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Father Raymond J. de Souza on Israel: One Christian in Bethlehem

ICC Note

This article talks about life of a Palestinian Christians. It is illustrative of some of the challenges faced by the Palestinian Christians.

Father Raymond J. De Souza

February 20, 2008 Palestine (National Post)- It must be wearying for those who live here, in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, always explaining themselves and the situation to a never-ending flow of visitors. They tell their stories, and those in the business of tourism, pilgrimage or politics do so with great polish. Perhaps no other place has, per capita, so many spokesmen, sources and spin doctors.

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He remembers another time, when Christians were more numerous here. In 1948, the city was estimated to be at least 75% Christian. Now it is down to 20%. Who is to blame for that? Joseph casts the net widely enough. He says that the Israelis make life difficult; they give Arabs a hard time. His Muslim neighbours now range from indifferent to hostile, and growing Islamic radicalism has meant that Christian-Muslim friendships are no longer the commonplace they used to be. “Deep down, they hate us,” Joseph’s friend interjects. And Christians too are to blame, Joseph concedes. They tend to be better educated, more skilled in English and have more relatives and friends abroad — a recipe for high emigration.

Joseph is a proud Palestinian, and is happier living under Palestinian rule rather than Israeli-administered occupation. “No man can live content under rule by another people,” he explains, surprised that this needs explanation. Yet in the old days before Oslo , he could drive from Bethlehem to the north, visiting friends in Tel Aviv or in the Galilee . More than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel . Now the border is closed, and he cannot even visit his relatives in Jerusalem . As a resident of the Palestinian Authority, he cannot go to Jerusalem , only a few kilometres away, without special permission or a medical emergency. There are two ten-day periods each year, once at Christmas and once at Easter, in which he can visit Jerusalem . Does he prefer the old days before the peace process? Joseph does not say yes, but does not say no. Like so many questions here, it is not easy to answer.

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Joseph has three children, including two teenage boys. It costs him $1000 per year to send them to the private Catholic school — itself subsidized by Catholics abroad. The Palestinian schools are free, but, he says, “I cannot send them where they learn only the Koran, and where they are taught to fight.” He does not have to mention against whom that fighting is to be done.

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