Thursday, May 21, 2015

Christians, The Pope and Falestine

By recently deciding to recognize the "State of Palestine" the Vatican has chosen to acknowledge a "country" which has no functional authority in Gaza and no particular interest in protecting Christians in the West Bank, as its mediator.

In the last census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel in 1967 (after the Six Day War) showed just 11,000 Christians remaining in the city. This means that some 17,000 Christians (or 61%) left during the days of King Hussein's rule over Jerusalem. Their place was filled by Muslim Arabs from Hebron. During the British mandate period, Bethlehem had a Christian majority of 80%. Today, under Palestinian rule, it has a Muslim majority of 80%. So where have all the Christian's gone to if life under the Falestinian leadership is so pleasant?

According to recent data there are between 36,000-50,000 Christians living in the Falestinian Authority, most of whom belong to the Orthodox (Greek Orthodox and Arab Orthodox) and Catholic (including Melchite) churches. The majority of Falestinian Christians live in the area of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus.
Due to increased Islamic influence-as evidenced in the Iranian backed Hamas terrorist group, few Christians remain in the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank. Those who can - emigrate, and there will soon be virtually no Christians in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas. The Palestinian Authority is trying to conceal the fact of massive Christian emigration from areas under its control.

At one time there were once some 3,200 Christians living in the Gaza Strip. Many were wealthy and highly educated. They were profession people, doctors, lawyers and prosperous businessmen. At one time in the past during the season Christians could openly display Christmas trees and decorations. With the rise of Hamas and the Islamic extremists they have banned any celebration in Gaza during the traditional Christian holiday period from Christmas through New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

With the election of the Hamas to power and it's violent Gaza takeover in June 2007, Muslim extremists have attacked and burned copies of the New Testament, ransacked and destroyed the Rosary Sisters School and the Latin Church in Gaza City.  The YMCA library in Gaza was blown up and all 8,000 books were destroyed or stolen. In 2011, Hamas cancelled Christmas, banning festivities and crucifixes.The increased number of attacks on Gaza’s Christians caused many to fear for their lives. “Christians can’t openly wear their crosses outside. In the streets, because of the pressure, our women have started to cover their heads like the Muslims. Our people have become afraid,” explained Reverend Hanna Massad, pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church. “There is pressure and discrimination on all levels for all of the Christians in Gaza.” “We don’t feel safe. There’s no security here.” The failure of Hamas to fully investigate the incidents of Islamic violence against the Christian population, as well as others in the past, are serious cause for concern for those remaining Christian residents of the Gaza Strip.

The turning point in the hatred towards Christians in Gaza was the cold-blooded murder of 29 year old Rami Ayyad who owned a religious bookstore in Gaza. Ayyad was married with two small children. He had been accused of proselytizing by Moslems. He was found shot in the head and brutally stabbed multiple times just 10 hours after he was kidnapped from his store. He had been involved in numerous charitable organizations and was also a member of the Baptist Church. His store and charity organization, the Bible Society, had been a frequent target of Muslim extremists. A grenade was thrown at the building during protests over the publication of a Danish cartoon that depicted the prophet Mohammed. Ayyad had also received continuous death threats for his perceived missionary work.  After his murder twelve of Ayyad’s bookstore employees, fled to the West Bank to escape further violence. Their escape created a motion for the Christian community in Gaza to flee in mass to the West Bank and abroad.
After Ayyad's murder the Islamic leaders in Gaza began the strict enforcement of Sharia Laws mandating Islamic dress codes for all women in Gaza. Hamas has banned wine, including wine for communion.

In the area of the "Falestinian Authority" there are near-daily occurrences of sexual harassment of Christian women by Muslim men. One such incident reported by Christian sources occurred in 2001, when a former commander of Arafat’s Tanzim militia attempted to rape two Christian teenage sisters from the West Bank village of Beit Jallah. When they tried to refuse him, he murdered them both. The following year, another of Arafat’s commanders in the al-Aksa Bridages raped a Christian woman in Beit Shahur.

With the rise of Islamic influences in the Hamas, forced conversions by Muslim men has become more routine. A young 16-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped from her home in Bethlehem in 2007 and brought to a Muslim village near Hebron. When her priest and family finally located her, they found her dressed head to toe in Muslim garb and said she had converted to Islam. A gunfight broke when her family attempted to take her from the house where she was staying. “It was a real war,” said Faise Omar, the father of the man who brought the girl to the village. “It was not just a war over the couple. It was a war between Muslims and Christians.”

Another incident that took place in the Gaza Strip involved, Sana al-Sayegh a Christian professor, who teaches at Palestine Univerity in Gaza City. She was kidnapped by members of Hamas and forced against her will to convert to Islam in June 2007. It was reported that the President of the university, Dr. Zaher Khail as well as Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, assisted the armed militiamen in their operation.

Hamas, which has run its own government in Gaza since 2007, is at war with the PA, but the Vatican needs someone other than Hamas to be responsible for the tiny group of Christians in Gaza to protect “essential life” for the Church.

Palestinian Christians in the West Bank are being threatened by Islamic extremists as well. With the withdrawal of Israeli forces as part of the Oslo accords and the designation of many populated areas as those under "Palestinian Authority. Years of prosperity from Israel-based tourists combining visits to Jerusalem and Bethlehem vanished overnight. The city of Jesus’s birth has suffered economically as a result of the “Second Intifada.” (During that period, residents of the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo were frequently fired on by Yasser Arafat’s gunmen ensconced in the Christian suburb of Beit Jalah.) There has since been out-migration of the Christian population from Bethlehem, and Muslims have moved in to become an increasing majority of its residents. Of late, Hamas has spent considerable money in the city, improving its standing; and radical Islamists are represented on the local council.

So what was "really" behind this move by the Pope? Evidently the Vatican needs to worry about Christians in the region who are being murdered in increasing numbers inIraq and Syria. The Vatican can't talk to ISIS or Syria or Iran, so it chose to use their influence on the Christian members of the "Falestinian Authority"  “State of Palestine” to take a stand for the “essential life of the Church.”

Meanwhile in Israel, enlistment in the Israeli Army from the Christian population has been on the rise, with 84 new recruits between July and December of 2013. Altogether there were approximately 140 Christians serving in the IDF, with another 400 in the reserves. Father Gabriel Naddaf from Nazareth, who established the Forum for Christian Enlistment to the IDF and one of the most active advocates of Christian- Arab enlistment, welcomed the step and said he was certain it would help increase the numbers of Christian youth volunteering for service.

During operation Protective Edge in July 2014, an Israeli-Arab Christian demonstration was held in Haifa in a protest in support of Israel and the IDF and against Islamic extremism in the Middle East due to the expansion of the Islamic State .

In direct contradiction to the charges of  "Apartheid" leveled at Israel one need merely consider the facts that Christian Arabs are one of the most educated groups in Israel. The Israeli newspaper Maariv has described the Christian Arabs sectors as "the most successful in education system", since Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel. Christian Arabs have one of the highest rates of success in the matriculation examinations, (64%) both in comparison to the Muslims and the Druze and in comparison to all students in the Jewish education system as a group. Arab Christians were also the vanguard in terms of eligibility for higher education and they have attained a bachelor's degree and academic degree more than the median Israeli population. The rate of students studying in the field of medicine was also higher among the Christian Arab students, compared with all the students from other sectors. the percentage of Arab Christian women who are higher education students is higher than other sectors.

In September 2014, Israel's interior minister signed an order that the Aramean Christian minority in Israel could register as Arameans rather than Arabs. The order will not only affect more than 200 families who have resided in Israel but it will affect those who escaped to Israel from Lebanon as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment