|CRISIS FACING THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES
IN ARAB LANDS
Sent from StandWithUs, July 03,2003
|The following was sent by a leader of another grassroots advocacy group in the UK. It discusses the crisis facing the Christian communities in Arab lands, and in the disputed territories especially Bethlehem and Beit Jala which once had thriving Christian communities until decimated by Arafat's thugs. The word must get out! This following contains several CRITICAL articles - recommended that you print out and then read!
Shirly Anne Harber
The Media Action Group -- Canada
Letter by Joy Wolfe:
To William Bell
As you know one of my on-going concerns is the plight of Christians in Arab lands, not least the way they are treated and hounded out by the Palestinian Authority. I have personal contact with one Christian family who left Israel for Scandinavia because of the dreadful things they were experiencing and I know I will not need to tell you how the Palestinians took over
Christian homes in Beit Jala to launch attacks on Gilo in Israel. I also have contact with a Christian from Bethlehem who has shared his concerns with me.
It has long been my belief that Christian organizations around the world have either been unwilling or unable to focus proper
attention on this situation.
I thought you might find the statistics below of interest, though I am sure they will depress you even more than they depress
Israel has always done its best to protect its minority communities, not least the Christians, and is probably the only country in the world to have had a Ministry for Minority communities. It is also well documented, and I am sure known to you, that it is only under Israeli control that the holy sites are respected and cared for.
I would be most grateful if you could let me know what contact Christian Aid has in the Palestinian Authority areas.
Please go to http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Peace/christiantoc.html for some really disturbing articles on the Christian communities under Palestinian control; a couple of them I have pasted below. As a result I apologise that it is very long, but do try to read it when you can as I consider it very important, and something which I hope Christian Aid will feel the need to take some responsibility for helping to protect fellow Christians.
Please keep in touch,
THE CHRISTIAN POPULATION IN ARAB LANDS:
YEAR: 1948 2000
Algeria 140,000 Less than 100
Egypt 75,000 200
Iran 100,000 12,000 to 40,000
Iraq 150,000 100
Lebanon 20,000 100
Libya 38,000 0
Morocco 265,000 5,800
Syria 30,000 200
Tunisia l05,000 l,500
Yemen 55,000 200
CHRISTIANS FLEEING PALESTINIAN CONTROLLED AREAS:
by Daphne Tsimhoni
The small Christian Arab community in the areas under Palestinian Authority (PA) control has been a major victim of the
current Palestinian violence, resulting in accelerated Christian emigration from the territories since September 2000.
The Christian population in the PA - controlled territories has declined since 1997.
Population estimates, made by Ibrahim Kandelaft, PA Chairman Yasir Arafat's adviser on Christians and church affairs, and
seen in the graph below, show a considerable decline in the number of Christians in the West Bank - from 35,000 in 1997 to
25,000 in 2002, a drop of 29 percent. In the Gaza Strip, the number diminished from 2,500 to 2,000, or 20 percent, during the
Dr. Bernard Sabella of Bethlehem University estimates that approximately 600 Christians per year have left since the beginning of the current violence versus 300-400 per year in earlier periods. The Israeli civil administration in the territories estimates the number of Christians who have left since September 2000 at approximately 10,000.
The once-prosperous Christian community is more urbanized and better educated, and has a higher rate of white-collar professionals, smaller households and lower birthrates than does its Muslim counterprarts. The Christians in the West Bank
are concentrated in two enclaves near Jerusalem: The Ramallah district with approximately 16,000 Christians and the Bethlehem district, including the small towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur, with about 9,000 Christians. In both areas, the Christians lost their majorities as early as the 1950's and 1960's when the West Bank was under Jordanian rule, mainly due to the settlement of
mostly Muslim refugees as well as continuous Christians emigration and the Christians' lower birthrate than the Muslims.
Since September 2000, enconomic stagnation, high unemployment, lack of internal security and Israeli closures of West Bank
towns due to constant Palestinian violence have affected all Palestinians. The Christians in the Bethlehem area have been hit particularly hard. Unlike the Christians of Ramallah, they have preserved their traditional, church-affliliated lifestyle. They
maintain affiliations to their church headquarters, hospitals and educational institutions in Jerusalem.
Christians have become increasinly concerned about the Islamization of life in their key cities.
