[Published 11 January 2011]
“All these attacks prove that settlers are dangerous and that it’s impossible to live with them. If these settlers are allowed to stay, that would mean more friction and confrontation. Peace can be achieved only if Israel withdraws to the last centimeter of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967” - Ahmed Qurei, Head of Palestinian Authority Negotiating Team, Jerusalem Post December 13, 2008.
This call to remove every Jew living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - 500,000 men, women and children - was accepted in total silence by the United Nations. No urgent meeting of the General Assembly or any of its Human Rights Committees was called to condemn this racial vilification of Jews by a former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and its chief negotiator with Israel.
Qurei’s statement has now been endorsed by a number of Latin American countries including Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador.
Chile’s “recognition” of a non-existent sovereign and independent Palestine has been more circumspect and cannot be said to have embraced this racist viewpoint.
What is particularly puzzling, however, is the silence of Brazil, Argentina , Ecuador and Bolivia on the plight - and flight - of Christians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Comprised themselves of overwhelmingly Christian populations - these Latin American countries remain apparently unconcerned as Christian Arabs are subjected to harassment and abuse that has seen a drastic diminution in their number living in that area of the West Bank exclusively occupied and controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
David Raab explains what has occurred:
“Historically, not only has Bethlehem been a Christian city governed primarily by Christians, but, with its sister towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur, it has been the largest enclave of Christians in the West Bank.
Since assuming control in 1995, however, the PA has been Islamizing Bethlehem. The city’s municipal boundaries were changed to incorporate 30,000 Muslims from three neighboring refugee camps, severely tipping the demography. The city also added a few thousand Bedouins of the Ta’amra tribe, located east of Bethlehem, and encouraged Muslim immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem. The net result is that the area’s 23,000 Christians were reduced from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to a minority by 2001.”
The deteriorating situation for Christian Arabs since then has been ongoing.
Khaled Abu Tomeh wrote on 12 May 2009:
“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.
Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.
In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.
Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.
Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.
While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.
In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, for example, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.”
More recently - and in a very novel and pointed way that undermines Christian rights - T shirts are being manufactured in Jerusalem and Hebron reproducing the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem without depicting the Cross.
This latest development has brought forth the following response from Samir Qumseih a journalist and director of the Catholic Television station Al-Mahed Nativity TV in Bethlehem:
“I want to launch a campaign to urge people not to buy these products because the removal of the cross is an intimidation against Christians, it is like saying that Jesus was never crucified.
In the Holy Land the emigration of Christians is growing, even if the authorities refuse to give precise numbers. Every day there are people who flee to other countries. As Christians, we live in a constant feeling of fear and uncertainty, and if you live in constant tension and pessimism you can not plan anything.”
Certainly Christian Arabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be feeling even more concerned as to their future following the recent outbreak of violence against Christians in Iraq and Egypt which saw:
1. 23 Coptic Christians die and 79 wounded on New Year’s Day when a car bomb was detonated outside a Church in Alexandria
2. 58 Christian Chaldeans killed and 76 wounded when Our Lady of Salvation Church was besieged in Baghdad last October
In an interview on Australia’s 7.30 Report on 21 December last Mr Qumseih expressed a further misgiving:
“I really fear that the Church of Nativity (in Bethlehem) and the holy sepulchre (in Jerusalem) will be called into museums, will be called into museums. And this is something that it worries me too much.“
During the same interview reporter Ben Knight said some 450 families had left Bethlehem in 2008 to live overseas.
Ironically whilst the Christian population continues to diminish in the West Bank, it continues to increase and flourish in Israel.
As documented in the Central Bureau of Statistics’ Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 (Chart 2.2), Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 percent. The current 2010 Christian population of Israel is estimated at 154350.
The future looks decidedly bleak for the Christian communities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
They are not helped by pronouncements from the Vatican last year seeking to attribute the blame to the failure to resolve the 130 years old conflict between Arabs and Jews - which conclusion now seems very hollow following the atrocities that have since been perpetrated on Christian communities in Iraq and Egypt.
Nor are the demonstrations of diplomatic support by the Latin American countries for the Palestinian Authority or their continuing silence in the face of the “T - Shirt War” likely to reverse the continuing exodus of Christians from Palestinian Authority controlled territory.
Is a Palestinian State cleansed of Jews and Christians the desired outcome that so many nations are prepared to tolerate?
They should all hang their heads in shame.