Since the Palestinian Authority’s takeover of Bethlehem in 1995, under the Oslo Accords with Israel, Bethlehem has been transformed from a Christian city into a Muslim city. Bethlehem’s remaining Christians now live in a condition of dhimmitude (a reference to the second-class citizenship Islam imposes on Christians) in the city of Jesus’ birth.
The Palestinians brought with them a political system based on primitive tribal relations, where the power of one’s clan became a substitute for the law. As a consequence, Christians have suffered civil outrage and criminal violence without recourse to justice.
Christians have been refusing to live under these conditions and have been leaving Bethlehem in large numbers.
So who is to blame for the plight of Bethlehem’s Christians and for the birthplace of Jesus being emptied of Christians? Why, the Jews, of course! Who else?
That is the Orwellian message of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee (AADC) that held a candle lighting vigil on November 29, 2005 for Bethlehem’s Christians at San Francisco’s Union Square as the Christmas shopping season began.
Muslims in Bethlehem make the lives of Christians unbearable and force them to flee their ancestral homes while Muslims in America hold a vigil to blame the Jews.
To understand how the Christians became a minority and the victims of thuggery in the city of Jesus’ birth, it is important to see just what Arafat did to Bethlehem once he got his hands on it.
In 1995, Yasser Arafat gained control of Bethlehem and immediately expanded its municipal boundaries to include 30,000 Muslims living in neighboring refugee camps. Next, Muslim Bedouins living east of Bethlehem were incorporated into revised municipal boundaries. All this was still not enough for the PA to change the status of Bethlehem as a Christian city. But then Arafat created inducements for Muslims to leave Hebron and the area around it and move to Bethlehem.
With Arafat’s government by clan, by gun, and by terror, a land Mafia developed that began expropriating land from Christians. In 2002, two Christian teenage sisters were found with their throats slit and their genitals mutilated. Muslims claimed the Amer sisters were prostitutes, as if that were justification for torture and murder. But Christians familiar with similar incidents claim the girls were murdered to cover up a gang rape.
Of course, none of this appears in the AADC’s call for the candlelight vigil that is also designed to showcase the AADC’s divestment campaign against Israel.
The plight of Bethlehem’s Christians under the PA’s thuggery has, however, drawn outrage from Christian organizations worldwide. The mainstream Protestant churches in America, however, have been too busy with their divestment campaigns to take the notice of the plight of Christians living under the Palestinian Authority’s tribalism.
Indeed, just this week, the Vatican, in a rare diplomatic move, called publicly on the Israelis to intervene in Bethlehem on behalf of its severely receding Christian population. Now totaling less than 12% of Bethlehem’s population, Christians, who have been the targets of continual PA violence, might leave entirely. The result will be that in the place where Jesus was born there will no longer be a Christian community.
In the West Bank town of Taibe marauding Muslims burned, looted and beat Christian residents in the name of a Muslim family’s “honor,” a family whose father had brutally beaten his daughter to death for wanting to marry a Christian. The violent Muslim mob burned a statue of the Virgin Mary and shouted, “Burn the Crusaders!” PA fire and security forces took their time arriving on the scene, appearing hours later. In the end, the mob was almost immediately released from jail. Meanwhile, the Christian fiancée of the murdered woman was arrested and beaten while incarcerated. The lesson—that of the mob being released while an innocent Christian languished in jail—was not lost on the Christian community of the West Bank!
Father Artemio Vitores, who supervises the holy places in Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the Vatican, recently and publicly, asked Israel’s President Moshe Katsav, “Help us keep Bethlehem.” This appeal represents a sharp and desperate change in Vatican politics. The Vatican has long feared offending the Palestinians far more than offending Israel.
After Palestinian terrorists took over the Church of the Nativity in 2002, and brutalized the priests inside, the Vatican pressured Israel to give the terrorists safe passage and not to invade or destroy the church. Israel eventually complied. For its part, the Vatican refuses to speak of the brutality that occurred inside the church or even to re-consecrate it, for to do so would mean that the Vatican would have to acknowledge how the church was desecrated.
The Vatican is walking a tightrope in the unstable Middle East. The church’s primary concern is to preserve both the Holy Places and its role in administering them. With the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli war still unknown and unpredictable and with Bethlehem already in the hands of the PA, the Vatican is faced with an unenviable set of difficult choices.
Now the Vatican is further confronted with the realities facing Christians who no longer live under Israeli protection but instead under Palestinian oppression. The Vatican’s direct request for Israeli assistance is a strong indicator of how threatened the Christians are and that the Vatican is well aware that the PA is the cause of and not the solution to the problem.
None of this of course will matter to the AADC’s propaganda machine that will asked people to “light a candle to protect Bethlehem’s Christians from Israeli oppression.” The AADC’s spin is that Christians flee Bethlehem because of Israel’s policies. Isn’t it strange that Christians flee while Muslims stay and grow dramatically in number, and Christian property ownership recedes as Muslim property ownership expands. Muslims oppress Christians over there while here Muslims hold vigils blaming the Jews for the oppression inflicted on Bethlehem’s Christians.
In San Francisco, of course, where President Bush is equated with Hitler and the American military is considered a terrorist organization, reality doesn’t matter. We have to give the AADC's organizers credit. They could not have found a more susceptible audience or a ritual more reminiscent of Hitler’s torchlight parades than by lighting candles against “Jewish oppression” in San Francisco’s Union Square full of Christmas shoppers.
Abraham H. Miller is professor emeritus, University of Cincinnati and has published extensively on the subject of political terrorism.
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