Bethlehem erupts in sectarian discord (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH BETHLEHEM 05/09/05)
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Tensions are running high in Bethlehem after members of a local
Christian family accused a Muslim man of kidnapping their 16-year-
old daughter. The girl, who holds US citizenship, was rescued with
the help of American diplomats.
At least 35 Christians have been injured during clashes related to
the incident with Palestinian Authority policemen in the past few
days. One of the injured men was treated in a Jerusalem hospital.
The Christians are demanding that the PA security forces arrest and
bring to trial the alleged kidnapper. On Saturday night, PA
policemen fired in the air to disperse a large crowd of protesters
who tried to attack the man´s house.
The incident in Bethlehem comes only days after a Christian man from
Ramallah brutally murdered his daughter because she had expressed
her desire to marry a Muslim. The victim was identified as Faten
Habash, 20. She was murdered on the same day that a Jerusalem man
strangled to death his two sisters in what has been described as
an "honor killing." A third sister escaped death after the suspect
forced her to drink acid and tried to strangle her, too.
The high-school pupil from Bethlehem, Adrian Sabat, disappeared from
her home last Wednesday. Her family lodged a complaint with the PA
police, claiming that she had been kidnapped by Fadi Omar, a 24-year-
old Muslim, who also lives in the city. Omar, who is closely
associated with the PA security forces, has denied the allegation,
saying the young girl fled with him on her own volition and with the
intention of marrying him.
The PA police, after a preliminary investigation, accepted Omar´s
version, claiming that the schoolgirl had even expressed her wish to
convert to Islam. When the local police refused to interfere, the
family contacted the US Consulate in Jerusalem for help. The family
also requested help from Israeli officials and church leaders in
Meanwhile, the family received word that the girl was being held in
the village of Shayoukh in the Hebron area, where the would-be
husband sought the protection of a large clan.
On Wednesday, the girl´s father, who owns a souvenir shop, arrived
in the village with church officials and demanded to see his
daughter. The father was stunned to see his daughter dressed in
traditional Islamic clothes and wearing a scarf on her head. The
panic-stricken girl refused to return to Bethlehem despite pleas
from her father and the church representatives.
The following day the girl´s mother again appealed for help from the
US Consulate. A representative of the consulate who headed to the
village on the same day was told that the girl had been transferred
to the office of the PA Hebron governor, Arif Ja´bari. The American
official then traveled to the governor´s headquarters.
The girl was driven in a US vehicle to Jerusalem, where she was
placed under the auspices of the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabah. A
source close to the patriarch said the girl was not returned to
Bethlehem out of fear for her life. With the help of the consulate,
the girl and her mother were flown to the US over the weekend.
Sources close to the family said the rest of the family was also
planning to leave to the US.
The girl´s family insisted on Saturday that she had been kidnapped
and held against her will. They said that this was not the first
case in the city wherein a Muslim man "seduced" a young Christian
girl, persuading her to convert to Islam.
Some Christians accused the PA security forces of failing to defend
their daughters against "provocations" by Muslim men.
They also claimed that Palestinian policemen had used excessive
force against a group of Christian men who tried to stage a
demonstration outside the home of the alleged kidnapper.
Christian families are worried at the growing number of Christian
residents who are leaving the city. Every family´s worst nightmare
is that a daughter marries a Muslim, they say. "We have nothing
against Muslims, but we are worried that we are becoming a tiny
minority in the birthplace of Jesus," said a Christian
businessman. "What is particularly disturbing is the fact that the
Muslim man has not been punished for kidnapping a minor. Can you
imagine what would have happened if a Christian man had run away
with a Muslim girl?"
He and other Christians complained that Muslim men deliberately
target Christian girls because they know that their families are
small and weak compared to large Muslim clans that provide shelter
for their members.
The girl´s grandfather, Farid Azizeh, was shot and seriously wounded
at the beginning of the intifada by unidentified gunmen and lost his
sight in both eyes. The family then accused Muslims of trying to
assassinate the grandfather for filing a complaint against a Muslim
driver who killed his nephew in a hit-and-run accident.
And in yet another blow to the Christian minority, Hamas and Islamic
Jihad won five out of seven seats allocated for Muslims in the
Bethlehem municipal council in last week´s local elections. This
will be the first time that representatives of the radical Islamic
groups occupy seats in the city´s 15-seat municipal council.
Honor killings are unheard of among Christians, and that´s why the
murder of Faten Habash in Ramallah last week has shocked many
Palestinians, including local Christian families. The 22-year-old
woman was bludgeoned to death by her father shortly after she tried
to elope with her Muslim lover in Jordan. The PA police detained the
two while they were in Jericho and sent them back to Ramallah, where
Faten was handed over to her father although she had already been
severely beaten by her uncle.
The murder has triggered a wave of protests in Ramallah, where
hundreds of women staged a demonstration over the weekend to demand
tough penalties against those who commit honor killings.
PA Minister for Women´s Affairs, Zahira Kamal, called on the PA
parliament to pass a law that would allow women over the age of 18
to marry without the consent of their parents. She also called for
changing the law that imposes six months in prison on males who kill
a female relative under the pretext of violating the family´s honor.
(© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 05/09/05)
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