Palestinian Christians are suffering “severe blows” at the hands of Muslims, a Palestinian wrote in an exceptionally candid column about the situation of Christians in Arab countries.
“Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in silence so as not to attract attention,” wrote Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar in the P.A. daily Al-Ayyam. (A translation was provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute this week.)
Muslims and most Christians in Palestinian areas tell journalists that they are all Palestinians. Publicly, they usually deny that there are any problems or differences between them. They say that they get along fine and the main problem is the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank.
Privately, however, some Christians admit to job losses, land seizures, attacks on churches, intimidation, torture, beatings, kidnappings, forced marriage and sexual harassment of Christian women. Some Christians have been killed.
But examples of inter-religious tension rarely make it into the Palestinian or Arab media.
In his column on October 25, Al-Najjar, who is himself a Muslim and a regular contributor to the official P.A. newspaper, criticized the Muslim persecution of Christians in Arab countries, particularly in Palestinian Authority-administered areas.
Al-Najjar said Christians are suffering, not because of the Israeli “occupation” but because of the confiscation of Christian property, especially in theWest Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Al-Birah.
What makes the situation worse is that those who are plundering the property of Christians are either powerful themselves, or they are backed by powerful people, including “high-ranking military officials or influential members of large clans,” he wrote.
Attempts by political leaders or the judiciary system to rectify the situation have failed, Al-Najjar said.
“Over the past few years, several of my Christian friends have told me of the harm they have suffered, including various threats, even death threats, for trying to gain access to their lands after they were taken over by influential Bethlehem residents.
“Furthermore, there has been an attempt to marginalize Christian culture in Palestine, even though it is rich and deeply rooted [there]. This began with [accusations] of unbelief [against Christians] -- a move that ultimately harmed Palestinian society as a whole,” Al-Najjar wrote.
Despite the injustices against Christians, no one in the government, non-government organizations or political factions has taken constructive action to stop it or to defend the Christians, he said.
Such action should have been forthcoming, “not out of kindness and compassion” but because Palestinian Christians are indigenous to the land and “no different from us, with the same rights and obligations” as Muslims.
“We continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians as infidels,” Al-Najjar wrote. He called for a “national awakening” to restore the rights of the Christians and preserve the “demographic balance.”
Tens of thousands of Arab Christians have fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the years. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Christian exodus has been most acute. In 1990, 60 percent of the population there was Christian. Today, some estimates say 20 percent or less of the city’s population is Christian. Only 1.5 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Christian.
“[Let us] remember that the tribes of Arabia were Christian. The best writers and poets were Christian, as were [many] warriors and philosophers... It is they who bore the banner of pan-Arabism. The first Palestinian university was established by Christians.
Al-Najjar called for tyrannical rulers to be presented with “progressive attitudes” and “truth” – “so that clerics and old men will not be the only Christians left in the Holy Land and in the city of [Jesus'] birth.”
Al-Najjar also mentioned recent attacks on Christians in Iraq, many of whom have been forced to flee after a series of killings over the last several months. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are estimated to have fled the country since the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003.
Just this week, two Christian sisters were murdered by gunmen identified as Islamic extremists in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
“Christians are being persecuted not only in Iraq, but in most Arab countries, regardless of their numbers there. They are subjected to every possible kind of discrimination, as well as expulsion,” Al-Najjar wrote.
Not only do Arab officials remain silent but so do Arab intellectuals, elites, non-government organizations and private sector leaders, he wrote. He also mentioned Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria as countries with the same “rampant” anti-Christian problem.
Al-Najjar’s assessment of the situation is backed up by the State Department’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.
In Algeria, government respect for religious freedom has declined, the U.S. says. “There were many claims of government restrictions on worship, including the arrest and sentencing of converts to Christianity, ordered closure of churches, the dismissal of a Christian school director for allegedly using a school for evangelizing, and confiscation of Bibles,” the report said.
In Egypt, respect for religious freedom also has declined, amid violent incidents and attacks on Christian institutions, the report said.
In Lebanon, the report noted that over the past 60 years, “there has been a steady decline in the number of Christians as compared to Muslims, mostly due to the emigration of large numbers of Maronite Christians and a higher than average birth rate among the Muslim population
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