A sustained assault on Arab Christians has led to their fleeing the birthplace of Christianity. The likely result will be reduced to empty church buildings and a congregation-less hierarchy with no flock
What some observers are calling a pogrom took place near Ramallah, West Bank, on the night of Sep. 3-4. That's when fifteen Muslim youths from one village, Dair Jarir, rampaged against Taybeh, a neighboring all-Christian village of 1,500 people.
The reason for the assault? A Muslim woman from Dair Jarir, Hiyam Ajaj, 23, fell in love with her Christian boss, Mehdi Khouriyye, owner of a tailor shop in Taybeh. The couple maintained a clandestine two-year affair and she became pregnant in about March 2005. When her family learned of her condition, it murdered her. That was on about Sep. 1; unsatisfied even with this "honor killing" — for Islamic law strictly forbids non-Muslim males to have sexual relations with Muslim females — the Ajaj men sought vengeance against Khouriyye and his family.
They took it two days later in an assault on Taybeh. The Ajajs and their friends broke into houses and stole furniture, jewelry, and electrical appliances. They threw Molotov cocktails at some buildings and poured kerosene on others, then torched them. The damage included at least 16 houses, some stores, a farm, and a gas station. The assailants vandalized cars, looted extensively, and destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary.
"It was like a war," one Taybeh resident told The Jerusalem Post. Hours passed before the Palestinian Authority security and fire services arrived. The fifteen assailants spent only a few hours in police detention, then were released. As for Khouriyye, the Palestinian police arrested him, kept him jail, and (his family says) have repeatedly beat him.
As the news service Adnkronos International notes, for Palestinian Christians "the fact that the Muslim aggressors have been released while the Christian tailor-shop owner is still being held, at best symbolizes the PA's indifference to the plight of Palestinian Christians, at worst shows it is taking sides against them."
A cousin, Suleiman Khouriyye, pointed to his burned house. "They did this because we're Christians. They did this because we are the weaker ones." The Khouriyyes and others recall the assailants shouting Allahu Akbar and anti-Christian slogans: "Burn the infidels, burn the Crusaders." To which, an unrepentant cousin of Hiyam Ajaj replied, "We burned their houses because they dishonored our family, not because they are Christians."
This assault fits a larger pattern. According to the Catholic Custodian of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Christians in the Bethlehem region alone have suffered 93 cases of injustice in 2000-04. In the worst of these, in 2002, Muslims murdered the two Amre sisters, 17 and 19 years old, whom they called prostitutes. A post-mortem, however, showed the teenagers to have been virgins — and to have been tortured on their genitals.
"Almost every day — I repeat, almost every day — our communities are harassed by the Islamic extremists in these regions," Pizzaballa says. "And if it's not the members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, there are clashes with … the Palestinian Authority." In addition to the Islamists, a "Muslim land mafia" is said to operate. With PA complicity. it threatens Christian land and house owners, often succeeding to compel them to abandon their properties.
The campaign of persecution has succeeded. Even as the Christian population of Israel grows, that of the Palestinian Authority shrinks precipitously. Bethlehem and Nazareth, historic Christian towns for nearly two millennia, are now primarily Muslim. In 1922, Christians outnumbered Muslims in Jerusalem; today, Christians amount to a mere 2 percent of that city's population.
"Is Christian life liable to be reduced to empty church buildings and a congregation-less hierarchy with no flock in the birthplace of Christianity?" So asks Daphne Tsimhoni in the Middle East Quarterly. It is hard to see what will prevent that ghost-like future from coming into existence.
One factor that could help prevent this dismal outcome would be for mainline Protestant churches to speak out against Palestinian Muslims for tormenting and expelling Palestinian Christians. To date, unfortunately, the Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as the United Church of Christ, have ignored the problem.
Instead, they pursue the self-indulgent path of venting moral outrage against the Israeli bystander and even withdrawing their investment funds from it. As they obsess with Israel but stay silent about Christianity dying in its birthplace one wonders what it will take to awaken them.