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West Ignoring 'Systematic Persecution' of Palestinian Christians

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.crosswalk.com/news/11560968/ West Ignoring Systematic Persecution of Palestinian Christians Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jerusalem
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2007
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      West Ignoring 'Systematic Persecution' of Palestinian Christians
      Julie Stahl
      Jerusalem Bureau Chief

      Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - If Western governments do not address the
      Muslim persecution and economic plight of Palestinian Arab
      Christians, there won't be many Christians left in the Holy Land
      within 15 years, an Israeli scholar said here.

      Loss of employment, land seizures, attacks on churches, intimidation,
      torture, beatings, kidnappings, forced marriage and sexual harassment
      of Christian women are clear human rights violations that have
      contributed to the exodus of Christians from the West Bank and Gaza
      Strip, said Justus Reid Weiner, who spoke at the Jerusalem Center for
      Public Affairs on Monday.

      "Since the empowerment of the Palestinian Authority in 1995, the
      systematic persecution [of Arab Christians] has been met with nearly
      total silence," said Weiner, an international human rights lawyer and
      scholar at the JCPA. "This silence has included the international
      community, relevant NGO's (non-governmental organizations) and other
      human rights activists and the media."

      Christian Arabs are concentrated in and around Jerusalem and the West
      Bank cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah. There also is a tiny Christian
      community in the Gaza Strip -- about 3,000 Christians among 1.4
      million Palestinians. Most are Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
      Lutheran and other traditional denominations.

      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.

      Tens of thousands of Arab Christians have fled the West Bank and Gaza
      Strip over the years. An estimated one thousand Christians have left
      Bethlehem each year for the last seven years -- a period covering the
      Palestinian uprising. There are between 10,000 and 13,000 Christians
      remaining in the city.

      Today, only 1.5 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza
      Strip is Christian.

      Church leaders blame the steady flow of emigration on Israeli
      occupation and the security barrier. But, he said, church leaders,
      who should be protecting their followers instead are being forced to
      abandon them to "the forces of radical Islam."

      Weiner said that Christians are often terrified to tell their
      stories. He mentioned several prominent cases of persecution but
      noted that these were only the tip of the iceberg.

      In October, Rami Ayyad, who ran the Palestinian Bible Society in the
      Gaza Strip, was kidnapped and murdered, reportedly because he would
      not convert to Islam. (See earlier story)

      Several weeks later, American-born Pastor Isa Bajali, who had been
      doing humanitarian work in Ramallah for years, was threatened by a
      P.A. official and others who allegedly tried to extort $30,000 from
      him. (See earlier story)

      In another earlier case, a 16-year-old Arab Christian, who held
      American citizenship and was living with her family in Bethlehem was
      kidnapped by a 23-year-old Muslim man, who claimed they would marry.
      Her family was only able to secure her release with the intervention
      of the U.S. diplomats. The incident received virtually no media
      coverage, Weiner said.

      According to Weiner, if Christian leaders and Western governments do
      not work to change the situation, within 15 years there won't be a
      Christian community here with schools, Bible study centers and shops.
      Only a few clergymen and Western Christians will remain, he warned.
      He suggested that providing professional employment for educated
      Palestinian Christians could help.

      David Parsons, spokesman for the International Christian Embassy in
      Jerusalem, said that Christians from around the world are "largely
      unaware" of the emigration of Christians from the Holy Land because
      local clerics observe a "code of silence," refusing to speak out
      against Muslim persecution.

      "We have to understand that this is an ancient survival mechanism --
      not to say anything bad about your Muslim neighbor, or it could cost
      you," Parsons told Cybercast News Service.

      When Western governments look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
      they do not see the Christian element as a real factor, said Parsons,
      but it certainly should be, he added.
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