We hear very little about the treatment of Christians in Israel.
Among the terrible persecution that Christians face in Muslim countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, Israel is usually portrayed as a beacon of tolerance where Christians are free to follow their faith without fear of being killed.
Everything is relative. Looking at what happens in Israel's neighbouring countries, where Christians are forced to convert to Islam, humiliate themselves by becoming second-class citizens and paying the extortionist jizya tax, die or flee, Israel may indeed seem a good place for them to live.
Israel has no policy of persecution against its Christian residents. They are part of a country that does not seek their physical destruction.
But, if we judge from a Western, rather than Middle Eastern, point of view, things may appear less rosy and Israel not the safe haven for Christians that it is fictionally depicted as.
Christianity is one of the recognised religions in Israel and, according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 over 161,000 Israeli citizens, 2.1% of the population, were Christian. About 80% of Christian residents of Israel are Arabs. Of the remainder, around 25,000 are Slavic Christians from the former Soviet Union who came to the country under the Law of Return, which has provided - at least until now - for Israeli citizenship if a person has a Jewish grandparent, and a smaller minority are Assyrians.
The Jerusalem Post and Charisma News report that Christians, despite their above-average level of education among the Israeli population, encounter major limitations when it comes to job opportunities and housing.
The employment rate for Christians is 54% : 63.8% for men and 45.3% for women. The national average is 75% and 66% respectively.
They are also victims of worse prejudice than that:
Another issue that worries the church is hate crimes against Christians, including vandalism of holy sites. Israeli police and authorities have worked with the church to reduce the number of hate crimes, but Pizzaballa says they are still prevalent.Messianic Jew Chaim Goldberg confirms that in Israel, where he lives, he found much ignorance about the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, and much hostility to the very mention of the name Yeshua (Jesus).
“If you don’t denounce these issues when they happen, they will continue. We need to work on this,” he says.
The church’s concern for the “alarming level of ignorance about Christianity in Israel” is very real. Lutheran World Federation President Bishop Munib A. Youman—a Palestinian—says the Hebrew media propagates the bias and denounced travel restrictions for Christians from Bethlehem and Ramallah to Jerusalem.
“When I read in the Hebrew about Christianity, I wonder if I’m Christian,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Negative feelings towards Christianity and in extreme cases hate of Christians are not uncommon among the Jewish population of Israel.
There have been many reports, as well as videos, of the intolerance displayed towards Christians and the attacks on churches and monasteries in Israel.
Although most Israeli politicians have spoken out against the mounting attacks on non-Jewish places of worship, a senior Vatican official recently accused the government of failing to respond adequately to protect Christian sites.Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican's Custodian of the Holy Land, and fellow senior clergymen of other Christian denominations protested the failure of the police to identify the culprits behind the incidents.
Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who as Custodian of the Holy Land is charged with overseeing Christian sites on behalf of the Vatican, also criticized an educational culture in Israel that he said encouraged Jewish children to treat Christians with "contempt".
Warning of a growing sense of persecution among followers of the faith, he said that life for many Christians in Israel was growing "intolerable".
Earlier this month the door of a famous Trappist monastery in the town of Latroun was set on fire, while earlier this year the 11th century Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem was also vandalised.
In both cases anti-Christian slogans reading "Death to Christians" and "Jesus is a monkey" were daubed across the buildings.
Although such incidents are the work of a minority, Christian clergymen who walk the winding streets of Jerusalem's old city say they are spat at and taunted by ultra-Orthodox Jews and their children on an almost daily basis.
But, they say, the most important issue is that Israel has failed to address the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools that teach children it is a doctrinal obligation to abuse anyone in Christian Holy Orders they meet in public.
In an unusually outspoken interview with Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, he denounced the failure of the political system to address blatantly anti-Christian acts, particularly those carried out by prominent radical politicians.Before and during Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land in May this year, acts of aggression against Christian sites and symbols, abuses and threats by Jews became particularly frequent and intense.
Earlier this year, Michael Ben Ari, an Israeli legislator, publicly ripped up a copy of the New Testament in the country's parliament, the Knesset, and threw it into a rubbish bin after denouncing it as an "abhorrent" book.
A second legislator called for Bibles to be burnt.
Although Mr Ben Ari was criticised by the Knesset's speaker, he faced no official sanction despite protests from the church.
"Such a serious thing occurs and no one does anything," Fr Pizzaballa said.
"In practice, it negates our existence here."
Christians are the innocent victims of the two warring factions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: they are the only ones who don’t use violence but are caught in the crossfire.
This subject is now topical, as the Israeli government has approved a controversial new bill declaring Israel to be a "Jewish state":
Israel is poised to pass one of the most divisive laws in its 66-year history, a bill that would declare it the homeland of the Jewish people only -- and further alienate its Arab minority.Whether the bill might or not have negative consequences for non-Jews, including Christians, will be explored in another article.
Political infighting over the measure is already threatening to tear apart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition.
The legislation, which is seen as compromising equality by differentiating between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens in enshrining some symbolic rights to the Jewish people, could also have long-term practical ramifications for Israeli democracy and jurisprudence.