Wall overshadows Muslim- Christian relations in West Bank

May 21, 2009

palestinians-at-damascus-gateThe Palestinian issue has figured prominently over the past week in stories with a religion angle. Pope Benedict’s visit to Israel, which ended on Friday, was the most prominent. While visiting Bethlehem, he called Israel’s barrier in the West Bank one of the saddest sights” on his whole tour. Early this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time. Netanyahu said the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for peace talks while Obama said Jewish settlements in the West Bank have to be stopped.” On Wednesday, United Nations human rights investigators said they hoped to visit Gaza in early June and hold public hearings on whether war crimes were committed there in Israel’s blockade of the area governed by the Islamist movement Hamas.

(Photo: Palestinian protesters wave flags at the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City, 21 May 2009/Amir Cohen)

In almost every speech he made, Pope Benedict pleaded for more interfaith contacts and cooperation as a way to move forward towards peace. With the Israeli-Palestinian issue so polarised, the question of promoting understanding among the people of the Holy Land often seems to be reduced mostly to a Jewish-Muslim issue. The tiny Christian minority in the local population often seems to be standing on the sidelines.

But within the occupied West Bank, there are numerous examples of religious coexistence between the Muslim and Christian populations. The West Bank village of Aboud, which I described in a feature you can read here, is a case in point. Father Firas Aridah, head of the local Catholic parish, points to the joint celebration by Muslims and Christians of their respective religious holidays. The Catholic school he operates with a majority of Muslim students doesn’t impose the church’s beliefs on the student body but teaches them their own faiths.

west-bank-wallThe village’s religious pluralism is under threat because its Christians are slowly leaving, changing the demographic dynamics with the Muslim majority. Nearly 900 of Aboud’s 2,200 residents are Christians. One reason for the exodus cited in the Israeli media is rising Islamist extremism. But Fr. Firas will have none of that. “Islamic fanaticism, and all this, is propaganda,” he said. “It is Israeli propaganda that distracts people’s understanding that [Israel] is occupying Palestine.” The reason 34 Christian families have left Aboud since 2000, he said, was the Israeli occupationand the security restrictions it imposes, stifling the economy and limiting opportunity.

(Photo: Israeli wall at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah, 19 May 2009/Baz Ratner)

Husam al-Taweel, a Greek Orthodox member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from Gaza who was elected with support from the governing Islamist movement Hamas, told FaithWorld earlier this week: “I won’t say there are no problems and we are living in heaven. But there is no discrimination against Christians in particular. We don’t see ourselves as a minority, but as part of the Arab majority.” (Emigration) “is not a problem only for Christians. This is a problem for the Palestinian community in general. They’re all looking for a job, a better future.”


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My wife and I have been in contact with Christians in Aboud for almost 30 years now and have been there a number of times. Half a dozen Hamas flags fly from the minaret of the local mosque, from which you can draw your own conclusions about the presence of Islamic extremists there. Christians have lived as dhimmis there for centuries, and some have told us they are still frightened of their Muslim neighbours. The Muslims can walk freely into and out of the Christian part of Aboud, sometimes harassing young women there, but Christians do not dare set foot in the Muslim area. And Palestinian Christian leaders would probably be treated as collaborators if they departed from the blame-Israel-only script repeated by Fr. Firas. (And in the Palestinian territories, the worst punishments are reserved for collaborators.) And of course, in order to keep their “support from the governing Islamist movement Hamas” — which, BTW, governs only in Gaza — men like al-Taweel *have* to say publicly that there is no discrimination against Christians by Muslims there. Christians in the Territories, including some leaders, tell us something very different privately, however.

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

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Posted by FaithWorld » Blog Archive » Wall overshadows Muslim- Christian … | Contemporary Christian | Report as abusive

Just as it was shameful for nations to turn a blind eye to walling Jews into a ghetto in Warsaw (as well as the outright slaughter of millions) until liberating troops got the word out, it is equally wrong (and historically hypocritical) of Israelis to do the same and demand support.The Palestinians didn’t ask for the massive influx of immigration after a war they had nothing to do with by people they didn’t invite.Western Europe begged people from Africa and the middle east to come live as “guest workers” to help in post war reconstruction. Last time I checked my history books, religious zealots and political leaders in the west made this decision FOR the Palestinians.Would anybody who blindly supports Israel be willing to relocate millions of people into THEIR community, only to have it torn apart and stolen away?

Posted by Brian Foulkrod | Report as abusive

will: good point; when the church acts as an ethnicity, the muslims deign to give it a modicum of peace; let the church be the church, & the blood flows…but al taweel gets to keep his piece of the pie.brian foulkrod: did israel tear apart & steal arab land, or was that land lost to armies bent on annihilating israel, but bit off more than they can chew? are israelis just circumcised nazis, or are the arabs living with the continuing consequences of their abortive bloodlust?

Posted by jd | Report as abusive

The wars were not against “Palestine”, they were against the natinos comprising the United ASrab Republic (of the day).They have their own history of stomping on the Palestinians, jsut as the Turks are not the only country who have dealings with the Kurds.Since this was a limited subject, I chose not to muddy it up. Your post does exactly that. It muddies up my point.And unless you first answered “YES” to my question of if you’d willing let your community be overrun against your will and without your consent, you’re not in a position to criticize a point your own unwilliness to declare your own city as fair gaim screams volumes above your objections.When this site posts a story on the ways in which Egypt, Syria and Lebanon are hypocritical, I’ll be just as happy to point out that they’re not in a good position to sling mud solely at the Israelis.But stating that the misdeeds of all others is absolutely unforgivable while ours are beyond your right to question is how centuries long wars continue.If you want honest and constructive ideaqs, I refer you to how the situation in Northern Ireland was finally resolved. By ALL sides throwing down the gauntlet after finally seeing that “being right” isn’t always so cut and dry.

