Damaged Christian gravestone
Damaged Christian gravestoneIsrael News Photo: (illustrative)

Palestinian Authority Muslims went on a rampage Sunday and desecrated 70 Christian graves two weeks after the pope praised efforts for a new PA state and tried to appease Muslim anger over previous disputes between the two religions.

The vandals smashed gravestones and knocked metal and stone crosses off graves in the village of Jiffna, near Ramallah, home to approximately 900 Christians and 700 Muslims. Greek Orthodox Church official George Abdo told Reuters the head and hand of a statue of Madonna also was severed.

The Palestine News Network, which claims to be comprised of independent journalists, did not report the incident but instead told its readers about a Muslim-Christian meeting in Shechem to discuss bias during Pope [Benedict] XVI's visit. It said that the focus of the talks was the status of Jerusalem and efforts "to keep the optimal model of peaceful coexistence and tolerance between religions, particularly between Muslims and Christians."

Sunday’s anti-Christian attack follows years of harassment from Muslims that has escalated a lengthy exodus of Christians from Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The areas enjoyed strong economies from 1967, when Israel took over administration of the areas following the Six-Day War, until 2000, when PA terrorists launched the Oslo War, also known as the Second Intifada.

However, the PA and foreign news agencies have blamed Israel for harsh economic conditions that have chased away Christians. Reuters told its readers that “[Arab] officials say many Christians have emigrated in recent decades. Most cite economic hardships under Israeli occupation, though some also voice fears of less tolerant forms of Islam growing among Palestinians.”

The news agency also quoted Issa Kassissieh, an advisor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, as saying that the attack was "an isolated act against Christian symbols” and that "Palestinian Christians and Muslims have always lived in harmony in the Holy Land.”

However, the area has a history of attacks. Two months ago, a fire caused damage to a Coptic Christian church near Ramallah in what may have been arson.

PA terrorists in Kalkilya three years ago set fire to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) headquarters.

The previous year, a Muslim mob armed with clubs beat Christians in a Christian Arab village near Ramallah, looting their houses and burning cars and houses. The attack followed a Muslim family's murder by poison of their Muslim relative after she became pregnant following an alleged affair with her Christian employer.

Anti-Christian acts in Gaza have escalated since Hamas seized control of the region two years ago. Christian book stores and churches frequently have been bombed.

Muslim threats have served to politicize the remaining 50,000 Christians, who maintain better relations with Muslims when joining forces to blame Israel for their problems. PA Christians often accuse Israel of barring them from entering Jerusalem to visit holy sites, although it was Israel that opened the sites to Christians in 1967.

Jordan prohibited Christians, as well as Jews, from visiting holy places during its occupation of eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria from 1949 to 1967.

Journalist Larry Derfner, in a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, quoted veteran Jerusalem peace activist Hanna Siniora that the shrinking of the Christian community in Judea, Samaria and Gaza started long before the Oslo War and even before 1967. Siniora told him, “The emigration began over a century ago, under the Ottoman Empire, and the main reasons have always been lack of economic opportunity and political instability.”