As Christian persecution sweeps across the Middle East, one country stands out as a beacon of hope where Christians are safe to live and are thriving – Israel.

With freedom to believe and full democratic rights, Israel provides Christians with a haven in a region that is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to live freely.

Christians and other minorities in Israel prosper and grow, while in other countries in the Middle East, as well as in the Palestinian Authority, they suffer heavily from the Islamic movement and persecution – until forced to disappear.

Earlier this year The World Watch List, published by Open Doors, listed 50 countries worldwide where Christians experience the most persecution. Of the 50 countries listed, Iraq, Syria and Iran were placed in the top 10 with Iraq being second overall behind North Korea. A further eight places were listed in the top 50, all of which surround the only Jewish State.

Meanwhile, Christian persecution is on the rise in the Palestinian Territories, which is ranked as the 24th most difficult place to live as a Christian. Citing Islamic extremism as the main source of the persecution, Christians now make up less than 1% of the population and decreasing.

Israel supports and gives Christians and other minorities – Druse, Muslims, Baha’i, everyone – full civil rights, freedom and legal rights to exist peacefully and practice their faith as they wish.

Contrary to propaganda, there is no “apartheid” of any kind in Israel, and no roads on which only Jews may travel, unlike in Saudi Arabia, for example, which has real apartheid roads, since only Muslims may travel to Mecca.

In Israel, members of the Christian and Muslim minorities fill all types of high positions. For example, there is a Maronite Christian Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran.

Last year, Israel recognized the existence of a group of Christians – “Arameans” – within its borders; something no Arab or Muslim nation in the Middle East has ever done. Israel recognised a distinct religious and ethnic group: the indigenous people of the ancient Fertile Crescent, whom have recently suffered extreme persecution in Syria. Their language, Aramaic, was the language spoken by Jesus centuries before Islam came to the region.

Christians also serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Last year saw a significant rise in the number of Arab Christians joining the Israel Defense Forces, according to a report. Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek-Orthodox priest active in a group founded in 2012 and which supports and works toward more Christian Israelis joining the army. The IDF does not provide precise numbers of Christians serving in its ranks, but the forum says the rise is significant and that there are currently 300 Christians serving in the IDF, 157 of them in the conscript army.

In an official Christmas greeting to Israel’s Christians on 24 December, 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “Israel’s minorities, including over one million citizens who are Arabs, always have full civil rights. Israel’s government will never tolerate discrimination against women. Israel’s Christian population will always be free to practice their faith. This is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are fully free to practice their faith. They don’t have to fear; they don’t have to flee. At a time when Christians are under siege in so many places, in so many lands in the Middle East, I am proud that in Israel Christians are free to practice their faith, and that there is a thriving Christian community in Israel.”

Christians United for Israel – UK