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Christians in Palestine and daily extremist hostility
Members of the Christian community in Bethlehem tell about two months of abuse, intimidation and aggression that in most cases go unpunished.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – Christians in Palestine have warned of increasing hostility against them in an atmosphere of intimidation and abuse by Muslim extremists who are largely allowed to act with impunity. Members of the Bethlehem community told AsiaNews what has been going on, asking to remain anonymous because of the precarious situation.

The latest episode dates back to 4 November, when armed men belonging to the “Islamic Jihad” broke into Bethlehem’s International Centre run by the Lutheran Church. An evening activity was under way, attended by consuls from European countries, foreign representatives known for their commitment towards the Palestinian people, religious leaders and exponents of local civil society. All of a sudden, armed men invaded the hall, led by Issa Marzouq, an official of Bethlehem’s town administration, and affiliated to the “Islamic Jihad”. The man went on stage and accused those present of betrayal. “You should be ashamed,” he said. “People die while you are here making shows with singing and dancing.” Marzouq broke the microphones and ordered the public to leave within five minutes or else he would start shooting. Eye witnesses said: “Police quickly arrived on the spot but they just looked on.”

A few days later, the Lutheran pastor, Mitri Al-Rahib, called a meeting with the governor of Bethlehem, the media and local authorities. He talked about the “serious lack of public security” that is jeopardizing the life of Christians. At the end of the discussion, a statement about what happened was drafted, but its publication was prevented on the pretext that the governor himself would tackle the episode, together with similar incidents, in an apposite setting. Naturally, no such initiative was taken, continued the sources.

The incident at the Lutheran Church centre is only the most recent one. Residents said that in mid-October, an argument between two youth – a Christian and a Muslim in Bethlehem – erupted into a hunt for Christians. A group of young boys were stopping students on the road, demanding to know what religion they belong to, with the clear intent of beating those who said they were Christian. Even this time, the police just looked on.

A few weeks earlier, in the wake of Muslim rallies against the pope’s speech in Regensburg, the Islamic Liberation Party (Hiz Al-Tahreer) organized an exhibition at the University of Birzeit, where a tank was displayed with a cross and denigrating images of Benedict XVI on top. Moreover, flyers entitled “A Crusade” were distributed, full of obscene words against the pope and the Cross. Christian students protested to the University Dean who ordered the exhibition to be cancelled. But the order was never applied.

AsiaNews sources also drew attention to frequent abuses linked to land. On 19 October, for example, armed men of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade broke into the house of a Christian, Nikola Mukarker, at Beit Jala. His crime was daring to denounce a Muslim who decided to build, without permission, on a plot of land belonging to his family.