Palestinian Crimes against Christian Arabs and Their Manipulation against Israel

, September 19, 2008

No. 72

  • Under the Palestinian regime Christian Arabs have been victims of frequent human rights abuses by Muslims. There are many examples of intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycotts, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion. Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are directly responsible for many of the human rights violations. Muslims who have converted to Christianity are in the greatest danger. They are often left defenseless against cruelty by Muslim fundamentalists. Some have been murdered.
  • Christian Arabs also fall victim to the chaos and anarchy typical of PA rule. This situation is fostered by societal rigidity, criminal gangs, lack of education, absence of due process, incitement, unreliable courts, and the denial of these problems-all running counter to Israel’s desire for a prosperous and stable neighbor.
  • Muslim attitudes toward Christians and Jews are influenced by the concepts and prejudices about their inferiority that the practice of dhimmitude has spawned in Islamic society. As dhimmis, Christians living in Palestinian-controlled territories are not treated as equals of Muslims and are subjected to debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious restrictions.
  • The human rights violations against the Christian Arabs in the disputed territories are committed by Muslims. Yet for political and economic reasons many Palestinian Christian leaders blame Israel for these crimes rather than the actual perpetrators. This motif of the transference of blame has been adopted by several Christian leaders in the Western world. Others there who are aware of the PA’s human rights abuses choose to remain silent.

 

“The disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA)-and recently, in part, by Hamas. As a result of the Oslo peace process, the Palestinians were able to establish their own quasi-government. Under this regime the Christian Arabs in these territories have been victims of frequent human rights abuses including intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycott, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion.

“Muslims who have converted to Christianity are the ones most in danger.  They are often left defenseless against cruelty by Muslim fundamentalists.  PA and Hamas officials are directly responsible for many of the human rights violations. Christian Arabs also fall victim to the chaos and anarchy that typifies PA rule.”

Justus Reid Weiner is an international human rights lawyer and a member of the Israel and New York bar associations. His professional publications have appeared in leading law journals and intellectual magazines. Weiner lectures widely abroad and in Israel and teaches international law and business courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

He remarks: “The human rights crimes against the Christian Arabs in the disputed territories are committed by Muslims. Yet many Palestinian Christian leaders accuse Israel of these crimes rather than the actual perpetrators. This motif has been adopted by a variety of Christian leaders in the Western world. Others who are aware of the human rights crimes choose to remain silent about them.”

Dhimmitude and Persecution

In Weiner’s view the crimes committed against Christian Arabs result from a way of thinking that dates back to the earliest days of Islam. “Traditionally, Christians and Jews were given an inferior social status known as dhimmitude in Islam. The dhimma is a legal contract of submission that was imposed upon the indigenous non-Muslim populations in regions conquered by the spread of Islam. Although Jews and Christians were not forced to convert to Islam, they were not treated as the equals of Muslims.

“As dhimmis, Jews and Christians were subjected to both legal and cultural restrictions under Islamic law.[1] For example, Muslims could ride horses whereas Christians and Jews were limited to donkeys. Or, Muslims were permitted to wear garments of fine cloth while Christians and Jews were only allowed to wear clothing made from coarse fabric.

“To this day, Muslim attitudes toward Christians and Jews are influenced by the concepts and prejudices that dhimmitude has spawned in Islamic society. In Iraq, for example, the ancestral community of Chaldean Christians has recently become a target of vandalism, property theft, infringement of privacy, harassment, arbitrary and prolonged detention, kidnapping, rape, beatings, car bombings, torture, and even murder.

“There are many examples of Christian suffering in Islamic countries. In November 2006, six Molotov cocktails damaged a Protestant place of worship in western Turkey, breaking windows and scorching the exterior of the building. This attack followed months of harassment of Christians in the town of Odemis, sixty-five miles east of Izmir. In a town near Mosul (in Iraq) in October 2006, a fifty-nine-year-old Syrian Orthodox priest named Father Boulos Iskander was beheaded. His kidnappers had demanded $40,000 USD and required that the priest’s church publicly repudiate Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks on Islam.[2] It is interesting that this demand was directed at an Orthodox Christian priest, who would have had nothing to do with any statement by the Catholic Pope.

