Expert: ‘Christian groups in PA to disappear’
Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 4, 2007
The ever-dwindling Christian communities living in
Palestinian- run territories in the West Bank and Gaza are likely
to dissipate completely within the next 15 years as a result of
increasing Muslim persecution and maltreatment, an Israeli
scholar said Monday.
“The systematic persecution of Christian Arabs living in
Palestinian areas is being met with nearly total silence by the
international community, human rights activists, the media and
NGOs,” said Justus Reid Weiner, an international human rights
lawyer in an address at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,
where he serves as a scholar in residence.
He cited Muslim harassment and persecution as the main cause of
the “acute human rights crisis” facing Christian Arabs, and
predicted that unless governments or institutions step in to
remedy the situation – such as with job opportunities – there
will be no more Christian communities living in the Palestinians
territories within 15 years, with only a few Western Christians
and top clergymen left in the area.
“Christian leaders are being forced to abandon their followers to
the forces of radical Islam,” Weiner said.
Facing a pernicious mixture of persecution and economic hardships
as a result of years of Palestinian violence and Israeli
counter-terrorism measures, tens of thousands of Christian Arabs
have left the Palestinian territories for a better life in the
West, in a continuing exodus which has led some Christian leaders
to warn that the faith could be virtually extinct in its
birthplace in a matter of decades.
The Palestinian Christian population has dipped to 1.5 percent of
the West Bank and Gaza Strip, down from at least 15% a half
century ago, according to some estimates.
No one city in the Holy Land is more indicative of the great
exodus of Christians than Bethlehem, which fell under full
Palestinian control last decade as part of the Oslo Accords.
The town of 30,000 is now less than 20% Christian, after decades
when Christians were the majority. Elsewhere in the Palestinian
territories, only about 3,000 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox,
live in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, out of a strongly conservative
Muslim population of 1.4 million.
“In a society where Arab Christians have no voice and no
protection it is no surprise that they are leaving,” he said.
In his address, Weiner pointedly downplayed the effects that
Israeli security measures, such as the security barrier being
built between Israel and the West Bank, have had on the Christian
Arabs living in the West Bank.
The barrier, which is especially conspicuous at the entrance to
Bethlehem where it is a concrete wall, is an issue which many
Palestinian Christian clerics have pointed to, along with the
ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as a central cause of
Weiner argued there was a “180 degree difference” between the
public statements coming out of the mainstream Christian
leadership in the Holy Land – who “sing the PA’s tune” and blame
Israel for all the Christian Arabs’ ills – and people’s
experience on the ground.
“The truth is beginning to come out,” he said. “The question is
what is being done with the truth.”
His comments come just months after a prominent Christian
activist, Rami Khader Ayyad, 32, was killed in Gaza.
“For too long the plight of Christian Arabs has been put on the
back-burner or ignored altogether,” said Rev. Malcolm Hedding,
executive director of the International Christian Embassy, a
Jerusalem-based evangelical organization.
The Evangelical leader, who has drawn the wrath of Catholic
leaders in the Holy Land for his strong support for Israel, said
that “power politics” has prevented the major Christian leaders
in the Holy Land from speaking out on this issue.
“There is a one-sided debate in which Israel is responsible for
everything,” he said. “The Christian world needs to stand up and
speak out about this.”