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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 land-owners.
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
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 spreading Christianity.
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 leader....
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 Israeli spy.24
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
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 religious artifacts.
"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
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" [emphasis added].27
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 homes.30
At one point, Andreas Reinecke, head of the German Liaison
office to the PA, protested:
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 battle ground.31
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
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" [emphasis added].35
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
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
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
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 terrible condition:
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 Mexico.42
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
A Christian leader, Father Marun Lahham, worries, "Frequent
Muslim declarations that...Jerusalem is [an] Islamic [city] trouble
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
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
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
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
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
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
Harassment of Palestinian Christians by
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
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
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
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 otherwise.
"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
"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 savage people."61
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
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
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
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
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
* * *
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
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, pp. 160-161.
8. Porath, pp. 268-70.
9. Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian Arab
National Movement, 1918-1929 (London, 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 22, 2001.
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, October 26,
22. Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information, December
1997, as reported in
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 Autonomous Areas.
29. Associated Press, as reported in Yoram
Ettinger, "The Islamization of Bethlehem by Arafat," Jerusalem
Cloakroom #117, Ariel Center for Policy Research, December 25,
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,
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 Crisis,"
CWNews, April 10, 2002,
40. "Vatican Proposes Independent Force to Halt Mideast
Violence," Worldwide Faith News website,
http://www.wfn.org/2002/04/msg00201.html, 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 13, 2002,
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, 2001.
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 Autonomous Areas.
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 Autonomous Areas.
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.