“In Egypt, in October 2006, a Christian teenager escaped her Muslim kidnappers hours after they had drugged her on a public bus. They threatened to rape her and convert her to Islam if her family didn’t leave their Nile Delta city of El-Mahala el-Kobra. In a similar story, a fifteen-year-old escaped from being held captive in Cairo’s southern suburb of Helwan while her captors were away breaking their Ramadan fast.[3]

“Such attacks have evolved into an imminent crisis for the Christian minority in every Muslim-ruled country of the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Their Christian populations are in major decline, they are constantly under threat of violence, and there is a general feeling that they have no future. Some examples concern the Copts in Egypt and the Maronites in Lebanon. The scholarship of Nina Shea and Paul Marshall on the persecution of Christians in Islamic lands brings many proofs of this.[4]

“Israel is the only exception in the Middle East where the Christian population since 1948 has increased. It has risen by more than 400 percent. This also includes non-Arab Christians, such as Russian Christians who have come here as spouses of Jews and otherwise.”

Weiner adds: “Similar troubles as for the Christians have emerged for a whole range of nonconformists in the Islamic world. For example, in July 2005, two alleged homosexual teenage boys were publicly executed in Iran.[5] The threats are affecting many throughout the region, including owners of internet cafes, of restaurants or stores selling alcohol, land dealers, independent journalists, and even authors such as Salman Rushdie. The international human rights community has thus far done virtually nothing to protect such nonconformists.”

A Culture of Intolerance

Weiner observes: “As dhimmis, Christians living in Palestinian-controlled territories are not treated as the equals of Muslims. They are subjected to debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious restrictions. This has become a critical problem for the Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslim groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have built a culture of hatred upon the age-old foundations of Islamic society. Moreover, the PA has adopted Islamic law into its draft constitution.

“In 2006, Hassan El-Masalmeh, a member of the Bethlehem City Council and local Hamas leader, publicly advocated implementing a discriminatory tax on non-Muslim residents, known as al-jeziya. The Koran requires the imposition of this tax on all dhimmis. It legalizes the second-class status of such residents. El-Masalmeh stated that, ‘We in Hamas intend to implement this tax someday. We say it openly and we welcome everyone to Palestine, but only if they agree to live under our rules.’ One example occurred in late 2007 when an evangelical pastor was forced to leave Ramallah under threats from Tanzim gunmen; soon after, his congregation dispersed. Clergy under threat by gunmen should at least make a good-faith effort to use their media connections to publicize their plight and thereby garner a degree of protection for themselves and their followers.

“In such an environment, Christian Arabs have found themselves victims of prejudice and hate crimes. Tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians have left their ancestral homes and emigrated to North America, Central America, South America, Europe, and Australia. They flee to almost any country that will issue them a visa.

“A majority of the Christians living under PA and Hamas rule are Greek Catholic or Greek Melkite. Others are Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Syriacs, Armenians, Copts, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, as well as several other denominations. The Palestinian Christian population has always been concentrated in and around the cities of Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem.”

Developments in Bethlehem

“The demographics in these areas have changed drastically. Bethlehem is a prime example. Estimates show a sharp demographic Christian-Muslim shift. The Christian population went from an 80 percent majority in 1950, to a 60 percent majority in 1990, to approximately a 40 percent minority in 2000. Today the population of Christian Arabs in Bethlehem is hovering at about 15 percent of the city’s total population. It is estimated that for the past seven years over one thousand Christians have been emigrating from the Bethlehem area annually. At present an estimated ten to thirteen thousand Christians remain in the city.

“Neither the Palestinian Christian leaders nor the PA want to reveal accurate statistics. That would mean the extent of the emigration would become publicly known. They would then have to face questions about the reasons for this decline.”

Weiner points out that Yasser Arafat determined the policy that led to this demographic shift. “After the PA gained control of Bethlehem it redistricted the municipal boundaries of the city. Arafat’s motivation for the change was to ensure a Muslim majority in any elections to be held in the area. By doing so, he annexed an additional thirty thousand Muslims and a few thousand Muslim Bedouins in adjacent areas. This, combined with substantial Muslim immigration from the nearby city of Hebron, dramatically transformed the demographic reality.

