The Beleaguered Christians of the Palestinian Authority
A Second-Class People / Regional Repression of Christians / Official PA
Domination of Christians / PA Disrespect for Christian Holy Sites / The
PA Takeover of the Church of the Nativity / The PA and Jerusalem
Christians / Reduction of Christian Political Power / Harassment of
Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Muslims / The Palestinian
March 16, 2004
By David Raab
The Christian community in the areas administered by the Palestinian
Authority (PA) is a small but symbolically important one. About 35,000
Christians live in the West Bank and 3,000 in Gaza,^1 representing about
1.3 percent of Palestinians. In addition, 12,500 Christians reside in
This population is rapidly dwindling, however, and not solely as a
result of the difficult military and economic situation of the past two
years. Rather, there are numerous indications that the Christian
population is beleaguered due to its Christianity. Taken in context of
the condition of Christians in other Middle Eastern countries, this
picture is especially credible and troubling.
A Second-Class People
Under Islam, Christians are considered /dhimmi,/ a tolerated but second
class who are afforded protection by Islam. /Dhimmitude/ is integral to
Islam; it is a “protection pact” that suspends “the [Muslim] conqueror’s
initial right to kill or enslave [Jews and Christians], provided they
submitted themselves to pay tribute.”2
However, the reality of Christianity under Islam has often been
difficult. “Over the centuries, political Islam has not been too kind to
the native Christian communities living under its rule. Anecdotes of
tolerance aside, the systematic treatment of Christians…is abusive and
discriminatory by any standard….Under Islam, the targeted /dhimmi/
community and each individual in it are made to live in a state of
perpetual humiliation in the eyes of the ruling community.”3 As
described by a Christian Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayil: “a
Christian…is not a full citizen and cannot exercise political rights
in any of the countries which were once conquered by Islam.”4
Palestinian Christians have suffered as /dhimmis/ for centuries. An
English traveler in the Holy Land in 1816, for example, remarked that
Christians were not permitted to ride on horseback without express
permission from the Muslim Pasha.5
Other European travelers to the Holy Land mentioned the practice whereby
“a /dhimmi/ must not come face to face with a Muslim in the street but
pass him to the left, the impure side,” and described how Christians
were humiliated and insulted in the streets of Jerusalem until the
mid-1800s. The British consul in Jerusalem wrote that in the Holy Land,
particularly in Jerusalem until 1839, Christians were pushed into the
gutter by any Muslim who would swear: “turn to my left, thou dog.” They
were forbidden to ride on a mount in town or to wear bright clothes.6
In the early 1900s, sporadic attacks on Christians by bands of Muslims
occurred in many Palestinian towns.7 During the Palestinian Arab revolt
in the late 1930s, which involved very few Christians, if Christian
villagers refused to supply the terrorist bands with weapons and
provisions, their vines were uprooted and their women raped. The rebels
forced the Christian population to observe the weekly day of rest on
Friday instead of Sunday and to replace the tarboosh with the kaffiyeh
for men, whereas women were forced to wear the veil. In 1936, Muslims
marched through the Christian village of Bir Zayt near Ramallah
chanting: “We are going to kill the Christians.”8
In the early 1900s, with the Jewish return to the area, Palestinian
Christians began to band with the Muslims to oppose Jewish immigration,
at least in part as a way to deflect Muslim hostility away from
themselves. As Sir John Chancellor, British High Commissioner in
Palestine, put it in 1931: “Christian Arab leaders, moreover, have
admitted to me that in establishing close relations with the
[Palestinian] Moslems the Christians have not been uninfluenced by fears
of the treatment they might suffer at the hands of the Moslem majority
in certain eventualities.”9
>From 1953 until 1967, Jordan undertook to Islamize the Christian quarter
in the Old City of Jerusalem by laws forbidding Christians to buy land
and houses….It ordered the compulsory closure of schools on Muslim
holidays and authorized mosques to be built near churches, thus
preventing any possibility of enlargement.10
Regional Repression of Christians
The current Christian reality in many Middle Eastern countries is also
difficult. In Egypt, “Muslim, but not Christian, schools receive state
funding….It is nearly impossible to restore or build new
churches….Christians are frequently ostracized or insulted in public,
and laws prohibit Muslim conversions to Christianity….Islamic radicals
have frequently launched physical attacks on [Christian] Copts.”11
Saudi Arabia “is one of the most oppressive countries for Christians.
