Having spent the last 4 weeks in the UK and USA and had the opportunity to meet and talk to so many people, it is quite clear that there is a vast lack of knowledge of the real Israel and the region in which we live.
When we told everyone who asked, that we were from Israel, the discussion, particularly with those of the Christian faith indicated a total lack of awareness of what is happening to their co-religionists in the region.
Thus I think it appropriate to publish the article below and pose the question "It is not time for the churches in the West to stop fooling themselves and their congregations into believing that the horrifying reduction in numbers of Christians in the Middle East is somehow the fault of the Jewish State."
Anglican Friends of Israel reflects on the significance of Hamas’s legislation which would mean the closure of Christian schools in Gaza, and urges Christian leaders in the West to start holding Palestinian leaders responsible for what happens to Christians under their jurisdiction.
Last week the Catholic Herald reported that five Church Schools ("two Catholic and three Christian") are under threat in Gaza because of the ruling party Hamas’s intention to extend their Muslim Brotherhood-inspired version of Islam throughout their fiefdom. Their edict, which forbids the education of boys and girls together, will mean that the schools must close down because of lack of space and staff. That most of the students are Muslim matters not at all. What’s important is the segregation of male and female as far as possible.
For some, this will be the first chill wind signalling what a Palestinian state dominated by Islamists will mean for Palestinian Christians. But such folk have missed warning signs going back many years.
In 2005, the annual report on human rights abuses around the world produced by the US State Department recorded abuse of Palestinian Christians by individuals and by Palestinian institutions, such as government and the police. The report stated:
The PA judiciary failed to adjudicate numerous cases of seizures of Christian-owned land in the Bethlehem area by criminal gangs. There were credible reports that PA security forces and judicial officials colluded with gang members to extort property illegally from Christians. Several attacks against Christians in Bethlehem went unaddressed by the PA, but authorities investigated attacks against Muslims in the same area.About this time a Roman Catholic priest in Ramallah bewailed the fact that in his experience Muslim Palestinians did not want Christians living among them.
Then there are the attacks on Christians and their property by fellow Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, few of which were reported by Western media outlets. Bible Society official Rami Ayyad was kidnapped and murdered by Jihadists in Gaza. The YMCA in the West Bank town of Qalqilya was torched, as were church schools in Gaza.
The steady trickle of information about the harassment and persecution of Palestinian Christians by other Palestinians has increasingly come from Palestinians themselves, notably from the East Jerusalem-based Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Abu Toameh risks his life to report various aspects of the underbelly of life under the Palestinian Authority. He reports on corruption within the PA leadership, the effects of chaotic and wasteful governance, and the way in which Palestinian leaders talk peace for eager Western ears whilst inciting their citizens (in Arabic) to believe that their Jewish neighbour can be eliminated.
Khaled Abu Toameh has covered the treatment experienced by Palestinian Christians in both the West Bank and Gaza extensively. He insists that the haemorrhage of Christians from the Holy Land is not due, as many would have us believe, to the Israeli ‘occupation’, but to their increasing marginalisation at the hands of neighbours who use their power to disadvantage Christians.
Then there is the increasing fear that Mahmoud Abbas’s weak Fatah regime in the West Bank could give way at any moment to a Hamas coup. If this happens – given Hamas’s previous record – it could well be the death-knell for Christianity in the Palestinian Territories. Only last week, Abbas permitted Muslim fundamentalists to strut down the streets of Ramallah. Why?
And now another source of information about the realities of life for Palestinian Christians is opening up. Palestinians from within the Territories are speaking out about the injustices that Palestinians are inflicting on other Palestinians. They do so at risk of their lives to whomever will listen.
One young Christian Palestinian woman – who had to flee her West Bank home because shedared to challenge the narrative that holds Israel responsible for all Palestinian woes – has spoken to audiences of all faiths and none in the UK and Europe about the unnecessary poverty and misery which years of mismanagement and corruption have brought to all Palestinians. She has also given accounts of the discrimination Palestinian Christians suffer at the hands of fellow Palestinians from both her own and her friends’ experience.
At a recent meeting in the Midlands, she told how, earlier this year, a student was beaten up by his classmates in a classroom in front of a teacher, with no action taken against the perpetrators. His crime? Refusing to give up his Christian faith and adopt Islam. She tells tales of the way in which she and other Christian students were sexually harassed by Muslim boys on their way to university because, unlike Muslim girls, they had to share public transport with the boys.
Even more chillingly, she reports how Palestinian Christian businessmen were murdered because they refused to pay the protection money demanded by what she described as the ‘Palestinian mafia’.
Though disturbing, the testimony of people like this young woman and journalist Khaled Abu Toameh is refreshing because it breaks a conspiracy of silence which has gone on for years. Many Palestinian Christians have claimed that their relations with their Muslim neighbours are nothing but cordial; that they are Palestinians first and foremost, united against their common (Jewish) foe. Yet the steady exodus of Palestinians from territories that are under the day-to-day control of other Palestinians suggests that something else is going on.
Why Christian Palestinian leaders are unwilling to admit in public what they certainly acknowledge in private is unclear: fear of reprisals from their government, neighbours and even family must have some bearing on the situation. Nevertheless, this is a disaster for Christianity in the Palestinian Territories. As Abu Toameh comments: "By not talking openly about the problem, the Christian leaders are encouraging the perpetrators to continue their harassment and assaults against Christian families."
Nevertheless, Hamas’s action cannot be misunderstood by anyone. Respect for the views and culture of minorities such as Gaza’s Christians has no place in their thinking. Perhaps this is why it was reported by West Bank Christians and by Abu Toameh that 'Out of the 600 Christians from the Gaza Strip who arrived in the West Bank in the past two weeks to celebrate Christmas, dozens have asked to move to Israel because they no longer feel comfortable living under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.’
It is time for the churches in the West to stop fooling themselves and their congregations into believing that the horrifying reduction in numbers of Christians in the Middle East is somehow the fault of the Jewish State. The future for Christianity in the land of its birth is grim indeed as long as Western Christians avoid holding Palestinian leaders responsible for what happens to Palestinian Christians on their watch.