Palestinian Christians are urging the Palestinian Authority to protect them after they were assaulted by Muslim gunmen. There are growing reports of anti-Christian attacks within the Palestinian Authority with one, in particular, that should be a concern to all.
Last month, the residents of a Palestinian Christian village were attacked, threatened with guns, had their homes firebombed and were forced to pay a tax to Muslims, all because of a traffic dispute between a Christian woman and the son of a Fatah leader (Fatah is the political party that controls the Palestinian Authority).
The Jerusalem Post reports that the attack happened in a Christian village called Jifna, near Ramallah. Violence erupted following a disagreement between a Christian woman and the son of a prominent leader affiliated with Fatah.
Before the attack, the woman filed a police report claiming that the son of the leader had attacked her family.
The PA police questioned the suspect, then the suspect’s father and dozens of gunmen raided the village and began harassing Christians there. Residents told the Jerusalem Post that the gunmen demanded the Christians pay the Jizyah tax, a tax forced on non-Muslims living in Islamic territories.
“The village witnessed scenes of anarchy and lawlessness,” residents of Jifna said in a statement. “Women and children were terrorized by the shooting, and houses were targeted with Molotov cocktails and rocks. The attackers were part of an unruly mob lacking any sense of patriotism. They were led by an influential personality from the Ramallah district.”
The residents called the police, but they didn’t arrive until three hours after the attack began. Thankfully, no one was injured in the incident.
Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors ranks the Palestinian territories as 58 out of the top 100 worst countries to be a Christian and the population of Christians in both the so-called West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza is dwindling.
Israel is a safe haven for Christians in the Middle East
In October last year, Netanyahu said to the Christian Media Summit that “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community thrives and grows,” and criticised the treatment of Christians by the Palestinian Authority.
“Israel is the one country that protects the human rights of all. We protect the religious rights of all. We don’t just protect Christian religious sites – we protect Christian people. Christians should enjoy all the freedom to worship as they please in the Middle East and anywhere else and the only place in the Middle East where they can do so is Israel,” Netanyahu said.
He continued, “You know the town of Bethlehem? Yes. You have a connection to it. We all do. And among other things, we have a connection to King David, the history of Ruth as you know, but also the story of Jesus. Now, Bethlehem had when we handed it over to the Palestinian Authority a Christian population of roughly 80%. Now it’s about 20%. And that change happened because in the Palestinian Authority areas, as well as throughout the Middle East, Christians are being constricted, they’re being pressured, also they’re being persecuted.”
The World Watch List, produced by Christian NGO, Open Doors, lists the Palestinian Territories as 36 its list of 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted because of their faith. Israel, often described as the safest place in the Middle East, is unsurprisingly not listed.
Their 2018 List explains that whilst Christians are affected by the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the greatest impact is caused by radical Islam.
PERSECUTION IN PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES –
via World Watch List
‘We’ll get you soon, O worshippers of the cross’ was found written on the walls after vandals attacked church in Gaza in February 2014. Though small, the attack had a major impact on the tiny Christian community there. Combined with regional developments – including attacks on Christians and churches in Syria and Egypt – it has led to a reduced level of safety for believers who notice a difference in the way fellow citizens view them, pointing to a lack of respect. They wonder who will defend them and where to run to. Due to the conflict in the region, and the stagnating peace process, such tensions often go unnoticed.
The situation is a little better for Christians in the West Bank where the ruling Fatah party is formally based on secular principles and Christians enjoy several rights. In Gaza, however, though Christians are largely tolerated by Islamist Hamas, their rights are neither upheld nor protected. The Palestinian Basic Law states that the official religion is Islam and Sharia is the main source of legislation.
In addition to the discrimination, fear is also growing amidst a general context of political unrest and the increasing influence of radical Islam in the Middle East. Christians face threats from radical Islamic vigilant groups, as shown by the attack on the church in Gaza. At more mosques, the volume of loudspeakers is higher and more women are wearing the veil, including Christian women who feel the pressure to cover up.
In Gaza, some members of the historical churches are vulnerable for conversion to Islam because, in the first instance, they don’t see the difference between Christianity and Islam. They are Christian by birth and not necessarily out of choice. They convert because they feel trapped, cannot stand the threats, or are lured with offers of housing, wives, jobs or diplomas. Once converted, many of them soon regret it. The ties with their Christian identity turn out to be stronger than they thought. However, in Islam it is not easy for a convert to return to their former religion.
Of all types of Christians, Believers from Muslim backgrounds (BMBs) face the most severe persecution. In the West Bank, they are threatened and pressured; in Gaza, their situation is so dangerous that they live their faith in utmost secrecy. Children whose parents have converted are likely to be harassed or discriminated against, and if a Christian married to a Muslim is divorced, he or she would be excluded from having custody of the children. BMBs cannot officially gather as a congregation nor can they openly join existing churches. Nevertheless, the number of such believers is growing slowly.