There are no churches in the whole country. Foreign workers make up
one-third of the population, many of whom are Christians. For their
entire stay, which may be years, they are forbidden to display any
Christian symbols or Bibles, or even meet together publicly to worship
and pray. Some have watched their personal Bibles put through a shredder
when they entered the country.”12
An official Saudi cleric, Sheik Saad Al-Buraik, pronounced in a Riyadh
government mosque, “People should know that…the battle that we are
going through is…also with those who believe that Allah is a third in
a Trinity, and those who said that Jesus is the son of Allah, and Allah
is Jesus, the son of Mary.”13
In Iran, “the printing of Christian literature is illegal, converts from
Islam are liable to be killed, and most evangelical churches must
function underground.”14 Christians are not allowed to testify in an
Islamic court when a Muslim is involved and they are discriminated
against in employment. A 1992 UN report cites cases of imprisonment and
torture of Muslims who converted to Christianity and of Armenian and
Assyrian pastors, the dissolution of the Iranian Bible Society, the
closure of Christian libraries, and the confiscation of all Christian
books, including 20,000 copies of the New Testament in Farsi.15
In Israel, too, Muslim fundamentalists seek to assert dominance over
Christian Arabs. “Attacks against and condemnation of Christians are
also often heard in mosques, in sermons and in publications of the
Muslim Movement.”16 In Nazareth, a significant clash developed in recent
years when Muslims sought to build a grand mosque next to the Basilica
of the Annunciation, the dominant Christian landmark in the town.17
Official PA Domination of Christians
Islam is the official religion of the Palestinian Authority.18 In
addition, fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad have promoted Islamic
influence on Palestinian society.
Officially, the PA claims to treat Palestinian Christians equally and
pointedly seeks to display this publicly. Christmas is an official
holiday. Arafat has stated as his mission “the protection of the
Christian and Muslim holy places,”19 and several Christians have held
prominent PA positions.
Occasionally, however, contrary messages slip through. In a Friday
sermon on October 13, 2000, broadcast live on official Palestinian
Authority television from a Gaza mosque, Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya
proclaimed: “Allah the almighty has called upon us not to ally with the
Jews or the Christians, not to like them, not to become their partners,
not to support them, and not to sign agreements with them.”20
In addition, no PA law protects religious freedom.21 While asserting
that all Palestinians’ “liberty and freedom to worship and to practice
their religious beliefs are protected,” a PA Information Ministry
statement also stresses that: “The Palestinian people are also governed
by [Islamic] Shari’a law…with regard to issues pertaining to religious
matters. According to Shari’a Law, applicable throughout the Muslim
world, any Muslim who [converts] or declares becoming an unbeliever is
committing a major sin punishable by capital punishment…the
[Palestinian Authority] cannot take a different position on this matter.”22
In attempting to assuage Christians, the statement goes on to say that
capital punishment for conversion “has never happened, nor is it likely
to happen” in the Palestinian territories, but that “norms and tradition
will take care of such situations should they occur.”
The PA’s judicial system also does not ensure equal protection to
Christians. For example, an Israeli government report noted the failure
of the judicial system in Bethlehem to provide protection to Christian
The Comtsieh family (a Christian family) has a plot of land with a
building that serves as a business center in the city. Several years ago
a Moslem family from Hebron took possession of the building and started
to use it without permission.
The Comtsieh family filed a claim with the judicial system and after
long and arduous court hearings, the court ruled in the claimant’s favor.
However, the verdict was never enforced by the police and
representatives of the family from Hebron later appeared with a new
court verdict (signed by the same judge who ruled in the claimants’
favor previously), canceling the previous verdict and ratifying the
Hebron family’s ownership of the property.23
An Israeli government report in 1997 asserted more direct harassment of
Christians by the PA
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….
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….
The pastor of a church in Ramallah was recently warned by Palestinian
Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic
activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for
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 convince 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
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
Another report in 2002, based on Israeli intelligence gathered during
Israel’s Defensive Shield operation, asserts that “The Fatah and
Arafat’s intelligence network intimidated and maltreated the Christian
population in Bethlehem. They extorted money from them, confiscated land
and property and left them to the mercy of street gangs and other
criminal activity, with no protection.”25
Similar findings were reported in the /Washington Times/ following the
PA takeover of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in April 2002.