“Arafat also defied tradition by appointing a Muslim governor of the city. The Bethlehem City Council, which by Palestinian law must have a Christian majority, has been taken over by Muslims. Eight of the fifteen seats on the council are still reserved for Christians, but in the latest municipal elections of May 2005 a coalition with crucial support from Hamas emerged victorious.[6] Hamas today holds six of the fifteen council seats and their Christian allies hold four.[7] Arafat crowned his efforts when he converted the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity into his official Bethlehem residence.[8]

“The problems for Christians in Bethlehem are typical throughout the Middle East. The Lebanese Christian community faced similar problems during the 1980s. The assassinated Christian prime minister of Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel summed up the situation: ‘A Christian, like a Jew . . . is not a full citizen and cannot exercise political rights in any of the countries which were once conquered by Islam.’[9]

“In Palestinian society Christian Arabs have no voice and no protection. It is no wonder they have been leaving. Because of emigration-some of it dating back two or three generations-seventy percent of Christian Arabs who originally resided in the West Bank and Gaza now live abroad. Tens of thousands live in Sydney, Berlin, Santiago, Detroit, and Toronto. The emigration of Christian Arabs has multiplied over the last decade, with no end in sight.

“It is currently estimated that the number of Christians living in Gaza totals only 1,500-3,000 amid 1.2 million Muslims.[10] Probably less than fifty thousand Christians remain in all of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza together.

“Taybeh, a village located deep in the West Bank, is the only all-Christian village left in the PA. As a result of the perpetual violence, many residents of Taybeh have gone abroad and only 1,300 remain.[11] The situation of these Christians has become grim.”

The Abuse of Human Rights

Before giving examples of human rights abuses against Christians in the PA, Weiner remarks: “Over this ten-year period, my research assistants and I have interviewed scores of Christian victims. Many of those interviewed were too terrified to tell their stories. In an effort to reassure them, I promised to conceal their real names, professions, and places of residence.

“My first example concerns the routine extortion of Christian businessmen by PA officials and street thugs. It involves an Armenian Christian jewelry- store owner from Jerusalem. During a business trip to Gaza he was taken into custody and extorted by the Palestinian police. He showed the officers the necessary licenses and permits to sell his gold jewelry. Nevertheless, he was forced to hand over all his money and gold jewelry and was subsequently beaten for more than six hours.

“After refusing the offer of the police to leave with half his gold, he was beaten for another two hours in the police station. His watch, his rings, half his gold jewelry, and the $6,000 USD he was carrying were taken from him before he was allowed to leave.

“The Armenian complained to the PA’s minister of industry and commerce.  He was then told he had no recourse but to speak with Arafat. Further efforts were futile. As a Christian he didn’t have the necessary connections to get back what was stolen from him in the police station. Nor were the perpetrators charged or punished.”

Kidnapping and Seduction of Christian Women

“Incidents of Muslim men ‘seducing’ or kidnapping Christian girls have caused growing anxiety among the Christian population. In May 2004, a sixteen-year-old Christian girl from Bethlehem, who was a U.S. citizen, went missing for five days. She was kidnapped by a twenty-three-year-old Muslim man. When the family lodged a complaint with the PA police, little was done to help them. The police accepted the testimony of the Muslim kidnapper at face value. He claimed that they wanted to get married.

“The girl’s family knew that the Muslim man had a brother who was a high-ranking officer in the PA security services. They feared that the PA police’s unwillingness to act on the family’s complaint was due to this officer’s connections.

“The kidnapper sought refuge in Hebron where he had an extended family. Because their families are large, it is easy for Muslims to get away with crimes against Christians who lack strength in numbers. In desperation the girl’s family contacted the American Consulate in Jerusalem. Thanks to their intervention, the girl was rescued and left for the United States with her family.

“When a crowd of Christian men tried to stage a demonstration outside the kidnapper’s house, the Palestinian police-all of them Muslims-used excessive force against the demonstrators. They fired into the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd. At least thirty-five Christian men were injured. The episode received virtually no international media coverage.”

Weiner explains that this is far from being an isolated case: “A Muslim family appeared uninvited on the doorstep of a wealthy Christian family in the West Bank. They brought along a sheikh and demanded that the Christian family’s daughter, known for her beauty, marry their son. The father of the Christian family asked for a two-day reprieve to think things over. The Muslim family agreed, but then apparently reconsidered. They reappeared-again uninvited-the following day. Their son was dressed up for his wedding, accompanied by the sheikh and fifteen Muslim men. To protect his family the Christian girl’s father opened fire on the Muslim entourage, killing three and wounding ten. The girl’s family immediately abandoned their home and fled abroad.”

