Palestinian Christians Face Persecution
By Chris Mitchell
Middle East Bureau Chief
CBN.com – WEST BANK - Two thousand years after the birth of Christ, Christians are leaving the Holy Land in record numbers, and a new report suggests persecution against Palestinian believers is getting worse.
Little remains of 14 homes set ablaze in the West Bank village of Taybeh. An angry Muslim mob from a neighboring village attacked the Christian town last September. They said they were avenging the dishonor of a Muslim woman allegedly impregnated by her Christian employer, from Taybeh.
Taybeh is the only West Bank village completely inhabited by Christians - about 2,000 of them. It was originally called Ephraim. It is mentioned in the Old Testament and in the book of John as a village where Jesus stayed.
Mayor David Khoury said the attack would not have occurred if Taybeh were a Muslim village instead of a Christian one.
"It happened many times between a Muslim and a Muslim, and what they did was, most times they would just marry the girl off. Had they gave us a chance and prove this pregnancy was from the man from Taybeh, maybe we would have married him off to that girl," Khoury said.
The attack on the village of Taybeh is one more example of the precarious position of Christians in the West Bank and throughout the Middle East.
International Human Rights Attorney Justus Weiner has researched the plight of Palestinian Christians for more than eight years. His findings were recently published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Weiner said Palestinian Christians are now living in fear because persecution against them is increasing.
"I think the situation has been on a steep downhill for at least 12 years,” said Weiner, “since Israel withdrew from the Palestinian populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza …they fear for their own lives, they fear for their own family, they fear for the future of their community."
It is a community that many Christians believe will be marginalized as the Palestinians move toward statehood.
One Palestinian woman suggested that the marginalization of Christians has already begun. We will call her Hannan. We have hidden her identity to protect her from retribution.
Hannan said Christians are now being treated as second-class citizens in the Holy Land because Islamists dominate the Palestinian Authority.
"Now, all the leadership and the people in authority are Muslims, and they force their laws, their teaching, their Koran, everything in the courts, in the schools, everywhere…they threaten people; people are afraid to say no," she said.
Western leaders say that elections scheduled for January prove that the Palestinians are committed to establishing a democratic society. But the draft Palestinian constitution shows a government consigned to institutionalizing Islam over secularism.
While the draft constitution pledges to guarantee freedom of worship, Islam is stated as the official religion of Palestine. Shariah law is stated as the primary source of legislation.
Under Shariah law, any Muslim who leaves Islam and converts to another faith must be killed.
And so it was for falafel stand owner, Ahmad el-Achwal. The father of eight converted to Christianity and held regular Bible studies in his home. He suffered repeated arrests and torture at the hands of Palestinian Authority police.
Weiner met and interviewed Achwal prior to his death in January 2004.
"He showed me at the time the results of his -- what were then recent arrests -- which included burns all over his body where hot pieces of sheet metal were taken from a fire and touched to his skin…” Weiner recalled, “and on January 21, 2004, someone knocked on the door, he opened the door and he was met with a hail of bullets -- and he was shot dead in the entrance to his apartment."
Political instability, economic hardship, and human rights violations have caused a mass exodus of Christians from the West Bank and throughout the Middle East.
One recent study shows the Christian presence in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority has declined from a population of 26.4 percent in 1914 to less than 10 percent today.
The city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was once a Christian city. Several decades ago, it was perhaps more than 80 percent Christian. Today, the Christian population has declined to less than 15 percent.
While their numbers may be fewer and persecution against them is increasing, thousands of Christians have chosen to remain in the Holy Land, and some are quietly leading Muslims to Christ.
West Bank evangelist Nadeem remarked, "When the person's faith is true, and they realize that their suffering doesn't go unnoticed by God, they see that they're doing something for the cause of Christ and furthering his kingdom…then they grow with more courage… and still the work goes on."
In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul said those who live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. Nearly 2,000 later, those words are ringing true for Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, where persecution is now a way of life.
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