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Palestinian Christians: A Minority’s Plea for Rights Silenced by the Politics of Peace

Filed under: Palestinians

The Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 4, No. 3, September 2005 (363)

In November 2002, the Vatican offered $400,000 (U.S.) to the Palestinian Christian community in order to improve their lives and thereby convince them to stay in their ancestral residences. This unusual offer was provoked by a massive wave of emigration from formerly Christian-dominated areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, endangering the very future of Christianity in the Holy Land. According to one striking statistic, for centuries the majority in the Bethlehem district, Christians currently make up only 30,000 of its 130,000 residents.

The product of seven years of research, including scores of interviews with members of the various Christian denominations, this article endeavors to better understand the Christian exodus by evaluating the human rights conditions of the Christian minority living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). JUSTUS REID WEINER also analyzes the PAís adoption of Sharíia (Islamic law) in its Constitution, the increasing influence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the PAís ineffectual and corrupt administration. He documents that, contrary to international law, Palestinian Christians are subject to systematic abuses of human rights including employment discrimination, extortion, the theft of real property, rape and sexual harassment, attacks by PA police officials, as well as arbitrary imprisonment and torture.

The enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act by the U.S. Congress in 1998 prompted yearly reports on religious freedom in the Palestinian territories. Issued by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, these reports either cursorily mention the issues that are raised in this article or ignore them altogether. Unfortunately, the predicament of the Palestinian Christians has been overlooked or, worse still, intentionally subordinated by the international community. As various governments furnish financial resources to the emerging Palestinian state they should reflect upon their complicity in the human rights abuses that have emerged.

By examining the context in which Christians are being intimidated and persecuted, including denials, explanations, and the phenomena of Christian self-blame, the author attempts to shred light on the evident silence that surrounds the predicament of this endangered community. The authorís Conclusion offers five practical suggestions aimed at ameliorating the grave circumstances that the Palestinian Christians find themselves living in today.

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