Last month, the Digest reported on the steady stream of Christian Arab emigration
from the disputed territories, a phenomenon frequently blamed on Israel. We
argued that there is evidence to back the view that departing Christians leave far
more often because of pressures from their Muslim compatriots than as a result of a
hated Israeli administration.
The story continues ...
Media reports finger Islam
The mainstream media have published a number of reports over the last decade on the
subject of the exodus of Palestinian Christians. While the "Israeli occupation" is not
ruled out as a cause of tension, problems relating to Islam appear far more pressing.
Some examples follow:
Time magazine (April 23, 1990): "After years of relative harmony, friction between
Christians and their fellow-Arabs [in the disputed territories] has intensified sharply with
the rise of Muslim fundamentalism." (Time went on to cite various examples of Muslims
pressuring Christian Arabs).
The Jerusalem Post (May 2, 1991): "Muslim activists have been trying to convert
Bethlehem, home of some of Christianity's holiest sites and once predominantly
Christian, into a Muslim town. In contrast to the world-wide fuss over the purchase of a
hostel in Jerusalem's 'Christian Quarter' by Jews, this steady and often violent
encroachment has met with a thunderous silence in the Christian world. The pattern of
increased violence has been unmistakable. Last December 21, a school for nuns was
torched. During the first week in March, there was an attempt to break through the wall
of the Carmelite monastery, followed by a break-in at a Christian school. On March 3
vandals desecrated Bethlehem's Greek Orthodox cemetery, removing crosses and
disinterring and mutilating corpses …"
La Terra Sancta (A Vatican publication, dated 1991): "The Christians are abandoning
the Middle East … [although] the Jewish presence has alarmed the Arabs … more than
anything else, the commercial, cultural and technological contacts of recent years have
caused a confrontation between Western civilisation and Middle Eastern culture, or, as is
commonly known, Islamic culture against Judeo-Christian."
The Jerusalem Post (May 6, 1994): In April 1994, Israel's Hebrew press reported that
Christian Arabs had accused activists of Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO of harassing
Franciscan nuns in the Aida convent near Bethlehem. One nun described as a "reign of
terror" the behaviour of the activists, who allegedly regularly invaded the convent,
vandalised graves, destroyed equipment and painted graffiti.
CNN (December 20, 1995): "Today, Bethlehem is a predominantly Muslim town. At
Friday prayers, they spill into Manger Square [the traditional site of Jesus' birth], so
crowded are the mosques. Christians complain they're publicly harassed and harangued
for their faith. The Christian cemetery has been desecrated and vandalised … this
Christian boy said the Muslims are fascists, bad people. Muslim families of 10 and 12
children leave smaller Christian families awash in an Islamic sea, afraid they will be
overwhelmed by the refugee camps and Muslim villages around Bethlehem. Many of the
town's Christians are afraid to talk openly now."
The Times (London, December 22, 1997): "Life in [PA-ruled] Bethlehem has become
insufferable for many members of the dwindling Christian minority. Increasing Muslim-Christian tensions have left some Christians reluctant to celebrate Christmas in the town
at the heart of the story of Christ's birth".
The steady exodus of Christians from the Holy Land began after Muslim Jordan
conquered and ruled East Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria, and has continued steadily ever
since. It has often been linked to the harassment of Christian Arabs by Palestinian
nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists. Historically Christian towns are dominated by
Muslims, not Jews. Even the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City today has a
Muslim majority. Where churches are disappearing, they are being replaced or swamped
by mosques, not synagogues. Yet many of the world's Christians have so completely
swallowed the Arab-Muslim version of events in the Middle East that they fail to
concede their brethren here are facing severe difficulties.
One argument by supporters of the Palestinian cause holds that Israelis want to drive
Christian Arabs out of the country, and therefore subject them to blatant discrimination.
Yet it would clearly not be in Israel's interests to create a situation in which all Arabs in
Jerusalem and the disputed areas were Muslims. It has become evident that Israel's most
dangerous enemies in the region are --or claim to be--militant followers of Islam.
The road ahead looks increasingly bleak for Palestinian Christians. As their co-religionists in Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan have learned, the "Sunday people" are squarely
located in the cross-hairs of Islam.