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Bethlehem erupts in sectarian discord (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH BETHLEHEM 05/09/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1115519113267 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 Jerusalem.

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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