CAIRO - Christians in the Israeli occupied Bethlehem are feeling abandoned because the archbishop of Canterbury have snubbed their villages during his recent three-day visit to the Middle East.
"Palestinian Christians would have expected a close interest from one of the most important Christian figures in the world," Xavier Abu Eid, a Palestinian official, told The Guardian.
"Christianity was born in Palestine, and the followers of Jesus Christ are suffering.
These people expected something more."
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has been in a three-day visit to the Middle East.
According to his office, one of the main aims of Welby's visit was to show solidarity with Christian communities in the region.
During the visit, Archbishop Welby met fellow Anglican bishops and visited holy sites in the Old City of Al-Quds (Occupied Jerusalem), including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif.
Yet, he did not visit the city of Bethlehem and its surrounding villages, where Christian families have suffered severe economic hardship as a result of the barrier, and many have left the Holy Land.
Facing Christian criticism, Welby suggested that scheduling difficulties prevented him from visiting Bethlehem on his recent three-day tour of the Middle East.
He took to Twitter to say that he had "wanted to stay longer and go further, see old friends in Bethlehem".
Christian families in the village of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, have been waging a legal campaign against the route of the wall, which threatens to divide people from their land and cut off the monks of the Cremisan monastery from the local community.
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian politician and an Anglican, said the archbishop should have "reached out to Palestinian Christians.
He should meet people and talk to them to see the impact of occupation and confiscation [of land].
About 50,000 Christians live in the West Bank, Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip, according to MP Bernard Sabella, a former Professor of Sociology at Bethlehem University.
Christians make up less than 1.5 percent of the total population inside the occupied Palestinian territories, 10 percent of Israeli Arabs and slightly more than 6 percent of the world's Palestinian population of more than 9 million.
Despite his justifications, Palestinian Christians felt snubbed by Welby's failure to highlight their misery under the Israeli occupation.
"Christians in Palestine don't even know [Welby] is here," said one Beit Jala campaigner.
"He has made no effort to go to the heart of the issues concerning Christians here."
More than 80% of Beit Jala's population is Christian.
Nora Carmi, of the Kairos of Palestine Christian group, called for the Church of England to "call a spade a spade" over persecution of Christians.
"When you have one group who is really being oppressed you have to have the courage to say they are being oppressed," she told the BBC.
"We're hoping that the new archbishop can be more vocal."
Returning to the UK, Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, said Archbishop Welby had spoken about the plight of the Palestinians during his tour.
It said that, while travelling to Ramallah from Al-Quds on Thursday, he had passed through the Qalandiya checkpoint and said later in a speech: "Every time I visit this region, I am struck again by the need for justice and security and peace for the Palestinian people.
"It is a need that is shared by all the people of the region."
Israel occupied Al-Quds (East Jerusalem) and the West Bank in 1967 war.
The 900km-long Israeli separation barrier is a mix of electronic fences, concrete walls, trenches, and closed military roads.
It snakes along the occupied West Bank, leaving larger swathes of it on the Israeli side.
The barrier leaves many Palestinian families cut off and deprived of their livelihoods.
Palestinians denounce the barrier as part of Israeli efforts to grab more of their land to undermine the viability of their promised state.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a landmark ruling branding the wall as illegal and asking Israel to compensate affected Palestinians.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net