Writing in Time Magazine’s MidEast Blog for May 8, 2009, anti-Israeli columnist Andrew Lee Butters introduced Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the region with a searing indictment of Israel’s presumably oppressive treatment of the Christian population in the Holy Land. According to this authority, “the creation of Israel has been a disaster for Christians in the Middle East,” who formerly prospered under “the multi-sectarian and tolerant history of Arab and Islamic culture.”
Indeed, not only is the so-called Israeli “occupation of the West Bank strangling the life out of those Christian communities that are left,” but it is also responsible for the “civil war between Muslims and Christians” in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood’s terror campaign against the Coptic community in Egypt. Go figure! The range of Butters’ latest access of cognitive dissonance is quite breathtaking and leads us to wonder what he will find to blame Israel for next. Darfur? Zimbabwe? Sri Lanka?
The National Geographic, too, has just joined the paper war against Israel, its June 2009 issue featuring a cover article in which Palestinian Christians are compared to rats trapped in an ever-tightening Israeli cage. Of course, the Crusades, American foreign policy and pro-Israeli Christians also come in for the magazine’s righteous wrath while the bloody history and practice of Islamic violence and oppression from the 7th century to the present moment are airbrushed out of the picture. Two other victims of the magazine’s vendetta are context and truth. But Israeli Jews are the culprits of choice.
These are by no means isolated moments in the propaganda offensive against Israel along the entire continuum from the secular to the religious. The Methodist Church New England Conference recently convened to advocate divestment from companies doing business in Israel, alleging that Israeli “actions endanger Christians.” This, once again, is pure libel. The Christian Arab population in Israel is the only Christian community in the Middle East that need not fear the ravages of ethno-religious cleansing.
Consider Gaza for example, where Hamas and radical Muslim sects are driving Christians from their homes and places of worship. The Salafi movement is determined to expel the 2,500 Christians living in the Strip. Individual Christians have been attacked by Muslim gunmen, and both the Latin Church and the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza City were torched and looted, followed by the destruction of the YMCA library with its 8,000 books. The director of the Teacher’s Bookshop, run by the Palestinian Bible Society, was stabbed to death. On December 8, 2007, Salafi gunmen tried to kidnap a guard at a Gaza City church—it was his cousin who was killed two months earlier. And on December 22, 2008, Hamas legalized crucifixion.
Further afield, Egypt has repressed its Christian minority for generations, Sudan has closed the Christian Unity High School in Khartoum, Malaysia has confiscated Christian books on the grounds that they are offensive “to the sensibilities of Muslims” (washingtonpost.com), Jordan has arrested eight Christian evangelicals for “propagating the Christian faith” (Media Line News Agency), Algeria is cracking down on Evangelical churches whose liturgy, in the words of Algerian minister of religious affairs, Bouabdellah Ghlamallah, is equivalent to “terrorism” (Realite-EU), and the Shi’a majority in Basra is killing and abducting Christians, having already forced the cancellation of the 2007 Christmas festivities.
Catholic churches are frequently bombed in Iraq, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Paulus Faraj Rahho, was abducted and killed—he was not the first—and on May 21, 2009, a suicide bomber detonated in an Assyrian Christian market in Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding twice that number. Estimates put the current exodus of Christians from Iraq at over half the Christian population of the country. None of which has anything to do with Israel and everything to do with Muslim “sensitivities.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has added his episcopal clout to this cargo of anti-Israeli archrubbish, claiming that the Israeli security fence, built “ostensibly for keeping out the terrorists,” is contributing to the decline of the Christian community in the Holy Land (italics mine). Kenneth Woodward, contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is apparently of the same mind, opining that the Christian community in Bethlehem is being squeezed by “Israel’s security wall, its restrictive exit permit system, roadblocks and military checkpoints [that] make it impossible for most Holy Land Christians to visit the shrines…” (December 24, 2007). But the truth, as is usual in such situations, is the complete opposite.
We recall that it was Palestinian gunmen who occupied and defaced the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. According to the IMIA (International Media Intelligence Analysis) for September 25, 2007, citing a Christian leader in Nazareth, the Christian community in the West Bank could become extinct within 15 years owing to the systematic persecution led by organizations with links to Mahmoud Abbas. Evangelical pastor Isa Bajalia reported that he was forced by a Fatah security official to flee Ramallah, where he had served his parish for the last sixteen years, for the safety of Jerusalem.
Writing in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (February 2, 2008), Saudi journalist Hussein Shukakshi made no bones about the eclipse and emigration of Christians from Arab lands: “the Arab world is being drained of its Christian residents. The rate of Christian emigration from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, and Syria has reached astonishing proportions. Palestine in particular is facing a plan to eradicate the entire deeply-rooted Christian presence from all its territories.”
