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West Bank: Taiba Attack Exposes Christian Vulnerability
By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service
AUSTRALIA (ANS) — Late on Saturday evening 3 September, a riotous, murderous Muslim mob from the West Bank village of Deir Jarir attacked the neighbouring Christian village of Taiba , northeast of Ramallah. They came armed with clubs, kerosene and Molotov cocktails, chanting, “Let’s burn the infidels, let’s burn the Crusaders.” Residents were beaten, houses were looted and cars were burned. At least 13 homes were torched. The attack lasted until the early hours of Sunday morning when Palestinian Authority (PA) security police finally made it through the Israeli checkpoints.
The Muslims were searching for Christian shop-keeper Mehdi Khouriyye (also written as “Mahdi Abu Houria”) and targeting the homes of his extended family. PA police arrived just in time to save Mehdi Khouriyye from being lynched, but not in time to save the homes of all his relatives. Mehdi Khouriyye and 15 of the Deir Jarir Muslim attackers were then arrested. But after several hours, the police released the Muslims in order to “cool things down”. (Link 1) Meanwhile, victim Mehdi Khouriyye remains in “protective custody”, where he is reportedly routinely beaten.
Whilst Muslim intolerance of Christians has escalated, the attack on Taiba is the biggest and most organised Muslim attack upon a Palestinian Christian community in years. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi regards the Taiba attack as a “a very serious development”. She says she has witnessed a “regression of social norms”. (Link 2) The implications for vulnerable Palestinian Christians, especially if the PA police are going to be partisan, are horrendous.
Mehdi Khouriyye, has a tailoring business in Taiba. He employed Hiyam Ajaj (30), a Muslim woman from Deir Jarir, and the two fell in love. The pair had been in a romantic relationship for two years before Hiyam’s family learned of the affair in late August (2005). Making matters worse, Hiyam was six months pregnant. Within days, she was dead, poisoned by her own family in an honour killing. Hiyam’s body was then quickly buried and the death not reported.
Initially the family claimed that Hiyam was raped and had committed suicide. Insisting the baby was not his, Mehdi Khouriyye requested that Hiyam’s body be disinterred for DNA testing. The Guardian reports that Palestinian president Abu Mazen gave permission for Hiyam’s body to be exhumed and for DNA testing to be done to determine paternity. Despite the family’s protests, Hiyam’s body was disinterred on Tuesday 30 August.
According to the Guardian, Palestinian women’s groups claim that if a woman is raped by a family member then she will be killed to restore family honour and an innocent man will be blamed – made a scapegoat – and killed in “revenge”. (Link 3)
The 3 September Muslim attack on Taiba has left at least 13 Christian families homeless. The Muslims attackers from Deir Jarir seek to justify their criminal barbarity with talk of “honour”. Meanwhile the Christians of Taiba say the violence against them was inspired by pure religious hatred and was nothing less than Muslims using vulnerable Christians as scapegoats.
Suleiman Khouriyye, a cousin of Mehdi Khouriyye, blames sectarianism. “They did this because we’re Christians. They did this because we are the weaker ones.” (Link 2)
Samir Qumsieh runs the only Christian private TV channel in the West Bank , the Bethlehem-based al-Mahed (“The Nativity”) which is struggling for funds. (Link 1). He told Adnkronos International (AKI), “Many cases like this are happening and the time has come for Abu Maazen (PA president Mahmoud Abbas) to take a decisive stand.” Qumsieh told AKI that he has registered more than 100 attacks against the Christian community since 2003. Qumsieh calls the violence “religious racism”, and says the attacks include murders, rapes and extortion.
“Some people lay the blame on Islamic extremists,” he says, “but this is only part of the truth.” Qumsieh says the most common attacks are perpetrated by what he calls “the Muslim land mafia”, criminals who target Christian land or home owners and threaten them with the aim of forcing them off their property. Qumsieh believes PA officials are involved in this practice. “It was the situation under [former PA president] Arafat and it is the situation under Abu Maazen,” he says.
In February, Samir Qumsieh, together with other prominent Christian Palestinians, wrote a letter to the PA president outlining their fears and grievances. “We have had no reply,” he says, “and our anger and our fear are growing.”