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The Christian Population of Israel

The Central Bureau of Statistics reports that on the eve of the Jubilee Pilgrimage by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, the Christian population in Israel numbers over 130,000 of all denominations - 2.1% of the population.

Historically, on the eve of World War I, the Christian population was about 70,000 - 10% of the population. Over the 20th century, while absolute numbers increased, the relative number of Christians declined. By 1947, on the eve of Israeli independence, the Christian population in Mandatory Palestine was 143,000 - 7% of the total population. 34,000 Christians remained within the borders of the State of Israel, less than 3% of the population. Today, within the borders of what was “Mandatory Palestine” — the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority — there is a total of 180,000 Christians, just over 2% of the total population.

Of the Christian population in Israel, 107,000 are Arabs and 23,000 non-Arab, many of whom came to Israel with their Jewish spouses during the waves of immigration in the 1980s and 90s, mainly from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.

Although most Christians are Arab, their demographic profile differs from the Muslim population, and more closely resembles the Jewish population. In 1998, 36% were aged 0-19 (compared to 35% of the Jewish population and 53% of the Muslim). 7% of Christians are over 65 (compared to 12% of Jews and 3% of Muslims). Christian women have an average of 2.6 children, compared to 2.7 children per Jewish woman and 4.8 per Muslim woman. Average first time age of marriage for Christian men is 28.0, a year and a half more than for Jews and 3 years older than Muslims. Average first time age of marriage for Christian women is 22.7 years, a year younger than for Jews women, but 3 years older than for Muslim women. 12% of Christian women between 25-49 are single, compared to 7% of Muslim women and 5% of Jewish women of the same age group.

There are 39,000 Christian households in Israel, with an average size of 3.6 persons per household, compared to 3.2 for Jewish households and 5.4 for Muslims. Approximately 29,000 households are single-family households and 4,000 have more than one family. 5,000 households are either singles or cohabitation.

A total of 98.2% of Christians live in urban areas, compared to 90.3% of Jews and 90.8% of Muslims. Nazareth is Israel's largest Christian city, with 19,600 Christians, 1/3 of the population in 1998. Other Christian concentrations are: Haifa - 15,600, Jerusalem - 14,000, Shfaram - 7,600 and Tel Aviv-Jaffa - 4,600. Villages with Christian majorities include Eilabun, Rama, Kfar Yasif, Jish, Fassota and Ma'ilia in the Galilee.

Christians in Israel, like Jews and other Christian communities in the Middle East, are characterized by a high level of education, particularly among the younger generation. 50% of Christians have completed 12 years of school. 14% of the 25-64 age group has an academic education, and 2/3 have a BA degree (as of November 1995).

Seventy percent of Christian men are employed, compared to 60% of Jewish men and 66% of Muslim men. One third of Christian women are in the civilian work force, compared to 14% of Muslim women and over half of Jewish women. 25% of Christians are employed in academic, free and technical professions, a similar proportion to Jews, compared to 14% of Muslims.

Except for those living in cities of over 100,000, most Christians own their homes, comparable to all sectors of the population. Household density falls between Jews and Muslims, at approximately 1.4 persons per room, compared to 2.0 for Muslims and 1.0 for Jews. Over a quarter live in densities greater than 3 persons per room, compared to almost half of Muslims and less than 5% of Jews.

Fur further details and historical background information on Israel's Christian communities, please refer to the Foreign Ministry's "Focus on Israel" paper entitled The Christian Communities of Israel by Yishai Eldar.

Israeli Foreign Ministry