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The Fallout of a “Palestinian” Jerusalem

February 5, 2008
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Finally, even Arab residents of east Jerusalem neighborhoods are not fond of the idea of living under Palestinian rule. In the months before Annapolis, when Olmert was speaking of redividing Jerusalem, the Israeli Interior Ministry received 3,000 new applications from east Jerusalem Palestinians seeking Israeli citizenship, up from an average of 300 per year since 1967. One Arab doctor in east Jerusalem said recently that the majority of people there don’t want to be under Palestinian rule because “the chances they are getting here [health care, education, etc], they can’t get it from the other side.”

A serious issue for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land will also arise if Jerusalem is redivided. Places such as the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden Tomb, all of the Old City, and the City of David are all located in east Jerusalem across the Green Line, the dividing line between the State of Israel and the Jordanian-occupied Judea and Samaria (West Bank) until 1967.

A Forgotten Minority—Palestinian Christians

Another concern is that the Arab Christian minority living in those neighborhoods could come under intense persecution from the Muslim majority of the new Palestinian state, forcing them to emigrate and relinquish important Christian sites to Muslim control. For the last 10 years, international human rights lawyer Justus Weiner has studied the issue of persecution and the growing exodus of Christian Arabs from areas already controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). According to Weiner, who is Jewish, the PA officials are themselves responsible for many of the persecutions that occur against Christians and other minority groups within the PA. “I believe that the persecution of Christians is a result of a way of thinking that originates from the earliest days of Islam,” Weiner said. He gave examples of Muslim persecution of Christians in countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon to demonstrate that the problem is fundamentally rooted in the Muslim mindset, teachings, and practices.

The majority of Christians living in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria)—concentrated around the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah—today is Greek Orthodox. However, Christian emigration, Muslim immigration, and PA collusion have all combined to result in a dramatic shift in the Christian–Muslim population ratios in each of these centers. Weiner cited numbers, saying that “the Christian population went from a 60% majority in 1990 to a 40% minority in 2000” in Bethlehem. Weiner believes the Christian population there today to be between 15–20%, around 10,000 to 13,000 Christians in all. He estimates that Christians now make up only about 1.5% of the total population in the PA and “are in danger of disappearing.” Weiner noted that Israel is the only place in the region where the Christian population is on the rise, saying, “The Christian population in Israel has grown by 420% since Israel was established in 1948,” including influx from both Arab and Russian populations.

“I don’t believe that the Christian emigration from Bethlehem and the West Bank is a result of the security fence or the ‘occupation,’ but that there are other factors at work,” Weiner said. He outlined several examples of brutal beatings, intimidation, extortion, forced marriages to Muslims, and other human rights violations, some of those acts sanctioned or carried out by members of the PA security forces. Weiner has written a monograph entitled Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and available on their Web site. It is dedicated to Ahmad El-Achwal, a resident of the Askar Refugee Camp near Nablus (Shechem) who converted from Islam to Christianity. Weiner catalogues a series of false arrests and beatings that the man was subjected to by PA police. El-Achwal’s home and falafel stand were attacked by masked gunmen. Several threats were made against his life, until in 2004, a group of gunmen shot him to death. He never wavered from his new-found faith and even led a church in his home.

Weiner pointed out that the issue of human rights for Arab Christians in the PA has been sidelined by many Western nations in favor of broader peacemaking efforts. He said that he fails to understand why the West, many of them majority Christian nations led by Christian heads of state, refuses to stand up for the rights of Christians in the PA and throughout the Muslim world. It is apparent to many that redividing Jerusalem in the name of peacemaking would only serve to proliferate Islamic hate and persecution upon east Jerusalem’s Arab Christian population.

By Will King, Correspondent, BFP Israel Mosiac Radio

Photo Credit: Photo by Will King

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