Palestinian Crimes against Christian Arabs and Their Manipulation against
Interview with Justus Reid Weiner
Published August 2008
Institute for Global Jewish Affairs
No. 72, 1 September 2008 / 1 Elul 5768
Under the Palestinian regime Christian Arabs have been victims of frequent
human rights abuses by Muslims. There are many examples of intimidation,
beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian
institutions, denial of employment, economic boycotts, torture, kidnapping,
forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion. Palestinian Authority
(PA) officials are directly responsible for many of the human rights
violations. Muslims who have converted to Christianity are in the greatest
danger. They are often left defenseless against cruelty by Muslim
fundamentalists. Some have been murdered.
Christian Arabs also fall victim to the chaos and anarchy typical of PA
rule. This situation is fostered by societal rigidity, criminal gangs, lack
of education, absence of due process, incitement, unreliable courts, and the
denial of these problems-all running counter to Israel's desire for a
prosperous and stable neighbor.
Muslim attitudes toward Christians and Jews are influenced by the concepts
and prejudices about their inferiority that the practice of dhimmitude has
spawned in Islamic society. As dhimmis, Christians living in
Palestinian-controlled territories are not treated as equals of Muslims and
are subjected to debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious
The human rights violations against the Christian Arabs in the disputed
territories are committed by Muslims. Yet for political and economic reasons
many Palestinian Christian leaders blame Israel for these crimes rather than
the actual perpetrators. This motif of the transference of blame has been
adopted by several Christian leaders in the Western world. Others there who
are aware of the PA's human rights abuses choose to remain silent.
"The disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been
administered by the Palestinian Authority (PA)-and recently, in part, by
Hamas. As a result of the Oslo peace process, the Palestinians were able to
establish their own quasi-government. Under this regime the Christian Arabs
in these territories have been victims of frequent human rights abuses
including intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and
other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycott,
torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion.
"Muslims who have converted to Christianity are the ones most in danger.
They are often left defenseless against cruelty by Muslim fundamentalists.
PA and Hamas officials are directly responsible for many of the human rights
violations. Christian Arabs also fall victim to the chaos and anarchy that
typifies PA rule."
Justus Reid Weiner is an international human rights lawyer and a member of
the Israel and New York bar associations. His professional publications have
appeared in leading law journals and intellectual magazines. Weiner lectures
widely abroad and in Israel and teaches international law and business
courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He remarks: "The human rights crimes against the Christian Arabs in the
disputed territories are committed by Muslims. Yet many Palestinian
Christian leaders accuse Israel of these crimes rather than the actual
perpetrators. This motif has been adopted by a variety of Christian leaders
in the Western world. Others who are aware of the human rights crimes choose
to remain silent about them."
Dhimmitude and Persecution
In Weiner's view the crimes committed against Christian Arabs result from a
way of thinking that dates back to the earliest days of Islam.
"Traditionally, Christians and Jews were given an inferior social status
known as dhimmitude in Islam. The dhimma is a legal contract of submission
that was imposed upon the indigenous non-Muslim populations in regions
conquered by the spread of Islam. Although Jews and Christians were not
forced to convert to Islam, they were not treated as the equals of Muslims.
"As dhimmis, Jews and Christians were subjected to both legal and cultural
restrictions under Islamic law. For example, Muslims could ride horses
whereas Christians and Jews were limited to donkeys. Or, Muslims were
permitted to wear garments of fine cloth while Christians and Jews were only
allowed to wear clothing made from coarse fabric.
"To this day, Muslim attitudes toward Christians and Jews are influenced by
the concepts and prejudices that dhimmitude has spawned in Islamic society.
In Iraq, for example, the ancestral community of Chaldean Christians has
recently become a target of vandalism, property theft, infringement of
privacy, harassment, arbitrary and prolonged detention, kidnapping, rape,
beatings, car bombings, torture, and even murder.
"There are many examples of Christian suffering in Islamic countries. In
November 2006, six Molotov cocktails damaged a Protestant place of worship
in western Turkey, breaking windows and scorching the exterior of the
building. This attack followed months of harassment of Christians in the
town of Odemis, sixty-five miles east of Izmir. In a town near Mosul (in
Iraq) in October 2006, a fifty-nine-year-old Syrian Orthodox priest named
Father Boulos Iskander was beheaded. His kidnappers had demanded $40,000 USD
and required that the priest's church publicly repudiate Pope Benedict XVI's
remarks on Islam. It is interesting that this demand was directed at an
Orthodox Christian priest, who would have had nothing to do with any
statement by the Catholic Pope.
