Palestinian Authority Muslims, who have been fully in charge of life in Bethlehem since the 1993 Oslo Accords were implemented, have successfully hounded most of the city's Christians into leaving the city – but a London exhibition shows that their overseas propaganda in the West still manages to blame Israel for the Christians' alleged suffering from Jewish “occupation.”
The “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival opened Dec. 23 at St. James’s Church, London, and its centerpiece is a reproduction of a section of the security wall Israel built several years ago, as protection from a horrific onslaught of Muslim suicide bombers who targeted Israeli civilians.
Visitors are invited to write a message of solidarity with the people of Bethlehem on the wall, in the form of a poem or prayer, or to draw a picture expressing a personal response to the barrier. In addition, the festival features an exhibition of Bethlehem children’s artwork, a slam poetry night, a comedy night called Stand up Against the Wall, and a concert featuring Palestinian singer Reem Kelani.
Writer-director Justin Butcher, an organizer of the event, told the Lebanese Daily Star that the festival is not motivated by a hatred of Israel or of the Jews. “What this is about is calling for equal rights for Palestinians,” he said. “In 2004 the International Court of Justice declared the wall to be illegal according to international law and said that it should be dismantled. So we’re simply calling for that to happen, which in my view is relatively uncontroversial... This is a Christian church standing up in solidarity with the rights of an oppressed and occupied people. It’s not anti-anybody.”
The decision by a Christian church to cooperate with Muslim Palestinians in an anti-Israel Christmas exhibit focusing on Bethlehem will be seen as incongruous by some, given the record of oppression of Christians by Palestinian Muslims in that city and elsewhere.
Under the Fatah and Hamas regimes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the resident Christian Arabs have been victims of frequent human rights abuses including “intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycott, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion,” notes writer Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld.
As a result of this persecution, the Christian population of Bethlehem went from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to a 40 percent minority in 2000, to about 15 percent of the city's total population five years ago.
It was estimated that in 2000-2007, more than one thousand Christians emigrated from the Bethlehem area annually and that only 10,000 to 13,000 Christians remained in the city by 2008.
According to international human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, the crimes committed against Christian Arabs reflects their inferior social status in Islam, known as dhimmitude.
"As dhimmis, Christians living in Palestinian-controlled territories are subjected to debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious restrictions. Muslim groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have built a culture of hatred upon the age-old foundations of Islamic society. Moreover, the PA has adopted Islamic law into its draft constitution.
"In such an environment, Christian Arabs have found themselves victims of prejudice and hate crimes," he explains. "Tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians have left their ancestral homes and emigrated. They flee to almost any country that will issue them a visa."
Weiner points out that the first Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman, Yasser Arafat, determined the policy that led to this demographic shift. "After the PA gained control of Bethlehem, it redistricted the municipal boundaries of the city. Arafat also defied tradition by appointing a Muslim governor of the city. The Bethlehem City Council, which by Palestinian law must have a Christian majority, has been taken over by Muslims. Eight of the fifteen seats on the Council are still reserved for Christians, but Hamas controls the City Council with some Christian allies. Arafat crowned his efforts when he converted the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity into his official Bethlehem residence.
"The problems for Christians in Bethlehem are typical throughout the Middle East. As in Palestinian society, Christian Arabs have no voice and no protection. It is no wonder they have been leaving... Tens of thousands live in Sydney, Berlin, Santiago, Detroit, and Toronto.”
Taxes, threats, harassment, torture
In 2006, Hassan El-Masalmeh, a member of the Bethlehem City Council and local Hamas leader, publicly advocated implementing a discriminatory tax on non-Muslim residents. In late 2007 an evangelical pastor was forced to leave Ramallah under threats from Fatah gunmen, and soon after, his congregation dispersed.
Incidents of Muslim men ‘seducing' or kidnapping Christian girls cause anxiety among the Christian population. The PA was also involved in the torture of two Muslim brothers from Samaria who adopted the Christian faith.
The first brother was arrested by the PA secret police and accused of collaborating with Israeli and American intelligence. After the interrogation the police placed a cardboard sign on his back upon which was written, ‘Najib the Christian.' Then he was told to ‘curse Jesus.'" He eventually made contact with Israelis who arranged for him to hide in a bomb shelter in a Jewish community and was finally granted asylum in Norway.
His brother spent 21 months in a PA prison after being arrested on fabricated charges. He was held for seven months in underground solitary confinement. Weiner quotes his testimony before him thus: "I was beaten with sticks; they stripped me naked and made me sit on bottles, and on the legs of chairs that they turned upside down, and many, many other sadistic things that I am even ashamed to say. The young man was sentenced to be executed but was liberated from prison by the Israel Defense Forces. As of 2008, he lived in Israel but his wife and eight children remained behind and are under constant threat of harassment. He hoped to find asylum in Norway.
The security barrier was built by Israel following the outbreak of the horrific terror war known as “the Second Intifada,” which killed 1,178 Israelis in 2000-2009, 70% of them civilians, in over 20,000 attacks that included 144 suicide bombings.