Persecuting Converts to Christianity

“In compliance with the sayings (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammed, Muslim converts to Christianity are ruthlessly persecuted for changing their faith.[12] It is a common tactic to try to force Christians-by-choice to repudiate their beliefs.[13] One example involves two brothers whom I will call Saliba and Najib, both converts to Christianity from the northern West Bank.

“After taking part in a Christian prayer session with German tourists, Najib received a summons to appear before the Palestinian secret police. During questioning he was accused of collaborating with Israeli and American intelligence. After the interrogation the Palestinian police placed a cardboard sign on his back upon which was written, ‘Najib the Christian.’ Then he was told to ‘curse Jesus.’

“Najib was told by the secret police that from then on his life would be nothing but suffering. He was released at the end of the day and fled when Palestinian police came to his house to detain him for more questioning. As a fugitive from the PA, Najib made contact with Israelis who arranged for him to hide in a bomb shelter in a Jewish settlement. He ended up staying there for three years until he was granted asylum in Norway, where he lives today.

“Najib’s brother Saliba spent twenty-one months in a PA prison-from August 2000 to May 2002-after being arrested on fabricated charges. He was held for seven months in underground solitary confinement. Saliba testified to me and my assistants about his suffering in that jail:

I was beaten with sticks; they stripped me naked and made me sit on bottles, and on the legs of chairs that they turned upside down, and many, many other sadistic things that I am even ashamed to say. Many times they allowed lynch mobs like the Al-Aksa Brigades to come in and pull prisoners out of the cells. They were taken out and shot on the spot, their bodies then dragged through the streets for all to see.

Although complaints of Israeli misconduct are loudly voiced, Weiner is not aware of any such complaints about these examples of Muslim misconduct.

“The PA had sentenced Saliba to be executed. However, before they could carry this out he and others were liberated from prison by the Israel Defense Forces, which entered the disputed territories in response to a wave of suicide bombings that had killed hundreds of Israelis.

“After Saliba’s liberation he was able to secure a temporary permit to live in Israel. However, he was unable to obtain similar permits for his wife and eight children. They remained behind in the disputed territories under constant threat of harassment. Today Saliba lives in the town of Ramle in Israel, unable to safely return to his family and hoping to find asylum in Norway to join his brother.”

The Murder of a Convert

“Of another Christian convert, Ahmad El-Achwal, the real name can be given because he was murdered. He was married, a father of eight, and lived in the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus. The PA set out to make Ahmad’s life unbearable after he became a Christian.

“Ahmad was initially arrested on fabricated charges of stealing gold. The only gold in the entire family was his daughter’s delicate necklace, which had been given to her for her birthday by her grandfather. The family still had the receipt from the store where it was purchased. Ahmad was kept in a tiny cell and regularly left without food or water for days on end. The torture he sustained during the interrogation required lengthy hospitalization.

“When I interviewed Ahmad, he gave me photos of his injuries taken while he was recuperating in a hospital. It was clear that he had been tortured. Ahmad had suffered extensive and serious burns on his back, buttocks, and legs. The heated torture implement that was applied to his skin reminded me of similar medieval instruments.

“After he was released from prison, Ahmad began to use his apartment as an informal church. He distributed booklets on Christianity and spoke to Palestinian Muslims about his newfound faith. Ahmad did this despite his fears of harassment and persecution.

“Over a seven-year period, Palestinian security forces repeatedly arrested him and searched his home. Sometimes they confiscated his Bibles and other religious books. Ahmad was again imprisoned for various periods that, together, totaled over a year. Promises were made that if he reverted to Islam he would be freed from prison and given a senior job in the PA with a large office.

“Not all his suffering emanated directly from the PA. Ahmad operated a falafel stand in Nablus. His Muslim landlord refused to continue renting it to him because of his conversion to Christianity. He then moved to Jerusalem to find work because of the ongoing harassment. However, when Ahmad went back to visit his family in Askar, he was beaten by a group of masked men. Palestinians affiliated with the PA security services also torched his car. His residence was firebombed. On 21 January 2004, Ahmad was shot dead by masked gunmen. His murderers have not been brought to justice.”

