Alex Awad sees last month’s mutual recognition between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as an opportunity to end his five-year exile in the West and return to East Jerusalem to pastor a small Baptist congregation. “If the Israeli government would give me the green light,” says Awad, currently a Methodist missionary in Texas, “I would leave [for Israel] before Christmas.”

Bishara Awad, founder of Bethlehem Bible College, shares his brother Alex’s enthusiasm. “Palestinian Christians and evangelicals … have been praying for doors to open to the Arab world. And now, our prayers have been answered.”

Many Palestinian Christians are looking forward to an improvement in their lives. The diplomatic breakthrough that raised their expectations was cemented by a ceremony on September 13 at the White House where Israeli and PLO officials signed a “Declaration of Principles” for the negotiation of self-rule for Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian Christians have a message for Western Christians: Help the Palestinian economy and revitalize the Middle Eastern church, or else face the twin possibilities of strengthened Islammic fundamentalism and the eclipse of the Christian presence in Israel.

Over the last 40 years, the number of Christians has dwindled to about 120,000 in Israel and even fewer in the territories, according to Don Wagner, coordinator of the Chicago-based Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. Israeli occupation, job loss, political instability, and fear have reduced the Christian community to less than 4 percent in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and less than 1 percent in Gaza.

Bishara Awad hopes “this agreement will at least put an end to the Christian emigration out of this ...

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