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The Persecution of Palestinian Christians in the Palestinian Territories
By Elizabeth Kendal.
A detailed and scholarly description of the suffering of Palestinian Christians can be found in a recently published work entitled: “Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society” by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
Professor Weiner commences his monograph with a brief look at the wider issue of “Christians living in a Muslim world”. He notes, “Despite the liberal and secular trends that gained strength from the middle of the nineteenth century, this statute [Islam] continues, to this day, to influence cultural, social, and legal practices. Moreover, the recent resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism entails a reversion to historical, cultural, and religious traditions that do not reflect modern social standards.”
Pros. Weiner then narrows his focus to examine the plight of Christians under Palestinian Authority (PA) rule. He notes that the Palestinian Authority’s Draft Constitution declares that “…in the State of Palestine … the religion of Islam will be the official religion”, and “the Sharia will be the primary source of legislation”.
As Weiner explains, the PA’s promotion of Sharia (Islamic Law) immediately placed Christians in a precarious position, as Sharia does not afford them equality before the law. Escalating hardship and lawlessness, combined with the inequity of Sharia, makes Palestinian Christians exceedingly vulnerable, and their life increasingly unbearable. According to Prof. Weiner, while the intifada and the economy are significant factors forcing Christians to flee the Palestinian Territories , religious persecution at the hands of increasingly intolerant Muslims is the primary catalyst.
Prof. Weiner’s research indicates that the present high rate of Christian emigration out of the Palestinian Territories is not normative, but a response to a phenomenon. He believes that the phenomenon that is driving Palestinian Christians from their homeland is the escalating hostility and persecution they are experiencing due to the dramatic escalation of Islamic extremism in the PA-administered territories. He says this is a direct result of the systematic and pervasive radicalisation of Palestinian Muslim society.
School curriculum in PA-run schools is infamous for its glorification of suicide bombers, its radical Islamic fundamentalism, its denial of Israel ‘s right to exist, and its denigration of non-Muslims. As a pre-election Hamas video boasts, “We succeeded, with Allah’s grace, to raise an ideological generation that loves death like our enemies love life.” (Link 1)
For more information on the what Palestinian children and youths have been fed through PA-run schools and media, see links below.
Weirner describes the persecution of Christians as “diverse and widespread”, adding that “institutionalised discrimination pervades virtually all realms of life and has become an inexorable part of Palestinian Christian existence”.
In his monograph Prof. Weirner details the various forms this diverse, widespread, institutionalised discrimination and persecution takes. In summary, Christian communities and individuals suffer the following:
The deliberate and strategic marginalisation of Christians in the Palestinian Territories is achieved by means of gerrymanders combined with Muslim immigration that alter the demographics of a formerly majority Christian area. This of course has drastic implications for local elections.
Bethlehem is a classic case. In 1990 Bethlehem was 60 percent Christian. After the PA acquired control of Bethlehem in 1994, Chairman Arafat extended the city’s municipal borders to include the 30,000 Muslims living in nearby refugee camps. He also encouraged Muslims in Hebron to immigrate to Bethlehem . After nine Christians members of the Bethlehem City Council were driven to resign their posts in protest of Islamisationist policies, Arafat appointed a Muslim from Hebron as Governor of the Bethlehem District. The entire political structure of Bethlehem was then gradually cleansed of Christians. Christians are leaving. By 2001, Bethlehem was only 20 percent Christian.
Christians suffer economic hardship as Muslims boycott their businesses. Islamic militants have also forced some Christians to close their businesses. The practice of extortion of Christian businesses is so widespread that one Christian businessman interviewed told Prof. Weiner, “There isn’t a Christian businessman exempt.” He said that around 90 percent of Christian businesses in Bethlehem have been forced to close. Those that remain in business are paying protection money to militants.
Christians in business in the Palestinian Territories are also harassed, beaten and robbed by PA police (Weiner cites examples).
They are targeted simply because they are Christian. Refusal or inability to pay bribes can lead to torture and even death. These atrocities are committed with impunity.
Prof. Weiner also explains that, in violation of international human rights norms, Palestinian Land Law prescribes the death penalty to anyone selling land to Jews. According to Weiner, Jerusalem ‘s Arafat-appointed mufti, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri has issued a fatwa to the effect that death will be the penalty to anyone selling land to any non-Muslim. This law extends to Christians, so that they cannot sell land to each other.
In addition, adds Weiner, “…internationally recognised holy sites in the West Bank are threatened, being vandalised and desecrated by the PA without consequence.” The impunity granted to those who attack Christians and Christian property only encourages Muslim criminals to break in to churches and monasteries to steal valuable items.
According to Weiner’s research, violence against Christian women in the Palestinian Territories was rare before the PA took control.