Residents of this biblical city are expressing relief at the exile to
Cyprus last week of 13 hard-core Palestinian militants, who they said
had imposed a two-year reign of terror that included rape, extortion and
executions. The 13 sent to Cyprus, as well as 26 others sent to the Gaza
Strip, had taken shelter in the Church of the Nativity, triggering a
39-day siege that ended Friday.
Palestinians who live near the church described the group as a criminal
gang that preyed especially on Palestinian Christians, demanding
“protection money” from the main businesses, which make and sell
“Finally the Christians can breathe freely,” said Helen, 50, a Christian
mother of four. “We are so delighted that these criminals who have
intimidated us for such a long time are now going away.”26
Adding insult to injury, during this reign of terror, the PA’s Al Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades (declared a terrorist organization by the United
States) sent a letter to the Bethlehem municipality “requesting” aid in
the form of monetary contributions for military operations. Cynically
adding a symbol of Christianity to their extortion demand, the letter
was signed “Fatah/Al Aqsa Martyrs (and /Church of) Nativity/ Brigades”
PA Disrespect for Christian Holy Sites
The PA has shown contempt for certain Christian holy sites, and there
has been significant desecration as well. For example, without prior
consent of the church, Yasser Arafat decided to turn the Greek Orthodox
monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile
during his visits to the city.28 On July 5, 1997, the PLO seized
Abraham’s Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron, violently
evicting monks and nuns.29
After the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, the PA’s
Tanzim militia chose the Christian town of Beit Jala to shoot at
Jerusalem over other locations from which they could have similarly
targeted communities built on land captured in 1967. They specifically
positioned themselves in or near Christian homes, hotels, churches
(e.g., St. Nicholas), and the Greek Orthodox club, knowing that a slight
deviation in Israeli return fire would harm Christian institutions or
At one point, Andreas Reinecke, head of the German Liaison office to the
I would like to draw your attention in this letter to a number of
incidents which occurred at “Talitakoumi” school in Beit Jala…which is
funded mainly by the Protestant Church in Berlin.
Over the last few days the school staff noticed attempts on the part of
several armed Palestinians to use the school premises and some of its
gardens for their activities. If they succeed in doing this, an Israeli
reaction will be inevitable. This will have a negative impact on the
continuation of the functioning of the school, in which no less than
1,000 [Christian] Palestinians study….You cannot imagine the kind of
upheaval which will be provoked among the supporters of this school [in
Germany] should they discover that the school premises are used as a
The most glaring example of PA disregard for the holiness of Christian
shrines, however, was the April 2002 takeover of the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem by PA forces and their taking over 40 Christian
clergy and nuns as hostages. As confirmed by a senior Tanzim commander,
Abdullah Abu-Hadid, “The idea was to enter the church in order to create
international pressure on Israel….We knew beforehand that there was
two years’ worth of food for 50 monks. Oil, beans, rice, olives. Good
bathrooms and the largest wells in old Bethlehem. You didn’t need
electricity because there were candles. In the yard they planted
vegetables. Everything was there.”32
The PA Takeover of the Church of the Nativity
On April 2, 2002, as Israel implemented its Defensive Shield operation
to combat the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, in Bethlehem “a
number of terrorists took over St. Mary’s Church grounds and…held the
priest and a number of nuns there against their will. The terrorists
used the Church as a firing position, from which they shot at IDF
soldiers in the area. /The soldiers did not return fire toward the
church when fired upon/ [emphasis added]. An IDF force, under the
command of the Bethlehem area regional commander, entered the Church
grounds today without battle, in coordination with its leaders, and
evacuated the priest and nuns.”33
That same day, “More than 100 Palestinian gunmen…[including] soldiers
and policemen, entered the Church of the Nativity on Tuesday, as Israeli
troops swept into Bethlehem in an attempt to quell violence by
Palestinian suicide bombers and militias.”34 The actual number of
terrorists was between 150 and 180, among them prominent members of the
Fatah Tanzim. As the /New York Times/ put it, “Palestinian gunmen have
frequently used the area around the church as a refuge, /with the
expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near the shrine/”
And in fact this was the case. The commander of the Israeli forces in
the area asserted that the IDF would not break into the church itself
and would not harm this site holy to Christianity. Israel also deployed
more mature and more reserved reserve-duty soldiers in this sensitive
situation that militarily called for more agile, standing-army soldiers.36
On the other hand, the Palestinians did not treat it the same way. Not
only did they take their weapons with them into the Church of the
Nativity and fire, on occasion, from the church, but also reportedly
booby-trapped the entrance to the church.37
