Conditions for Christians bear no resemblance

to the conditions portrayed by the Israeli report

From"The American Committee on Jerusalem"

Mon, 8 Dec 97

This informational alert is part of the American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ)ís continuous mission of the monitoring of and responding to articles, letters and editorials on Jerusalem that appear in the mainstream American media.

DR. RASHID KHALIDI Director, Center for International Studies, University of Chicago President, American Committee on Jerusalem Submitted to The Washington Times December 8, 1997

While Representative J.C. Watts' concern for the plight of Christians, as evidenced in his op-ed of 12/4/1997, "Yasser Arafat vs. Christians," is commendable, he has unfortunately relied on untrustworthy sources in asserting that Christians living under the Palestinian Authority (PA) are the victims of a campaign of persecution.

Representative Watts essentially reproduces the allegations of a recent Israeli government report that Christians in PA areas are being subjected to "brutal and relentless persecution," and are "rapidly emigrating" from these areas.

Conditions for Christians bear no resemblance to the conditions portrayed by the Israeli report.

This is evidenced by reaction to the report by the very Christians the report alleges are being persecuted.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem dismissed the report as "allegations" that were "totally untrue."

Dr. Wadie Nassar, Director of the Great Jubilee 2000 office of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinances of the Holy Land, called the report "baseless", and said that he had personally checked every claim of persecution mentioned in the report, but could find no basis for the allegations.

Finally Christian mayors, legislative council members and representatives of Christian institutions in the Bethlehem area, the focus of much of the report, issued a statement strongly condemning it as "cheap and malicious publicity," and accusing it of seeking to "disunite the Palestinian people."

As anyone who knows these communities well can attest, co-existence has never been a problem between the Muslims and Christians of Palestine. This is primarily because they regard themselves as being Palestinian first and foremost.

In fact, a high proportion of Christians hold leading PA positions.Yasser Arafat's wife herself is Christian. As Dr. Bajes Ismail, Director General of the Ministry of Tourism in Bethlehem, a Christian, points out, if there is a campaign of systematic discrimination in Palestine, it is Israel's discrimination against both Muslims and Christians.

To cite a few examples:

- Israel does not issue entry permits to Muslims and Christians who want to pray at their holy places in Jerusalem, even though it is their religious right to pray there whenever they choose. Israel further discriminates against Christian pilgrims and worshippers by denying them access to Bethlehem whenever a closure is imposed on the area.

- In May, an anti-missionary bill, Knesset Bill 174c was introduced in Israel's Knesset and passed the first of four readings. This bill will make it a crime punishable by one year in prison to possess or distribute "any tract or publication in which there is inducement to religious conversion." By the strictest reading of the bill, the proposed law could be used to ban the ownership of the New Testament on the grounds that it is a publication aimed at inducing religious conversion.

- This month, the Roman Catholic Church accused Israel's state radio of discrimination, demanding it reinstate Christian programming dropped from the schedule of its Arabic service. In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Monsignor Giacintio Marcuzzo wrote, "They have cut off an entire community. This is evident religious discrimination."

- While Christians are emigrating from PA areas, it is not for the reasons Israel cites: indeed, discriminatory Israeli policies have caused Christian emigration. As Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser, a Christian, explains, "Christians and Muslims have been emigrating form Bethlehem since 1884 for purely economic reasons, yet the number of Christian emigrants appears larger because they are a minority." Reverend Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, attributes the increase in Christian emigration to Israel's policies: "The worsening economic situation, due to Israel's repeated closures, has led many to lose hope that there is going to be a real peace in the region," he says. "What makes it easier for Christians to emigrate is the fact that many of them already have relatives living abroad."

In fact, Muslims and Christians suffer daily the consequences of Israeli policies, and this is why many of them are forced to emigrate. It is regrettable that Representative Watts should have lent himself to such an unworthy campaign, whereby Israel deflects attention from its own discriminatory policies against both Christians and Muslims by blaming the "Muslim-led" PA. A sincere concern for Palestinian Christians would start with listening to their real grievances, rather than propagating the allegations of those who persecute them and their Muslim compatriots.

