Christians' Plight in the Holy Land

The Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Christians receiving communionIt's highly doubtful that Dr. Justus Reid Weiner's chilling forecast of the impending demise of Christian communities under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction will generate much outrage or uproar in Christendom.

If, as expected, it fails to do so, it will be more than a shame. At the very least, Weiner's words of warning ought to ring powerful alarm bells among overseas coreligionists of local Christians.

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, Weiner - a human rights lawyer and scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs - painted a bleak picture of the travails of the PA's fast-dwindling Christian enclaves. He went on to predict that in some 15 years, Muslim harassment and hounding will lead to the disappearance of these communities. Christian presence will shrink to be a smattering of westerners, assorted clerics and church representatives, but grassroots Christian-Arabs will have dispersed.

An ongoing exodus is already under way, as many thousands of Christians emigrate to the West.

Only 50 years ago, Christians accounted for 15 percent of the population in the same PA areas in which they today make up no more than 1.5%. Weiner pointed to Bethlehem as the ultimate touchstone. Not too long ago a city with a solid Christian majority, it is now over 80% Muslim, with its Christian component continuing to shrivel in direct correlation to increasing Muslim pressure.

All this fits too snugly for comfort into the international pattern of an intolerant, aggressive and expansionist Islam. The takeover of Bethlehem recalls Islamists' openly aggressive stance against other religions shown by the blasting of Afghanistan's giant Buddhist monuments or the wanton disregard of the threat to antiquities demonstrated by the Muslim Wakf's myriad construction schemes on the Temple Mount.

Trying to survive under the Muslim thumb, PA Christians keep a low profile, strive to give no offense and often even toe the most extremist Arab line to evince loyalty and remove the threat from themselves. Many publicly blame Israel for their plight, while murmurs of protest against Islamic domination grow ever-fainter, presumably for fear of making things even worse for beleaguered Christians.

The silence of Christian Arabs and Christians abroad in the face of the desecration of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity by Muslim terrorists who invaded it a few years back was a case in point. Israel was condemned for seeking to remove the raiders, when it was the violent intruders who should have been denounced. Fanatical Arabs are dreaded. Israelis are not.

This pattern persists. Weiner noted that Bethlehem's ills are often ascribed to the security fence, because church representatives "sing the PA's tune" and are quick to censure Israel for everything.

The temptation to do so will increase in the Advent to Christmas, whose celebration in Bethlehem will to no small extent depend on the goodwill of Muslim PA overlords, who make a point of attending the midnight mass each year, all but appropriating the festivities. The grand entries made by Yasser Arafat have still not faded from memory; nor has the empty seat left posthumously for him in the Church of the Nativity, as if elevating him to singular spiritual status.

Like Arafat, his successor Mahmoud Abbas often poses in the guise of Christianity's protector, implying that it, along with Islam, is menaced by Judaism. Yet false and brazen though this cynical affectation is, it goes unquestioned in most of the world. This year, post-Annapolis, this sham has taken on particular significance.

Abbas has just demanded Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, promising " religious freedom and full access to sites of worship to all faiths." Such promises, however, were already part and parcel of the 1949 armistice, though brutally violated and never complied with for a day. No fewer than 58 synagogues in Jerusalem's Old City - some ancient and highly important - were razed. Tombstones from the ancient Jewish Mount of Olives Cemetery were ripped out and used to pave public latrines. No Israelis could pray at the Western Wall, Rachel's Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Present-day vandalism on the Temple Mount augurs ill for recycled guarantees. The unfortunate odds are that freedom of worship under Palestinian rule would be as hollow a pledge as it was under Jordanian occupation.

This is something for world Christians to reflect upon during this holy season, as eyes again turn to Bethlehem. Arab disrespect for Jewish rights is the lot of Christians here as well.

See also: Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society by Justus Reid Weiner (pdf document)

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