Poor besieged Christians of Bethlehem and beyond.
Op-Ed: Muslims Drive out Christians from PA Territories Arutz Sheva
"The disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in more recent years, in part, by Hamas. Under these regimes, the resident Christian Arabs 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 in the greatest 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 semi-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.
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. To this day, Muslim attitudes toward Christians and Jews are influenced by the concepts and prejudices that dhimmitude has spawned in Islamic society. The widespread persecution of Christians in various Muslim dominated lands brings many proofs of this.
"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 moved to Israel as spouses of Jews.
"As dhimmis, Christians living in Palestinian-controlled territories are subjected to debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious restrictions. 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 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. They flee to almost any country that will issue them a visa.
"The demographics in the Palestinian areas have changed drastically. In Bethlehem, the Christian population was an 80 percent majority in 1950. Today the population of Christian Arabs in Bethlehem is hovering at about 15 percent of the city's total population. 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 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 Hamas controls the City Council with some Christian allies. Arafat crowned his efforts when he converted the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity into his official Bethlehem residence.
"The problems for Christians in Bethlehem are typical throughout the Middle East. As 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. Probably less than fifty thousand Christians remain in all of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza together.”
Weiner concludes: "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. These patriarchs and archbishops of Christian Arab denominations obfuscate the truth and put their own people in danger. This is often for personal benefit or due to intimidation. 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."