In his column for Al-Ayyam (October 25, 2008), Palestinian journalist ‘Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar arrives at the same conclusion: “Christians are being persecuted…in most Arab countries.” In Palestine, “the trend is the same….The most fundamental problem [is that] we continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians as infidels.” Hanna Massad, Pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church, does not mince his words either: “This is ethnic cleansing at its worst” (Cybercast News Service). Human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, writing in IBL News from a Christian View (December 5, 2007), quotes pastor (and author) Don Finto to the effect that, while receiving civil treatment in Israel, “The Christian community in the Palestinian areas has shrunk to 1.7 percent”—down from its staple 15 percent.
Finto also points out that the Christian population of Bethlehem, once a majority, has decreased by a factor of four to the status of a besieged minority. Bethlehem has now become a dangerous city for West Bank Christians—a fact which has nothing whatsoever to do with Israeli activities. The Vatican is quite aware of this alarming development, having “relocated” the Nativity Scene, traditionally displayed in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, from the manger in Bethlehem to Joseph’s carpentry shop in Nazareth and giving as its reason that it was “time for a change.” The Church’s Muslim assailants will obviously concur with this act of symbolic displacement.
According to Vatican officials, there is a textual basis for this decision, namely Matthew 1: 24-25 where we learn that Joseph “took unto him his wife:/and knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son…,” which suggests the miraculous event may have taken place in Joseph’s home city of Nazareth. The learned fathers have obviously not proceeded in their reading of the Scriptures as far as the second chapter of Matthew, verse 1, where we are surprised to discover that “…Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” (The practice of exegetical typology is also put in some jeopardy since the patristic interpretation of the famous passage in Micah 5:2—a “Parenthesis” referring to “the birth and rejection of the King” and collated with various chapters in the Book of Matthew, which tells us that the “ruler in Israel” will come out of Bethlehem—must now be discounted as well.)
What will happen to the Nativity Scene when Nazareth is depopulated of its Christians is another question. Perhaps it can be transferred to Tel Aviv. But the act of sterilization is a widespread phenomenon, abetted by Christian spinelessness and duplicity beyond the borders of this latest Mortality Scene. A Church official told Israeli-Arab reporter Khaled Abu Toameh that “radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care” (Jerusalem Post, December 8, 2007). There is a Christian purge gathering strength across the Arab world. The only Middle Eastern country in which Christians may worship freely is…you guessed it.
Nevertheless, the National Council of Churches in the U.S., like the Anglican Church, blames the Israelis for the plight of Palestinian Christians suffering under the policies of radical Islam, and accordingly favours outreach to Muslims. Thus the NCC convened an Ecumenical Study Seminar at the 2007 convention of the Wahhabi-inspired Islamic Society of America in order to—in the words of its Interfaith Relations office—“reflect and learn together.” More recently, the NCC has gone out of its way to ingratiate itself to the Islamic fact, responding positively to a Muslim encyclical, entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You” and accepting the appeal to open a dialogue. In so doing, it revealed the depth of its ignorance, plainly unaware of the context framing the invitation, almost to the letter. Koran 3:64 reads: “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you, that we worship none but Allah.” Q.E.D.
Cringing in mortification before the presumed sins of its own “extremist Christians,” the Council shut its eyes to the Islamic conquest of much of Europe, the reduction of Constantinople, the 400-year enslavement of Greece, the abduction of young Christians to serve in the janissary corps and the current onslaught against the post-Christian West, including the modern, collective version of the Crucifixion in the Holy Land. This is turning the other cheek with a vengeance.
From Rowan Williams and Vatican officials to Andrew Lee Butters and National Geographic and all the hand-wringing, anti-Israeli Islamophiles in between who should know better, the meld of stark hypocrisy, deliberate blindness, visceral hatred and cultivated stupidity is an old story. The trials of the Christian population in the Middle East are not being addressed but exploited in the unceasing operation against the state of Israel.
Let there be no doubt about this. The real agenda behind this campaign of disinformation is to drive the Jews out of their ancestral home. The eventual destruction of the Christian communion at the hands of Islam, with the silent but effective complicity of the ‘liberal” West, is, apparently, a cheap price to pay to bring about a second and comparable expulsion.
When the body of Arab Christians is taken down from the cross and buried in the caves of History, the body of the Jews—the Yishuv—will be nailed up in its place. Not in order to worship, of course, but to revile and exult. Or such is the intention.