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Reports on Religious Freedom: Palestinian Territories


The Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have a ratified constitution; however, the Palestinian Basic Law provides for freedom of religion, and the PA generally respected this right in practice. The Basic Law names Islam as the official religion but also calls for "respect and sanctity" for other religious groups.

There was no change in the status of the PA's respect for religious freedom during the reporting period. Hamas candidates won 74 of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council during elections on January 25, 2006. A new PA government led by Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyyah was sworn-in by PA President Mahmud Abbas on March 28. President Abbas took steps to eliminate religious incitement, although incidents of such incitement still occurred. In previous years, there were credible reports that PA security forces and judicial officials colluded with criminal elements to extort property illegally from Christian landowners in the Bethlehem area. While there were no reports of Christians being targeted for extortion or abuse during the period covered by this report, the PA did not take action to investigate past injustices allegedly perpetrated by PA officials.

Israel exercises varying degrees of legal control in the Occupied Territories. Israel has no constitution; however, it also has a Basic Law that provides for freedom of worship. The Israeli government generally respects this right in practice in the Occupied Territories.

There was no change in the status of the Israeli government's respect for religious freedom in the Occupied Territories during the reporting period. Israel's strict closure policies frequently restricted the ability of Palestinians to reach places of worship and practice their religions. The construction of a separation barrier by the government of Israel, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, also severely limited access to mosques, churches, and other holy sites, and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations that provide education, healthcare, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians. Such impediments were not exclusive to religious believers or to religious organizations, and at times the Israeli government made efforts to lessen the impact on religious communities. The Israeli government confiscated land (usually offering limited compensation, which churches do not accept) belonging to several religious institutions to build its separation barrier between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. However, according to the Israeli government, it sought to build the barrier on public lands where possible, and when private land was used, provided opportunities for compensation.

Christians and Muslims generally enjoy good relations, although tensions exist. Strong societal attitudes are a barrier to conversions from Islam. Relations between Jews and non-Jews, as well as among the different branches of Judaism, are strained. Societal tensions between Jews and non-Jews exist and such tensions remained high during the reporting period; however continuing violence also contributes to societal tensions and was apparentduring Israel's disengagement from Gaza and portions of the West Bank in 2005. The violence that has occurred since the outbreak of the second Intifada (uprising) in October 2000 has significantly curtailed religious practice in many areas of the Occupied Territories. This violence included severe damage to places of worship and religious shrines in the Occupied Territories.

Prior to the establishment of the Hamas-led government on March 28, 2006, the U.S. government discussed religious freedom problems with the PA and the Israeli government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Gaza Strip covers an area of 143 square miles, and its population is approximately 1.3 million persons. The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) covers an area of 2,238 square miles, and its population is approximately 2.4 million persons, not including approximately 250,000 Israeli settlers. East Jerusalem covers an area of twenty-seven square miles, and its population is approximately 400,000 persons, not including approximately 180,000 Israeli settlers.

Approximately 98 percent of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories were Sunni Muslims. According to the sum of estimates provided by individual Christian denominations (which appear significantly overstated), the total number of Christians was approximately 200,000. Other estimates placed the Christian community between 40,000 to 90,000 persons. A majority of Christians were Greek Orthodox; the remainder consisted of Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Protestant, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Maronite, and Ethiopian Orthodox denominations. Christians were concentrated primarily in the areas of Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. According to municipal officials in Bethlehem, since 2002 approximately 2,800 Christians from the Bethlehem area had left the West Bank for other countries. Accordingto Christian leaders, most left for economic and security reasons. Low birth rates among Palestinian Christians had also contributed to its shrinking minority status. There was also a community of approximately 400 Samaritans located on Mount Gerazim near Nablus in the West Bank.

Adherents of several denominations of evangelical Christians, as well as members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, operated in the West Bank. Foreign missionaries operate in the Occupied Territories, including a small number of evangelical Christian pastors who reportedly sought to convert Muslims to Christianity. While they maintained a generally low profile, the PA was aware of their activities and generally did not restrict them.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The PA does not have a constitution; however, the Basic Law provides for religious freedom, and the PA generally respected this right in practice. The Basic Law states that "Islam is the official religion in Palestine," and that "respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religious groups (i.e., Judaism and Christianity) shall be maintained." In 2002 the Basic Law was approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and signed by then-President Yasir Arafat. The Basic Law states that the principles of Shari'a (Islamic law) are "the main source of legislation."