On April 7, “one of the few priests evacuated from the church told
Israeli television yesterday that gunmen had shot their way in, and that
the priests, monks and nuns were essentially hostages….The priest
declined to call the clergy ‘hostages,’ but repeatedly said in fluent
English: ‘We have absolutely no choice. They have guns, we do not.'”38
Christians clearly saw the takeover as a violation of the sanctity of
the church. In an interview with CWNews, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran,
the Vatican’s Undersecretary of State and the top foreign-policy
official, asserted that “The Palestinians have entered into bilateral
agreements [with the Holy See] in which they undertake to maintain and
respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places and the
rights of Christian communities. To explain the gravity of the current
situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy
places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates
back to the Ottoman era. Never before have they been occupied – for such
a lengthy time – by armed men.”39 On April 14, he reiterated his
position in an interview on Vatican Radio.40
On April 24, the /Jerusalem Post/ reported on the damage that the PA
forces were causing:
Three Armenian monks, who had been held hostage by the Palestinian
gunmen inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, managed to flee the
church area via a side gate yesterday morning. They immediately thanked
the soldiers for rescuing them.
They told army officers the gunmen had stolen gold and other property,
including crucifixes and prayer books, and had caused damage….
One of the monks, Narkiss Korasian, later told reporters: “They stole
everything, they opened the doors one by one and stole
everything….They stole our prayer books and four crosses…they didn’t
leave anything. Thank you for your help, we will never forget it.”
Israeli officials said the monks said the gunmen had also begun beating
and attacking clergymen.41
When the siege finally ended, the PA soldiers left the church in
The Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity seized
church stockpiles of food and “ate like greedy monsters” until the food
ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry. They also guzzled
beer, wine, and Johnnie Walker scotch that they found in priests’
quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on drinking alcohol. The
indulgence lasted for about two weeks into the 39-day siege, when the
food and drink ran out, according to an account by four Greek Orthodox
priests who were trapped inside for the entire ordeal….
The Orthodox priests and a number of civilians have said the gunmen
created a regime of fear.
Even in the Roman Catholic areas of the complex there was evidence of
disregard for religious norms. Catholic priests said that some Bibles
were torn up for toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects
were removed. “Palestinians took candelabra, icons and anything that
looked like gold,” said a Franciscan, the Rev. Nicholas Marquez from
A problem that arose during the siege again shows Christian fear of
Muslim domination. Two Palestinian gunmen in the church were killed, and
the PA wanted to bury them in the basilica. “With two Muslim bodies
inside the Church of the Nativity, Christianity could be facing an
absolute disaster in Bethlehem,” said Canon Andrew White, the special
representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Middle East. “It
would be catastrophic if two Muslim martyrs were buried in the church.
It could lead to a situation like that in Nazareth,” he said.43 Only
after intensive mediation efforts were plans to bury the bodies inside
The PA and Jerusalem Christians
Despite having no legal standing in Jerusalem, PA officialdom has acted
similarly there. The PA, in fact, denies historic Jewish – and thus
Christian – ties to Jerusalem. Walid M. Awad, Director of Foreign
Publications in the Palestinian Ministry of Information, asserted: “The
location of the [Jewish] Temple on the Temple Mount is in
question….There are scholars who say that it might be in Jericho or
somewhere else 4 kilometers outside of Jerusalem.” Asked “The New
Testament talks of Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem. Are you
suggesting that Jesus went to Jericho rather than Jerusalem?” he
responded, “It depends on what temple you think he went to.”44 U.S.
Ambassador Dennis Ross asserted: “The only new idea [Arafat] raised at
Camp David was that the temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem.”45
A Christian leader, Father Marun Lahham, worries, “Frequent Muslim
declarations that…Jerusalem is [an] Islamic [city] trouble Christians.”46
The PA has begun to interfere with Jerusalem Christians:
[T]he Palestinian Authority-appointed Waqf (Moslem religious property)
authorities attempted to break through into the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher from the adjacent al-Hanaqa Mosque. [They] decided to install
a latrine on the roof of the Church. According to a May 11, 1997, report
in /Ha’aretz,/ “A Waqf internal report, written two weeks ago by the
Waqf’s Jerusalem engineer, ‘Isam ‘Awad, confirms many of the Christians’
claims in the conflict that has emerged adjacent to the Holy Sepulcher
Church regarding construction in the Church. The Church’s claim [is]
that the Waqf has harmed the historical and architectural substance of
the Holy Sepulcher, as a result of a construction addition to the
courtyard of the ‘Hanaqa,’ which leans on the wall of the Holy Sepulcher
and even darkens it by its height.”