Yet Another Murder

“Rami Khader Ayyad is another victim of murder motivated by religion. He lived in Gaza City with his two children and his wife, who was pregnant with their third. His Teachers Bookshop sold Bibles and Christian literature. Ayyad was associated with the Palestinian Bible Society, which promotes Christian presence in Muslim areas.

“In April 2007, Ayyad’s store was firebombed by a Muslim ‘vice squad’ that was attacking targets they connected with Western influence. According to Ayyad’s family and neighbors, he had regularly received anonymous death threats from people angered by his missionary work.

“Ayyad was abducted on the evening of 6 October 2007 after closing his store. He called his family to let them know he would be returning late in the evening.[14] Ayyad’s lifeless body was found early the next morning with visible signs of torture, including a gunshot wound in the head and numerous stab wounds. Witnesses and security officials stated that they watched three armed men, two of them wearing masks, beat Ayyad repeatedly with clubs and the butts of their guns while accusing him of spreading Christianity in Gaza. These witnesses said that after the three men beat Ayyad, each of them shot him.

“Sheikh Abu Saqer, leader of Gaza’s Jihadia Salafiya Islamic program, asserted that while his group did not carry out the Ayyad murder, ‘Christians engaging in missionary activity in Gaza would be dealt with harshly.'”[15]

Extortion Attempts

“Pastor Isa Bajalia contacted me in autumn 2007. I had interviewed him four different times over the past eight or ten years. The pastor called me because of death threats he was receiving. If something were to happen to him, he wanted me to have a video testament explaining the true source of his demise. He is an understated individual who never before had revealed to me this sense of urgency concerning danger to his own life or anyone else’s from his congregation.

“Bajalia served for sixteen years in Ramallah and is primarily involved with counseling and humanitarian efforts in the area. Over two months before he called me Bajalia had been receiving threats to pay extortion money in the amount of $30,000 USD. They also demanded that he sign over a portion of his family land to their ownership.

“The men threatening Bajalia intimidated him on a daily basis. Their harassment has made it impossible for Bajalia to function in his normal pastoral capacity in Ramallah. He was threatened as follows: ‘If you don’t do what we want, we can get you no matter whether you are in the States or here.’ They threatened to break his arms and legs and said to him, ‘We will do to you what was done to Rami in Gaza.’

“Pastor Bajalia was forced to disconnect his cell-phone line because of the relentless threatening calls. He knew that the men making the threats were capable of violence, so as a U.S. citizen he sought assistance from the American Consulate. Thereafter he also asked for help from three PA officials. They, however, demanded thousands of dollars to protect him. One of them offered, ‘I’ll be your bodyguard. Our group will back you up. We’ll get this resolved for you; just give me $5,000.’

“Pastor Bajalia explained to me how a few weeks before he was forced to leave Ramallah, one of those threatening him was closing in on his trail. About fifteen minutes after Bajalia departed a friend’s house in Ramallah, a green-uniformed militiaman of the Tanzim-a violent, aggressive faction of the Fatah movement-showed up at the friend’s house bearing a pistol. 

“Following continued and intensified threats of violence, Pastor Bajalia fled to the United States in fear for his life.[16] He stayed in Alabama for more than a month, thereafter returning in January 2008 to Jerusalem. Bajalia is still extremely concerned that these men might locate him.”

More Harassment

“Harassment of Christian Arabs is widespread under the Palestinian regime. On an ever-increasing scale, they have been losing their jobs, have had their land taken over by criminal gangs in cooperation with the PA Land Registration Office, and Christian women have resorted to wearing conservative Muslim women’s garb so as not to be harassed.

“Palestinian gunmen set fire to the YMCA in the West Bank city of Qalqilya. A seventy-six-year-old Greek Orthodox monk was beaten up in Bethlehem by Muslim villagers, his olive trees uprooted, and his monastery was defaced with graffiti depicting nuns being raped.

“In February 2006, an explosive device blew off the doors of the Bible Society in Gaza. The attackers then moved on to the nearby Greek Orthodox Church, which they then shot up. Pamphlets were left at the bookshop threatening the landlord for dealing with ‘infidels.’ This was followed by the bombing of the bookshop in April 2007 along with three other Christian targets.[17]

“In protest against the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in 2006, seven churches were attacked in the West Bank and Gaza by Palestinians carrying guns, firebombs, and lighter fluid.  This included a shooting attack on a church façade in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City as well as the firebombing of an Anglican church in the West Bank city of Nablus.

