ICC Note: The following article smacks of a tempest in a teapot (referring to the Church that put up a wall replica) but it does shed light on the difficulties Christians in the Palestinian territories are facing.
The Christmas Travesty at the Sacred Heart
2007-02-10 Israel/Palestine (Canada Free Press) An open letter to Father Paul Maddison. The Church of the Sacred Heart. St Ives. Cambridgeshire , United Kingdom .
The Church of the Sacred Heart in St Ives is twinned with the Catholic parish in Aboud Village on the West Bank . Father Paul Maddison, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart, along with groups from St Ives and other places in East Anglia , has made regular visits to take donations and lend support to the Aboud villagers, who are Christians and Muslims.
Father Maddison was moved by the plight of Palestinian Christians and Muslims under Israeli occupation. However, in an astoundingly insensitive he set up in his church a replica of the separation wall on the West Bank instead of the usual Christmas crib, to the “spontaneous applause” of his congregants.
In his well-intentioned but ill-founded attempt to identify with the suffering of Palestinian Christians and Muslims, he seems not to have been aware of, or to have deliberately ignored, the dangers Palestinian Christians face at the hands of the present Palestinian Authority.
There follows a copy of my letter to him:
“Dear Father Maddison
“I wish to express my disappointment and dismay that you chose to celebrate Christmas at the Sacred Heart by the construction of a replica of the walled segment of the security fence on the West Bank .
“On 11th December, by way of excuse or explanation for this extraordinarily insensitive action, you said “… the wall has devastated the lives of the ordinary citizens there. Friends and family are separated, earning a living becomes more and more difficult, access to health care is severely restricted all in the town of Bethlehem that we sing about at this time of the year.”
“This may be the case, but I am appalled that you chose to ignore the principal reason for the construction of the fence (which is a wall only in very small part in order to prevent Palestinian snipers from shooting at Israeli civilians) and that you failed to explain to your congregation before their “spontaneous applause” that the wall was erected to prevent Palestinian terrorists, who are indistinguishable from the people whose rights you say are infringed, from going deliberately among Israeli civilians to murder as many of them as possible and to die in the process. I doubt that you mentioned either that since the erection of the fence incidences of such suicide murder have fallen significantly. Please do not assume that such terrorist attacks are only as a result of the Israeli occupation. They are simply an extension of attacks on Jews which have been perpetuated since 1918.
“You say that Israel has a right to exist in peace within secure borders, but you are naØve in the extreme if you expect the suicide terror to end if Israel removes the barrier to its successful completion. Hamas teaches Israel/Jew hatred as part of its school curriculum to children from kindergarten age. It glorifies murder and death by suicide in summer camps and on children’s television, thereby ensuring the perpetuation of this insane hatred from generation to generation, and underlines its message by the payment of blood money to the families of people who successfully complete their murderous missions.
“I wonder whether you told your congregation about the injustices meted out against Christians of all persuasions by the Palestinian Authority, and the concerns raised by Christian leaders there? With particular regard to Bethlehem :
“Bethlehem Christians cater to Christian pilgrims and other tourists by running hotels, restaurants and souvenir stores and industries. Their relations with their Muslim neighbours have been marked by friction and violence. Bethlehem Christians have complained of raids by a neighbouring Muslim Bedouin tribes and the purchase of lands in their neighbourhoods by Muslim Hebronites that is liable to further marginalize them in their own enclave. They are particularly troubled by the Islamization of public life in the Bethlehem area and by the imposition of Muslim codes of conduct, especially regarding women.
“The expansion of PA control to Bethlehem in 1995 separated it from Jerusalem and hampered its Christian inhabitants” contacts with their Jerusalem church headquarters; the current Palestinian violence almost extinguished these contacts altogether.
“The Christians of Bethlehem saw the destruction of the mainstay of their livelihood — Christian pilgrimage and other tourism. Furthermore, much of the violence has been perpetrated by the radical Muslim organisations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. By imposing Muslim codes in the Bethlehem area incidences of violence against its Christian residents have considerably increased, including occasional attacks on women.
“Although Palestinian Christians have rarely engaged in violence against Jews, some Christians have been killed in the fighting. The most disastrous effects of the violence have occurred in the quiet, largely Christian town of Beit Jala . Armed Palestinian elements chose Beit Jala as their base for sniping at the nearby Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo. Their goal was self-evident–directing international attention to any retaliatory fire on this Christian town by the Israelis. The Israeli reaction did come, and it forced numerous Christians to evacuate. Many headed abroad, especially to the United States and Canada .
“In the Gaza Strip as well, the violence has harmed the tiny Christian community. In addition to the economic decline, there were several cases of physical attacks on Christians in Gaza , influenced by Islamist incitement against Israel and the Christian West.
“The continuation of present trends is liable to increase Christian emigration even further and cause a drastic decline in the already dwindling Christian population. The Christians urgently need an end to the violence and a resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“On 12th September 2006, terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad set fire to a YMCA building and demanded the organization close down its offices and leave town or face muslim violence. This is part of a trend of general persecution of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza in areas that are controlled by the PA.
“One Christian leader, an aide to Jerusalem ‘s Latin Patriarch Michel Sabah who asked his name be withheld out of fear of Muslim retaliation, called the threats “against Qalqiliya’s YMCA part of a general trend of Christian persecution in Palestinian areas.
“There have been reports of abuses and persecution in several West Bank towns taken over by the PA.
“Anti-Christian riots have been reported in Ramallah, Nazareth and surrounding villages as well as in towns in Gaza . In Bethlehem , local Christians have long complained of anti-Christian violence. The city’s Christian population, once 90 percent, declined drastically since the PA took control in December 1995. Christians now make up less than 25 percent of Bethlehem, according to Israeli surveys.
“Some analysts called the demands for the YMCA to close one of many indications Hamas may be seeking to impose Islamic rule on the Palestinian population.
“You may not know, and much less have told your congregation, that Israel has the fastest-growing Christian population in the Middle East .
“May I respectfully suggest that, by ignoring the responsibility of Hamas for the suffering of the Palestinian people, by vilifying Israel and failing to tell your congregation the whole story, and by encouraging this travesty of the peaceful message of Christmas, you are endorsing and perpetuating a hatred which Jesus, himself a Jew, would abhor.