Israel attempted to calm down the conflict after the Churches complained
and issued a work stoppage order against it, which was promptly ignored.
The same /Ha’aretz/ story reported that “The Jerusalem district
archeologist in the Antiquities Authority, John Zeligman, wrote to the
Waqf director, ‘Adnan Husayni, pointing out to the Waqf the damage to a
site that is declared to be an antiquity and threatens to go to law if
work is not halted immediately.” Finally, the illegal construction was
halted due to Israeli and world pressure, but we can be certain that
without such pressure the desecration would have continued.47
The PA-appointed Waqf is also working feverishly to convert the Temple
Mount, a site holy to Christians and Jews, into a mosque and erase any
traces of the Temple. In June 2000, /Ha’aretz/ reported that “the
Islamic Movement in Israel has a master plan to build a fourth mosque on
the eastern side of the Temple Mount” and that, in fact, according to a
head of the movement, “the entire area of the Temple Mount is an
inseparable and integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque.”48
The Wakf made a mockery of the laws of the State of Israel. Wakf
officials [had] requested and received a permit to open an emergency
exit in the new mosque in Solomon’s Stables. [But], in fact, the Wakf
tried to break through four of the underground arches in the northern
part of Solomon’s Stables. To do so, it dug a huge hole 60 meters long
and 25 meters wide in the earth of the Temple Mount…6,000 tons of
earth [were] removed. Some of it was scattered at dumpsites. Some was
dumped in the Kidron River. Antiquities dating back to [the first and
second Temple eras] were tossed on garbage heaps.49
Israel Antiquities Authority Director-General Shuka Dorfman affirms
“categorically” and “in an unequivocal manner, that there is
archeological damage being done [by the Waqf] to antiquities on the
Temple Mount.”50 Under the “guardianship” of the Waqf, “Palestinian
pirates are brazenly digging up Jewish artifacts from the holy Temple
Mount site and trying to sell them on the black market for as much as $1
More recently, since the start of the Palestinian violence, the Waqf has
precluded Christians from visiting the Temple Mount, despite the fact
that no security considerations whatsoever are involved.
Reduction of Christian Political Power
Historically, not only has Bethlehem been a Christian city governed
primarily by Christians, but, with its sister towns of Beit Jala and
Beit Sahur, it has been the largest enclave of Christians in the West Bank.
Since assuming control in 1995, however, the PA has been Islamizing
Bethlehem. The city’s municipal boundaries were changed to incorporate
30,000 Muslims from three neighboring refugee camps, severely tipping
the demography. The city also added a few thousand Bedouins of the
Ta’amra tribe, located east of Bethlehem, and encouraged Muslim
immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem. The net result is that the area’s
23,000 Christians were reduced from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to a
minority by 2001.
Also, defying tradition, Arafat appointed a Muslim from Hebron, Muhammed
Rashad A-Jabari, as governor of Bethlehem. He fired the existing
Bethlehem city council that had nine Christians and two Muslims,
replacing it with a 50:50 council. While the mayor is a Christian, the
top bureaucratic, security, and political echelons, and the lower levels
as well, have been drained of Christians.52 Furthermore, “according to
the new local council elections’ regulations designed by the PA – but
not yet put into effect, however – mayors will be nominated by the
council members in their towns. Christians fear that these new
regulations will open the way to the nomination of Muslim mayors to the
traditional Christian towns.”53
While six out of the eighty-eight seats in the Palestinian Legislative
Council have been reserved for Christians,54 representing more than
double their proportion in Palestinian society, the Council is a fairly
powerless entity. Similarly, no Christian holds a position of power in
the Palestinian government.
Harassment of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Muslims
Palestinian Christians are perceived by many Muslims – as were Lebanon’s
Christians – as a potential fifth column for Israel. In fact, at the
start of the recent violence in 2000, Muslim Palestinians attacked
Christians in Gaza, as confirmed by Fr. Raed Abusahlia, chancellor of
the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.55
Anti-Christian graffiti is not uncommon in Bethlehem and neighboring
Beit Sahur, proclaiming: “First the Saturday people (the Jews), then the
Sunday people (the Christians).”56 The same has often been heard chanted
during anti-Israel PLO/PA rallies. Accused of wearing “permissive”
Western clothing, Bethlehem Christian women have been intimidated.
Finally, rape and abduction of Christian women is also reported to have
occurred frequently (especially in Beit Sahur), as was the case in
Christian cemeteries have been defaced, monasteries have had their
telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins at convents.58
In July 1994, the /Wall Street Journal/ reported that Palestinian
Muslims would not sell land to Christians and that Christian facilities
and clubs had been attacked by Muslim extremists. Christian graves,
crosses, and statues had been desecrated; Christians had suffered
physical abuse, beatings, and Molotov cocktail attacks.59
Continuing the Islamic tradition of Saladin – who constructed two
mosques contiguous to and taller than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher –
mosques have mushroomed adjacent to and usually taller than churches.
Loudly amplified Muslim sermons have been aired during Christian
services, including the Pope’s April 2000 address in Nazareth, which had
to be halted until the Muslim call to prayer was concluded.60
In February 2002, Palestinian Muslims rampaged against Christians in
Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority failed to intervene. As reported
by the /Boston Globe,/
The rampage began after Hanna Salameh, a member of a wealthy Christian
family, allegedly killed Jibril Eid, a Muslim construction contractor
from the Kalandia refugee camp, after the two men argued at the Israeli
army’s Kalandia checkpoint….A few hours later, hundreds of men poured
out of the refugee camp and went to Ramallah, where they burned
Salameh’s house and store. They then burned his brother’s store, damaged
several businesses owned by Christians not related to the Salamehs, and
torched the exercise room and terrorized more than 100 children at
Sariya, a scouting and youth center.
Palestinian police did nothing to stop this destruction, according to
numerous witnesses, but drew the line as the mob moved toward Christian
churches, whose leaders the Palestinian Authority is cultivating for
international support in its struggle with Israel.
While officials of the Palestinian Authority and of Fatah insisted that
the incident was simply about revenge and anger, many in Ramallah said
“The truth is this is a problem between Christians and Muslims,” said
one Christian businessman. “There is no security for us. Everyone is
taking the law in his own hands….This [accused] man’s brother, they
burned his house, his shops, his cars, and the police of Ramallah stood
by and watched. This is the democracy of Palestine?”
“The chief of security at Kalandia was in charge of this rampage,” said
a Muslim shopkeeper. “The mayor of Ramallah came, saw what was
happening, and withdrew. I am a Muslim, but I condemn this. These are
Similar attacks have occurred in eastern Jerusalem.
Over the weekend, a gang of Moslem youths ransacked a pool hall near the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is frequented by Christian youths.
Four of the Christians were stabbed and lightly wounded; one of them
required hospitalization. Witnesses said about fifty Moslem youths
marched through the Christian Quarter to the pool hall Saturday
afternoon, chanting anti-Christian slogans. They attacked the Christians
inside, and broke chairs, tables, and other objects….Old City police
chief Dep. Cmdr. David Givati confirmed that there have been a number of
attacks by Moslems on Christian targets recently.62
The Palestinian Christian Response
Under the Oslo Accords, between 1995 and 1997 the Palestinian Authority
was given civilian control over 98 percent of the Palestinian population
of Gaza and the West Bank. Instead of embracing PA jurisdiction in the
spirit of Palestinian self-determination, however, Palestinian
Christians are fleeing.
Palestinian Christians have fled Islamic rule in the past. In the final
census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there
were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel
immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967, which ended the 19-year
Jordanian control of the eastern portion of the city, found just 11,000
Christians remaining. Some 17,000 Christians (61 percent) left during
the days of Jordan’s rule over Jerusalem.63
True, there has been a steady outflow of Christians from the Holy Land
for some time. Daughter communities in North and South America had
already outnumbered their mother communities by 1948.64 But this outflow
has accelerated since the rise of PA control.
Between the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords and the 1995 transfer of
Bethlehem to the PA, Palestinian Christians lobbied Israel against the
transfer. The late Christian mayor, Elias Freij, warned that it would
result in Bethlehem becoming a town with churches but no Christians. He
lobbied Israel to include Bethlehem in the boundaries of Greater
Jerusalem, as was the Jordanian practice until 1967.65
In December 1997, the /London Times/ reported: “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.”66 The situation has become so
desperate for Christians that, “during his visit to Bethlehem, Pope John
Paul II felt it necessary to urge Palestinian Christians already in
March 2000: ‘Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian heritage and
Christian presence in Bethlehem.'”67
On July 17, 2000, upon realizing that then Prime Minister Barak was
contemplating repartitioning Jerusalem, the leaders of the Greek
Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Churches wrote to him, President Clinton,
and Yasser Arafat, demanding to be consulted before such action was
undertaken. Barak’s proposal also triggered a flood of requests for
Israeli identity cards by thousands of eastern Jerusalem Arabs. (This,
plus the fact that Israel’s own Christian population is actually
growing, refutes any claim that emigration is a result of Israel’s
treatment of Christians.)
Despite their beleaguerment, Palestinian Christians do not speak out
about their situation. “Out of fear for their safety, Christian
spokesmen aren’t happy to be identified by name when they complain about
the Muslims’ treatment of them…off the record they talk of harassment
and terror tactics, mainly from the gangs of thugs who looted and
plundered Christians and their property, under the protection of
Palestinian security personnel.”68
In fact, the Christians’ silence may be precisely because they are a
beleaguered minority with a long history of /dhimmitude./ As Lebanese
Christian Habib Malik describes:
This sentiment is motivated primarily by a desire for a unified position
vis-a-vis Israel. But it also stems from a deeper /dhimmi/ psychological
state: the urge to find – or to imagine and fabricate if need be – a
common cause with the ruling majority in order to dilute the existing
religious differences and perhaps ease the weight of political Islam’s
inevitable discrimination. The history of Palestinian Christianity has,
for the most part, been no different from that of /dhimmi/ Christianity
throughout the Levant.69
One Christian cleric in Jerusalem interviewed by this author compared
the behavior of Christian /dhimmis/ to that of battered wives or
children, who continue to defend and even identify with their tormentor
even as the abuse persists.
Palestinian Christians “internalized this dependence on the Muslim
majority as a social characteristic that persisted even after the
Ottoman reforms of the nineteenth century abolished these rules….The
Christians worried that Muslim religious emotions aroused against the
Jews might subsequently be turned against them.”70
* * *
1. Daphne Tsimhoni, “The Christians in Israel, the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip,” /Middle East Quarterly,/ Winter 2001.
2. Bat Ye’or, /Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide/
(Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2002), p. 41.
3. Habib C. Malik, “Christians in the Land Called Holy,” /First Things:
A Journal of Religion and Public Life,/ January 1999.
4. Bashir Gemayel, /Liberte et Securite/ (Beirut, 1983), pp. 37-38,
cited in Bat Ye’or, p. 248.
5. James Silk Buckingham, /Travels in Palestine/ (London, 1821), cited
in Bat Ye’or, p. 98.
6. James Finn, as cited in Bat Ye’or, p. 100 and n. 65.
7. Yehoshua Porath, /The Palestinian Arab National Movement, 1929-1939:
From Riots to Rebellion/ (London, 1977), p. 109, cited in Bat Ye’or,
8. Porath, pp. 268-70.
9. Yehoshua Porath, /The Emergence of the Palestinian Arab National
Movement, 1918-1929/ (Lon don, 1974), p. 303, cited in Bat Ye’or, p. 160.
10. Bat Ye’or, p. 235.
11. Jonathan Adelman and Aggie Kuperman, /Rocky Mountain News,/ December
12. “Muslim Countries Becoming Bolder in Persecuting Christians,”
/Battle Cry Magazine,/ September/ October 2001.
13. “Saudi Telethon Host Calls for Enslaving Jewish Women,” from the
Saudi Information Service, as reported in the /National Review Online,/
April 26, 2002.
14. Adelman and Kuperman.
15. Bat Ye’or, p. 225.
16. Raphael Israeli, /Green Crescent Over Nazareth: The Displacement of
Christians by Muslims in the Holy Land/ (Frank Cass: London, 2002), p. 60.
17. Serge Schmemann, “Israelis Bar Mosque on Site in Nazareth,”
/International Herald Tribune,/ March 4, 2002.
20. MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 138, October 13, 2000.
21. U.S. Department of State, /International Religious Freedom Report:
Israel and the Occupied Territories,/ Oc tober 26, 2001.
22. Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information, December 1997, as
23. Danny Naveh (Israeli Minister of Parliamentary Affairs), /The
Involvement of Arafat, PA Senior Officials and Apparatuses in Terrorism
against Israel, Corruption and Crime,/ 2002,
24. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
Autonomous Areas,/ Israeli Government, October 1997, translated to
English by IMRA.
26. Sayed Anwar, “Exiled Palestinian Militants Ran Two-Year Reign of
Terror,” /Washington Times,/ May 13, 2002.
28. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
29. /Associated Press,/ as reported in Yoram Ettinger, “The Islamization
of Bethlehem by Arafat,” Jerusalem Cloakroom #117, Ariel Center for
Policy Research, December 25, 2001.
31. Letter from Andreas Reinecke to Colonel Jibril Rajoub, Head of the
PA Preventive Security Apparatus in the West Bank, May 5, 2002, from IDF
Spokesperson, May 12, 2002.
32. /Yediot Ahronot/ on May 24 as reported in /Daily Alert,/ Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, May 30, 2002.
33. IDF Spokesperson, April 3, 2002.
34. Serge Schmemann, “Israeli Military Sends Tanks into Largest West
Bank City,” /New York Times,/ April 3, 2002.
35. “Sharon Proposes Arafat’s Exile While Israeli Forces Shell His
Compound,” /New York Times,/ April 2, 2002.
36. Amos Harel, “IDF Declares: We Won’t Forcefully Enter the Church of
the Nativity Holy to Christians,” /Haaretz, /April 5, 2002.
37. Baruch Kra, “IDF Maintains Cautious Approach in Bethlehem,”
/Haaretz,/ April 10, 2002.
38. Paul Martin, “Arafat Tells Gunmen to Refuse Deal,” /Washington
Times,/ April 8, 2002.
39. “Top Vatican Official Speaks on Bethlehem Cr isis,” /CWNews,/ April
40. “Vatican Proposes Independent Force to Halt Mideast Violence,”
Worldwide Faith News website, ,
April 15, 2002.
41. Margot Dudkevitch, “Gunmen Stole Gold, Crucifixes, Escaped Monks
Report,” /Jerusalem Post,/ April 24, 2002.
42. “‘Greedy Monsters’ Ruled Church,” /Washington Times,/ May 15, 2002
43. Ori Nir, “Arafat’s Terror in Church: Armed PA Security Forces
Keeping 50 Youths Hostage in Church of the Nativity Cellar,” /Haaretz,/
April 22, 2002.
44. Interview with Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA),
December 25, 1996.
45. Interview, /Fox News Sunday,/ April 21, 2002.
46. /Al-Quds,/ June 18, 1999, as reported in MEMRI, Special Dispatch No.
41, August 2, 1999.
47. Murray Kahl, “Yasser Arafat and the Christians of Lebanon,” January
48. Nadav Shragai, “Islamic Movement Planning Fourth Mosque for Temple
Mount,” /Haaretz,/ June 18, 2000.
49. Andrea Levin, “Desperately Seeking the Temple Mount,” /Jerusalem
Post,/ July 11, 2000.
50. Etgar Lefkovits, “Antiquities Authority: Wakf Damaging Temple
Mount,” /Jerusalem Post,/ March 22 2001.
51. Uri Dan, “Temple Mount Artifacts Looted,” /New York Post,/ April 22,
55. Margot Dudkevitch, “Church Denies Christians Fleeing PA Areas,”
/Jerusalem Post,/ October 26, 2000.
56. Andre Aciman, “In the Muslim City of Bethlehem,” /New York Times
Magazine,/ December 24, 1995.
58. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
59. Bat Ye’or, p. 244.
61. Charles Radin, “Mob Fears Grow in West Bank,” /Boston Globe,/
February 6, 2002.
62. Bill Hutman, “Concern Over Moslem Attacks on Christians in Old
City,” /Jerusalem Post,/ July 18, 1994.
63. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
66. Reported in Adelman and Kuperman.
67. “Yasser Arafat, Christmas, and the PFLP,” /Jerusalem Issue Brief,/
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 13, December 25, 2001.
68. Hanan Shlein, /Ma’ariv,/ December 24, 2001. Translated from the
Hebrew by Palestinian Media Watch.