by Carol Rushton
Another ridiculous charge made against Israel is that Christians are persecuted in Israel but have complete religious freedom in PLO-PA (Palestinian Authority) controlled areas.
A little research proves this is another outrageous lie.
Christians have lived in the Middle East since the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ almost 2,000 years ago. Their numbers have drastically decreased over the past few decades but that is because of rising Islamic fervor against both Christians and Jews. In response, Christians have had no choice but to leave or face persecution, harassment, torture, and even death simply for being Christians.
The Christian population in the Middle East has been decimated because of the recent rise of ISIS and the group’s indiscriminate murder of Christians in Iraq and Syria, forcing survivors to flee for their lives. The Christian population in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip has also dramatically declined under the control of the PLO and Hamas/Islamic Jihad.
One case in point is Bethlehem. Bethlehem used to be a Christian city. Most Christian tour groups wanted to see the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Church of the Nativity, and do some shopping at a local shop run by Arab Christians. Bethlehem was well-known for their hand-carved nativity scenes made from olive wood, which was another reason for Christians to stop at the city
When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, Christians in Bethlehem made up two-thirds of the city’s population according to the Gatestone Institute (https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2838/palestinians-christians, Michael Curtis, Gatestone Institute International Policy Council, February 15, 2012, “The Disquieting Treatment of Christians by the Palestinians,” accessed July 16, 2018). Since the PLO takeover of certain areas of Judea and Samaria, threats against Naem Khoury, the mayor of Bethlehem mayor at that time, and his eventual shooting by PLO terrorists caused many Christians to leave the city. Another contributing factor was the seizure of the Church of the Nativity by over150 terrorists in 2002. They held priests and nuns hostage while firing at Israeli soldiers – who refused to shoot back because it was a Christian holy place – and also plundered the church.
Today there are virtually no Christians in Bethlehem. By the late 1990s when I was still living in Israel, some Christian tour groups were already hesitant to visit Bethlehem because it was too dangerous to tour there.
For Christians living in the Gaza Strip under Hamas, the situation hasn’t been any better. In the December 23, 2011 article, “Gaza Christians Long for Days Before Hamas Cancelled Christmas,” The Guardian reported the following:
Of the 1.5 million Palestinians now living in the Gaza Strip, fewer than1,400 are Christian and those who can are leaving . . . There hasn’t been a Christmas tree in Gaza City’s main square since Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 and Christmas is no longer a public holiday . . . Karam Qubrsi, 23, and his younger brother Peter 21, are the eldest sons in one of Gaza’s 55 remaining Catholic families. Both wear prominent wood crucifixes . . . It’s a demonstration of faith that has caused [Peter] some trouble.
He describes being stopped in the street by a Hamas official who told him to remove the cross. “I told him it’s not his business and that I wouldn’t,” Peter said. After being threatened with arrest he was eventually let go, but the incident scared him” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/dec/23/gaza-christians-hamas-cancelled-christmas, accessed July 16, 2018).
Peter was fortunate. His brothers-in-law used to work at the Bible Society Bookstore in Gaza before the bookstore’s manager, Rami Ayyad, was stabbed and shot by Hamas terrorists in 2007. Before his murder, Ayyad had received many death threats and the bookstore had been firebombed six months earlier. After Ayyad’s murder, Peter’s and Karam’s sisters fled the Gaza Strip with their husbands and families. The brothers would love to flee Gaza as well and join their parents in Israel, but Israel has very strict annual immigration quotas from Gaza and right now Peter and Karam cannot leave. According to the article, they have no hope of a future where they are.
Rami Ayyad has not been the only Christian in Gaza to lose his life to terrorists. A church member of a Baptist church in Gaza was also kidnapped and murdered in 2007. Reports have come out of Gaza that Christian graves and cemeteries have been desecrated, a Christian school was the target of arson, and a Catholic church was robbed and holy objects and books were burned. Christians in both the Gaza Strip and the PLO-controlled areas have also reported rapes, tortures, harassments, threats, blackmail (i.e. “protection money”), unjust arrests and imprisonments by these and other terrorist groups operating in the region.
In contrast, Israel is a virtual oasis for Christians living in the Middle East. The Christian population in Israel has increased from 34,000 in 1949 to more than 320,000 as of 2013, making up about 3% to 4% of the total Israeli population. Christians may have to buy their Christmas decorations during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles when decorations for Israeli succas – little houses – are plentiful, but no one in the Israeli government would dream of threatening Christians’ celebrations of Christmas, Easter, or any other Christian religious holiday.
If someone is born in Israel or has Israeli citizenship, he or she is allowed to participate in every facet of Israeli society, whether Christian, Muslim, or Druze. He or she can vote, can create or become a member of a political party, can hold public office, and can even serve in the Knesset. Some actually serve in the Israel Defense Forces and have held high positions in local police departments. In fact, Arab Christians and Muslims have a higher standard of living in Israel than they do in many Middle Eastern Arab/Islamic countries.