The Plight of Christians in the West Bank

Here is a bit from recent reportage by British journalist Peter Hitchens:

[In the West Bank] I saw the outline of a society, slowly forming amid the wreckage, in which a decent person might live, work, raise children and attempt to live a good life. But I also saw and heard distressing things.

One – which I feel all of us should be aware of – is the plight of Christian Arabs under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. More than once I heard them say: ‘Life was better for us under Israeli rule.’

One young man, lamenting the refusal of the Muslim-dominated courts to help him in a property dispute with squatters, burst out: ‘We are so alone! All of us Christians feel so lonely in this country.’

This conversation took place about a mile from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where tourists are given the impression that the Christian religion is respected. Not really.

I was told, in whispers, of the unprintable desecration of this shrine by Palestinian gunmen when they seized the church in 2002 – ‘world opinion’ was exclusively directed against Israel. I will not name the people who told me these things.

I have also decided not to name another leading Christian Arab who told me of how his efforts to maintain Christian culture in the West Bank had met with official thuggery and intimidation.

My guide and host reckons there are 30,000 Christians in the three neighbouring municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour and Beit- Jala. Soon there will be far fewer. He has found out that 2,000 emigrated between 2001 and 2004, a process which has not stopped. What is most infuriating about this is that many Christians in Britain are fed propaganda blaming this on the Israelis.

Arabs can oppress each other, without any help from outside. Because the Palestinian cause is a favourite among Western Leftists, they prefer not to notice that it is largely an aggressive Islamic cause.

23 Responses to The Plight of Christians in the West Bank

  1. j. christian says:

    Thanks for the article, BA. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

    The account of the man with the pregnant wife begging militants not to fire rockets from his neighborhood shows how disconnected the PA leadership is from the average Palestinian. This is self-determination? It reminds me of some of the accounts I used to read about the violence in Northern Ireland: There are political actors whose vested interest is in maintaining a level of violence that is high enough to keep them in power, but low enough not to blow up and threaten their personal safety. Crisis is profitable as long as it doesn’t kill you. And it’s not a threat to the bankrollers in Iran or elsewhere in the Islamic world.

  2. Tim Shipe says:

    I have no doubt that the situation between Palestinian Muslims and Christians has been changing since the time I was a witness back in the early 90’s. It is a little late in the game to try to write a revised history blaming most of the collective sufferings of the Palestinian Christians on extremist Palestinian Muslims.

    As for current reportage- I trust the “conservative” Deal Hudson who has absolutely no reason to mislead anyone on the situation of Palestinian Christians- he has been making regular trips for a while now, and he seems to meet with a wide range of sources in Israel/Palestine.

    If you have any particular questions about the situation- you can email him directly- I’ve found him to be very available and willing to engage on the subject- and as for bias- it is much more in his personal interests in managing a conservative American publication, to come out with a strong pro-Israel viewpoint- but he doesn’t- he isn’t anti-Israeli, he seems to have had a similar experience, as I did, in being an actual witness to some of the daily life in the Holy Land. Take it for what it’s worth- he’s an example of some of Deal’s balanced reportage: http://www.insidecatholic.com/feature/will-benedict-xvi-challenge-palestinian-and-israeli-extremism.html

  3. Art Deco says:

    Dr. Hudson wrote an article a while back for Crisis criticizing the erection of a security fence by the Israeli government. As with other critics of Israel, this betrays a confused understanding of acts and consequences.

  4. Blackadder says:

    I don’t understand opposition to the security fence. Whatever negatives are associated with the fence in terms of freedom of movement, etc. would seem to be more than outweighed by the 90% reduction is suicide bombing since it has been built. Criticisms of the fence never seem to acknowledge this, perhaps because if they did their case against the fence would collapse.

  5. Tim Shipe says:

    The security fence would not have faced harsh criticism had it been aligned with the internationally-recognized 1967 borders- but when the wall cuts into disputed territory unfairly and with the bad intent to take land de facto, hidden behind the legit intent to stop attacks- well this is going to be considered as a major negative. Again- I was there well before the Wall and the second Intifada- before you could blaime Islamists for the Conflict- but Deal Hudson has seen the effects of the Wall and has written about it- why not drop him an email?