Christian women testify that before 1993, security was such that they could walk the streets in safety. However, after the PA took control, Christian women could be attacked with impunity. Weiner gives several reasons for the sharp rise in sexual violence against Christian women since the PA took control of the Palestinian Territories: the rise is Islamist attitudes (such as Muslim superiority and contempt of infidels); the denigration and relegation of Christians to dhimmi (second class citizen) status with limited rights and no equality before the law; combined with the PA’s inaction, regardless of whether that is due to lack of authority or lack of will. Once again, Muslim criminals know they can rape Christian women without fear of retaliation or legal consequence.
Weiner reports that many Christian girls are being advised to dress as Muslims to avoid problems. “The abuse of Palestinian Christian women,” writes Weiner, “extends well beyond verbal harassment and intimidation. The widespread occurrence of rape by Muslim men against Christian women exemplifies perhaps the most blatant denial of basic human rights as a result of religious identity.”
One Palestinian Christian girl (aged 23) told Prof. Weiner that Muslim men often rape Christian women purely to render them undesirable to Christian men. “She can’t get married, at all, after that,” she said.
According to Weiner, Christian girls are also being forced into marriages with Muslim men. He retells the story of a wealthy Christian family man who had to resort to force to protect his daughter. A Muslim family came to his home, their son dressed for a wedding and accompanied by a sheikh and 15 Muslim men. They demanded that he hand his daughter over for marriage. After opening fire on the Muslim entourage, the Christian family had to immediately flee the Palestinian Territories . Other girls are less fortunate. There are even reports of PA officials leveling deat
h threats at Christian families to force them to hand over their daughters for marriage to a Muslim.
Prof. Weiner’s research makes it clear that the negative attitudes held by Palestinian Muslims against their Christian counterparts are supported by the overwhelmingly Muslim PA leadership. Mosques broadcast sermons that drive home the Quranic injunction not to partner with, trust or befriend Jews or Christians, providing Muslims with religious justification for their religious intolerance.
Weiner quotes Joseph Farah, a Lebanese-American Christan editor of the WorldNetDaily online, as saying of Christians under the PA, “They are being driven out. They are being murdered. They are being raped. They are being systematically persecuted. They are being harassed. They are being intimidated.” Weiner reports that Palestinian Christians under PA authority are discriminated against “…in the field of education, the receipt of medical benefits, and other government aid”. A Lutheran pastor told Weiner, “…if food aid is brought in from Saudi Arabia , Christians are told that they are not entitled to receive any because they are not Muslims.”
According to Prof. Weiner, PA security personnel frequently combine ignorance of the law with Islamist sentiment to become persecutors rather than protectors. Christians are often imprisoned on trumped up charges of collaborating with Israel .
Apostates can expect to be punished mercilessly through torture in PA prisons. Weiner writes, “The attitude of the police toward Christians constitutes one of the most egregious forms of institutional persecution… When subjected to harassment and worse by Muslim extremists, Palestinian Christians usually opt not to report incidents to the PA police… Palestinian Christians remain silent because they consider the PA police to be hostile to them.”
As has been well documented before, Islamic militants frequently choose to launch their attacks on Israel from Christian churches and homes, in order to draw the Israeli response to those sites.
Prof. Weiner’s monograph contains material that will help people understand why Palestinian Christians are often quick to deny their suffering. Some Christian leaders deny the sufferings of Christians in order to retain privileges from the PA: for example, access to the media, or permission to travel – privileges that are granted in exchange of the dissemination of PA propaganda.
Some deny the sufferings of Christians because they are simply blinded by Palestinian nationalist aspirations. But most are simply acting (or rather, not acting) out of fear of violent retribution – they are paralysed into silence by threat of terror.
Weiner reports that one Christian cleric in Jerusalem compared the behaviour of Christian dhimmis to that of battered wives and children. A vulnerable, trapped, battered wife knows she cannot afford to provoke her abuser’s wrath. For the victim it is easier, psychologically, to blame oneself (or to gain the approval of the abuser, blame the abuser’s “enemy”) and it is easier, physically, to avoid confrontation all together.
PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS: “SACRIFICIAL PAWNS” Weiner recounts one horrific case of a Palestinian apostate and persistent evangelist named Ahmad El-Achwal, a married father of eight, who struggled for seven years with persecution that included severe torture in PA prisons (the horror of which is described in Weiner’s text), as well as frequent severe beatings and death threats from Hamas. Ahmad El-Achwal was murdered on his doorstep by Islamic militants, on 21 January 2004. US State Department officials, who were fully informed, had persistently refused to address his case.
Weiner regards Palestinian Christians as the sacrificial pawns of the Middle East peace process. He writes, “The importance of monitoring the PA’s record, even during the ongoing violent intifada, cannot be overstated… The future of the Palestinian Christian community and any other religious minority living under the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance…,” something Weiner fears is unlikely, at least in the short term. Elizabeth Kendal