“Since the election of the Hamas government in 2006, and the coup by which Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, religious tension has only intensified. Hamas has enacted policies that are turning the PA into an Islamic theocracy, and the Christian religion and its followers are consistently discriminated against. The situation erupted on 15 February 2008 when Muslim militants bombed the Gaza City YMCA library[18] and on 16 May when a bomb went off in a Christian school.”[19]

Hiding the Problems

Weiner says he became aware of the many crimes against Christian Arabs under the Palestinian regime when, ten years ago, a Christian lay pastor said to him, “You’re a human rights lawyer, what are you doing for the Christian Arabs?” Weiner replied that he was not doing anything for them as he was not aware they had any problems. The pastor then said: “Let me send you some people to interview and once you’ve done that make up your own mind.”

Weiner remarks: “That began my education process on this subject. The problem I had the most difficulty understanding was why the large, powerful, populous Christian world has permitted this to go on for so long. This is the more surprising as the PA is in such need of funds and political support. Ten years down the road I can only say that it is a sad testimony for contemporary Christianity.

“I discovered a wide gap between the Palestinian Christian leadership and their flock. The former tended, for many years, to put on their nice robes and hats to meet Arafat for religious occasions. They are the same people who keep touring around the United States and being feted in different locations where they repeat the false story that everything is fine.

“These patriarchs and archbishops of Christian Arab denominations who are currently deceiving the international community are self-interested people. They collaborate with the Muslim perpetrators of intimidation and violence. Against all evidence they claim that the Christians Arabs are living comfortable and prosperous lives. In fact the present situation is growing worse by the day.”

Putting Their People in Danger

“These Christian leaders obfuscate the truth and put their own people in danger. This is often for personal benefit or due to intimidation. In the Palestinian areas the Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, and many other leaders will all sing the tune of the Palestinian Authority-at least publicly. Others who are not senior will describe the reality in private because they live it.”

Weiner observes that a number of Palestinian Christian leaders deny the human rights crimes perpetrated against their flock. “Often in cooperation with the Palestinian leadership they claim that the situation is not bad for the Christian Arabs. In response to Rami Khader Ayyad’s death, Monsignor Manual Masallam, head of Gaza’s Roman Catholic community, asserted-against all the evidence-that the attack was not religiously motivated.

“When asked if Christians in Gaza feel oppressed in their own cities, Musallam answered that, ‘Palestinian Christians are not a religious community set apart…. Our relationship with Hamas is as people of one nation.’ He also explicitly stated that Christian emigration has nothing to do with the Muslim population and that the Christians in Gaza still enjoy all the same rights as their Muslim neighbors.[20]

“The dilemma is how to get the world to listen to and respect the experience and the warnings of the ordinary Christian, the ordinary priest and reverend, and to disregard the endorsements of the PA that are mouthed by their religious leaders.

“In private a variety of Christians will tell you that they are suffering from the pressures by Muslims. In public these same people will berate Israel for the security fence and the occupation. It has become an old game and Israelis understand it. One wonders when foreign journalists and NGOs will finally start to understand it.”

The Verification Process

As to the veracity of his information, Weiner explains: “I am often asked how I verify what I am told. The answer is that I began this work ten years ago. I now look at cases over time, having learned that witnesses usually become more candid as you get to know them better. One of the last questions in any interview is who else can confirm, reinforce, or explain further what the witness provided. The result is a fairly good perspective of the iceberg effect. In these cases one is seeing only a little bit of the crimes that go on under the Palestinian regime. People usually are afraid or intimidated and aren’t willing to describe everything that happened.

“Pretty much across the board the Christian Arabs that I interviewed were reticent to tell their story. I had to track them down and prove that I was a reliable person they could talk to. I also had to promise them to use a pseudonym and to change their city/town/village of residence.

“There is a huge difference as compared to the human rights situation in Israel. When I worked at the Israeli Justice Ministry (1981-1994, as director of the Department of American Law and External Relations) we heard many human rights allegations against the government, the army, and the prison service. Often the people making these complaints, or the organizations representing them rushed to call press conferences. They were looking for an instant headline. With the Palestinian Christians everything that concerns human rights is hushed up.”