  6. Art Deco says:

    Criticisms of the fence never seem to acknowledge this,

    Would not speak about Dr. Hudson in this regard, but it stands to reason that the critics in general do not give a rat’s ass about security in Israel.

  7. Blackadder says:

    The security fence would not have faced harsh criticism had it been aligned with the internationally-recognized 1967 borders

    I’ve never heard anyone criticizing the fence say “of course we support building a fence, but building it where it is is the problem.” Most of the criticism I’ve seen has been directed to the existence of the barrier itself, or to certain consequences (e.g. reduced ability of Palestinians to enter Israel) that would be present no matter where it was built.

  8. Blackadder says:

    Tim,

    Regarding Mr. Hudson, if you want to point me to something he’s published that deals with the wall, feel free. I’m not so interested in what he would say privately in this regard.

  9. Ivan says:

    The security fence was Israel’s response to the waves of suicide bombings originating from the West Bank. The early successes convinced the evil Muslims that they had found the ultimate weapon against Israel. But under the leadership Ariel Sharon the Israedlis were able to turn back the tide and win both on the field and the propaganda front. The Palestinians lost big time, it must suck to lose everytime. By any convention of war, the loser pays. The fence is the direct result of the so-called Intifada. Frankly American Catholics should lobby for the Middle Eastern refugee quota to be open only to Christians. Going by the recent synod, the only political function of Christians there is to scream at Israel whenever the Muslims twist their necks.

  10. Tim Shipe says:

    I have to disagree that much of the criticism of the Wall was not in large measure to the fact that it was being built in part outside the 67′ boundaries- which was a primary factor in the disruption of daily/personal life for Palestinians caught in the middle. I am pretty familiar with the voices of dissent in the Israeli-Palestinan question- and heard a lot of the criticism being directed at the border/disruption of life part of the equation- since most critics of Israel hold that the best chance for lasting peace is to go with the 67′ borders, it wouldn’t make sense for the critics, like myself, to go after Israel for building a Wall on those 67′ borders- so I really have to question your perception on the Wall issue. In fact if Israel had built the Wall on those 67′ borders there would have been a lot of good reactions because it would have demonstrated that all Israel wants is peace with the Palestinians and not more and more of what should become a contiguous Palestinian State.

  11. Wouldn’t the fact that they built a wall at all, even on a different set of borders, indicate that they don’t want “more and more of what should become a contiguous Palestinian State”?

    It would be the lack of a wall which would indicate an intention to creep.

  12. Tim Shipe says:

    But if the Wall already “creeps” into the what is commonly called the Occupied Territories, it sure looks like a preemptive land grab- which is something the Geneva Conventions has explicitly given a thumbs down to. Now if we are to just disregard standard international law norms if Israel is the one breaking said norm- then we expose ourselves and the norms to just charges that it is Might that Makes Right- and we are back to the nasty era prior to WWII

  13. So is the objection that the building of the wall where it was built indicates that Israel will later expand further and take more territory from the prospective Palestinian state, or is it that it indicates a solid set of borders, but not the set of borders which Palestinians would like to have?

    On Hudson: I understand that Hudson has chosen to strongly take sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it’s just that nothing in his coverage I’ve read on the topic has failed to fall into the rather simplistic narrative that Peter Hitchens points out and criticizes in the linked article. One need certainly not think that Israel has done no wrong to agree with Hitchens’ take over the overall situation, which I think is refreshingly clear-eyed.

  14. Art Deco says:

    I have to disagree that much of the criticism of the Wall was not in large measure to the fact that it was being built in part outside the 67′ boundaries- which was a primary factor in the disruption of daily/personal life for Palestinians caught in the middle.

    There is a distinction between motives and pretexts.

    The wall actually tracks the 1967 border fairly closely

    http://www.securityfence.mod.gov.il/Pages/ENG/map_eng.htm

    It is at no point more than about 3 miles inland.

    Now if we are to just disregard standard international law norms if Israel is the one breaking said norm- then we expose ourselves and the norms to just charges that it is Might that Makes Right- and we are back to the nasty era prior to WWII

    You can’t be serious.