Posted by Brian Foulkrod | Report as abusive

Brian – With respect, there was no equivalent to Islamic supremacism nor Palestinian rejectionism in the Northern Ireland situation. It is naive to believe anyone can ever make peace with Islamists. They can (perhaps) be *contained* but Islamic supremacism cannot be defeated. Even annihilation of all its adherents wouldn’t guarantee its eventual re-emergence.Perhaps “the situation in Northern Ireland was finally resolved by ALL sides throwing down the gauntlet” but neither Hamas nor the PA have shown good faith in complying with even the most basic requirements of the ‘Roadmap’. Both Hamas and Fatah continue to deny Israel’s right to exist and constantly encourage terrorism, even through PA-controlled media. Until the Palestinians sincerely renounce violence against Israeli civilians, edit rejectionism out of their respective charters, and enact and effectively enforce anti-terror legislation, Israel’s security barrier is needed to protect Israeli citizens. And to that end, it has been working.And before you cite Israel’s failure to withdraw its settlements from Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, I would ask you to consider the result of their doing so in Gaza. IMO, a two-state solution would surely be a non-solution as it would only create and legitimize a (perhaps bisected) Islamist-rejectionist-terrorist neighbour for Israel, one closely allied with Iran (via Hamas).

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

PS: By the phrase “throwing down the gauntlet” I assume you mean setting aside violence; however, to throw down the gauntlet actually means to challenge someone to a fight, not to cease fighting or to start negotiating.

Posted by Will | Report as abusive

What would you do as an American if the U.N., backed by China, Russia, and Iran, came here to this country and took a large part of it, say Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, and gave it back to the Mexicans, who lived there years before anyone else? All of course without allowing any resident from those states a voice? What do you think would happen, don’t you think the Texans would become resistance fighters simply fighting for their homeland and freedom from their oppressors?But its Ok for Israel to do this. Most Israeli’s are a blight upon what Judea really is and stands for. Moses told his people, “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not covet”, why then would God contradict himself and allow people to Kill for land they covet? Do you really think God, Who is perfect and consistent with his love for all his children, favors a small piece of earth over the whole of his creation? Do you really think the Perfect parent, God, plays favorites with his children like us imperfect humans do?Exodus 24:4 “And Moses wrote all the words of God.”What if Moses was wrong, and didn’t hear God right because all of humanity is imperfect. What if Moses was tempted by the devil and distorted Gods word with the freewill Moses was given by God, as we all were given freewill.It is with this same Freewill that Israel and most Israelis spit on The Commandments God gave them first as they kill for land they covet. Their actions prove beyond a doubt that they have no love for their God anymore. Who do they think they are fooling? I pray for the rest of Judea to step up, prove their love to God, and make their misguided brothers stop their heinous actions as they defy the words of the God they say they love. If Israel is not stopped, because of their unwillingness to find peace in the name of love, then the backlash will wipe Israel away, just like Joshua and David lost Israel, because of their own unwillingness to find peace, and the word Jew will be the blackest word in the world. Because of their own actions decided by themselves with the freewill given to them by god.God help them.God help us all.

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive

Your analogy is incorrect, Walker. It helps to try and imagine it like this.A bunch of Texans and Mexicans live in a place called American Mandated Texas.After a while, the Texans decide they don’t like the Mexicans living there. The Texans begin to riot, killing innocent Mexicans and destroying their shops and homes.After many deaths, the Mexicans give up relying on the American government for protection. They form militias to defend themselves against the Texans. They appeal to their community to finally stand up for themselves.In a last ditch attempt to stop bloodshed, the American Government and the UN splits Texas in half. Half goes to the Mexicans, and half to the Texans.But the Texans reject this. They launch attacks on the Mexicans, resolving to drive them into the sea. But by now, the Mexicans have created their own professional military force.In a massive upset, the Mexicans completely defeat the Texans. The Texans are driven into two small enclaves, which end up occupied by other American states.The UN recognises the right of the Mexicans in a new nation, called Mexo-Texas. And the State of Texas, with no remaining formal government, ceases to exist.But the Texans, inventing stories about how they were ‘unjustly cheated’ out of their land, start to raise their children to hate the Mexicans.Never realising that all this hate will do is lead them to more stupid wars, losing more land to the Mexicans each time.Until finally, the Texans have nothing but two tiny regions left. They can’t figure out how it all went wrong. All they know is that they *must* be the wronged party somehow.

Posted by Anon. | Report as abusive

Well said, Anon.C.D. Walker wrote: “Most Israeli’s are a blight upon what Judea really is and stands for.”That is one of the most anti-Semitic and irresponsible statements I’ve read in quite a while. On what basis do you make such an assertion? And who are you to judge?”Moses told his people, ‘Thou shall not kill’ … “Tell that to the Islamists, suicide bombers and their supporters who deliberately target civilians, not the IDF who often risk their lives to *prevent* civilian deaths, evacuate civilians to Israeli hospitals for medical care at the expense of Israeli taxpayers and then risk their lives again to get those same civilians safely home again..”and ‘Thou shall not covet …\'”And Christ told us “Judge not lest you be judged.” How do you know what is in people’s hearts?No country has a perfect record when it comes to their soldiers’ behaviour, including Israel, but in order to read the founding and history of Israel the way Mr./Ms. Walker does, you have to be extremely selective in your reading.

Posted by Will | Report as abusive