Bethlehem Christians cater to Christian pilgrims and other tourists by running hotels, restaurants and souvenir stores and industries. Their relations with their Muslim neighbors have been marked by friction and violence. Bethlehem Christians have
complained of raids by a neighboring Muslim Bedouin tribe and the purchase of lands in their neighborhoods by Muslim Hebronites that is liable to further marginalize them in their own enclave. They are particularly troubled by the Islamization of public life in the Bethlehem area and by the imposition of Muslim codes of conduct, especially regarding women.
The expansion of PA control to Bethlehem in 1995 separated it from Jerusalem and hampered its Christian inhabitants/ contacts with their Jerusalem church headquarters; the current Palestinian violence almost extinguished these contacts altogether.
The Christians of Bethlehem saw the destruction of the mainstay of their livelihood Christian pilgrimage and other tourism. furthermore, much of the violence has been perpetrated by the radical Muslim organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Imposing Muslim codes in the Bethlehem area and violence against its Christian residents have considerably expanded, including occasional attacks on women.
Although Palestinian Christians have rarely engaged in violence against Jews, some Christians have been killed in the fighting.
The most disastrous effects of the violence have occurred in the quiet, largely Christian town of Beit Jala. Armed Palestinian elements chose Beit Jala as their base for sniping at the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. Their goal was self-evident: directing international attention to any retaliatory fire on this Christian town by the Israelis. The Israeli reaction did come, and it forced numerous Christians to evacuate. Many headed abroad, especially to the United States and Canada.
In the Gaza Strip as well, the violence has harmed the tiny Christian community. In addition to the economic decline, there were several cases of physical attacks on Christians in Gaza, influenced by Islamist incitement against Israel and the Christian West.
The continuation of present trends is liable to increase Christian emigration even farther and cause a drastic decline in the already dwindling Christian population. The Christians urgently need an end to the violence and a resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Dr. Tsihoni, research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of Christian Communities in Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1948 (Praeger, 1993).
Source: Near East Report, (January 28, 2002).
THE CHRISTIAN EXODUS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST
by Jonathan Adelman and Agota Kuperman
In another decade or so, given present trends, there will be few if any Christians living in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
The same is true of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and even of Jerusalem, where nearly 600 historic churches still stand.
Christians in the Palestinian territories have dropped from 15 percent of the Arab population in 1950 to just 2 percent today. Both Bethlehem and Nazareth, which had been overwhelmingly Christian towns, now have strong Muslim majorities. Today three-fourths of all Bethlehem Christians live abroad, and more Jerusalem Christians live in Sydney, Australia than in the place of their birth. Indeed, Christians now comprise of just 2.5 percent of Jerusalem, although those remaining still include a few born in the Old City when Christians there still constituted a majority.
And it is not only the Holy Land from which many native Christians have fled. Throughout the entire Middle East, once significant Christian communities have shrunk to a minuscule portion of their former robust selves. In 50 years they may well be extinct.
What happened? Why has there been a great and little reported -- Christian exodus from the Middle East, with some 2 million fleeing in the past 20 years alone? Why have perhaps fully half of all Iraqi Christians clandestinely emigrated in the last 10 years? Why have hundreds of thousands of Egyptian Copts left their homeland, with the famous Antioch community collapsing from 15,000 Christians a couple of decades ago to a mere handful today?
The single greatest cause of this emigration is pressure from radical Islam.
To be sure, there have been other reasons for the exodus. Educated Middle Eastern Christians sometimes emigrate for economic reasons. Some have left to avoid the endless procession of violent conflicts. Their lower birth rate and compatibility with the Christian West has reinforced these tendencies.
But an entire group does not cavalierly abandon a homeland in which its ancestors have lived for nearly 2,000 years simply because of the allures of a more prosperous society. Such people have to be pushed out, too. And that is precisely what radical Islamists are managing to do.
In his recent book The Body and the Blood: The Holy Lands Christians at the Turn of the Century, Charles Sennott reports on one Chrisitan community after another that is perilously close to extinction.
In one Jerusalem parish there were not enough young Christian men left to carry a casket at a funeral... In the sanctuary of an Upper Egypt monastery, Christians cowered in fear of violence from Islamic militants and systematic human rights violations by Egypt's police state. In Lebanon the empty halls of once-grand Maronite Christian monasteries echoed a long-distant past crumbling and disappearing in the aftermath of a devastating civil war ... In all these place I found the Christian community withering, as daily life grew steadily more difficult.
Lebanon and Egypt are revealing cases precisely because no one, a generation or two ago, would have imagined that their large historic Christian communities would be so beleaguered today. And yet they are. In Lebanon, where Christians were once a
solid majority of the country, they number less than a million people today, and are shrinking rapidly.
Egyptian Copts, meanwhile, have felt the brunt of both the state and Islamic fundamentalists. Many laws and customs favor Muslims, and the constitution proclaims Islam as the state religion. Muslim, but not Christian, schools receive state funding and Arabic may be taught in schools only by Muslims. It is nearly impossible to restore or build new churches at a time while many thousands of new Islamic building have been sanctioned by the state.
Identity cards note the bearers religion. Christians are frequently ostracized or insulted in public, and laws prohibit Moslem conversions to Christianity. Most frightening of all, Islamic radicals have frequently launched physical attacks on Copts.
In several other Islamic countries, conditions are even worse. In Saudi Arabia, Islam is the state religion and all citizens must be Muslims. It is illegal to import, print or own Christian or non-Muslim religious materials, and Christians have been jailed and deported.
Sudan has followed shari'a law since 1983 and declared itself an Islamic Republic in 1991. A brutal civil war waged by an Islamic Arab North against the Christian and animist black African south has killed over two million people and uprooted the majority of the population.
In Taliban Afghanistan the application of harsh shari'a law bred such hatred of Christians that there were no longer any open
churches or significant numbers of avowed Christians in the country.
In Iran, Christians form a minuscule .4 percent of the population. The tiny Christian population has been treated as second class dhimmis people of the Book who are theoretically protected while officially marginalized. The printing of Christian literature
is illegal, converts from Islam are liable to be killed and most evangelical churches must function underground.
Nowhere is the fate of Christians of more international interest, however, than within the Palestinian Authority. Yasser Arafat has repeatedly proclaimed himself an defender of the Christians; he met with the Pope and appointed a Christian, Hanan Ashrawi, as one of his leading spokespeople. But, his deeds belie his words, and ever more so with the rapid Islamization of the Palestinian movement.
Since 1975 Arafat hs tried to erase the historic Jesus by depicting him as the first radical Palestinian armed fedayeen (guerrilla). Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has adopted Islam as its official religion, used shari'a Islamic codes, and allowed even officially appointed clerics to brand Christians (and Jews) as infidels in their mosques. The militantly Islamic rhetoric and terrorist acts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah all of which Arafat has tolerated and even encouraged -- offer little comfort to Christians.
Since the December 1995 Palestinian takeover of Bethlehem, Arafat has placed the Church of the Nativity and other key Christian sites under his direct political supervision. Palestinian converts to Christianity have been harassed, Christian cemeteries have been destroyed, monasteries have seen their phone lines cut and convents have been broken into. By December 1997, The Times of London could report: Life in (PA ruled) Bethlehem has become insufferable for many members of the dwindling Christian minorities. Increasing Muslim-Christian tensions have left some Christians reluctant to celebrate Christmas in the town at the heart of the story of Christ's birth.
In May 1999, Sheikh Yssef Salameh, the Palestinian Authority's undersecretary for religious endowment, praised the idea that Christians should become dhimmis under Muslim rule, and such suggestions have become more common since the second intifada began in October 2000.
Perhaps most ominously for the future of Christians in the Holy Land, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who is a favorite of Arafat, has declared that there are no Jewish stones in Jerusalem and not even the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past.
From where, then, had Jesus chased the moneychangers? The Grand Mufti did not say, but it is no wonder, given such an atmosphere, that long-awaited global celebrations of the second millennium anniversary of Jesus in Bethlehem had to be cancelled in 2000; nor is it surprising that Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem have been cancelled for the second year in a row.
The overal result? The exodus of Christians continues apace from Palestinian Authority controlled areas. Within a generation Christians may comprise less than 1% of the population of the ground sacred to their faith.
None of this is to suggest, or course, that Christians always fared well under Islam in earlier centuries. Indeed, the birth of Islam in the seventh century had a disastrous impact on Christianity (as on Judaism) in the Middle East. The Eastern Mediterranean at the time was almost totally Christian and the Levant was Christianity's heartland. The difference is that the brutality chracteristic of much of Islam's early history was also typical of most of the rest of the world's major civilizations at that time whereas the Islamist intolerance today has no significant counterpart in the West.
Moreover, it appeared that Muslim governance would follow the course of the West, and adopt policies protecting religious minorities and even granting them equal status. But the demise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1918 and the rise of nationalism and radical Islam again reversed the fortunes of Middle East Christians and in a number of places their beleaguered status has only worsened with time.
The irony, of course, is that Christian rites, rituals and traditions all are rooted in the Holy Land, and most early church fathers hailed from the very areas of the Eastern Mediterranean in which Christian communities are now on their heels or in virtual flight.
Those in the West who seek to understand the events of Sept. 11 and the struggle now taking place between the West and a radical Jihadist (Holy War) movement must not forget that the scars of radical Islam are also visible in the Middle East itself.
Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Agota Kuperman is a retired senior foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State. Both are senior fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Source: Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
The Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas
Prepared by the Prime Minister's Office
THE TAKEOVER OF BETHLEHEM:
On taking control over Bethlehem in December 1995, the Palestinian Authority changed the rules for Christians. The Church
of the Nativity and other sites of central importance to Christianity came under Palestinian Authority control, giving Yasser
Arafat leverage over the heads of the Christian communities. Since then, the local Christian leadership has toed the line of the Palestinian Authority.
The Latin patriarch, Greek Archbishop, Anglican bishop and Lutheran bishop are all Palestinian Arabs. They have become effective propaganda mouthpieces throughout the Christian world.
An example of Arafat's attitude toward the Christians was his decision to unilaterally turn the Greek Orthodox monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile during his periodic visits to the city. This was done without prior consent of the church.
TREATMENT OF CHRISTIANS BY THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY:
On the social and religious level, the Christians remaining in Palestinian Authority controlled areas are subjected to relentless persecution. Christian cemeteries ahve been destroyed, monasteries have had their telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins to convents. Nuns are afraid to report such incidents.
In August 1997, Palestinian policemen in Beit Sahur opened fire on a crowd of Christian Arabs, wounding six. The Palestinian Authority is attempting to cover up the incident and has warned against publicizing the story. The local commander of the Palestinian police instructed journalists not to report on the incident.
Palestinian security forces have targeted and intimidated Christian leaders and Palestinian converts to Christianity.
Recent incidents of persecution of Christians include the following:
In late June 1997, a Palestinian convert to Christianity in the northern West Bank was arrested by agents of the Palestinian
Authority's Preventive Security Service. He had been regularly attending church and prayer meetings and was distributing Bibles. The Palestinian Authority ordered his arrest. He is still being held in a Palestinian prison and has been subjected to physical torture and interrogations.
The pastor of a church in Ramallah was recently warned by the Palestinian Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for spreading Christianity.
A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus was recently arrested by the Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was brought in by the police, and he attempted to convice the convert to return to Islam. When the convert refused, he was brought before a Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious leader. He is currently being held in a prison cell with more than 30 people, most serving life sentences for murder.
A Palestinian convert to Christianity in Ramallah was recently visited by Palestinian policemen at his home and warned that if he continued to preach Christianity, he would be arrested and charged with being an Israeli spy.
As a result of unceasing persection, the Christians are forced to behave like any oppressed minority which aims to survive. Christians in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas have taken to praying in secret. The wisdom of survival compels them to assess the "balance of fear", according to which they have nothing to fear from Israel but face an existential threat from the Palestinian Authority and their Muslim neighbors. They act accordingly: they seek to "find favor" through unending praise and adulation for the Muslim ruler together with public denunciations of the "Zionist entity".
EMIGRATION OF CHRISTIANS FROM PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY TERRITORY:
In the last census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there were 28,000 Christians living in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel in 1967 (after the Six Day War) showed just 11,000 Christians remaining in the city. This means that some 17,000 Christians (or 61%) left during the days of King Hussein's rule over Jerusalem. Their place was filled by Muslim
Arabs from Hebron.
During the British mandate period, Bethlehem had a Christian majority of 80%. Today, under Palestinian rule, it has a Muslim
majority of 80%. Few Christians remain in the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank. Those who can - emigrate, and there will soon be virtually no Christians in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas. The Palestinian Authority is trying to
conceal the fact of massive Christian emigration from areas under its control.
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