  15. Ivan says:

    Building the wall on the so called 1967 borders would mean that Israel implicitly gives in to Hamas’ demands. Hamas famously proposed a ‘hudna’ or ceasefire in the Mohamedan fashion in return for Israel retrenching to the 1967 lines.( This is like a wrestling midget giving Hulk Hogan a break.) Joking aside, the Israelis had made it clear to the Palestinians that they would suffer territorial losses if the war continued. For one reason or another the saner Palestinians could not control the militants and thus they suffer the consequences.

  16. Tim Shipe says:

    Well – I know that I am one of the very few around here who tacks with the Vatican on foreign policy- but adherence to international law is a very big point of emphasis from our Church leaders – explicitly in the case of determining the way forward in Israel-Palestine. I’m going to hold firm with the Church – you can’t just settle on land conquered during war time- and the Palestinian Right of Return must be addressed- be it in some serious land swap or compensation- we have to be able to juggle at least two balls in the air- yes- the Islamist movement among Palestinians is a big deal as a challenge to Christian Palestinians and to a peaceful resolution- but Israel’s management of the Conflict has been terrible, and it is Israel where American influence is the greatest- if you just look at the money, the military aid, and the political cover given Israel by the U.S. in international bodies. If Israel wanted peace they would not have started allowing settlers to take chunks of land in the Occupied Territories- these settlements went up during times of high, low, or no actual terrorism. That’s a pretty big plank in the eye of Israel’s champions.

  17. Art Deco says:

    You are confused.

    What you referred to as ‘the 1967 borders’ are properly referred to as ‘the 1949 armistice lines’. There is nothing so compelling about them that modest adjustments in their contours cannot be contemplated.

    I’m going to hold firm with the Church – you can’t just settle on land conquered during war time- and the Palestinian Right of Return must be addressed- be it in some serious land swap

    Nothing to swap and I do not recall that it is the position of the Church that the State of Israel be liquidated as a political entity.

  18. Art Deco says:

    If Israel wanted peace they would not have started allowing settlers to take chunks of land in the Occupied Territories- these settlements went up during times of high, low, or no actual terrorism. That’s a pretty big plank in the eye of Israel’s champions.

    Prior to 1977, the settlements were security-oriented and confined to a band of territory along the Jordan River which had only about 40,000 Arab residents. Didn’t matter.

    One might note that the unilateral evacuation of the Gaza Strip has garnered Israel exactly squat.

  19. Tim Shipe says:

    The situation in the Gaza Strip is unique in that it is a very confining land mass with incredibly high population concentration- for the Israelis to put settlements there taking the best locations and needing heavy, heavy security – it was a total lose-lose scenario- so pulling the settlements while keeping military control and easy access for assassinations and bombings- was completely in Israel’s cynical self-interests- but of course not in the Israel peoples actual self-interests- since operating a virtual prison of so many people cannot lead to anything good for you in this life if you are concerned with leaving your children with a safer tomorrow. Deal Hudson’s contacts seem to have a good read on the situation in Gaza- but it seems that some here at American Catholic disregard his reporting- as if he has some completely counterproductive motive to make the raising of funds for his online work much more difficult- given the climate of American conservatives who tend to be over-the-top in praise of all things Israel- the Buchanan wing of American conservatives being the notable exception.

    Now the situation in East Jerusalem and West Bank is very different from Gaza- and so we see that Israel has not made moves to pull back the settler movement in those areas- not because of the “lessons” learned in being so generous in Gaza- but there are other potential motives- there is more room to manuever in West Bank to continue to disrupt the dream of a contiguous Palestinian state- and many Israelis are fanatically attached to the idea that All of Jerusalem should be their eternal capital – so the dominant population of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are being targeted for slow drip ethnic cleansing.

    And in West Bank- I personally witnessed the incredible situation in Hebron where a couple of hundred Israeli settlers decided to take over part of the city, and the Israeli military has provided the security in a town of around 100,000 Palestinians- it was insanity- a total provocation to violence – this was back in the early 90’s, I couldn’t believe that the Palestinians were so restrained- these experiences are where I developed a strong interest in defending the general lines of the Palestinian cause against the overwhelming superiority of the American propaganda providing Israel with preferential treatment – especially in the national media and national-level politics- it is almost like the Manchurian Candidate listening to every major candidate for president gush in praise of the State of Israel every election cycle. I get very suspicious when both major parties seem to be reading from the same Talking Points- it used to be that way with the Cuba Embargo- at least that lock-step issue seems to be softening- I had hoped that 9-11 would get American politicians to start thinking outside the box concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue- but that still has not happened- not even with a “Muslim” :} President.

