Sunday, October 30, 2005
Why Should Christians Care About the Palestinians?
It sounds like a reasonable question, particularly if you're not overly familiar with recent Middle Eastern history. If the Palestinians send suicide bombers into predominantly-Jewish Israel, should this be a matter of concern for Christians?
I can think of many reasons why it should, actually, particularly as we approach the Christian season of "peace on Earth and goodwill towards men". But if you want a more personal reason, have a look at this:
Jerusalem Post: Away from the manger - a Christian-Muslim divideBethlehem was a predominantly Christian town, and proudly so, before control was handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the mid 1990s. But the terror chieftains of the Palestinian Authority care as little for the rights of Christians as they do for Jews, or indeed for Muslims. (Palestinian gunmen have no compunctions about hiding in mosques, as they've demonstrated many times; they assume, correctly, that Israeli scruples about damaging holy places will protect them.)
"The Christians here are perceived as easy prey," complains a prominent Christian businessman. "In recent years there has been an upsurge in the number of attacks on Christians in Bethlehem."
While it's almost impossible to find a Christian who's prepared to go public in airing such grievances, Samir Qumsiyeh, a journalist from Beit Sahur, is a notable exception. Last month he was quoted by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera as saying that Christians were being subjected to rape, kidnapping, extortion and expropriation of land and property.
Qumsiyeh, who was not available this week for an interview because he was out of the country, heads a local TV station called Al-Mahd [Nativity]. In a daring step, Qumsiyeh drew up a list of 93 cases of anti-Christian violence between 2000 and 2004.
Some Christians point a finger at the foreign media and diplomatic missions in Israel, accusing them of ignoring their predicament for "political" reasons. "Although most of the foreign journalists and diplomats are Christians, they don't seem to pay enough attention to what's happening to the Christians in Bethlehem," says Bishara, a Christian tourist guide. "They're obviously afraid of damaging their relations with the Palestinian Authority."
"Almost all 140 cases of expropriation of land in the last three years were committed by militant Islamic groups and members of the Palestinian police." Qumsiyeh said he was now preparing a book on the conditions of the Christian minority. "I will call it 'Racism in Action,'" he says. "The racism against us is gaining pace in staggering ways. In 1950 the Christian population in Bethlehem was 75%. Today we have hardly more than 12% Christians. If the situation continues, we won't be here any more in 20 years."
Israel, for the record, did its best to protect Bethlehem and to preserve its unique qualities. I know, because I was there. Christmas is celebrated three times a year in Bethlehem -- or was, at any rate, before the Palestinians took over: on December 25th (what Israeli soldiers called "the Catholic Christmas"), on January 7th ("the Orthodox Christmas", celebrated by Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox on the Julian calendar); and again in late January ("the Armenian Christmas", according to yet another calendar). When Bethlehem was under Israeli control, Israeli troops were present, every Christmas, to keep the peace, and to protect the massive influx of Christian pilgrims from terrorism. As a result, during my time in uniform, I spent Christmas in Bethlehem -- doing guard duty -- nine times in three years, helping to make sure that Christians could celebrate midnight mass in Nativity Square, undisturbed. And celebrate they did.
If the Christian presence slowly disappears from Bethlehem, then the day will come when the birthplace of Jesus will be a Muslim town, its beautiful ancient churches converted completely to mosques, and sites holy to Christianity desecrated or destroyed. Will the world stand by and let this happen?