**************************************************************************** ************************

Yasser Arafat vs. Christians

Rep. J.C. Watts, Jr. Oklahoma Republican

The Washington Times

December 4, 1997

In the four years since Yasser Arafat and the PLO were rehabilitated by diplomatic fiat and installed in power in the West Bank and Gaza, the world generally has been treated to two kinds of news reports from the Middle East: Those that tell of murderous attacks by Palestinian terrorists on Israeli civilians, and those that blame Israel for creating the "conditions" that led to such attacks. Unfortunately, such news coverage obscures another ugly outgrowth of the Middle East peace process: The precipitous rise in violent attacks against Christians living under Arafat's authoritarian government, the Palestinian Authority (PA). Since the beginning of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, the small communities of Christians who live in Gaza and the West Bank have not been the target of suicide bombings like the Jewish populations of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But this once vibrant minority group routinely has suffered violent attacks, summary arrests, and the destruction of its holy places throughout the autonomous zones, and even in Jerusalem. For example: * In August, Palestinian Authority Police opened fire on a crowd of Christians in the village of Beit Sahur, wounding six people. The attack came when local Christians protested an attack on a group of Christian youngsters by Islamic militants. Not one of the police officers was disciplined, and local reporters have been threatened in an attempt to cover up the incident. * In June, Mohammed Bak'r, a Christian convert from Islam, was jailed and beaten by the Palestinian Authority in Nablus on the outrageous charge of selling land to Jews (the charge also has been reported as "insulting a religious leader"). A Palestinian human rights group has determined that the charge against Mr. Bak'r is as spurious as it is racist. Mr. Bak'r's real crime in the eyes of the PA is his conversion to Christianity, work distributing bibles, occasional invitation to Muslims to attend church services, and refusal to renounce his new faith before a Muslim cleric. Despite having been forced to pay a $7000 bribe to prison officials to secure his release, Mr. Bak'r remains locked in jail. * In May, one of Christendom's most treasured sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, was violated by laborers building toilets in a neighboring mosque. Church officials argued that the new construction encroaches on church property and stated that the laborers broke through a wall to gain access to the church. The group responsible for the new construction is the Palestinian Authority-dominated Muslim religious trust (the Wakf), which claims that neither church authorities nor the Israeli government can stop the building. After taking control of Bethlehem in December 1995, the PA put the Church of the Nativity and other local Christian sites under its direct control, forcing the leaders of the formerly autonomous Catholic, Greek Orthodox and other Christian communities to become subservient to Arafat's administration. Arafat subsequently appropriated the Greek Orthodox monastery near the church for use as his private residence when in Bethlehem. Official harassment sponsored by the PA against Christians over the past four years also includes the use of torture, threats, and surveillance to monitor and control the activities of preachers and others active in the faith. In one recent case, the pastor of a church in Ramallah was warned by Palestinian Authority security agents that they were tracking his evangelistic activities and wanted him to submit to questioning about his spreading of the Gospel. In another case, Palestinian policemen warned a convert to Christianity to stop evangelizing or face arrest on the charge of being an Israeli spy. No less serious, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, break-ins have taken place in convents, and monasteries have had their telephone lines cut. Incidents like these are known to be widespread, but most go unreported or are denied by the victims for fear of retaliation by the Palestinian Authority. Still, the evidence continues to mount. Palestinian human rights groups, independent Christian researchers from the West, and even the Israeli government consistently document incidents of abuse suffered by Christians at the hands of Mr. Arafat's henchmen. A recent report issued by the Israeli government confirms all of the incidents listed above and documents another trend: The steady outflow of Christians from their homes in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem to Europe and North America. Driven by the steady persecution of the PA and the realization that they will face worse treatment under a possible future Palestinian state, these hopeless people are choosing to abandon their homes and jobs to secure their futures. Christians in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, now account for just 20 percent of the total population and the Christian population of Jerusalem also is steadily declining. The trend is clear: Those Christians living under the Palestinian Authority's direct control who can afford to leave are doing so. Since the beginning of the Middle East peace process, Christians living under Mr. Arafat's regime have suffered in a silent state of oppression. Despite the disbursement of billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority from the West, including some $307 million from the United States, to promote democracy and respect for human rights in the Palestinian autonomous areas, religious persecution remains a fact of life for local Christians. For these devout people, the peace process has delivered only sorrow. Beleaguered and alone, these Christians can only wonder whether they will have to leave, or surrender their last true comfort, the faith that sustains them.

____________________________________________________________________ The American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ) is an American non-profit organization dedicated to providing the American public and policy-makers with a balanced view-point on the critical issues of Jerusalem. Its objective is the promotion of educational activities and materials focused on Jerusalem, its heritage, and its future. Most of the information currently available to the public emphasizes Israeli and Jewish claims to the city, to the exclusion of equally valid, legitimate and historical connections of Palestinians, Muslims, and Christians.

The American Committee on Jerusalem

4201 Connecticut Ave., Suite 300,

Washington DC 20008

Tel:(202)237-0215 / Fax(202)244-3196 /

e-mail: acj@acj.org _____________________________________________________________________