  20. Tony says:

    Tim, until the non-violent Palestinians can get enough of a control over the violent Palestinians to actually guarantee to Israel some real sense of freedom from attacks, it seems to hardly be possible for Israel to form a worthwhile plan of negotiations toward peaceful 2-state settlement. Do you see ANY sort of development that would enable the non-violent Palestinians to gain enough of the upper hand to actual squelch violent Palestinians? Can you imagine ANY sort of comprehensible concessions by Israel that could actually lead to the non-violent Palestinians really controlling their land and their people. From what I can tell, that wouldn’t necessarily happen if Israel said: “here, take the whole of Jerusalem, take 90% of Israel, and we will only keep this one small enclave in Tel Aviv”, this would STILL not result in freedom from Islamicist extremists lobbing missiles at them now and again. How then can Israel make sincere efforts toward erecting a viable 2-state solution that still won’t give them security?

    In spite of that, I tend to agree that Israel may have made a strategic blunder with the wall, along with creating a severe humanitarian problem that they did not think through sufficiently.

    Is there any traction in Israel for a proposal that Israel simply pay Palestine for the occupied land, outright, and pay, say, moving costs and emigration “fees” to neighboring states to encourage Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt to accept refugees and allow them to settle in real Muslim communities? I mean, really, if Israel looks at the cost of its security apparatus, it cannot be less than paying something like 100,000 per family to move to them elsewhere, settle them in real houses/apartments, and get them started in real jobs, shops, etc. And if you move most of the Muslims out, and leave Christian Palestinians there, by and large the Christians will be willing to live in peace in an Isreali state that is a formally Jewish state.

  21. Tim Shipe says:

    Tony- I am not as knowledgeable with the situation on the ground today as I was when I stayed in the Holy Land for several months back in the early 90’s- there was a lot of years where the Palestinian violence was extremely low, and the tensions between Palestinian Muslims and Christians was minimal- and these were years when I judge Israel’s leadership for not making good faith negotiations- for example after Oslo the number of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories DOUBLED- they obviously took advantage of the good faith of the collective Palestinian people in order to create what they themselves coined- new “facts on the ground”- to make it more difficult or impossible to give the Palestinians a clear title to West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza- where the Palestinians were historically and presently an overwhelming majority of residents.

    Now to fast forward to today- whatever good faith there was between Israel advocates and Palestinian advocates is finished- I am personally an advocate for both peoples but I see that the U.S./Israeli side is where the lion share of my responsibly resides since it is my government that subsidizes and enables the mostly secular nation of Israel to thrive despite the many just criticisms that are directed at Israel from the international community.

    Those who love to tie Palestinian nationalism to the Islamist movement that seems headed by the likes of Bin Laden are really reaching- though it is no surprise that many Palestinians Muslims would look for alternative heroes who are doing battle with those who are most directly responsible for their oppression. I go along with the thinking of Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul, that a lot of our problems in the Middle East come about through “Blowback” from our policies of heavy support for Israel and ruling dynasties and dictators who use heavy-handed means of controlling their own people- or in Israel’s case- controlling through occupation the Palestinian people.

    For one to claim that the Israel-Palestine conflict is primarily a religious war between religious Jews and religious Muslims, with religious Christians caught in between- that claim fits neatly with the central Atheist claim that religion is a poison for the world. Dinesh D’Souza blew this argument out of the water in his great book- What’s So Great About Christianity- in it he disputes the many conflicts attributed to religious motives by Atheists- including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So, my friends here at American Catholic seem to be undermining D’Souza’s thesis and handing the Atheist apologists a gift real world example on a silver platter. I will soon provide an article with a more extensive quote from D’Souza’s book to make my case.

  22. Tim Shipe says:

    Here is some more food for thought:

    http://english.pnn.ps/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9038&Itemid=64

    Israeli settlers burning down a Palestinian Christian Church??

%d bloggers like this: