In 2007 a group of returning pilgrims were so moved by the plight of Holy Land Christians they wanted to make an immediate improvement to their lives, to demonstrate their Christian family had not forgotten them. The result was ‘Friends of the Holy Land’, launched by Michael Whelan and with the personal support of the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, now Cardinal, Archbishop of Westminster. Following an Anglican appeal in 2011 by Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for which FHL were asked to be the custodians, FHL became ecumenical – Christians over here helping Christians over there, regardless of denomination. FHL do not campaign for peace, leaving that to others who are better qualified.
Since 2007 FHL has successfully funded the neediest Christians in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan, each year helping over 2,000 named Christians and raising over £3.1 million.
What do FHL do?
We support the Christian population of the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan, working in partnership with organisations such as Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, The Pontifical Mission of Palestine and Jerusalem, and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. A network of ley and clerical professionals who are rooted within the Christian community verify our projects and beneficiaries. They quickly identify cases where our support has the potential to make the Christian community stronger and more resilient.
FHL supports education in the Holy Land as a vital way to ensure the future of Christian communities, funding students when this is beyond the resources of their families. FHL support students at the Arab Episcopal School in Ramallah, the Christ Episcopal School in Nazareth and the Greek Catholic Patriarchate School in Beit Sahour. We also support specific educational institutions supporting the wider community such as the School of Joy in Beit Sahour. Educational work extends to universities in Gaza and Bethlehem. Sponsoring summer schools in Nablus and Aboud means young Christians receive some distraction and respite from difficulties of their daily lives.
Improving employment prospects for Christians living in the Holy Land is vital to help them build a secure and sustainable future. FHL fund a number of employment projects, many of which complement our work in education. Employment projects range from sponsoring work placements for young people, providing seed corn funding to assist Christian business ventures, supporting the traditional Christian industry of Olive Wood carving, and recommending Christian hotels and ground handlers to pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.
Each year FHL supports over 2,000 named Christians living in the Holy Land. Many Christian families living in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan are unable to find the money to buy the essentials of life. These ‘needy cases’ are brought to our attention by local clergy and the FHL Local Committee. Over 90 families are provided with a monthly income of £500 Shekels (around £90) to help with their daily living costs. Many other families are helped with the payment of school, college and medical fees.
With no NHS or social care provision Christians in the Holy Land have extremely limited access to medical care. Medicines can cost the equivalent of 25% of one years income, and operations as much as five years income. In the last three years FHL have helped hundreds of Christians to access medicines, investigations, and surgery that in the UK we would get through the NHS
As well has helping individual Christians with medical needs FHL also supports institutions such St Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Nablus and the Arab Episcopal Medical Centre in Ramallah through targeted appeals. Since its foundation in 2009 FHL has also supported St Martha’s House, the first day-care Centre for elderly women in Bethlehem.
With so many challenges to face in the land of their birth, it is not surprising many Christians emigrate if they can. The Christian population in the Holy Land is already less than 2%; a further population decline would be tragic. FHL recognise that the provision of adequate housing is vital in our work to encourage a sustainable Christian presence in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan.
Project work in housing is varied and includes projects such house renovations to eradicate damp, the division of family homes into two units, refurbishments to suit mobility needs and water supply projects, such as installing water butts, to help counter the impact of water shortages.