Palestinian Christians Suffering ‘Severe Blows’ From Muslims, Muslim Says | Julie Stahl | Nov. 14, 2008

Palestinian Christians are suffering “severe blows” at the hands of Muslims, a Palestinian wrote in an exceptionally candid column about the situation of Christians in Arab countries.

“Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in silence so as not to attract attention,” wrote Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar in the P.A. daily Al-Ayyam.

Muslims and most Christians in Palestinian areas tell journalists that they are all Palestinians. Publicly, they usually deny that there are any problems or differences between them. They say that they get along fine and the main problem is the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank.

Privately, however, some Christians admit to job losses, land seizures, attacks on churches, intimidation, torture, beatings, kidnappings, forced marriage and sexual harassment of Christian women. Some Christians have been killed.

But examples of inter-religious tension rarely make it into the Palestinian or Arab media.

In his column on October 25, Al-Najjar, who is himself a Muslim and a regular contributor to the official P.A. newspaper, criticized the Muslim persecution of Christians in Arab countries, particularly in Palestinian Authority-administered areas.

Al-Najjar said Christians are suffering, not because of the Israeli “occupation” but because of the confiscation of Christian property, especially in theWest Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Al-Birah.

What makes the situation worse is that those who are plundering the property of Christians are either powerful themselves, or they are backed by powerful people, including “high-ranking military officials or influential members of large clans,” he wrote.

Attempts by political leaders or the judiciary system to rectify the situation have failed, Al-Najjar said.

“Over the past few years, several of my Christian friends have told me of the harm they have suffered, including various threats, even death threats, for trying to gain access to their lands after they were taken over by influential Bethlehem residents.

“Furthermore, there has been an attempt to marginalize Christian culture in Palestine, even though it is rich and deeply rooted [there]. This began with [accusations] of unbelief [against Christians] — a move that ultimately harmed Palestinian society as a whole,” Al-Najjar wrote.

Despite the injustices against Christians, no one in the government, non-government organizations or political factions has taken constructive action to stop it or to defend the Christians, he said.

Such action should have been forthcoming, “not out of kindness and compassion” but because Palestinian Christians are indigenous to the land and “no different from us, with the same rights and obligations” as Muslims.

“We continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians as infidels,” Al-Najjar wrote. He called for a “national awakening” to restore the rights of the Christians and preserve the “demographic balance.”

Tens of thousands of Arab Christians have fled the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the years. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Christian exodus has been most acute. In 1990, 60 percent of the population there was Christian. Today, some estimates say 20 percent or less of the city’s population is Christian. Only 1.5 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Christian.

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