December 27, 2001
Make no mistake – Arafat’s insistence that he would go to the Midnight Mass in
Bethlehem, “even on foot” if Israel doesn’t permit him to take off from
Ramallah, does not necessarily reflect great love between Muslims and
Christians in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
In fact, the opposite is the case.
The Christians suffer greatly just by being in PA areas, which is evident from
what transpired during the exchange of fire between Palestinians in the
Christian town of Beit Jala and IDF troops in the Jerusalem neighborhood of
At the height of the firing, the Christians of Beit Jala received a
particularly painful bear-hug: Tanzim activists, Muslims of course, chose their
firing positions as close as possible to Christian religious institutions. The
Christians instantly understood the ploy – one slight deviation of Israeli
retaliatory fire on Beit Jala would suffice to harm the Christian institutions or
In such an event, Israel would receive grave reactions from the world’s
Christians and the gain would be two-fold: both Gilo and Israel’s relations with
the international Christian community would suffer a blow.
One resident of Beit Jala remembers sadly: “We frequently were humiliated by
the Muslims in Bethlehem. We Christians used to constitute 50% of the
population in the city. Today, we make up maybe 20%. Anyone who was able
to do so, left.”
Out of fear for their safety, Christian spokesmen aren’t happy to be identified
by name when they complain about the Muslims’ treatment of them. Off 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.
Relations between Muslims and Christians deteriorated after the Israeli Army
withdrawal from Bethlehem. It was then that PA security forces, all Muslims,
entered, and the sentiments and frustration on the part of the Muslims turned
Israel began receiving complaints from Christians about damage to
churches and the smashing of crosses, without any real preventive measures
taken by the local police. In addition, harassment against Christians
began, which reached its peak when Muslims sexually molested young Christian
girls from Beit Sahur.
The Islamization of Bethlehem
By Yoram Ettinger
Arafat has Islamisized Bethlehem, since assuming control in 1995, by changing
the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem and its twin towns, Beth Jallah and Beth
Sakhur. They used to constitute the Christian enclave in Judea & Samaria. He
severely tipped demography there, by incorporating (into the 65,000 residents)
additional 30,000 Moslems of three neighboring refugee camps, Dehaisheh,
El-Ayda’ and El-Azeh.
Arafat has intensified the Islamization of Bethlehem, by adding to its population
a few thousand Bedouins of the Ta’amrah tribe, located east of Bethlehem,
encouraging Moslem immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem, and inducing
Christian emigration/flight away from Bethlehem.
The Christian population was reduced from a 60% majority in 1990 to a
20% minority in 2001 (23,000). Thus, more Beth Jallah Christians reside in
Belize (Central America) than left in Beth Jallah itself! A similar process has also
afflicted the Christians of Ramallah (20,000).
Since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, until the 1995 transfer of
Bethlehem to the PLO, 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.
On July 17, 2000, upon realizing that then Prime Minister Barak
recklessly proposed the repartitioning of Jerusalem, the leaders of the
Greek-Orthodox, Latin and Armenian Churches sent a letter to Clinton, Barak
and Arafat, demanding to be consulted before such action was undertaken.
Barak’s proposal triggered a flood of requests for Israeli ID cards by East
Jerusalem Arabs, who dreaded the PLO’s oppressive track record.
Slapping the face of Christians, and defying tradition, Arafat appointed to the
governorship of Bethlehem, in 1995, a Moslem from Hebron, Muhammed
Rashad A-Jabari. Arafat fired the Bethlehem city council (9 Christians and 2
Moslems) replacing them with a 50%:50% council. The entire top – and most
grassroots – bureaucratic, security and political echelons, have been cleansed
The area is run by the local Moslem Fateh leader and his thugs, along with
Tanzim gunmen, mostly Ta’amrah Bedouins. The PLO has seized control of the
Church of Nativity, and has tightened the pressure on the Greek-Orthodox, the
Armenian, the Latin and the Franciscan Order in East Jerusalem. Abraham’s
Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron was seized by the PLO on July
5, 1997 (AP), violently evicting monks and nuns.
The chanting: “After we do away with the Saturday People, we shall take care
of the Sunday People,” has been heard during anti-Israel PLO/PA rallies.
Mosques have mushroomed adjacent to – and usually taller than – churches,
implementing the tradition of Saladin. He constructed two taller mosques, Al
Khanqa and Abdul Malek, contiguous to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The
curriculum at church schools has been altered, adding Islamic and reducing
Christian – studies.
Loudly magnified Moslem sermons have been aired during Christian services,
including the April 2000 Pope’s address in Bethlehem, which had to be
recessed until the purposely loud Moslem sermon was concluded. Abusing
Church tradition, the PLO has transformed a Greek Orthodox monastery,
located next to the Church of Nativity, into Arafat’s official residence in
Christmas and New Year celebrations have become a personality cult of Arafat.
Christian cemeteries, churches, convents and monasteries have been
desecrated, their personnel intimidated, telephone lines cut, windows and
sculptures blasted by rocks, and some of their (and their worshipers’) land
Moslem gunmen, shooting at south Jerusalem (Gilo), have always
located their positions next to, or in, Christian homes, hotels, churches (e.g. St.
Nicholas) and the Greek Orthodox club in Beth Jallah. The military clash with
Israel has harmed Christian businesses much more than the traditional Moslem
sources of income.
The PLO has imported to Gaza, Judea & Samaria in general and to Bethlehem in
particular, its oppressive legacy of Lebanonization. That which plagued
Lebanese Christians during 1970-1982, is currently afflicting Bethlehem’s, Beit
Jallah, Beit Sakhur and Ramallah’s Christians. They are perceived by the PLO –
as were Lebanon’s Christians – a potential Fifth Column.
Accused of wearing “permissive” Western clothing, Bethlehem Christian
women have been intimidated, by PLO/PA personnel, since Arafat’s takeover in
1995. Rape of Christian women has occurred frequently (especially in Beit
Sakhur) as was the case in Lebanon.
Islamic hostility, disregard for civil liberties and economic jealousy have
been harnessed by Arafat and his 20,000 terrorists, imported from Iraq, Yemen,
Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon, in their campaign against the Christian
infidel. Christians who dare oppose PLO’s oppression, are accused of
“collaboration” with Israel, facing execution.
According to former Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), “
was arrested and detained on charges of selling land to Jews. He
denied the charge, since he owned no land. He was beaten and hung from the
ceiling by his hands for many hours. After two weeks, he was transferred to a
larger prison where he was held for eight months without trial… These
Christians conveyed to me a message of fear and desperation.” (Senate speech,
March 3, 2000).