Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Christian persecution in Palestine

Over on the Ruth Gledhill blog a conversation about Christians being executed in Turkey has turned into the same old Israel-Palestine discussion. Several posters, in particular Irene Lancaster of the University of Haifa, have made allegations concerning Christian persecution in the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank.

My position is this:

Whilst there have been reports of discrimination of Christians in the West Bank, attempts to characterise the PA as a whole as practicing ethnic cleansing of Christians is unfounded. The last time I was in Bethlehem, I spent time asking Christians about their experiences. Of all the people I spoke to, only one poor carpenter complained that he was forgotten by Christians abroad and discriminated against by Muslims. Everyone else claimed that the Christian-Muslim relations were good.

Claims that Sharia law is being rigidly forced onto Christians are not correct. One example is that women regularly wear their heads uncovered in the Bethlehem area. Whilst there are some very religious Muslims, the majority seem fairly secular and wear western clothing.

Furthermore, there are no reports of religious discrimination in the West Bank by Amnesty International, B'tsalem - the Israeli human rights organisation or Human Rights Watch. In fact, HRW have recently published a report detailing human rights abuses against women in the West Bank and the others have condemned the practice of hanging people who co-operate with the Israeli occupation. If this discrimination was occurring, one would think that these organisations would regularly report it.

I will detail below some of the responses by Church leaders and other Christians to the reports of persecution in the West Bank.

"As an Arab Palestinian Christian I never consider myself to be part of a minority group, nor do I expect to be treated as “dhimmi,” part of a group formally protected under Islamic law. Arab Palestinian Christians are an integral part of our Arab Palestinian society.Some have asked: “Why are the Palestinian Christians emigrating from their homeland where they have lived for two thousand years?” My reply is that the unstable political situation, the continued illegal occupation and the unbearable economic hardships are the reasons for that. Palestinian Christians do not see that they can have a future in the midst of war and violence. They want to see a future based on justice, peace, reconciliation, in which they live together with other religions, cultures and nations. They follow what Our Lord Jesus Christ taught: “I have come to give you life, and life abundantly.”

Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan,
Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Vice-President of the Lutheran World Federation.

"Christians are part of Palestinian society, and the Palestinians are Christians and Muslims. No one is going to flee because of Islamic influence, but because of the lack of work, or the political tension provoked by the curfew. But there is no Muslim persecution of Christians, and in fact they share the same hope of one day having an independent state".

Michel Shabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

"Christian Palestinians face the same harsh occupation as Muslims: movement
restrictions, withholding of tax receipts by Israel, discrimination, land
confiscation, powerlessness and oppression through the bureaucracy (visas,
permits, planning permission, etc.). Apart from a few isolated incidents,
they have not been persecuted by Muslims. They have been particularly hard
hit by the economic decline, especially the collapse of tourism and the
restrictions in working outside Palestine, and because they have generally
had better contacts outside Palestine it has been easier for them to

Jerry Marshall, Transformational Business Network - frequent visitor to Bethlehem and particularly the charismatic evangelical community.

"Yes Christians are being persecuted in Palestine. There are sporadic
instances from Islamists but these are usually family feuds not religious in
origin but these are exploited by Israeli propagandists and Christian

The majority of Palestinian Christians who have left Palestine have done so
because of Israel's occupation - the annexation of their land, demolition of
their homes, destruction of their livelihoods and erection of the Separation
barrier denying them access to their land, jobs, schools and hospitals. In
Hebrew it is called Hafrada - meaning separation. The Dutch Africana word is
the same - the parallels with Apartheid South Africa are obvious except in
South Africa the white government subsidised the Bantustans."

Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, UK

More to follow.



Blogger Karin said...

I think this needs saying, Joe. I have come across people making this sort of accusation, too, but I have never heard it from a West Bank Palestinian, of whom I have only met a very few who were visiting the UK, or anyone who has lived among the Palestinians in the West Bank, of whom I have met several.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Well, the thing is that I do not dismiss the possibility that it is happening, but too often this is used as a smokescreen to somehow change the subject from Israeli brutality - which are reported by human rights organisations for all to see.

I want to know the truth. If the Palestinians are too afraid to talk (which, to be honest, does not seem very likely to me. If anything it is difficult to get Palestinians to shut up once they get started) then I want to speak to people who have spoken to Palestinians that have made these reports.

At the moment, all the evidence amounts to a few articles dotted around the internet - mostly published by obviously zionist christian groups.

1:06 AM  

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