The Israeli Security Situation

“Part of the Christian Palestinian emigration also stems from problems relating to Israel. There are two primary issues. The first is that the Israeli Interior Ministry has not been forthcoming enough in issuing visas to foreign Christian clergy wanting to come and work in Israel. It has become quite difficult for individuals to obtain visas to work in schools, embassies, or churches here in Israel, a point that has poisoned some clergy attitudes.

“As a result of a new single-entry visa rule, Christian church workers currently in the country are also finding it difficult to travel between their parishes and their churches’ offices in Jerusalem. Father Jack Abed, a parish priest of the Melkite Catholic community near Ramallah, claimed that these new rules violate understandings between Israel and the Vatican. He stated that: ‘One of the agreements is the freedom of movement and worship.  There is no freedom of movement if Israel wants to limit visas to a single entry.’[21]

“These visa restrictions have resulted from the major security threats to Israel, some of which come from the Christian community itself. For example, Archimandrite Atallah Hanna, an Israeli Arab serving as the official spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, is reported to have praised Palestinian suicide bombers as heroes in a closed-door meeting in Haifa. Hanna is quoted as stating, ‘These martyrdom freedom fighters are the heroes of the people and we are proud of them.’ According to the report, Hanna urged Christian Arabs to ‘join the resistance against the Israeli occupation in all forms and methods.’[22] Hanna later denied having made these remarks.

“A second issue that has increased the emigration of Palestinian Christians involves a combination of the building of the security fence and the political anarchy that plagues the Palestinian-controlled areas. Many Palestinian Christians point out that besides the disruptions from internal Palestinian instability and lawlessness, the economic hardship and unemployment is caused by the cutoff from outside aid due to Israeli security measures that bar most Palestinians from working inside Israel.[23] Villagers are allowed to cross the separation barriers only if they hold special permits.”

The International Christian Community

Weiner states: “Many in the international Christian leaderships knowingly remain silent about the suffering of the Palestinian Christians. Others, rather than identify the true Palestinian perpetrators of crimes against their people, take the politically correct path by blaming Israel. All unrest and suffering in the region is routinely attributed to actions-or omissions-by Israel without acknowledging or condemning Muslim violence. In particular, church officials often criticize Israel for the decline in Christian populations in the West Bank and Gaza as well as for the hardships the Christian Arabs endure under Fatah and Hamas rule.

“The Western Christian leaders who spread this message include leaders of American Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Thus the former leader of the Episcopal Church (USA), the Reverend Edmond L. Browning, frequently oversimplified the very intricate reality in the Middle East by implying that the conflict can be resolved by a few simple concessions by Israel. Meanwhile he and his church remained silent about the unique evil of suicide bombing and have yet to demand that Hamas recognize Israel or dismantle its terrorist infrastructure.[24]

“Supplementing its well-known anti-Israel agenda, the Episcopal Church maintains strong ties with Friends of Sabeel-North America.[25] For example, Browning donated $10,000 to the organization. In addition, the Episcopal Church has passed resolutions pressing Motorola to prohibit sale of its products or the provision of services to persons living in the disputed territories. There was no parallel demand that Palestinians cease their terrorist violence. Nor were U.S. companies urged to ensure that what they sold to the Palestinians was not used in violent attacks on Israelis.

“Among the other one-sided resolutions of the Episcopal Church was a condemnation of Israel’s security barrier that was not accompanied by any parallel demand on the Palestinians to stop the terrorist attacks that prompted the construction of what is more accurately known as a fence. Leaders of other North American churches including the Methodists, the United Church of Christ, and the Lutherans have also gone to great lengths to offer up one-sided condemnations of Israeli policies.[26] Most of these perennial critics are linked to the Sabeel Center.”

Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld

*     *     *

Notes

[1] Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001), 50. Dhimmis were treated as second-class citizens and were often discriminated against. Muhammad ordered and practiced ethnic cleansing by removing all Jews, Christians, and pagans from the Arabian Peninsula. Walid Shoebat, Why I Left Jihad: The Root of Terrorism and the Return of Radical Islam (Top Executive Media, 2005).

[2] Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, http://www.jpost.com/ce%20February%202007.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, Their Blood Cries Out (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007); Nina Shea, In the Lion’s Den: A Shocking Account of Persecuted and Martyrdom of Christians Today and How We Should Respond (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2007).

[5] “2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” U.S. Department of State, released by the Bureau of  Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 6 March 2007,  www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/.

[6] Sandro Magister, “The Mayor of Bethlehem Is Christian, but It’s Hamas That’s in Charge,” 21 May 2007, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=44202&eng=y.  

[7] “Bethlehem Belongs to Hamas,” Israel Today, 20 July 2005.

[8] Aaron Klein, “Media’s Two-Faced Christmas Coverage: Muslims Driving Christians out of Bethlehem, but Media Outlets Choose to Blame Israel,” Ynetnews, 24 December 2007, www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3486144,00.html.

[9] Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 247-48, cited in Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, http://www.jpost.com/ce%20February%202007.

[10] Julie Stahl, “Gaza Bible Society Surprised by Bomb Attack,” Cybercast News Service, 16 April 2007, www.cnsnews.com/ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=/ForeignBureaus/archive/200704/INT20070416e.html.

[11] Isabel Kershner, “Palestinian Christians Look Back on a Year of Troubles,” New York Times, 11 March  2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/world/middleeast/11christians.html?_r=3&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=slogin.

[12] The highest of Islamic sources unequivocally calls for the killing of converts. This came from the Hadith (sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad.  Ruth Gledhill, “Whoever Changes His Islamic Religion-Kill Him,” Times Online, 21 March 2006, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article743382.ece.

[13] In the case of a Christian Arab named Aiman, such incentives (release from custody, a job, an office) were offered. He recalled: “The jailors demanded that I revert back to Islam…go to a religious Islamic school in Saudi Arabia or Gaza…and then go up to the minaret and say: ‘Allah is great and God has no son’ over the loudspeaker…and to confess the names and addresses of the people that I had converted, or were involved in evangelism.”

[14] “Palestinian Christian Activist Killed in Gaza,” Kuwaiti Times, 8 October  2007, www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTIwNDI3NDc5MQ.

[15] Eric Young, “Witnesses: Slain Palestinian Was Tortured for Spreading Christianity,” Christian Post, 11 October 2007,

www.christianpost.com/article/20071011/29662_Witnesses:_Slain_Palestinian_was_Tortured_for_Spreading_Christianity.htm.

[16] He was also visiting a seriously ill relative there.

[17] Stahl, “Gaza Bible Society.”

[18] “Militants Bomb Gaza YMCA Library,” BBC News, 15 February 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7246454.stm;

[19] Associated Press, “Bomb Explodes at Christian School,” JPost.com, 17 May 2008, www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1210668651761.

[20] Mohammad Omer, “Coexistence in Gaza,” The Electronic Intifada, 28 November 2007, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9126.shtml.

[21] Associated Press, “Israel Rescinds Arab Christian Clergy Travel Rights in West Bank,” Haaretz, 27 October 2007 (last update), file:///A:/www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/917437.html.

[22] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Greek Orthodox Church Spokesman Says Suicide Bombers Are ‘Heroes,'” Jerusalem Post, 12 January 2003.

[23] Kershner, “Palestinian Christians.”

[24] Brian J. Grieves, No Outcasts: The Public Witness of Edmond L. Browning (Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 1997).

[25] According to their website, Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) works in the United States and Canada to support the vision of Jerusalem-based Sabeel, a Christian liberation-theology organization. FOSNA cultivates the support of American churches through cosponsored regional educational conferences, alternative pilgrimage, witness trips, and international gatherings in the Holy Land (www.fosna.org).

[26] Daniel Pipes, “Christianity Dying in Its Birthplace,” New York Sun, 13 September 2005,” www.daniel pipes.org/article/2937.

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Justus Reid Weiner is an international human rights lawyer, a member of the Israel and New York bar associations, and a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the School of Law (Boalt Hall), University of California, Berkeley. Weiner’s professional publications have appeared in leading law journals and intellectual magazines. He is currently a fellow in residence at the JCPA and an adjunct lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Weiner was formerly a visiting assistant professor at the School of Law, Boston University

About Justus Reid Weiner

Justus Reid Weiner is a human rights lawyer and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is the author of numerous professional publications. Weiner also lectures widely in various countries, and was a visiting Assistant Professor at Boston University School of Law. He is a member of the New York and Israel Bar. Previously, he practiced law as an associate in the litigation department of the international law firm White & Case in New York City. Weiner also served as a senior attorney at the Israel Ministry of Justice, specializing in human rights and other facets of public international law.