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Palestinian Authority: Christians in the Palestinian Authority

The Christian community in the areas administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a small but symbolically important one. According to a 2017 PA survey, 46,850 Christians live in the disputed territories, about 1,300 in Gaza and the rest in the West Bank. In addition, 12,900 Christians reside in Jerusalem. Christians as a share of the population have dwindled from nearly 10% in 1922 to 6% in 1967, to just 1% of the population today.

This decline is not solely a result of the difficult military and economic situation. Rather, there are numerous indications that the Christian population is beleaguered due to the intolerance of the majority. Taken in the context of the condition of Christians in other Middle Eastern countries, this picture is especially credible and troubling.

A Second-Class People

Under Islam, Christians are considered dhimmi, a tolerated but second class who are afforded protection by Islam. Dhimmitude is integral to Islam; it is a "protection pact" that suspends "the [Muslim] conqueror's initial right to kill or enslave [Jews and Christians], provided they submitted themselves to pay tribute."2

However, the reality of Christianity under Islam has often been difficult. "Over the centuries, political Islam has not been too kind to the native Christian communities living under its rule. Anecdotes of tolerance aside, the systematic treatment of abusive and discriminatory by any standard....Under Islam, the targeted dhimmi community and each individual in it are made to live in a state of perpetual humiliation in the eyes of the ruling community."3 As described by a Christian Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayil: "a not a full citizen and cannot exercise political rights in any of the countries which were once conquered byIslam."4

Palestinian Christians have suffered as dhimmis for centuries. An English traveler in the Holy Land in 1816, for example, remarked that Christians were not permitted to ride on horseback without express permission from the Muslim Pasha.

Other European travelers to the Holy Land mentioned the practice whereby "a dhimmi must not come face to face with a Muslim in the street but pass him to the left, the impure side," and described how Christians were humiliated and insulted in the streets of Jerusalem until the mid-1800s. The British consul in Jerusalem wrote that in the Holy Land, particularly in Jerusalem until 1839, Christians were pushed into the gutter by any Muslim who would swear: "turn to my left, thou dog." They were forbidden to ride on a mount in town or to wear bright clothes.6

In the early 1900s, sporadic attacks on Christians by bands of Muslims occurred in many Palestinian towns.7 During the Palestinian Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which involved very few Christians, if Christian villagers refused to supply the terrorist bands with weapons and provisions, their vines were uprooted and their women raped. The rebels forced the Christian population to observe the weekly day of rest on Friday instead of Sunday and to replace the tarboosh with the kaffiyeh for men, whereas women were forced to wear the veil. In 1936, Muslims marched through the Christian village of Bir Zayt near Ramallah chanting: "We are going to kill the Christians."8

In the early 1900s, with the Jewish return to the area, Palestinian Christians began to band with the Muslims to oppose Jewish immigration, at least in part as a way to deflect Muslim hostility away from themselves. As Sir John Chancellor, British High Commissioner in Palestine, put it in 1931: "Christian Arab leaders, moreover, have admitted to me that in establishing close relations with the [Palestinian] Moslems the Christians have not been uninfluenced by fears of the treatment they might suffer at the hands of the Moslem majority in certain eventualities."9

From 1953 until 1967, Jordan undertook to Islamize the Christian quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem by laws forbidding Christians to buy land and houses. It ordered the compulsory closure of schools on Muslim holidays and authorized mosques to be built near churches, thus preventing any possibility of enlargement.10

Regional Repression of Christians

The current Christian reality in many Middle Eastern countries is also difficult. In Egypt, "Muslim, but not Christian, schools receive state funding. It is nearly impossible to restore or build new churches....Christians are frequently ostracized or insulted in public, and laws prohibit Muslim conversions to Christianity....Islamic radicals have frequently launched physical attacks on [Christian] Copts."11

Saudi Arabia "is one of the most oppressive countries for Christians. There are no churches in the whole country. Foreign workers make up one-third of the population, many of whom are Christians. For their entire stay, which may be years, they are forbidden to display any Christian symbols or Bibles, or even meet together publicly to worship and pray. Some have watched their personal Bibles put through a shredder when they entered the country."12

An official Saudi cleric, Sheik Saad Al-Buraik, pronounced in a Riyadh government mosque, "People should know that...the battle that we are going through is...also with those who believe that Allah is a third in a Trinity, and those who said that Jesus is the son of Allah, and Allah is Jesus, the son of Mary."13

In Iran, "the printing of Christian literature is illegal, converts from Islam are liable to be killed, and most evangelical churches must function underground."14 Christians are not allowed to testify in an Islamic court when a Muslim is involved and they are discriminated against in employment. A 1992 UN report cites cases of imprisonment and torture of Muslims who converted to Christianity and of Armenian and Assyrian pastors, the dissolution of the Iranian Bible Society, the closure of Christian libraries, and the confiscation of all Christian books, including 20,000 copies of the New Testament in Farsi.15

In Israel, too, Muslim fundamentalists seek to assert dominance over Christian Arabs. "Attacks against and condemnation of Christians are also often heard in mosques, in sermons and in publications of the Muslim Movement."16 In Nazareth, a significant clash developed in recent years when Muslims sought to build a grand mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the dominant Christian landmark in the town.17

Official PA Domination of Christians

Islam is the official religion of the Palestinian Authority.18 In addition, fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad have promoted Islamic influence on Palestinian society.

Officially, the PA claims to treat Palestinian Christians equally and pointedly seeks to display this publicly. Christmas is an official holiday. Arafat has stated as his mission "the protection of the Christian and Muslim holy places,"19 and several Christians have held prominent PA positions.

Occasionally, however, contrary messages slip through. In a Friday sermon on October 13, 2000, broadcast live on official Palestinian Authority television from a Gaza mosque, Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya proclaimed: "Allah the almighty has called upon us not to ally with the Jews or the Christians, not to like them, not to become their partners, not to support them, and not to sign agreements with them."20

In addition, no PA law protects religious freedom.21 While asserting that all Palestinians' "liberty and freedom to worship and to practice their religious beliefs are protected," a PA Information Ministry statement also stresses that: "The Palestinian people are also governed by [Islamic] Shari'a law...with regard to issues pertaining to religious matters. According to Shari'a Law, applicable throughout the Muslim world, any Muslim who [converts] or declares becoming an unbeliever is committing a major sin punishable by capital punishment...the [Palestinian Authority] cannot take a different position on this matter."22

In attempting to assuage Christians, the statement goes on to say that capital punishment for conversion "has never happened, nor is it likely to happen" in the Palestinian territories, but that "norms and tradition will take care of such situations should they occur."

The PA's judicial system also does not ensure equal protection for Christians. For example, an Israeli government report noted the failure of the judicial system in Bethlehem to provide protection to Christian landowners.

The Comtsieh family (a Christian family) has a plot of land with a building that serves as a business center in the city. Several years ago a Moslem family from Hebron took possession of the building and started to use it without permission. The Comtsieh family filed a claim with the judicial system and after long and arduous court hearings, the court ruled in the claimant's favor.

However, the verdict was never enforced by the police and representatives of the family from Hebron later appeared with a new court verdict (signed by the same judge who ruled in the claimants' favor previously), canceling the previous verdict and ratifying the Hebron family's ownership of the property.23

An Israeli government report in 1997 asserted more direct harassment of Christians by the PA.

In August 1997, Palestinian policemen in Beit Sahur opened fire on a crowd of Christian Arabs, wounding six. The Palestinian Authority is attempting to cover up the incident and has warned against publicizing the story. The local commander of the Palestinian police instructed journalists not to report on the incident....

In late June 1997, a Palestinian convert to Christianity in the northern West Bank was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security Service. He had been regularly attending church and prayer meetings and was distributing Bibles. The Palestinian Authority ordered his arrest....

The pastor of a church in Ramallah was recently warned by Palestinian Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for spreading Christianity.

A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus was recently arrested by the Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was brought in by the police, and he attempted to convince the convert to return to Islam. When the convert refused, he was brought before a Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious leader....

A Palestinian convert to Christianity in Ramallah was recently visited by Palestinian policemen at his home and warned that if he continued to preach Christianity, he would be arrested and charged with being an Israeli spy.24

Another report in 2002, based on Israeli intelligence gathered during Israel's Defensive Shield operation, asserts that "The Fatah and Arafat's intelligence network intimidated and maltreated the Christian population in Bethlehem. They extorted money from them, confiscated land and property and left them to the mercy of street gangs and other criminal activity, with no protection."25

Similar findings were reported in the Washington Times following the PA takeover of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in April 2002.

