The Unheard Plight of Palestinian Christians
With the apparent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas—the terrorist organization that occupies the Gaza Strip—both Israelis and Palestinians Muslims are claiming victory. Yet there is one group of Palestinians in Gaza that have been altogether forgotten, almost as if they do not exist—the Christians.
The sad situation is that, like the other parts in the Middle East, the Christian population in Palestine is dwindling at an alarming rate. In short, as reported by Islamic expert Raymond Ibrahim,
“Palestinian Christians are suffering from the same patterns of persecution—including church attacks, kidnappings and forced conversion—that their coreligionists suffer in other Muslim nations. The difference, however, is that the persecution of Palestinian Christians has ‘received no coverage in the Palestinian media.'”
A population census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 reported that there were approximately 47,000 Christians living in the Palestinian territories—the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip; 98 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the West Bank primarily in the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, while the just over 1,000 live in the lives in the Gaza Strip. This is more than a 50 percent drop from 1967, when Israel occupied Gaza when an estimated 2,300 Christians lived in the Strip.
Christians in the Gaza Strip today are divided into three sections:
- from the original inhabitants of Gaza, who have inhabited it since ancient times;
- those who immigrated to Gaza after Israel declared its independence in 1948;
- those who were abroad and came in 1994 with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and are still there today.
According to Ramzy Baroud, author and journalist for the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle, Christians have been driven out by the Israelis as a result of “ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands…a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves.”
Not to contest this, yet there is a fundamental reason Christians are disappearing, something the politically correct mainstream media and politicians to do not want to report: Islamic oppression.
Islamic Discrimination against Christians
As reported in the Christian Post by Rami Dabbas, a Jordanian who left Islam for Christianity, since 2006—the year Hamas occupied the Gaza Strip after 10,000 Jews departed the region—Christians and others have been subject to restrictions of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in support from Qatar and Iran.
Dabbas reports that a Greek Orthodox Church priest in Gaza, whose name is withheld to protect his identity, explained:
“[T]he economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas and the harassment by the Hamas government are the most important reasons that prompted Christians in the Gaza Strip to think about immigration. It was not suitable to live, so they wanted to search for a better life.”
He warned that the continuous migration of Christians from the Gaza Strip and their orientation to live in European countries and the West Bank “is a dangerous indicator that affects the Christian presence in the strip.”
“The moment they [Hamas] took control [of the Gaza Strip], they started persecuting us, ruining our churches and forcing Christians to convert to Islam.”
Such are the recollections, reported by Ibrahim, of Kamal Tarazi, a 60-year-old Christian man from Gaza, now living in the streets of Nazareth. Before fleeing, he tried to resist the Islamist takeover, including by calling on Muslims and Christians to unite against Hamas. As a result, “I was jailed several times. Do you know what a Hamas prison is? It is pure torture.”
The persecution of Palestinian Christians is not just limited to the Gaza Strip but the entire Palestinian Territories.
As noted by Professor Justus Reid Weiner in his publication “Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society,” Article 4 of the Palestine’s Authority’s Draft Constitution declares that “…in the State of Palestine… the religion of Islam will be the official religion”, and “the Sharia will be the primary source of legislation.”
Weiner explains that the Palestinian Authority’s promotion of sharia immediately placed Christians in a precarious position, as the sharia does not grant them equality before the law. Escalating hardship and lawlessness, combined with the inequity continues to make Palestinian Christians exceedingly vulnerable, and their life increasingly unbearable. While the intifada—an Arabia rebellion or uprising, or a resistance movement aimed at ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to create an independent Palestinian state—and the economy are significant factors forcing Christians to flee the Palestinian Territories, religious persecution at the hands of increasingly intolerant Muslims is the primary catalyst.
Wienar reports act the deliberate and strategic marginalization of Christians in the Palestinian Territories is achieved by means of gerrymanders combined with Muslim immigration that alter the demographics of a formerly majority Christian area, which drastically effects the outcome of local elections.
Bethlehem, as already indicated, is a classic case. In 1990, Bethlehem was 60 percent Christian. After the Palestinian Authority acquired control of Bethlehem in 1994, Chairman Yasser Arafat extended the city’s municipal borders to include the 30,000 Muslims living in nearby refugee camps; he also encouraged Muslims in Hebron to immigrate to Bethlehem. After nine Christians members of the Bethlehem City Council were driven to resign their posts in protest of Islamisationist policies, Arafat appointed a Muslim from Hebron as Governor of the Bethlehem District. The entire political structure of Bethlehem was then gradually cleansed of Christians. Christians are leaving. By 2001, Bethlehem was only 20 percent Christian, and the number has since then dwindled.
Boycotts and Extortion
Christians suffer economic hardship as Muslims boycott their businesses. Islamic militants constantly coerce Christians to close their businesses. The practice of extortion of Christian businesses is so widespread that one Christian businessman interviewed told Prof. Weiner: “There isn’t a Christian businessman exempt.” He said that around 90 percent of Christian businesses in Bethlehem have been forced to close. Those that remain in business are paying protection money to militants.
Christians in business in the Palestinian Territories are also harassed, beaten and robbed by the Palestinian Authority police.
Ashley Muse, Iraeli-Palestianian expert and director of research and education for The Philos Project, reported in December 2019:
“I spent considerable time [during the summer] with Christian families around Bethlehem. One evening as I was eating dinner with a family, a mosque right outside their home broadcasted verses from the Hadith. Shortly after the recitation ended, the father of my host family remarked, ‘They just cursed the Christians.’ While they explained this did not happen every day, I was shocked to discover that Palestinian Christians, living in what used to be a Christian-majority town in the West Bank, are forced to listen to curses hurled at them from loudspeakers.”
Journalist Ira Rifkin holds that because Palestinian Christians are so vulnerable as a minority, they try hard not to appear suspect, despite not subscribing to their culture’s overwhelmingly dominant faith, Islam. To be suspected of sympathizing even minimally with the West (meaning Israel and the non-Muslim world in general), which is how Christians are generally portrayed in the broader Islamic world, is likely to lead to big trouble in the Palestinian territories.
There is no doubt that there are ultra-conservative Israelis who do not want Christians in their land anymore than Muslims—it was in fact an Israeli nationalist who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, for seeking a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Such actions, however, are based on individual fundamentalists, which is altogether different from the Quranic mandate that must be implemented:
The Jews say: “Ezra is the son of Allah;” and the Christians say: “The Messiah is the son of Allah.” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? —Sura 9, 30
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.