility of the questionnaire and to gain insights into the best means of gaining the trust of Palestinian Christians and reducing their concerns about the planned survey. The team of data collectors was formed mostly from Christian fieldworkers and each team consisted of two members under the direct supervision of a field coordinator. Data collectors were instructed not to reveal their religion to the respondents by any means including appearance. Interviews were conducted face-to-face using tablets in all cases with the exception of 15 interviews that were conducted over the phone among Gazans residing in the West Bank.



The distribution of the sample in the West Bank stood at 88% of the total, 10% in the Gaza Strip, and 2% were Gazans residing in the West Bank. Bethlehem had the largest percentage of interviews (42%) followed by Ramallah (24%), Jerusalem (15%), Gaza (12%), Jenin (5%), and Nablus and Jericho (1% each). Males constituted 50% and females 50%. Age distribution shows that the biggest group (64%) came from those whose age is over 40 years, followed by those between the ages of 18 and 29 years (19%) and those between 30 and 39 years (17%). The percentage of illiterates stood at 3%, those who completed elementary school (6%), preparatory education (9%), secondary education (33%), two-year college (19%), BA degree (25%), and MA and higher (5%). The percentage of the married respondents stood at 65%, the unmarried 24%, and widowed or divorced 10%. Those who worked in PA institutions represented only 3% of the sample, Church institutions 7%, private sector 29%, NGOs 6%, Israeli institutions 3%, housewives 25%, unemployed 9%, retirees 7%, and students 5%.

Data collectors and their impressions: The team of data collectors included 17 fieldworkers, most females, of whom 15 were Christians and were distributed as follows: 2 in the Gaza Strip, 3 in the northern West Bank, 6 in the south, and 6 in the middle of the West Bank.[1]


Detailed Findings


[1] Data collectors in the fieldwork teams deployed in the various parts of the West Bank were pleased with public response, as most of the respondents were cooperative and the rejection rate did not exceed 2%. Data collectors also expressed the belief that the overwhelming majority of respondents did not show fear to express political views or affiliation. But conditions were different in Jerusalem where data collectors found concern and fear and a higher rejection rate that exceeded 20% particularly in places like Beit Safafa, al Tur, and Beit Hanina. In other Jerusalem areas, such as the Old City, the reception was much better and the rejection rate did not exceed 7%. Fieldworkers also indicated that in Jerusalem they were repeatedly asked about their own personal religion. As instructed by PSR for such cases, the fieldworkers replied that they could not reveal their religion for fear it might influence responses. In the Gaza Strip, data collectors were also pleased with the public response as the rejection rate did not exceed 10%. PSR’s data collectors expressed the belief that little or no fear was shown by the Gazan respondents.