Residents of this biblical city are expressing relief at the exile to Cyprus last week of 13 hard-core Palestinian militants, who they said had imposed a two-year reign of terror that included rape, extortion and executions. The 13 sent to Cyprus, as well as 26 others sent to the Gaza Strip, had taken shelter in the Church of the Nativity, triggering a 39-day siege that ended Friday.

Palestinians who live near the church described the group as a criminal gang that preyed especially on Palestinian Christians, demanding "protection money" from the main businesses, which make and sell religious artifacts.

"Finally the Christians can breathe freely," said Helen, 50, a Christian mother of four. "We are so delighted that these criminals who have intimidated us for such a long time are now going away."26

Adding insult to injury, during this reign of terror, the PA's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (declared a terrorist organization by the United States) sent a letter to the Bethlehem municipality "requesting" aid in the form of monetary contributions for military operations. Cynically adding a symbol of Christianity to their extortion demand, the letter was signed "Fatah/Al Aqsa Martyrs (and Church of) Nativity Brigades" [emphasis added].27

PA Disrespect for Christian Holy Sites

The PA has shown contempt for certain Christian holy sites, and there has been significant desecration as well. For example, without prior consent of the church, Yasser Arafat decided to turn the Greek Orthodox monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile during his visits to the city.28 On July 5, 1997, the PLO seized Abraham's Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron, violently evicting monks and nuns.29

After the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, the PA's Tanzim militia chose the Christian town of Beit Jala to shoot at Jerusalem over other locations from which they could have similarly targeted communities built on land captured in 1967. They specifically positioned themselves in or near Christian homes, hotels, churches (e.g., St. Nicholas), and the Greek Orthodox club, knowing that a slight deviation in Israeli return fire would harm Christian institutions or homes.30

At one point, Andreas Reinecke, head of the German Liaison office to the PA, protested:

I would like to draw your attention in this letter to a number of incidents which occurred at "Talitakoumi" school in Beit Jala...which is funded mainly by the Protestant Church in Berlin. Over the last few days the school staff noticed attempts on the part of several armed Palestinians to use the school premises and some of its gardens for their activities. If they succeed in doing this, an Israeli reaction will be inevitable. This will have a negative impact on the continuation of the functioning of the school, in which no less than 1,000 [Christian] Palestinians study....You cannot imagine the kind of upheaval which will be provoked among the supporters of this school [in Germany] should they discover that the school premises are used as a battle ground.31

The most glaring example of PA disregard for the holiness of Christian shrines, however, was the April 2002 takeover of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by PA forces and their taking over 40 Christian clergy and nuns as hostages. As confirmed by a senior Tanzim commander, Abdullah Abu-Hadid, "The idea was to enter the church in order to create international pressure on Israel....We knew beforehand that there was two years' worth of food for 50 monks. Oil, beans, rice, olives. Good bathrooms and the largest wells in old Bethlehem. You didn't need electricity because there were candles. In the yard they planted vegetables. Everything was there."32

The PA Takeover of the Church of the Nativity

On April 2, 2002, as Israel implemented its Defensive Shield operation to combat the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, in Bethlehem "a number of terrorists took over St. Mary's Church grounds and...held the priest and a number of nuns there against their will. The terrorists used the Church as a firing position, from which they shot at IDF soldiers in the area. The soldiers did not return fire toward the church when fired upon [emphasis added]. An IDF force, under the command of the Bethlehem area regional commander, entered the Church grounds today without battle, in coordination with its leaders, and evacuated the priest and nuns."33

That same day, "More than 100 Palestinian gunmen...[including] soldiers and policemen, entered the Church of the Nativity on Tuesday, as Israeli troops swept into Bethlehem in an attempt to quell violence by Palestinian suicide bombers and militias."34 The actual number of terrorists was between 150 and 180, among them prominent members of the Fatah Tanzim. As the New York Times put it, "Palestinian gunmen have frequently used the area around the church as a refuge, with the expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near the shrine" [emphasis added].35

And in fact this was the case. The commander of the Israeli forces in the area asserted that the IDF would not break into the church itself and would not harm this site holy to Christianity. Israel also deployed more mature and more reserved reserve-duty soldiers in this sensitive situation that militarily called for more agile, standing-army soldiers.36

On the other hand, the Palestinians did not treat it the same way. Not only did they take their weapons with them into the Church of the Nativity and fire, on occasion, from the church, but also reportedly booby-trapped the entrance to the church.37

On April 7, "one of the few priests evacuated from the church told Israeli television yesterday that gunmen had shot their way in, and that the priests, monks and nuns were essentially hostages....The priest declined to call the clergy 'hostages,' but repeatedly said in fluent English: 'We have absolutely no choice. They have guns, we do not.'"38

Christians clearly saw the takeover as a violation of the sanctity of the church. In an interview with CWNews, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's Undersecretary of State and the top foreign-policy official, asserted that "The Palestinians have entered into bilateral agreements [with the Holy See] in which they undertake to maintain and respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places and the rights of Christian communities. To explain the gravity of the current situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates back to the Ottoman era. Never before have they been occupied - for such a lengthy time - by armed men."39 On April 14, he reiterated his position in an interview on Vatican Radio.40

On April 24, the Jerusalem Post reported on the damage that the PA forces were causing:

Three Armenian monks, who had been held hostage by the Palestinian gunmen inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, managed to flee the church area via a side gate yesterday morning. They immediately thanked the soldiers for rescuing them.

They told army officers the gunmen had stolen gold and other property, including crucifixes and prayer books, and had caused damage....

One of the monks, Narkiss Korasian, later told reporters: "They stole everything, they opened the doors one by one and stole everything....They stole our prayer books and four crosses...they didn't leave anything. Thank you for your help, we will never forget it."

Israeli officials said the monks said the gunmen had also begun beating and attacking clergymen.41

When the siege finally ended, the PA soldiers left the church in terrible condition:

The Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity seized church stockpiles of food and "ate like greedy monsters" until the food ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry. They also guzzled beer, wine, and Johnnie Walker scotch that they found in priests' quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on drinking alcohol. The indulgence lasted for about two weeks into the 39-day siege, when the food and drink ran out, according to an account by four Greek Orthodox priests who were trapped inside for the entire ordeal.... The Orthodox priests and a number of civilians have said the gunmen created a regime of fear. Even in the Roman Catholic areas of the complex there was evidence of disregard for religious norms. Catholic priests said that some Bibles were torn up for toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects were removed. "Palestinians took candelabra, icons and anything that looked like gold," said a Franciscan, the Rev. Nicholas Marquez from Mexico.42

A problem that arose during the siege again shows Christian fear of Muslim domination. Two Palestinian gunmen in the church were killed, and the PA wanted to bury them in the basilica. "With two Muslim bodies inside the Church of the Nativity, Christianity could be facing an absolute disaster in Bethlehem," said Canon Andrew White, the special representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Middle East. "It would be catastrophic if two Muslim martyrs were buried in the church. It could lead to a situation like that in Nazareth," he said.43 Only after intensive mediation efforts were plans to bury the bodies inside abandoned.

The PA and Jerusalem Christians

Despite having no legal standing in Jerusalem, PA officialdom has acted similarly there. The PA, in fact, denies historic Jewish - and thus Christian - ties to Jerusalem. Walid M. Awad, Director of Foreign Publications in the Palestinian Ministry of Information, asserted: "The location of the [Jewish] Temple on the Temple Mount is in question....There are scholars who say that it might be in Jericho or somewhere else 4 kilometers outside of Jerusalem." Asked "The New Testament talks of Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem. Are you suggesting that Jesus went to Jericho rather than Jerusalem?" he responded, "It depends on what temple you think he went to."44 U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross asserted: "The only new idea [Arafat] raised at Camp David was that the temple didn't exist in Jerusalem."45

A Christian leader, Father Marun Lahham, worries, "Frequent Muslim declarations that...Jerusalem is [an] Islamic [city] trouble Christians."46

The PA has begun to interfere with Jerusalem Christians:

[T]he Palestinian Authority-appointed Waqf (Moslem religious property) authorities attempted to break through into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher from the adjacent al-Hanaqa Mosque. [They] decided to install a latrine on the roof of the Church. According to a May 11, 1997, report in Ha'aretz, "A Waqf internal report, written two weeks ago by the Waqf's Jerusalem engineer, 'Isam 'Awad, confirms many of the Christians' claims in the conflict that has emerged adjacent to the Holy Sepulcher Church regarding construction in the Church. The Church's claim [is] that the Waqf has harmed the historical and architectural substance of the Holy Sepulcher, as a result of a construction addition to the courtyard of the 'Hanaqa,' which leans on the wall of the Holy Sepulcher and even darkens it by its height."

Israel attempted to calm down the conflict after the Churches complained and issued a work stoppage order against it, which was promptly ignored. The same Ha'aretz story reported that "The Jerusalem district archeologist in the Antiquities Authority, John Zeligman, wrote to the Waqf director, 'Adnan Husayni, pointing out to the Waqf the damage to a site that is declared to be an antiquity and threatens to go to law if work is not halted immediately." Finally, the illegal construction was halted due to Israeli and world pressure, but we can be certain that without such pressure the desecration would have continued.47

The PA-appointed Waqf is also working feverishly to convert the Temple Mount, a site holy to Christians and Jews, into a mosque and erase any traces of the Temple. In June 2000, Ha'aretz reported that "the Islamic Movement in Israel has a master plan to build a fourth mosque on the eastern side of the Temple Mount" and that, in fact, according to a head of the movement, "the entire area of the Temple Mount is an inseparable and integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque."48

The Wakf made a mockery of the laws of the State of Israel. Wakf officials [had] requested and received a permit to open an emergency exit in the new mosque in Solomon's Stables. [But], in fact, the Wakf tried to break through four of the underground arches in the northern part of Solomon's Stables. To do so, it dug a huge hole 60 meters long and 25 meters wide in the earth of the Temple Mount...6,000 tons of earth [were] removed. Some of it was scattered at dumpsites. Some was dumped in the Kidron River. Antiquities dating back to [the first and second Temple eras] were tossed on garbage heaps.49

Israel Antiquities Authority Director-General Shuka Dorfman affirms "categorically" and "in an unequivocal manner, that there is archeological damage being done [by the Waqf] to antiquities on the Temple Mount."50 Under the "guardianship" of the Waqf, "Palestinian pirates are brazenly digging up Jewish artifacts from the holy Temple Mount site and trying to sell them on the black market for as much as $1 million."51

More recently, since the start of the Palestinian violence, the Waqf has precluded Christians from visiting the Temple Mount, despite the fact that no security considerations whatsoever are involved.

Reduction of Christian Political Power

Historically, not only has Bethlehem been a Christian city governed primarily by Christians, but, with its sister towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur, it has been the largest enclave of Christians in the West Bank.

Since assuming control in 1995, however, the PA has been Islamizing Bethlehem. The city's municipal boundaries were changed to incorporate 30,000 Muslims from three neighboring refugee camps, severely tipping the demography. The city also added a few thousand Bedouins of the Ta'amra tribe, located east of Bethlehem, and encouraged Muslim immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem. The net result is that the area's 23,000 Christians were reduced from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to a minority by 2001.

Also, defying tradition, Arafat appointed a Muslim from Hebron, Muhammed Rashad A-Jabari, as governor of Bethlehem. He fired the existing Bethlehem city council that had nine Christians and two Muslims, replacing it with a 50:50 council. While the mayor is a Christian, the top bureaucratic, security, and political echelons, and the lower levels as well, have been drained of Christians.52 Furthermore, "according to the new local council elections' regulations designed by the PA - but not yet put into effect, however - mayors will be nominated by the council members in their towns. Christians fear that these new regulations will open the way to the nomination of Muslim mayors to the traditional Christian towns."53

While six out of the eighty-eight seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council have been reserved for Christians,54 representing more than double their proportion in Palestinian society, the Council is a fairly powerless entity. Similarly, no Christian holds a position of power in the Palestinian government.

Harassment of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Muslims

Palestinian Christians are perceived by many Muslims - as were Lebanon's Christians - as a potential fifth column for Israel. In fact, at the start of the recent violence in 2000, Muslim Palestinians attacked Christians in Gaza, as confirmed by Fr. Raed Abusahlia, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.55

Anti-Christian graffiti is not uncommon in Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Sahur, proclaiming: "First the Saturday people (the Jews), then the Sunday people (the Christians)."56 The same has often been heard chanted during anti-Israel PLO/PA rallies. Accused of wearing "permissive" Western clothing, Bethlehem Christian women have been intimidated. Finally, rape and abduction of Christian women is also reported to have occurred frequently (especially in Beit Sahur), as was the case in Lebanon.57

Christian cemeteries have been defaced, monasteries have had their telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins at convents.58

In July 1994, the Wall Street Journal reported that Palestinian Muslims would not sell land to Christians and that Christian facilities and clubs had been attacked by Muslim extremists. Christian graves, crosses, and statues had been desecrated; Christians had suffered physical abuse, beatings, and Molotov cocktail attacks.59

Continuing the Islamic tradition of Saladin - who constructed two mosques contiguous to and taller than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - mosques have mushroomed adjacent to and usually taller than churches. Loudly amplified Muslim sermons have been aired during Christian services, including the Pope's April 2000 address in Nazareth, which had to be halted until the Muslim call to prayer was concluded.60

In February 2002, Palestinian Muslims rampaged against Christians in Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority failed to intervene. As reported by the Boston Globe,

The rampage began after Hanna Salameh, a member of a wealthy Christian family, allegedly killed Jibril Eid, a Muslim construction contractor from the Kalandia refugee camp, after the two men argued at the Israeli army's Kalandia checkpoint....A few hours later, hundreds of men poured out of the refugee camp and went to Ramallah, where they burned Salameh's house and store. They then burned his brother's store, damaged several businesses owned by Christians not related to the Salamehs, and torched the exercise room and terrorized more than 100 children at Sariya, a scouting and youth center.

Palestinian police did nothing to stop this destruction, according to numerous witnesses, but drew the line as the mob moved toward Christian churches, whose leaders the Palestinian Authority is cultivating for international support in its struggle with Israel.

While officials of the Palestinian Authority and of Fatah insisted that the incident was simply about revenge and anger, many in Ramallah said otherwise.

"The truth is this is a problem between Christians and Muslims," said one Christian businessman. "There is no security for us. Everyone is taking the law in his own hands....This [accused] man's brother, they burned his house, his shops, his cars, and the police of Ramallah stood by and watched. This is the democracy of Palestine?"

"The chief of security at Kalandia was in charge of this rampage," said a Muslim shopkeeper. "The mayor of Ramallah came, saw what was happening, and withdrew. I am a Muslim, but I condemn this. These are savage people."61

Similar attacks have occurred in eastern Jerusalem:

Over the weekend, a gang of Moslem youths ransacked a pool hall near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is frequented by Christian youths. Four of the Christians were stabbed and lightly wounded; one of them required hospitalization. Witnesses said about fifty Moslem youths marched through the Christian Quarter to the pool hall Saturday afternoon, chanting anti-Christian slogans. They attacked the Christians inside, and broke chairs, tables, and other objects....Old City police chief Dep. Cmdr. David Givati confirmed that there have been a number of attacks by Moslems on Christian targets recently.62

The Palestinian Christian Response

Under the Oslo Accords, between 1995 and 1997 the Palestinian Authority was given civilian control over 98 percent of the Palestinian population of Gaza and the West Bank. Instead of embracing PA jurisdiction in the spirit of Palestinian self-determination, however, Palestinian Christians are fleeing.

Palestinian Christians have fled Islamic rule in the past. In the final census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967, which ended the 19-year Jordanian control of the eastern portion of the city, found just 11,000 Christians remaining. Some 17,000 Christians (61 percent) left during the days of Jordan's rule over Jerusalem.63

True, there has been a steady outflow of Christians from the Holy Land for some time. Daughter communities in North and South America had already outnumbered their mother communities by 1948.64 But this outflow has accelerated since the rise of PA control.

Between the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords and the 1995 transfer of Bethlehem to the PA, Palestinian Christians lobbied Israel against the transfer. The late Christian mayor, Elias Freij, warned that it would result in Bethlehem becoming a town with churches but no Christians. He lobbied Israel to include Bethlehem in the boundaries of Greater Jerusalem, as was the Jordanian practice until 1967.65

In December 1997, the London Times reported: "Life in (PA-ruled) Bethlehem has become insufferable for many members of the dwindling Christian minorities. 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."66 The situation has become so desperate for Christians that, "during his visit to Bethlehem, Pope John Paul II felt it necessary to urge Palestinian Christians already in March 2000: 'Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian heritage and Christian presence in Bethlehem.'"67

On July 17, 2000, upon realizing that then Prime Minister Barak was contemplating repartitioning Jerusalem, the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Churches wrote to him, President Clinton, and Yasser Arafat, demanding to be consulted before such action was undertaken. Barak's proposal also triggered a flood of requests for Israeli identity cards by thousands of eastern Jerusalem Arabs. (This, plus the fact that Israel's own Christian population is actually growing, refutes any claim that emigration is a result of Israel's treatment of Christians.)

Despite their beleaguerment, Palestinian Christians do not speak out about their situation. "Out of fear for their safety, Christian spokesmen aren't happy to be identified by name when they complain about the Muslims' treatment of the record they talk of harassment and terror tactics, mainly from the gangs of thugs who looted and plundered Christians and their property, under the protection of Palestinian security personnel."68

In fact, the Christians' silence may be precisely because they are a beleaguered minority with a long history of dhimmitude. As Lebanese Christian Habib Malik describes:

This sentiment is motivated primarily by a desire for a unified position vis-a-vis Israel. But it also stems from a deeper dhimmi psychological state: the urge to find - or to imagine and fabricate if need be - a common cause with the ruling majority in order to dilute the existing religious differences and perhaps ease the weight of political Islam's inevitable discrimination. The history of Palestinian Christianity has, for the most part, been no different from that of dhimmi Christianity throughout the Levant.69

One Christian cleric in Jerusalem compared the behavior of Christian dhimmis to that of battered wives or children, who continue to defend and even identify with their tormentor even as the abuse persists.

Palestinian Christians "internalized this dependence on the Muslim majority as a social characteristic that persisted even after the Ottoman reforms of the nineteenth century abolished these rules....The Christians worried that Muslim religious emotions aroused against the Jews might subsequently be turned against them."70

A survey of Palestinian Christians by the Philos Project found that Palestinian Christians are twice as likely as Muslims to emigrate for both economic and security reasons, including attacks by their neighbors. While critical of Israel, 77% said they were worried about radical Salafist groups, 43% believed that most Muslims do not want them in Palestine, and 44% said they were discriminated against when applying for jobs.71


Sources: David Raab.  The Beleagured Christians of Palestinian Controlled Areas, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (January 2003).
Matt Hadro, “Why are Christians leaving Palestinian territories?” Catholic News Agency, (June 19, 2020).

1. Daphne Tsimhoni, "The Christians in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2001.
2. Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2002), p. 41.
3. Habib C. Malik, "Christians in the Land Called Holy," First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life, January 1999.
4. Bashir Gemayel, Liberte et Securite (Beirut, 1983), pp. 37-38, cited in Bat Ye'or, p. 248.
5. James Silk Buckingham, Travels in Palestine (London, 1821), cited in Bat Ye'or, p. 98.
6. James Finn, as cited in Bat Ye'or, p. 100 and n. 65.
7. Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian Arab National Movement, 1929-1939: From Riots to Rebellion (London, 1977), p. 109, cited in Bat Ye'or, pp. 160-161.
8. Porath, pp. 268-70.
9. Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian Arab National Movement, 1918-1929 (London, 1974), p. 303, cited in Bat Ye'or, p. 160.
10. Bat Ye'or, p. 235.
11. Jonathan Adelman and Aggie Kuperman, Rocky Mountain News, December 22, 2001.
12. "Muslim Countries Becoming Bolder in Persecuting Christians," Battle Cry Magazine, September/ October 2001.
13. "Saudi Telethon Host Calls for Enslaving Jewish Women," from the Saudi Information Service, as reported in the National Review Online, April 26, 2002.
14. Adelman and Kuperman.
15. Bat Ye'or, p. 225.
16. Raphael Israeli, Green Crescent Over Nazareth: The Displacement of Christians by Muslims in the Holy Land (Frank Cass: London, 2002), p. 60.
17. Serge Schmemann, "Israelis Bar Mosque on Site in Nazareth," International Herald Tribune, March 4, 2002.
18. Tsimhoni.
19. Ibid.
20. MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 138, October 13, 2000.
21. U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report: Israel and the Occupied Territories, October 26, 2001.
22. Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information, December 1997, as reported in
23. Danny Naveh (Israeli Minister of Parliamentary Affairs), The Involvement of Arafat, PA Senior Officials and Apparatuses in Terrorism against Israel, Corruption and Crime, 2002,
24. The Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas, Israeli Government, October 1997, translated to English by IMRA.
25. Naveh.
26. Sayed Anwar, "Exiled Palestinian Militants Ran Two-Year Reign of Terror," Washington Times, May 13, 2002.
27. Naveh.
28. The Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas.
29. Associated Press, as reported in Yoram Ettinger, "The Islamization of Bethlehem by Arafat," Jerusalem Cloakroom #117, Ariel Center for Policy Research, December 25, 2001.
30. Ibid.
31. Letter from Andreas Reinecke to Colonel Jibril Rajoub, Head of the PA Preventive Security Apparatus in the West Bank, May 5, 2002, from IDF Spokesperson, May 12, 2002.
32. Yediot Ahronot on May 24 as reported in Daily Alert, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, May 30, 2002.
33. IDF Spokesperson, April 3, 2002.
34. Serge Schmemann, "Israeli Military Sends Tanks into Largest West Bank City," New York Times, April 3, 2002.
35. "Sharon Proposes Arafat's Exile While Israeli Forces Shell His Compound," New York Times, April 2, 2002.
36. Amos Harel, "IDF Declares: We Won't Forcefully Enter the Church of the Nativity Holy to Christians," Haaretz, April 5, 2002.
37. Baruch Kra, "IDF Maintains Cautious Approach in Bethlehem," Haaretz, April 10, 2002.
38. Paul Martin, "Arafat Tells Gunmen to Refuse Deal," Washington Times, April 8, 2002.
39. "Top Vatican Official Speaks on Bethlehem Crisis," CWNews, April 10, 2002,
40. "Vatican Proposes Independent Force to Halt Mideast Violence," Worldwide Faith News website,, April 15, 2002.
41. Margot Dudkevitch, "Gunmen Stole Gold, Crucifixes, Escaped Monks Report," Jerusalem Post, April 24, 2002.
42. "'Greedy Monsters' Ruled Church," Washington Times, May 15, 2002.
43. Ori Nir, "Arafat's Terror in Church: Armed PA Security Forces Keeping 50 Youths Hostage in Church of the Nativity Cellar," Haaretz, April 22, 2002.
44. Interview with Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA), December 25, 1996.
45. Interview, Fox News Sunday, April 21, 2002.
46. Al-Quds, June 18, 1999, as reported in MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 41, August 2, 1999.
47. Murray Kahl, "Yasser Arafat and the Christians of Lebanon," January 13, 2002,
48. Nadav Shragai, "Islamic Movement Planning Fourth Mosque for Temple Mount," Haaretz, June 18, 2000.
49. Andrea Levin, "Desperately Seeking the Temple Mount," Jerusalem Post, July 11, 2000.
50. Etgar Lefkovits, "Antiquities Authority: Wakf Damaging Temple Mount," Jerusalem Post, March 22 2001.
51. Uri Dan, "Temple Mount Artifacts Looted," New York Post, April 22, 2001.
52. Ettinger.
53. Tsimhoni.
54. Ibid.
55. Margot Dudkevitch, "Church Denies Christians Fleeing PA Areas," Jerusalem Post, October 26, 2000.
56. Andre Aciman, "In the Muslim City of Bethlehem," New York Times Magazine, December 24, 1995.
57. Ettinger.
58. The Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas.
59. Bat Ye'or, p. 244.
60. Tsimhoni.
61. Charles Radin, "Mob Fears Grow in West Bank," Boston Globe, February 6, 2002.
62. Bill Hutman, "Concern Over Moslem Attacks on Christians in Old City," Jerusalem Post, July 18, 1994.
63. The Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas.
64. Tsimhoni.
65. Ettinger.
66. Reported in Adelman and Kuperman.
67. "Yasser Arafat, Christmas, and the PFLP," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 13, December 25, 2001.
68. Hanan Shlein, Ma'ariv, December 24, 2001. Translated from the Hebrew by Palestinian Media Watch.
69. Malik.
70. Tsimhoni.
71. Matt Hadro, “Why are Christians leaving Palestinian territories?” Catholic News Agency, (June 19, 2020).