While West Bank jewish settlements remains a contentious issue in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the Irish Times is exploiting the issue to make unfounded claims that the settlements are to blame for Palestinian infighting. In an article titled, “Israeli Settlements Squeezing Out Christians and Muslims,” the paper even goes so far as to claim that Israel’s policies are specifically aimed at increasing hostilities between the two groups.
Quoting a Palestinian named George Rishmawi, an official at the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement, Irish Times reporter Michael Jansen writes:
“Christians are part of the Palestinian social fabric . . . and of Islamic culture. Palestinians do not differentiate between Muslims and Christians – who are less than 2 per cent of the population,” says Mr Rishmawi.
But Israel makes a key distinction designed to cause animosities.
“It grants West Bank Christians permits to travel to Jerusalem for Christian holidays . . . It is not the same for Muslims. For them it is difficult to get permits. This makes Muslims angry at Christians,” Mr Rishmawi adds.
It is absurd to suggest that Israel is deliberately sowing discord among the Palestinians by granting access to holy sites to Christians. Amazingly, it is Jansen, not his Palestinian source – whose words appear in quotes – who says the policies are “designed” to harm relations.
Jansen also blames Israel for the flight of Christians from Palestinian cities.
Israeli settlements and infrastructure are changing Palestinian demographics in formerly Christian towns. “Bethlehem is 50 per cent Christian, [neighbouring] Beit Sahour is 80 per cent Christian and Beit Jala is 60-70 per cent Christian,” says Mr Rishmawi.
These three towns have had an influx of Muslims displaced from Bethlehem district villages and of refugees dating to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Ramallah, once a Christian town, now has an overwhelming Muslim majority.
What Jansen conveniently ignores is the mass of information regarding Muslim intimidation of Christians, which is the real reason Christians are leaving in high numbers. Jansen notes that Christians were “displaced” but fails to note that Muslims were the ones driving them out:
As recently as 2005, Palestinian Muslims carried out a pogrom against Christians in city of Taibe after a Muslim woman had a relationship with a Christian man from the village.
Just last year, Muslims desecrated a Christian cementary, demonstrating that tensions remain high between the two groups.
Bethlehem Christians forced to shut down businesses after failing to pay “protection” money to local Muslims.
Intimidation of the Christian media
Christians frozen out of the Palestinian political process
Only yesterday, the Los Angeles Times noted the current situation in Taibe:
The population of Taibe dropped from 15,000 to about 2,000 in recent decades as residents left in search of safer, more prosperous lives in the U.S. and other countries.
At times, Palestinian Christians have also faced harassment from the Muslim majority. Churches have been burned in Gaza. On the eve of last year’s Oktoberfest, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at the mayor’s empty car. No arrests were made, but many in Taibe suspected Muslim extremists were behind the attack.
Jansen also ignores Palestinian political considerations in the redrawing of municipal borders of many Christian cities. Justus Reid Weiner, an expert on the treatment of Christians in Palestinian-controlled areas, explained Yasser Arafat redrew the city’s borders in order to marginalize what was then the largest Christian community:
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.
These facts, however, would interfere with Jansen’s misleading narrative of peace and love between Christians and Muslims, disturbed only by the Israelis whose policy objective is little more than to harm the Palestinians. Of course, if he truly cared about Palestinian Chrisitians, he would look at the root of their problems and offer solutions rather than simply demonizing Israel.
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