The issue of Palestine has always enjoyed a disproportionate coverage in the media. The Arab-denizens of West Bank and Gaza are designated as Palestinians. A large section of the world community, not to speak of Muslim states that don'trecognise Israel, has proffered sympathies on ?Palestinian national aspiration?. But the communal aspect inside Palestine has been ignored. Not all Palestinians, who no doubt speak Arabic, are Muslims. There has always been a substantial Christian population in Palestine?this Biblical region (comprising Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, etc.) being the cradle of Christian faith. The very word ?Palestine? evoked strong Biblical nostalgia in European literature.
But what is the state of Christians in Palestine today? They are in a state of an Islamic siege and are getting squeezed out by the burgeoning demography and escalating fanaticism of Muslims. Last year, Justice Reid Wiener, a resident scholar of Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, authored the book, Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, on this subject. In an interview to Front Page magazine he informed that ten of thousands of Palestinian Christians have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral property to live abroad. They have faced virtually uninterrupted persecution during the decade since Oslo Peace process began, living amidst a Muslim population that is xenophobic and restless. Christian women suffer rampant sexual harassment, rape and even forced marriages. Christian men risk being jailed when they intervene to rescue their women being attacked or insulted. At this rate, Justice Wiener fears Bethlehem will become a Christian theme park in 15 years with no real Christian alive.
Justice Wiener'sapprehensions are corroborated in an excellent narrative non-fiction, I have been reading lately. The Israelis (Simon & Schuster, 2003) by journalist Donna Rosenthal, captures the kaleidoscopic contemporary reality of the Zionist country. The 15th chapter titled ?The Christians: Uneasy in the Land of Jesus? would disillusion one about the ?nationalist? nature of Palestinian uprising and expose its Islamic characteristic.
Daoud (David), a Palestinian Christian, studies in Bethlehem University, the only Roman Catholic university in the Holy Land, which is partially funded by the Vatican as a part of an effort to stem the Palestinian Christian emigration from the West Bank. At present 70 per cent of the students there are Muslims. This is what Daoud ruefully tells: ?Do you know what some of them want? Make a classroom into a mosque. My professors are afraid to say anything? (p. 311)? Everyone knows what kind of Palestine they want,? his aunt interrupts, ?an Islamic Republic. Palestine ruled by the Quran?. Interestingly, the character Daoud is a passionate Palestinian nationalist and admirer of former PLO spokeswoman Hannan Ashrawi, a fellow Christian. But he hates Arafat'sIslamisation of the intifada, characteristically titled Al-Aqsa intifada.
When PLO assumed the control of Bethlehem from Israel in 1995, the news that the Christ-nativity lost Christian majority for the first time in history was reported in the international media. Arafat changed Bethlehem'sdemography by expanding municipal boundaries to include three refugee camps and encouraging thousands of Muslims to move in. In 1948, one mosque served the entire Bethlehem area, today there are more than 90 mosques. Hundreds of Christian families have emigrated out of Bethlehem since then. In 1990, Bethlehem had 60 percent Christians; by 2003 they were less than 20 percent.
Rosenthal then takes us to Nazareth, the town best associated with Jesus in the Gospel, and currently the largest Christian town of Israel. Nazareth is marked by its famed black-domed Basilica of Annunciation, the largest church in the Middle East. In 1997, Muslim fanatics laid a green canvass tent-mosque next to the Basilica. They claimed it to be the gravesite of Shahib al-Din, the nephew of Saladin, who disposed the Crusaders of Jerusalem in 1187 AD. Their objective was to build there the largest mosque in the world, with minarets that would tower above the Basilica. Their real purpose was to intimidate the Christian pilgrims, audibly with blurting of azan on loudspeakers, and visibly by presence of bearded Muslim fanatics.
This culminated in the Easter ?riots? (actually Islamic aggression) in March, 1999. The Christian (Palestinian Greek Orthodox) mayor who supported building of the plaza was knifed by local Muslim fanatics. Fights erupted on the streets with screams of Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is great) and many people were hurt. Any car with Cross on the mirror of sticker of The Virgin Mary, was destroyed. During two days of rioting, churches were torched, more than sixty Christian-owned stores and two Muslim ones, both owned by supporters of the mayor, were vandalised. Binyamin Netanyahu (1998) and Ehud Barak (1999) governments approved the project for building a small mosque that would not overshadow the Basilica of Annunciation. The controversial mosque was partially built by March 2002 when during Ariel Sharon'spremiership the Israeli cabinet decided to halt the project. Finally, the mosques foundation was demolished by Ariel Sharon'sgovernment in 2003. In 2002, the then Housing and Construction Minister had correctly observed a few days before the cabinet took the correct decision: ?The Islamic Movement will hate Israel regardless of what the government decides, therefore it should have concerned itself with the minority rights of Christians than gaining a few (Muslim) votes, which it could never get anyway?.
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