"In Egypt, in October 2006, a Christian teenager escaped her Muslim
kidnappers hours after they had drugged her on a public bus. They threatened
to rape her and convert her to Islam if her family didn't leave their Nile
Delta city of El-Mahala el-Kobra. In a similar story, a fifteen-year-old
escaped from being held captive in Cairo's southern suburb of Helwan while
her captors were away breaking their Ramadan fast.
"Such attacks have evolved into an imminent crisis for the Christian
minority in every Muslim-ruled country of the Middle East, North Africa, and
Asia. Their Christian populations are in major decline, they are constantly
under threat of violence, and there is a general feeling that they have no
future. Some examples concern the Copts in Egypt and the Maronites in
Lebanon. The scholarship of Nina Shea and Paul Marshall on the persecution
of Christians in Islamic lands brings many proofs of this.
"Israel is the only exception in the Middle East where the Christian
population since 1948 has increased. It has risen by more than 400 percent.
This also includes non-Arab Christians, such as Russian Christians who have
come here as spouses of Jews and otherwise."
Weiner adds: "Similar troubles as for the Christians have emerged for a
whole range of nonconformists in the Islamic world. For example, in July
2005, two alleged homosexual teenage boys were publicly executed in Iran.
The threats are affecting many throughout the region, including owners of
internet cafes, of restaurants or stores selling alcohol, land dealers,
independent journalists, and even authors such as Salman Rushdie. The
international human rights community has thus far done virtually nothing to
protect such nonconformists."
A Culture of Intolerance
Weiner observes: "As dhimmis, Christians living in Palestinian-controlled
territories are not treated as the equals of Muslims. They are subjected to
debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious restrictions. This
has become a critical problem for the Palestinian Christians in the West
Bank and Gaza. Muslim groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have built a
culture of hatred upon the age-old foundations of Islamic society. Moreover,
the PA has adopted Islamic law into its draft constitution.
"In 2006, Hassan El-Masalmeh, a member of the Bethlehem City Council and
local Hamas leader, publicly advocated implementing a discriminatory tax on
non-Muslim residents, known as al-jeziya. The Koran requires the imposition
of this tax on all dhimmis. It legalizes the second-class status of such
residents. El-Masalmeh stated that, 'We in Hamas intend to implement this
tax someday. We say it openly and we welcome everyone to Palestine, but only
if they agree to live under our rules.' One example occurred in late 2007
when an evangelical pastor was forced to leave Ramallah under threats from
Tanzim gunmen; soon after, his congregation dispersed. Clergy under threat
by gunmen should at least make a good-faith effort to use their media
connections to publicize their plight and thereby garner a degree of
protection for themselves and their followers.
"In such an environment, Christian Arabs have found themselves victims of
prejudice and hate crimes. Tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians have
left their ancestral homes and emigrated to North America, Central America,
South America, Europe, and Australia. They flee to almost any country that
will issue them a visa.
"A majority of the Christians living under PA and Hamas rule are Greek
Catholic or Greek Melkite. Others are Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Anglicans,
Syriacs, Armenians, Copts, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, as well
as several other denominations. The Palestinian Christian population has
always been concentrated in and around the cities of Jerusalem, Ramallah,
Developments in Bethlehem
"The demographics in these areas have changed drastically. Bethlehem is a
prime example. Estimates show a sharp demographic Christian-Muslim shift.
The Christian population went from an 80 percent majority in 1950, to a 60
percent majority in 1990, to approximately a 40 percent minority in 2000.
Today the population of Christian Arabs in Bethlehem is hovering at about 15
percent of the city's total population. It is estimated that for the past
seven years over one thousand Christians have been emigrating from the
Bethlehem area annually. At present an estimated ten to thirteen thousand
Christians remain in the city.
"Neither the Palestinian Christian leaders nor the PA want to reveal
accurate statistics. That would mean the extent of the emigration would
become publicly known. They would then have to face questions about the
reasons for this decline."