Churches in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza operate under one of three general categories: churches recognized by the status quo agreements reached under Ottoman rule in the late nineteenth century, Protestant and evangelical churches established between the late nineteenth century and 1967, which, although they exist and operate, are not recognized officially by the PA, and a small number of churches that became active within the last decade, and whose legal status is more tenuous.

The first group of churches is governed by nineteenth century status quo agreements reached with Ottoman authorities, which the PA respects, and that specifically established the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Assyrian, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. These churches are "recognized" by the Israeli Government. The Episcopal and Lutheran churches were added later to this list. The PA, immediately upon its establishment, recognized these churches and their rights. Like Shari'a courts under Islam, these religious groups are permitted to have ecclesiastical courts whose rulings are considered legally binding on personal status and some land problems. Civil courts do not adjudicate on such matters.

Churches in the second category, which includes the Assembly of God, Nazarene Church, and some Baptist churches, have unwritten understandings with the PA based on the principles of the status quo agreements. They are permitted to operate freely and are able to perform certain personal status legal functions, such as issuing marriage certificates.

The third group of churches consists of a small number of proselytizing churches, including Jehovah's Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups. These groups have encountered opposition in their efforts to obtain recognition, both from Muslims who oppose their proselytizing, and from Christians who fear that the new arrivals may disrupt the status quo. However, these churches generally operate unhindered by the PA.

In practice, the PA requires Palestinians to declare religious affiliation on identification papers. All legal matters relating to personal status must be handled in either Islamic or Christian ecclesiastical courts if such courts exist for the individual's denomination. All legally recognized individual sects are empowered to adjudicate personal status matters, and in practice most do so. Neither the PA nor the Israeli government currently has a civil marriage law. Legally, members of one religious group mutually may agree to submit a personal status dispute to a different Christian denomination to adjudicate, but in practice this does not occur. Churches that are not officially recognized by the PA or the Israeli government must obtain special permission to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status issues; however, in practice non-recognized churches advise their members to marry (or divorce) abroad.

Since Islam is the official religion of the PA, Islamic institutions and places of worship receive preferential treatment. The PA has a Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs, which pays for the construction and maintenance of mosques and the salaries of many Palestinian imams. The government of Jordan maintains responsibility for waqf institutions in Jerusalem. The Ministry also provides limited financial support to some Christian clergymen and Christian charitable organizations. The PA does not provide financial support to any Jewish institutions or holy sites in the West Bank; these areas are generally under Israeli control.

The PA requires that religion be taught in PA schools, with separate courses for Muslim and Christian students. A compulsory curriculum requires the study of Christianity for Christian students and Islam for Muslim students in grades one through six. The PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) revised its primary and secondary school textbooks. A USG-funded review of Palestinian textbooks concluded that the textbooks did not cross the line into incitement but continued to show elements of imbalance, bias, and inaccuracy.

Critics noted the new textbooks often ignored historical Jewish connections to Israel and Jerusalem.

The PA does not officially sponsor interfaith dialogue; however, it sends representatives to meetings on improving inter-religious relations and attempts to foster goodwill among Muslim and Christian religious leaders. The PA makes an effort to maintain good relations with the Christian community; however, the PA has not taken sufficient action to remedy past harassment and intimidation of Christian residents of Bethlehem by the city's Muslim majority. The PA judiciary failed to adjudicate numerous cases of seizures of Christian-owned land in the Bethlehem area by criminal gangs. There were credible reports that PA security forces and judicial officials colluded with gang members to extort property illegally from Christians. In previous years, PA officials appear to have been complicit in property extortion of Palestinian Christian residents. Several attacks against Christians in Bethlehem went unaddressed by the PA, but authorities investigated attacks against Muslims in the same area.

