Powered by WebAds

Sunday, December 23, 2007

All is not calm, all is not bright

Since it's two days before Christmas, it's probably a good time to look at the plight of Christians in this area. In the State of Israel, Christians are free to practice their faith, and the Christian population has grown here more than threefold since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Unfortunately, this is the only country in the Middle East where that has happened. In recent years, Christians in the 'Palestinian Authority' have been as bad off or worse than anyplace else in the Arab world.

One would never have known that from listening to Latin Patriach Michel Sabbah last week, who is the highest ranking official of the Catholic Church in Israel:
"God made this land for all three of us [Muslims, Jews and Christians]," Sabbah, who was born in Nazareth, was quoted as saying.

"If it's Jewish, it's not Muslim or Christian...If there's a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against. This land cannot be exclusive for anyone," he said.
It's interesting - and enlightening - to hear such criticism from Sabbah about Israel, in which Christians live and practice their faith freely, while no such criticism is voiced about the Vatican itself (which is technically a separate country under Roman Catholic law) or about any of the fifty-seven countries in which Islam is the official state religion.

How wrong was Sabbah? This article by Lela Gilbert, who has authored or co-authored more than sixty books, primarily in the field of ecumenical Christian non-fiction, gives some indication:
IN 1948, Bethlehem was a largely Christian community, with Christians comprising an estimated 85 percent of the population. Today, that percentage has shrunk to something closer to 12 per cent. Until the Palestine Authority took over the control of the city in 1994, Bethlehem thrived alongside Jerusalem. The roads in and out of the city were lined with shops and markets, and residents came and went freely. All that began to change during the first intifada, with stone-throwing incidents gradually escalating into shootings, assaults, and torched cars.

Later, during the second intifada, security became a matter of life and death once suicide bombings were introduced. These attacks ultimately led to the construction of the controversial security barrier.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and no friend of Israel, wrote in late 2006, "I have spent the last two days with fellow Christian leaders in Bethlehem…there are some signs of disturbing anti-Christian feeling among parts of the Muslim population, despite the consistent traditions of coexistence. But their plight is made still more intolerable by the tragic conditions created by the 'security fence' which almost chokes the shrinking town..." He went on to speak of dramatic poverty, soaring unemployment and practical hardships.

In actual fact, the Archbishop's carefully crafted phrase, "some signs of disturbing anti-Christian feeling" falls woefully short of telling whole story.
Gilbert tells some anecdotes that indicate what the 'whole story' is:
In an 2005 interview with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JPCA), Steven Khoury, of Bethlehem's First Baptist Church, reported that the church had been attacked by Muslims from a nearby refugee camp "…with Molotov cocktails 14 times. Our church vans have been burned. The church was broken into and defaced with graffiti five times." Others have reported the shooting of the Baptist Church's pastor.

In 2006, the UK's Daily Mail reported on the struggle of two Christians from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala who were facing continuous persecution for their faith. George Rabie, a cab driver, said that he had been beaten by a gang of Muslims visiting from nearby Hebron, angered by the crucifix hanging on his windshield, and that he experiences persecution "every day." Jeriez Moussa Amaro told the Daily Mail that his two sisters Rada, 24, and Dunya, 28, had been shot dead by Muslim gunmen. "Their crime was to be young, attractive Christian women who wore Western clothes and no veil…" A terrorist organization, al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, claimed responsibility for Amaro's sisters' murder.

OVERT violence isn't the only difficulty faced by Christians in areas under the Palestinian Authority. In recent weeks, Ramallah pastor Isa Bajalia, an American Christian of Arab descent, stated publicly that he has been threatened by a Palestinian Authority official, who demanded he pay $30,000 in protection money to ensure his safety. On November 11, Fox News reported, "Pastor Isa Bajalia is legally blind, yet he was also told by the official he would be crippled for life. The trouble started after church members held a prayer session for several Palestinians. Bajalia says he has been under surveillance and receiving threats." Isa Bajalia has since fled Ramallah.

Among the compiled JCPA interviews of West Bank Christians are reports of extortion by Arab Muslims, demands for protection money, seized properties, vandalized homes and shops, widespread rape of Christian girls, honor killings, and murders of converts to Christianity from Islam.
There's much more - read the whole thing.

In an editorial this morning, the Post takes Sabbah to task for his statement last week:
Besides the deep insult inherent in the patriarch's Christmas message, it is hypocritical, significant and damning that Sabbah did not apply his universal principle equally by demanding the de-Islamicization of his native Palestine, from which his flock continues to flee en masse.

Indeed, he excoriated only Israel: "The strong party, the one with everything in hand, the one who is imposing occupation on the other, has the obligation to see what is just for everyone and to carry it out courageously."

The first Palestinian to serve as Latin Patriarch, Sabbah was following the line of the Palestinian elite regarding the innate illegitimacy of Jewish self-determination.

According to this logic, the Jews are not a people upon which a state can be built, but rather - and despite what they may say about themselves - merely a religion. And unlike with Islam, which is present in the formal name of four states - Iran, Pakistan, Mauritania and Comoros - and enjoys an official status in 57, the Jews cannot be allowed to connect their religion with their state.

It is impossible to escape the conclusion that Sabbah was not speaking as a Catholic, but as a Palestinian, drawing not from the declared position of the Holy See in Rome but of the PA in Ramallah.

Here, in the commitment of the entirety of the Palestinian leadership to the view given by Sabbah, lies the Achilles heel of the peace process. For years, the Palestinian leadership claimed it was ready for peace, but that its people, radicalized by occupation, were not "ripe" for concessions.

But we are now being shown time and again that it is the Palestinian leadership, from the Latin patriarch to Mahmoud Abbas himself, and not just the people, who do not understand the nature of the conflict in which they are engaged.

Instead of recognizing that the deep tragedy of this conflict derives from the fact that both sides are legitimately demanding self-determination and sovereign independence, the Palestinian leadership continues to insist that there is, and will forever be, no justice to the Jewish demand.

This rejection means that the Palestinian elite is divided between the "moderates" who want a cease-fire with an evil enemy in order to rebuild a devastated Palestinian society, and the "extremists" who follow the logic of the moderates themselves in concluding that such a compromise amounts to treason, since compromise with evil is itself evil.
The question that needs to be asked - and is not asked by the Post - is what motivates the Catholic Church to allow its representative in this country to make statements like the one made last week. Sabbah's statement made headlines around the world - surely it was reported in the Vatican as well. While one might argue that Sabbah is under pressure from the 'Palestinian Authority' to toe their line, the Pope is under no such pressure. Yet the response from the Holy See has been silence. Why?

While tomorrow night may be a silent night in the Middle East - we hope it well be - all is definitely not calm or bright for the Christian community here.


At 10:53 PM, Blogger Lydia McGrew said...

Speaking as a Christian (a Protestant, I have to say), I think Sabbah's remarks are a disgrace. Unfortunately, they are not much of a surprise. Anti-Israel sentiment is (I hear) rife in Vatican City. I think it's the usual "side with the ones labeled 'underdogs'" business one encounters with liberals so often.

At 11:45 PM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

Catholicism, ugh...There are only two Abrahamic faiths not three. Judaism and Christianity. Islam is an illegitimate religion spawned in the pit of hell and the Jews are the apple of G-d's eye chosen from eternity past.


Post a Comment

<< Home