Weiner points out that Yasser Arafat determined the policy that led to this
demographic shift. "After the PA gained control of Bethlehem it redistricted
the municipal boundaries of the city. Arafat's motivation for the change was
to ensure a Muslim majority in any elections to be held in the area. By
doing so, he annexed an additional thirty thousand Muslims and a few
thousand Muslim Bedouins in adjacent areas. This, combined with substantial
Muslim immigration from the nearby city of Hebron, dramatically transformed
the demographic reality.
"Arafat also defied tradition by appointing a Muslim governor of the city.
The Bethlehem City Council, which by Palestinian law must have a Christian
majority, has been taken over by Muslims. Eight of the fifteen seats on the
council are still reserved for Christians, but in the latest municipal
elections of May 2005 a coalition with crucial support from Hamas emerged
victorious. Hamas today holds six of the fifteen council seats and their
Christian allies hold four. Arafat crowned his efforts when he converted
the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity into his
official Bethlehem residence.
"The problems for Christians in Bethlehem are typical throughout the Middle
East. The Lebanese Christian community faced similar problems during the
1980s. The assassinated Christian prime minister of Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel
summed up the situation: 'A Christian, like a Jew . . . is not a full
citizen and cannot exercise political rights in any of the countries which
were once conquered by Islam.'
"In Palestinian society Christian Arabs have no voice and no protection. It
is no wonder they have been leaving. Because of emigration-some of it dating
back two or three generations-seventy percent of Christian Arabs who
originally resided in the West Bank and Gaza now live abroad. Tens of
thousands live in Sydney, Berlin, Santiago, Detroit, and Toronto. The
emigration of Christian Arabs has multiplied over the last decade, with no
end in sight.
"It is currently estimated that the number of Christians living in Gaza
totals only 1,500-3,000 amid 1.2 million Muslims. Probably less than
fifty thousand Christians remain in all of East Jerusalem, the West Bank,
and Gaza together.
"Taybeh, a village located deep in the West Bank, is the only all-Christian
village left in the PA. As a result of the perpetual violence, many
residents of Taybeh have gone abroad and only 1,300 remain. The
situation of these Christians has become grim."
The Abuse of Human Rights
Before giving examples of human rights abuses against Christians in the PA,
Weiner remarks: "Over this ten-year period, my research assistants and I
have interviewed scores of Christian victims. Many of those interviewed were
too terrified to tell their stories. In an effort to reassure them, I
promised to conceal their real names, professions, and places of residence.
"My first example concerns the routine extortion of Christian businessmen by
PA officials and street thugs. It involves an Armenian Christian jewelry-
store owner from Jerusalem. During a business trip to Gaza he was taken into
custody and extorted by the Palestinian police. He showed the officers the
necessary licenses and permits to sell his gold jewelry. Nevertheless, he
was forced to hand over all his money and gold jewelry and was subsequently
beaten for more than six hours.
"After refusing the offer of the police to leave with half his gold, he was
beaten for another two hours in the police station. His watch, his rings,
half his gold jewelry, and the $6,000 USD he was carrying were taken from
him before he was allowed to leave.
"The Armenian complained to the PA's minister of industry and commerce. He
was then told he had no recourse but to speak with Arafat. Further efforts
were futile. As a Christian he didn't have the necessary connections to get
back what was stolen from him in the police station. Nor were the
perpetrators charged or punished."
Kidnapping and Seduction of Christian Women
"Incidents of Muslim men 'seducing' or kidnapping Christian girls have
caused growing anxiety among the Christian population. In May 2004, a
sixteen-year-old Christian girl from Bethlehem, who was a U.S. citizen, went
missing for five days. She was kidnapped by a twenty-three-year-old Muslim
man. When the family lodged a complaint with the PA police, little was done
to help them. The police accepted the testimony of the Muslim kidnapper at
face value. He claimed that they wanted to get married.
"The girl's family knew that the Muslim man had a brother who was a
high-ranking officer in the PA security services. They feared that the PA
police's unwillingness to act on the family's complaint was due to this
"The kidnapper sought refuge in Hebron where he had an extended family.
Because their families are large, it is easy for Muslims to get away with
crimes against Christians who lack strength in numbers. In desperation the
girl's family contacted the American Consulate in Jerusalem. Thanks to their
intervention, the girl was rescued and left for the United States with her
"When a crowd of Christian men tried to stage a demonstration outside the
kidnapper's house, the Palestinian police-all of them Muslims-used excessive
force against the demonstrators. They fired into the air in an attempt to
disperse the crowd. At least thirty-five Christian men were injured. The
episode received virtually no international media coverage."
Weiner explains that this is far from being an isolated case: "A Muslim
family appeared uninvited on the doorstep of a wealthy Christian family in
the West Bank. They brought along a sheikh and demanded that the Christian
family's daughter, known for her beauty, marry their son. The father of the
Christian family asked for a two-day reprieve to think things over. The
Muslim family agreed, but then apparently reconsidered. They
reappeared-again uninvited-the following day. Their son was dressed up for
his wedding, accompanied by the sheikh and fifteen Muslim men. To protect
his family the Christian girl's father opened fire on the Muslim entourage,
killing three and wounding ten. The girl's family immediately abandoned
their home and fled abroad."
Persecuting Converts to Christianity
"In compliance with the sayings (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammed, Muslim
converts to Christianity are ruthlessly persecuted for changing their
faith. It is a common tactic to try to force Christians-by-choice to
repudiate their beliefs. One example involves two brothers whom I will
call Saliba and Najib, both converts to Christianity from the northern West
"After taking part in a Christian prayer session with German tourists, Najib
received a summons to appear before the Palestinian secret police. During
questioning he was accused of collaborating with Israeli and American
intelligence. After the interrogation the Palestinian police placed a
cardboard sign on his back upon which was written, 'Najib the Christian.'
Then he was told to 'curse Jesus.'
"Najib was told by the secret police that from then on his life would be
nothing but suffering. He was released at the end of the day and fled when
Palestinian police came to his house to detain him for more questioning. As
a fugitive from the PA, Najib made contact with Israelis who arranged for
him to hide in a bomb shelter in a Jewish settlement. He ended up staying
there for three years until he was granted asylum in Norway, where he lives
"Najib's brother Saliba spent twenty-one months in a PA prison-from August
2000 to May 2002-after being arrested on fabricated charges. He was held for
seven months in underground solitary confinement. Saliba testified to me and
my assistants about his suffering in that jail:
I was beaten with sticks; they stripped me naked and made me sit on bottles,
and on the legs of chairs that they turned upside down, and many, many other
sadistic things that I am even ashamed to say. Many times they allowed lynch
mobs like the Al-Aksa Brigades to come in and pull prisoners out of the
cells. They were taken out and shot on the spot, their bodies then dragged
through the streets for all to see.
Although complaints of Israeli misconduct are loudly voiced, Weiner is not
aware of any such complaints about these examples of Muslim misconduct.
"The PA had sentenced Saliba to be executed. However, before they could
carry this out he and others were liberated from prison by the Israel
Defense Forces, which entered the disputed territories in response to a wave
of suicide bombings that had killed hundreds of Israelis.
"After Saliba's liberation he was able to secure a temporary permit to live
in Israel. However, he was unable to obtain similar permits for his wife and
eight children. They remained behind in the disputed territories under
constant threat of harassment. Today Saliba lives in the town of Ramle in
Israel, unable to safely return to his family and hoping to find asylum in
Norway to join his brother."
The Murder of a Convert
"Of another Christian convert, Ahmad El-Achwal, the real name can be given
because he was murdered. He was married, a father of eight, and lived in the
Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus. The PA set out to make
Ahmad's life unbearable after he became a Christian.
"Ahmad was initially arrested on fabricated charges of stealing gold. The
only gold in the entire family was his daughter's delicate necklace, which
had been given to her for her birthday by her grandfather. The family still
had the receipt from the store where it was purchased. Ahmad was kept in a
tiny cell and regularly left without food or water for days on end. The
torture he sustained during the interrogation required lengthy
"When I interviewed Ahmad, he gave me photos of his injuries taken while he
was recuperating in a hospital. It was clear that he had been tortured.
Ahmad had suffered extensive and serious burns on his back, buttocks, and
legs. The heated torture implement that was applied to his skin reminded me
of similar medieval instruments.
"After he was released from prison, Ahmad began to use his apartment as an
informal church. He distributed booklets on Christianity and spoke to
Palestinian Muslims about his newfound faith. Ahmad did this despite his
fears of harassment and persecution.
"Over a seven-year period, Palestinian security forces repeatedly arrested
him and searched his home. Sometimes they confiscated his Bibles and other
religious books. Ahmad was again imprisoned for various periods that,
together, totaled over a year. Promises were made that if he reverted to
Islam he would be freed from prison and given a senior job in the PA with a
"Not all his suffering emanated directly from the PA. Ahmad operated a
falafel stand in Nablus. His Muslim landlord refused to continue renting it
to him because of his conversion to Christianity. He then moved to Jerusalem
to find work because of the ongoing harassment. However, when Ahmad went
back to visit his family in Askar, he was beaten by a group of masked men.
Palestinians affiliated with the PA security services also torched his car.
His residence was firebombed. On 21 January 2004, Ahmad was shot dead by
masked gunmen. His murderers have not been brought to justice."
Yet Another Murder
"Rami Khader Ayyad is another victim of murder motivated by religion. He
lived in Gaza City with his two children and his wife, who was pregnant with
their third. His Teachers Bookshop sold Bibles and Christian literature.
Ayyad was associated with the Palestinian Bible Society, which promotes
Christian presence in Muslim areas.
"In April 2007, Ayyad's store was firebombed by a Muslim 'vice squad' that
was attacking targets they connected with Western influence. According to
Ayyad's family and neighbors, he had regularly received anonymous death
threats from people angered by his missionary work.
"Ayyad was abducted on the evening of 6 October 2007 after closing his
store. He called his family to let them know he would be returning late in
the evening. Ayyad's lifeless body was found early the next morning with
visible signs of torture, including a gunshot wound in the head and numerous
stab wounds. Witnesses and security officials stated that they watched three
armed men, two of them wearing masks, beat Ayyad repeatedly with clubs and
the butts of their guns while accusing him of spreading Christianity in
Gaza. These witnesses said that after the three men beat Ayyad, each of them
"Sheikh Abu Saqer, leader of Gaza's Jihadia Salafiya Islamic program,
asserted that while his group did not carry out the Ayyad murder,
'Christians engaging in missionary activity in Gaza would be dealt with
"Pastor Isa Bajalia contacted me in autumn 2007. I had interviewed him four
different times over the past eight or ten years. The pastor called me
because of death threats he was receiving. If something were to happen to
him, he wanted me to have a video testament explaining the true source of
his demise. He is an understated individual who never before had revealed to
me this sense of urgency concerning danger to his own life or anyone else's
from his congregation.
"Bajalia served for sixteen years in Ramallah and is primarily involved with
counseling and humanitarian efforts in the area. Over two months before he
called me Bajalia had been receiving threats to pay extortion money in the
amount of $30,000 USD. They also demanded that he sign over a portion of his
family land to their ownership.
"The men threatening Bajalia intimidated him on a daily basis. Their
harassment has made it impossible for Bajalia to function in his normal
pastoral capacity in Ramallah. He was threatened as follows: 'If you don't
do what we want, we can get you no matter whether you are in the States or
here.' They threatened to break his arms and legs and said to him, 'We will
do to you what was done to Rami in Gaza.'
"Pastor Bajalia was forced to disconnect his cell-phone line because of the
relentless threatening calls. He knew that the men making the threats were
capable of violence, so as a U.S. citizen he sought assistance from the
American Consulate. Thereafter he also asked for help from three PA
officials. They, however, demanded thousands of dollars to protect him. One
of them offered, 'I'll be your bodyguard. Our group will back you up. We'll
get this resolved for you; just give me $5,000.'
"Pastor Bajalia explained to me how a few weeks before he was forced to
leave Ramallah, one of those threatening him was closing in on his trail.
About fifteen minutes after Bajalia departed a friend's house in Ramallah, a
green-uniformed militiaman of the Tanzim-a violent, aggressive faction of
the Fatah movement-showed up at the friend's house bearing a pistol.
"Following continued and intensified threats of violence, Pastor Bajalia
fled to the United States in fear for his life. He stayed in Alabama for
more than a month, thereafter returning in January 2008 to Jerusalem.
Bajalia is still extremely concerned that these men might locate him."
"Harassment of Christian Arabs is widespread under the Palestinian regime.
On an ever-increasing scale, they have been losing their jobs, have had
their land taken over by criminal gangs in cooperation with the PA Land
Registration Office, and Christian women have resorted to wearing
conservative Muslim women's garb so as not to be harassed.
"Palestinian gunmen set fire to the YMCA in the West Bank city of Qalqilya.
A seventy-six-year-old Greek Orthodox monk was beaten up in Bethlehem by
Muslim villagers, his olive trees uprooted, and his monastery was defaced
with graffiti depicting nuns being raped.
"In February 2006, an explosive device blew off the doors of the Bible
Society in Gaza. The attackers then moved on to the nearby Greek Orthodox
Church, which they then shot up. Pamphlets were left at the bookshop
threatening the landlord for dealing with 'infidels.' This was followed by
the bombing of the bookshop in April 2007 along with three other Christian
"In protest against the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI about Islam and the
Prophet Muhammad in 2006, seven churches were attacked in the West Bank and
Gaza by Palestinians carrying guns, firebombs, and lighter fluid. This
included a shooting attack on a church fašade in the Zeitoun neighborhood of
Gaza City as well as the firebombing of an Anglican church in the West Bank
city of Nablus.
"Since the election of the Hamas government in 2006, and the coup by which
Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007, religious tension has only intensified.
Hamas has enacted policies that are turning the PA into an Islamic
theocracy, and the Christian religion and its followers are consistently
discriminated against. The situation erupted on 15 February 2008 when Muslim
militants bombed the Gaza City YMCA library and on 16 May when a bomb
went off in a Christian school."
Hiding the Problems
Weiner says he became aware of the many crimes against Christian Arabs under
the Palestinian regime when, ten years ago, a Christian lay pastor said to
him, "You're a human rights lawyer, what are you doing for the Christian
Arabs?" Weiner replied that he was not doing anything for them as he was not
aware they had any problems. The pastor then said: "Let me send you some
people to interview and once you've done that make up your own mind."
Weiner remarks: "That began my education process on this subject. The
problem I had the most difficulty understanding was why the large, powerful,
populous Christian world has permitted this to go on for so long. This is
the more surprising as the PA is in such need of funds and political
support. Ten years down the road I can only say that it is a sad testimony
for contemporary Christianity.
"I discovered a wide gap between the Palestinian Christian leadership and
their flock. The former tended, for many years, to put on their nice robes
and hats to meet Arafat for religious occasions. They are the same people
who keep touring around the United States and being feted in different
locations where they repeat the false story that everything is fine.
"These patriarchs and archbishops of Christian Arab denominations who are
currently deceiving the international community are self-interested people.
They collaborate with the Muslim perpetrators of intimidation and violence.
Against all evidence they claim that the Christians Arabs are living
comfortable and prosperous lives. In fact the present situation is growing
worse by the day."
Putting Their People in Danger
"These Christian leaders obfuscate the truth and put their own people in
danger. This is often for personal benefit or due to intimidation. In the
Palestinian areas the Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, and many other leaders
will all sing the tune of the Palestinian Authority-at least publicly.
Others who are not senior will describe the reality in private because they
Weiner observes that a number of Palestinian Christian leaders deny the
human rights crimes perpetrated against their flock. "Often in cooperation
with the Palestinian leadership they claim that the situation is not bad for
the Christian Arabs. In response to Rami Khader Ayyad's death, Monsignor
Manual Masallam, head of Gaza's Roman Catholic community, asserted-against
all the evidence-that the attack was not religiously motivated.
"When asked if Christians in Gaza feel oppressed in their own cities,
Musallam answered that, 'Palestinian Christians are not a religious
community set apart.... Our relationship with Hamas is as people of one
nation.' He also explicitly stated that Christian emigration has nothing to
do with the Muslim population and that the Christians in Gaza still enjoy
all the same rights as their Muslim neighbors.
"The dilemma is how to get the world to listen to and respect the experience
and the warnings of the ordinary Christian, the ordinary priest and
reverend, and to disregard the endorsements of the PA that are mouthed by
their religious leaders.
"In private a variety of Christians will tell you that they are suffering
from the pressures by Muslims. In public these same people will berate
Israel for the security fence and the occupation. It has become an old game
and Israelis understand it. One wonders when foreign journalists and NGOs
will finally start to understand it."
The Verification Process
As to the veracity of his information, Weiner explains: "I am often asked
how I verify what I am told. The answer is that I began this work ten years
ago. I now look at cases over time, having learned that witnesses usually
become more candid as you get to know them better. One of the last questions
in any interview is who else can confirm, reinforce, or explain further what
the witness provided. The result is a fairly good perspective of the iceberg
effect. In these cases one is seeing only a little bit of the crimes that go
on under the Palestinian regime. People usually are afraid or intimidated
and aren't willing to describe everything that happened.
"Pretty much across the board the Christian Arabs that I interviewed were
reticent to tell their story. I had to track them down and prove that I was
a reliable person they could talk to. I also had to promise them to use a
pseudonym and to change their city/town/village of residence.
"There is a huge difference as compared to the human rights situation in
Israel. When I worked at the Israeli Justice Ministry (1981-1994, as
director of the Department of American Law and External Relations) we heard
many human rights allegations against the government, the army, and the
prison service. Often the people making these complaints, or the
organizations representing them rushed to call press conferences. They were
looking for an instant headline. With the Palestinian Christians everything
that concerns human rights is hushed up."
The Israeli Security Situation
"Part of the Christian Palestinian emigration also stems from problems
relating to Israel. There are two primary issues. The first is that the
Israeli Interior Ministry has not been forthcoming enough in issuing visas
to foreign Christian clergy wanting to come and work in Israel. It has
become quite difficult for individuals to obtain visas to work in schools,
embassies, or churches here in Israel, a point that has poisoned some clergy
"As a result of a new single-entry visa rule, Christian church workers
currently in the country are also finding it difficult to travel between
their parishes and their churches' offices in Jerusalem. Father Jack Abed, a
parish priest of the Melkite Catholic community near Ramallah, claimed that
these new rules violate understandings between Israel and the Vatican. He
stated that: 'One of the agreements is the freedom of movement and worship.
There is no freedom of movement if Israel wants to limit visas to a single
"These visa restrictions have resulted from the major security threats to
Israel, some of which come from the Christian community itself. For example,
Archimandrite Atallah Hanna, an Israeli Arab serving as the official
spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, is reported to have
praised Palestinian suicide bombers as heroes in a closed-door meeting in
Haifa. Hanna is quoted as stating, 'These martyrdom freedom fighters are the
heroes of the people and we are proud of them.' According to the report,
Hanna urged Christian Arabs to 'join the resistance against the Israeli
occupation in all forms and methods.' Hanna later denied having made
"A second issue that has increased the emigration of Palestinian Christians
involves a combination of the building of the security fence and the
political anarchy that plagues the Palestinian-controlled areas. Many
Palestinian Christians point out that besides the disruptions from internal
Palestinian instability and lawlessness, the economic hardship and
unemployment is caused by the cutoff from outside aid due to Israeli
security measures that bar most Palestinians from working inside Israel.
Villagers are allowed to cross the separation barriers only if they hold
The International Christian Community
Weiner states: "Many in the international Christian leaderships knowingly
remain silent about the suffering of the Palestinian Christians. Others,
rather than identify the true Palestinian perpetrators of crimes against
their people, take the politically correct path by blaming Israel. All
unrest and suffering in the region is routinely attributed to actions-or
omissions-by Israel without acknowledging or condemning Muslim violence. In
particular, church officials often criticize Israel for the decline in
Christian populations in the West Bank and Gaza as well as for the hardships
the Christian Arabs endure under Fatah and Hamas rule.
"The Western Christian leaders who spread this message include leaders of
American Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Thus the former leader of the
Episcopal Church (USA), the Reverend Edmond L. Browning, frequently
oversimplified the very intricate reality in the Middle East by implying
that the conflict can be resolved by a few simple concessions by Israel.
Meanwhile he and his church remained silent about the unique evil of suicide
bombing and have yet to demand that Hamas recognize Israel or dismantle its
"Supplementing its well-known anti-Israel agenda, the Episcopal Church
maintains strong ties with Friends of Sabeel-North America. For example,
Browning donated $10,000 to the organization. In addition, the Episcopal
Church has passed resolutions pressing Motorola to prohibit sale of its
products or the provision of services to persons living in the disputed
territories. There was no parallel demand that Palestinians cease their
terrorist violence. Nor were U.S. companies urged to ensure that what they
sold to the Palestinians was not used in violent attacks on Israelis.
"Among the other one-sided resolutions of the Episcopal Church was a
condemnation of Israel's security barrier that was not accompanied by any
parallel demand on the Palestinians to stop the terrorist attacks that
prompted the construction of what is more accurately known as a fence.
Leaders of other North American churches including the Methodists, the
United Church of Christ, and the Lutherans have also gone to great lengths
to offer up one-sided condemnations of Israeli policies. Most of these
perennial critics are linked to the Sabeel Center."
Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld
* * *
 Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 2001), 50. Dhimmis were treated as second-class citizens
and were often discriminated against. Muhammad ordered and practiced ethnic
cleansing by removing all Jews, Christians, and pagans from the Arabian
Peninsula. Walid Shoebat, Why I Left Jihad: The Root of Terrorism and the
Return of Radical Islam (Top Executive Media, 2005).
 Jerusalem Post Christian Edition,
 Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, Their Blood Cries Out (Nashville, TN:
Thomas Nelson, 2007); Nina Shea, In the Lion's Den: A Shocking Account of
Persecuted and Martyrdom of Christians Today and How We Should Respond
(Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2007).
 "2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," U.S. Department of
State, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 6 March
 Sandro Magister, "The Mayor of Bethlehem Is Christian, but It's Hamas
That's in Charge," 21 May 2007,
 "Bethlehem Belongs to Hamas," Israel Today, 20 July 2005.
 Aaron Klein, "Media's Two-Faced Christmas Coverage: Muslims Driving
Christians out of Bethlehem, but Media Outlets Choose to Blame Israel,"
Ynetnews, 24 December 2007,
 Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 247-48, cited in Jerusalem Post
Christian Edition, http://www.jpost.com/ce%20February%202007.
 Julie Stahl, "Gaza Bible Society Surprised by Bomb Attack," Cybercast
News Service, 16 April 2007,
 Isabel Kershner, "Palestinian Christians Look Back on a Year of
Troubles," New York Times, 11 March 2007,
 The highest of Islamic sources unequivocally calls for the killing of
converts. This came from the Hadith (sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad. Ruth
Gledhill, "Whoever Changes His Islamic Religion-Kill Him," Times Online, 21
March 2006, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article743382.ece.
 In the case of a Christian Arab named Aiman, such incentives (release
from custody, a job, an office) were offered. He recalled: "The jailors
demanded that I revert back to Islam...go to a religious Islamic school in
Saudi Arabia or Gaza...and then go up to the minaret and say: 'Allah is
great and God has no son' over the loudspeaker...and to confess the names
and addresses of the people that I had converted, or were involved in
 "Palestinian Christian Activist Killed in Gaza," Kuwaiti Times, 8
October 2007, www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTIwNDI3NDc5MQ.
 Eric Young, "Witnesses: Slain Palestinian Was Tortured for Spreading
Christianity," Christian Post, 11 October 2007,
 He was also visiting a seriously ill relative there.
 Stahl, "Gaza Bible Society."
 "Militants Bomb Gaza YMCA Library," BBC News, 15 February 2008,
Associated Press, "Bomb Explodes at Christian School," JPost.com, 17 May
 Mohammad Omer, "Coexistence in Gaza," The Electronic Intifada, 28
November 2007, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9126.shtml.
 Associated Press, "Israel Rescinds Arab Christian Clergy Travel Rights
in West Bank," Haaretz, 27 October 2007 (last update),
 Khaled Abu Toameh, "Greek Orthodox Church Spokesman Says Suicide
Bombers Are 'Heroes,'" Jerusalem Post, 12 January 2003.
 Kershner, "Palestinian Christians."
 Brian J. Grieves, No Outcasts: The Public Witness of Edmond L. Browning
(Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 1997).
 According to their website, Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA)
works in the United States and Canada to support the vision of
Jerusalem-based Sabeel, a Christian liberation-theology organization. FOSNA
cultivates the support of American churches through cosponsored regional
educational conferences, alternative pilgrimage, witness trips, and
international gatherings in the Holy Land (www.fosna.org).
 Daniel Pipes, "Christianity Dying in Its Birthplace," New York Sun, 13
September 2005," www.daniel pipes.org/article/2937.
* * *
Justus Reid Weiner is an international human rights lawyer, a member of the
Israel and New York bar associations, and a fellow of the Jerusalem Center
for Public Affairs. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the School of
Law (Boalt Hall), University of California, Berkeley. Weiner's professional
publications have appeared in leading law journals and intellectual
magazines. He is currently a fellow in residence at the JCPA and an adjunct
lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Weiner was formerly a
visiting assistant professor at the School of Law, Boston University.