PA President Abbas has informal advisors on Christian affairs. Six seats in the 132-member PLC are reserved for Christians; there are no seats reserved for members of any other faith. The PA observes several religious holidays, including Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Zikra al-Hijra al-Nabawiya, Christmas, and the Birth of the Prophet. Christians also may observe the Easter holiday.

Israel exercises varying degrees of legal control in the Occupied Territories. The international community considers Israel's authority in the Occupied Territories to be subject to the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. The Israeli government considers the Hague Regulations applicable and maintains that it largely observed the Geneva Convention's humanitarian provisions. The Israeli government applies Israeli law to East Jerusalem, which it annexed after 1967; however, the U.S. government considers Jerusalem a permanent status issue to be resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli government gives preferential treatment to Jewish residents of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, when granting permits for home building and civic services. For example, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem pay the same taxes as Jewish residents, but Palestinian residents receive significantly fewer municipal services than Jewish residents. Many of the national and municipal policies enacted in Jerusalem are designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem. These are official policies that every Jerusalem municipal government has acknowledged and followed since 1967, and that Israeli ministers have at times openly admitted. According to Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, the Israeli government uses a combination of zoning restrictions on building for Palestinians, confiscation of Palestinian lands, and demolition of Palestinian homes to "contain" non-Jewish neighborhoods, while simultaneously permitting Jewish settlement in predominantly Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), contains the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, among the most holy sites in Islam. Jews refer to the same place as the Temple Mount and consider it the location of the ancient Jewish temple. The location has been, with all of East Jerusalem, under Israeli security control since 1967, when Israel captured the city (East Jerusalem was formally annexed in 1980, and thus Israel applies its laws to East Jerusalem). The Haram al-Sharif is administered, however, by the Islamic waqf, a PA-affiliated but Jordanian-funded and administered Muslim religious trust for East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli police control the compound's entrances, and limit access to the compound. The waqf can object to entrance of particular persons, such as non-Muslim religious radicals, or to prohibited activities, such as prayer by non-Muslims or disrespectful clothing or behavior, but lacks authority to remove anyone from the site, and thus must rely on Israeli police to enforce site regulations. In practice, waqf officials claimed that police often allowed religious radicals (such as Jews seeking to rebuild the ancient Temple on the site and to remove the mosques) and immodestly dressed persons to enter and often were not responsive to enforcing the site's rules.

While non-Muslims (except guests of the waqf) were not allowed to enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount from September 28, 2000 (the date of former Likud party head Ariel Sharon's visit which sparked unrest) until August 2003, non-Muslims could visit the site during designated visiting hours. The Israeli government, as a matter of stated policy, has prevented non-Muslims from worshipping at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount since 1967. Israeli police consistently did not permit public prayer on public safety grounds and publicly indicated that this policy has not changed in light of the renewed visits of non-Muslims to the compound or the court ruling on the issue. Waqf officials contend that the Israeli police, in contravention of their stated policy and the religious status quo, have allowed members of radical Jewish groups to enter and to worship at the site. Spokesmen for these groups have claimed successful attempts to pray inside the compound in interviews with the Israeli media. The Waqf interprets police actions as part of an Israeli policy to incrementally reduce Waqf authority over the site and to give non-Muslims rights of worship in parts of the compound.

Since October 2000, the Israeli government, citing security concerns, prevented most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from reaching the Haram al-Sharif by prohibiting their entry into Jerusalem. Restrictions were often placed on entry into the Haram al-Sharif even for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, such as a frequently implemented restriction on males under the age of forty-five.

There were also disputes between the Muslim administrators of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Israeli authorities regarding Israeli restrictions on waqf attempts to carry out repairs and physical improvements on the compound and its mosques. In 2005 Palestinian workers under direction of Jordanian engineers worked on restoring tiles on the Dome of the Rock and Ottoman-era stones on the southern and eastern walls of the compound. Israeli authorities prevented the waqf from conducting several improvement projects or removing debris from the site, alleging that the waqf was attempting to alter the nature of the site or to discard antiquities of Jewish origin.

