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At most, 50,000 Christian Palestinians live in the West Bank — less than 2 percent of the population. Since 1967, the number of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank has dramatically declined; today, 35 percent fewer Christians reside in these territories. Intermittent war, Israeli blockades, the nearby separation barrier and the resulting economic stagnation have prompted Christians to leave en masse.

Though Taybeh’s residents remain entirely Christian, the village did not survive unscathed. Prior to 1967, more than 5,000 people called Taybeh home. But since then, most have emigrated to the Arabian Peninsula, South America, the United States and elsewhere in search of a better life. Those who stayed behind continue to struggle. Israeli occupation and tight restrictions on movement, particularly in and out of Jerusalem, have devastated the local job market. At present, Taybeh’s unemployment rate hovers at a whopping 40 percent.

“Villagers emigrate every year; the population of Taybeh now is what it was three or four thousand years ago,” says Mary Michael, Mofeed’s mother. An elementary school English teacher, Mrs. Michael also volunteers at the Taybeh Cooperative for Country Development, a women’s organization, where several times a week she coordinates events for senior citizens.

“Of course the main reason, which reflects itself on other issues, is the political situation; for example, forced closures, random searches, checkpoints, etc.,” continues the mother of four. “It frustrates people, especially youth, and causes economic problems for the villagers. They are escaping an unsafe zone to places where they are free and safe and can find work and better opportunities. Some people leave, promising to come back in a couple of years to their roots. But that day never comes.”

Abeer Kourieh, principal of the village’s Orthodox school, also laments Taybeh’s many troubles, though she still has hope for its future.

“All of us are living as a big family loving, sharing and caring for each other. Of course, we never forget that we are living under occupation and enduring its negative impact on our way of life — unemployment, a lack of security, forced closures. Now, we are facing emigration to other cities nearby or abroad,” says the woman in her 30’s. “We are struggling, but we will continue to live our faith in our beloved village.”

Most residents fortunate enough to have jobs work in agriculture. Some 30,000 olive trees grow in family–owned groves in and around Taybeh. Farmers harvest and sell the olives, as well as produce olive oil, soap and cosmetics from them. Many also keep apiaries, whose honey they sell in local markets and to pilgrims and tourists.

But for the last 15 years, Taybeh’s most important industry has been beer. The family– owned Taybeh Brewery began modestly, when brothers Nadim and Daoud Khoury returned to their hometown to help rebuild the local economy. Over the next decade, the brothers worked tirelessly to improve their product and expand the business.

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Tags: Palestine Christianity Cultural Identity Emigration Melkite Greek Catholic Church