Religious affiliation in Israel is split between Judaism (75%), Islam (16.9%), Christian (2%), Druze (1.7%) and others (3.8%). In the West Bank, Muslims (mostly Sunni) comprise 75% of the population, Jews 17% and Christians and others 8%. In the Gaza Strip, 99.3% of the population is Muslim (mainly Sunni) and Christians 0.7%.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948. This followed a brief civil war between Arab Palestinian and Jewish communities after the November 1947 UN vote to partition the former British mandate of Palestine. British forces withdrew in 1948 and the State of Israel declared independence.
Since the late 19th century, Jewish people had been emigrating to the Holy Land, influenced by Zionist calls for a Jewish homeland. Migration continued when Britain took over from the former Ottoman Empire after World War 1, and increased after the Nazi Holocaust and UN vote for partition. Palestinian Arabs had mostly been native to the Holy Land. The civil war and subsequent 1948-49 regional Arab-Israeli war led hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee and become exiles from their homes.
Without effective governing institutions in the former mandate, remaining areas of Palestine came under the control of Jordan (the West Bank) and Egypt (the Gaza Strip) until their capture by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. A subsequent United Nations resolution (Resolution 242), calling for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from newly occupied territories, and for recognition for states (including Israel) to live in peace within secure, agreed boundaries has been central to attempts to settle the Arab-Israel conflict.
‘The Holy Land’ has remained turbulent for over 60 years. Palestinians resent the loss of homes and land and aspire to have their own independent national status. Israelis, meanwhile, have felt threatened by those Arab states like Syria, which remain hostile to its existence, and fearful of violence by Palestinian militants. Since 1993’s ‘Oslo Accords’, agreed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Palestinians have begun to take steps towards self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank. However, progress has been held up by Israel’s continued control of Area C (60 per cent of the West Bank) and by clashes and divisions between the Fatah party-dominated Palestinian Authority, governing the West Bank, and the Hamas movement currently controlling the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip has been under a continuing blockade by Israel and Egypt since Hamas came to power in 2007. Four short wars between Hamas and Israel, in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021, have claimed thousands of lives.
Social unrest is dominated by the tensions between Palestinians and Jews and wider regional tensions, such as rocket attacks by the Lebanon-based militant Hezbollah party. The continued expansion of Israeli settlements on land claimed by Palestinians compared to the virtual prohibition of building by Palestinians in Area C is a major issue. So too is the freedom of settlers to come and go without the military restrictions Palestinians experience. The lack of access to land for Palestinians, including restrictions caused by Israel’s security barrier, add to their economic difficulties. Unemployment rates contrast sharply with those for Israelis. In the Gaza Strip, some 53% of people are estimated to live below the poverty line.
- Pray for progress towards peaceful, just self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank, and for just policies on behalf of the Israeli government towards Palestinian and Jew.
- Pray that Palestinian Christians in Gaza and the West Bank will not be targeted by militant factions but will be able to model just and peaceful responses to their struggles.
- Pray for those Arab Christians and Messianic Jews in Israel who seek to work together as people of reconciliation and pray that they will be able to promote understanding and united witness.
13,693,353 (July 2021 est.)