Personal status law for Palestinians is based on religious law. For Muslim Palestinians, personal status law is derived from Shari'a, and various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status issues for Christians. A 1995 PA presidential decree stipulated that all laws in effect before the advent of the PA would continue in force until the PA enacted new laws or amended the old ones. Therefore, in the West Bank, which was formerly under Jordanian rule, the Shari'a-based Jordanian Status Law of 1976 governs women's status. Under the law, which includes inheritance and marriage laws, women inherit less than male members of the family. The marriage law allows men to take more than one wife, although few do so. Prior to marriage, a woman and man may stipulate terms in the marriage contract that govern financial and child custody matters in the event of divorce. Reportedly, few women use this section of the law. Personal status law in Gaza is based on Shari'a-centered law as interpreted in Egypt; however, similar versions of the attendant restrictions on women described above apply as well.

Due to violence and security concerns, the Israeli government has imposed a broad range of strict closures and curfews throughout the Occupied Territories since October 2000. These restrictions largely continued during the reporting period and resulted in significantly impeded freedom of access to places of worship in the West Bank for Muslims and Christians.

In 2002, the Israeli government, citing security concerns, began constructing a barrier to separate most of the West Bank from Israel, East Jerusalem, and Israeli settlement blocks. Construction of the barrier has involved confiscation of property owned by Palestinians, displacement of Christian, Muslim, and Israeli residents, and tightening of restrictions on movement for non-Jewish communities. The Israeli government asserts that it has mechanisms to compensate landowners for all takings, but there were several reports of land being taken along the barrier's route without compensation under the Absentee Property Statute or military orders.

Construction of the separation barrier continued in and around East Jerusalem during the reporting period, seriously restricting access by West Bank Muslims and Christians to holy sites in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. The barrier also negatively affected access to schools, healthcare providers, and other humanitarian services, although in some cases, the Government made efforts to lessen the impact on religious institutions.

The separation barrier made it difficult for Bethlehem-area Christians to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and it made visits to Christian sites in Bethany and in Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who live on the Israeli side of the barrier, further fragmenting and dividing this small minority community. Foreign pilgrims sometimes experienced difficulty in obtaining access to Christian holy sites in the West Bank because of the barrier and Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank. The barrier and its checkpoints also impeded the movement of clergy between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregations between their homes and places of worship. On November 15, 2005, Israel opened a new crossing terminal from Jerusalem into Bethlehem for tourists and non-tourists. After initial complaints of long lines, the Israeli government instituted new screening procedures and agreed to ease access into Bethlehem during the Christmas holiday, with restrictions eased from December 24 to January 19. For example, the PA reported 30,000 visitors to the Church of the Nativity for various Christmas celebrations on December 24-25 2005, the largest turnout since 2000.

Hundreds of Armenian pilgrims attending the Holy Fire Celebration on April 22, 2006 were prevented by the Israeli Police from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem despite the fact that all had the necessary permits to enter.

In February 2003, the Israeli government issued confiscation orders for land in Bethlehem to build a barrier and military positions around Rachel's Tomb (a shrine holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims). This barrier would leave the shrine on the "Israeli" side of the separation barrier. By the end of 2004, the Israeli government walled off and fortified the Rachel's Tomb area, and often restricted access to the site, only allowing Jewish visitors regular, unimpeded access and requiring prior coordination by other worshippers. In previous years, Jewish tourists visiting the shrine occasionally were harassed by Palestinians, but Israel's closure of the area and associated land expropriations impeded Muslim and Christian access to the site. Israeli settlers obtained ownership of some of the land and properties around the tomb through a disputed land deal.

In 2003, the Government of Israel confiscated land from the Baron Deir monastery in Bethlehem, which belongs to the Armenian Patriarchate, for construction of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) patrol road in the area. Negotiations between the Patriarchate and the Israeli government reduced the amount of land confiscated.

The Armenian Patriarchate reported that the IDF caused significant damage to the property during incursions into Bethlehem in 2002. The parties reached an undisclosed agreement on compensation for this damage.

Since 2003, the Israeli government confiscated land (with some compensation generally offered but refused) belonging to three Catholic institutions in Bethany for construction of the separation barrier: the Camboni Sisters Convent, the Passionist Monastery, and the Sisters of Charity Convent and school. Construction of the barrier in this area, which was largely completed during the reporting period, involved confiscation of a significant portion of each church property. In the village of Bethany on The Mount of Olives, the Israeli government built an eight-meter high concrete separation barrier that crosses into the property of several Christian institutions. The barrier in Bethany blocks the annual Orthodox Palm Sunday procession from Lazarus' Tomb in Bethany to the Old City of Jerusalem, but Israel has constructed a crossing terminal to allow foreign pilgrims and Christians living on the West Bank side of the barrier to participate in the procession.

Israeli closure policies, imposed according to the Israeli government due to security concerns, prevented tens of thousands of Palestinians from reaching places of worship in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including during religious holidays such as Ramadan, Christmas, and Easter. There have been several violent clashes in the past between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers on the Haram al-Sharif, which waqf officials allege have been due to the large police contingent kept on the site. On a few occasions, Muslim worshippers have thrown stones at police and police have fired tear gas and stun grenades at worshippers. Muslim worshippers also have held demonstrations at the site to protest reported Jewish extremist plans to damage the mosques or create a Jewish worship area at the site. Israeli security officials and police have generally been proactive and effective in dealing with such threats. There were no incidents of rocks thrown near the Western Wall during the period covered by this report.

The Israeli government's closure policy prevented several Palestinian religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, from reaching their congregations. In previous years, several clergymen reported that they were subject to harassment at checkpoints; however, during the reporting period there were no reports of serious harassment of clergy.

During the reporting period, Palestinian violence against Israeli settlers prevented some Israelis from reaching Jewish holy sites in the Occupied Territories, such as Joseph's Tomb near Nablus. Since early 2001, following the outbreak of the Intifada, the Israeli government has prohibited Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the PA. This restriction prevented Israeli Arabs from visiting Muslim and Christian holy sites in the West Bank, and it prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting other sites, including an ancient synagogue in Jericho. Visits to the Jericho synagogue ceased after disagreements erupted between Israel and the PA over security arrangements.

Settler violence against Palestinians prevented some Palestinians from reaching holy sites in the Occupied Territories. Settlers in Hebron have in previous reporting periods forcibly prevented Muslim muezzins from reaching the al-Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs to sound the call to prayer, and have harassed Muslim worshippers in Hebron. Settler harassment of Palestinians in Hebron was a regular occurrence in this reporting period. The Israeli government did not effectively respond to settler-initiated blocking of religious sites.

While there were no specific restrictions placed on Palestinians making the Hajj, all Palestinians faced closures and long waits at Israeli border crossings, which often impeded travel for religious purposes. Palestinians generally were not allowed to use Ben-Gurion Airport. If residents of the Occupied Territories obtained a Saudi Hajj visa, they must travel by ground to Amman (for West Bankers) or Egypt (for Gazans) and then by ground, sea, or air to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Palestinians from Gaza who participated in the Hajj departed through the Palestinian-controlled Rafah crossing into Egypt.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Throughout the year Israeli authorities still required that Christian clergy leave the West Bank or Jerusalem every ninety days to renew their tourist visas, disrupting their work and causing financial difficulties to their sponsoring religious organizations. Catholic and Orthodox priests and nuns and other religious workers often from Syria and Lebanon faced long delays, and sometimes denied applications, entirely without explanation; however, the Israeli government claimed that delays were due to security processing for visas and extensions. The shortage of foreign clergy impeded the functioning of Christian congregations.

In January 2006 the IDF re-opened the Mosque to Muslim worship for the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Israeli officers selectively enforced orders preventing the muezzin at the al-Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron from sounding the call to prayer when Jews were praying in their portion of the shrine.

There were no reports of major damage to Christian churches during this reporting period. In previous reporting periods, there were credible reports that the Israeli military caused significant damage to church property.

In previous reporting periods, the PA failed to halt several cases of seizures of Christian-owned land in the Bethlehem area by criminal gangs. In many cases, criminal gangs reportedly used forged land documents to assert ownership of lands belonging to Christians. Police failed to investigate most of these cases. In two cases, police arrested and then released the suspects on bail and allowed them to continue occupying the land in question. Local religious and political leaders confirmed that no such attempts to seize Muslim-owned land took place.

In the midst of growing chaos and lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there were credible reports in previous years that PA security forces and judicial officials colluded with members of these gangs to seize land from Christians. In one reported case, a PA judge openly told a Palestinian Christian landowner that he and his partners in the PA intelligence services required a substantial bribe to allow the landowner to remain on his property. PA officials repeatedly promised Christian leaders that they would take action in these cases, but by the end of the reporting period, no action had been taken.

Officials from the Qalqilya branch of the YMCA relocated following a firebombing of its office by local Muslims in April 2006. Local Muslim leaders have written to the Hamas-led municipal council demanding that the branch office close.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the Occupied Territories.

Forced Religious Conversions

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There generally were amicable relations between Christians and Muslims, although tensions exist. Relations between Jews and non-Jews often were strained. Tensions between Jews and non-Jews exist primarily as a result of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as Israel's control of access to sites holy to Christians and Muslims. Relations among different branches of Judaism were also strained. Some non-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have complained of discrimination and intolerance on the part of some Orthodox Jews.

Societal attitudes continued to be a barrier to conversions, especially for Muslims converting to Christianity. In previous reporting periods, there were reports that some Christian converts from Islam who publicized their religious beliefs were harassed or ostracized by their families or villages.

Muslim-Christian tension has been minimal during this reporting period, and the few instances of Muslim-Christian violence appear related to social or inter-family conflicts rather than religious disputes. Both Muslim and Christian Palestinians have accused Israeli officials of attempting to foster animosity among Palestinians by exaggerating reports of Muslim-Christian tensions.

Jewish settlers, either acting alone or in groups, engaged in assaulting Palestinians and destroying Palestinian property; however, most instances of violence or property destruction reportedly committed against Palestinians did not result in arrests or convictions.

Interfaith romance was a sensitive issue. Most Christian and Muslim families in the Occupied Territories encouraged their children-especially their daughters-to marry within their respective religious groups. Couples who challenged this societal norm encountered considerable societal and familial opposition. For example, there were reports of some Christian women receiving death threats from Christian family members and community leaders for marrying Muslim men during the reporting period.

In September 2005, Muslims rioted through the predominantly West Bank Christian village of Taybah, torching homes, vandalizing private vehicles, and assaulting residents. The violence followed a reported romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man from Taybah. In October 2004, a yeshiva student spat at the Armenian archbishop of Jerusalem while he was engaged in a religious procession through the Old City. The student was arrested and ordered to remain away from the Old City for seventy-five days. He also made a formal apology. The Holy See and the country's chief rabbinate issued a joint condemnation of the assault at the end of a meeting of Catholic and Jewish officials near Rome shortly after the incident. There were several other spitting incidents, usually involving Armenian clergy due to their proximity to several Jewish quarter yeshivas. The mayor of Jerusalem, the chief rabbinate, and the heads of several yeshivas have strongly criticized such behavior and punished those involved. The armenian patriarchate was satisfied with measures that the Israeli government, Jerusalem municipality and yeshivas have taken after these incidents, but believes that more education on tolerance and respect for other religious groups would be helpful.

A March 2005 dispute over the transfer of property in Jerusalem's Old City owned by the Greek Orthodox Church to Jewish investors ended with senior Orthodox leaders calling for the removal of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I. The sale enraged Palestinians, who saw the deals as a betrayal of Palestinian parishioners by the mostly-Greek clergy and feared that such purchases would affect Palestinian claims on East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Patriarch Irineos I was ousted from his position by the Orthodox synod of bishops, but did not resign, claiming that proceedings against him were illegal. Jordan and the PA have rescinded official recognition of Irineos I, but at the end of the period covered by this report Israel still recognized him as patriarch and kept a contingent of Israeli police inside the Greek Orthodox Monastery to protect him.

In general, established Christian subgroups did not welcome less-established evangelical churches. Settlers from the Hebron area and the southern West Bank severely beat and threatened several international activists, including individuals from the Christian Peacemaker Teams that escort Palestinian children to school and protect Palestinian families from settler abuse. While it is unclear whether the attackers' motives stemmed from religious extremism as opposed to ultra-nationalism, the activists felt that local Israeli police did not actively pursue the suspects and oppose the Christian Peacemaker Teams' presence in Palestinian villages.

The strong correlation between religion, ethnicity, and politics in the Occupied Territories at times imbues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a religious dimension. The rhetoric of some Jewish and Muslim religious leaders has been harsher since the outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000.

In previous years, Muslims at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount threw stones at Jewish worshippers on the Western Wall plaza, leading to major police confrontations; however, there were no incidents of stone-throwing at the plaza during the period covered by this report.

Palestinian media frequently published and broadcast material criticizing the Israeli occupation, including dismissing Jewish connections to Jerusalem. In September 2005 Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the chief justice and president of the Higher Shari'a Council, called the Israeli government's claim of a Jewish connection to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount a "baseless lie" and provocation to Muslims everywhere. Al-Tamimi also warned against the "Judaization" of Jerusalem. Rhetoric by Palestinian terrorist groups included expressions of anti-Semitism. Some Muslim religious leaders preached sermons on the official PA television station that included expressions of anti-Semitism. However, on October 28, Israeli media quoted PLO Chief Negotiator Sa'eb Erekat's statement that the Iranian president's declaration that Israel should be wiped off the map was "unacceptable."

Israeli activists reported numerous examples in which PA television shows invoked messages that activists considered anti-Semitic or that attempted to de-legitimize Jewish history in general. Israeli settler radio stations often depicted Arabs as subhuman and called for Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Right-wing, pro-settler organizations such as Women in Green, and various Hebron-area publications, have published several cartoons that demonize Palestinians. Also, the sermons of some Muslim imams occasionally included anti-Semitic messages, such as a May 13, 2005, sermon delivered by Shaykh Ibrahim Mudayris that ran on PA television, in which he compared Jews (in the context of land conflicts) to "a virus, like AIDS." In May 2005 media quoted PA Minister of Information Nabil Sh'ath as calling for Mudayris' suspension from the PA religious affairs ministry and Muslim waqf, which employed Mudayris, and banned him from delivering Friday sermons. At the end of the reporting period, Mudayris was no longer delivering Friday sermons.

There were instances of Jewish-nationalist extremists harassing Muslims. On several occasions, a group of Jewish-nationalist extremists known as the Temple Mount Faithful attempted to force their way inside the wall enclosing the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. In addition, the same group periodically attempted to lay a cornerstone for the building of a new Jewish temple that would replace the Islamic Dome of the Rock shrine, an act that Muslims considered an affront.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Prior to the establishment of the Hamas-led PA government, U.S. officials maintained dialogue with PA officials on religious issues, in particular on incitement in the Palestinian media. In light of the new PA government led by Hamas which has not agreed to the Quartet principles that it disavow violence, recognize Israel, and accept previous agreements and obligations, U.S. officials have no contact with PA officials under the authority of the prime minister or any other minister in the Hamas-led cabinet, including working-level officials in these ministries. Contact is allowed with PA President Abbas and officials in the Office of the PA president and other officials in agencies directly under the authority of the PA president. The consulate general continues to maintain contacts with representatives of the Jerusalem waqf-an Islamic trust and charitable organization that owns and manages large amounts of real estate, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem-as well as with the various Christian churches and Jewish communities in Jerusalem.

U.S. officials regularly meet with religious representatives to ensure that their legitimate grievances are reported and addressed.

During the reporting period, the consulate investigated a range of charges, including allegations of damage to places of worship, incitement, and allegations concerning access to holy sites. Consulate general officers met with representatives of the Bethlehem Christian community and traveled to the area to investigate charges of mistreatment of Christians by the PA. The consulate general raised the issue of seizure of Christian-owned land in discussions with PA officials.

In October 2004, a representative from the Office of International Religious Freedom visited Jerusalem and met with government officials, NGO representatives, Muslim Waqf officials, and Christian clergy and religious workers, particularly those negatively impacted by construction of the separation barrier.

In several cases, the Israeli government agreed to consider changes to the route of the barrier in Jerusalem near several Christian institutions and installed pedestrian gates in the barrier to facilitate the passage of priests and other religious workers.

Sources: U.S. State Department - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor