The Persecution of Palestinian Christians

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A detailed and scholarly description of the suffering of Palestinian
Christians can be found in a recently published work entitled:
“Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society”
by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner,
under the auspices of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
(The monograph may be downloaded freely from this site, but it is
also available through Amazon.)

Professor Weiner commences his monograph with a brief look at the
wider issue of “Christians living in a Muslim world”. He notes,
“Despite the liberal and secular trends that gained strength from
the middle of the nineteenth century, this statute [Islam]
continues, to this day, to influence cultural, social, and legal
practices. Moreover, the recent resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism
entails a reversion to historical, cultural, and religious
traditions that do not reflect modern social standards.”

Pros. Weiner then narrows his focus to examine the plight of
Christians under Palestinian Authority (PA) rule. He notes that the
Palestinian Authority’s Draft Constitution declares that “…in the
State of Palestine… the religion of Islam will be the official
religion”, and “the Sharia will be the primary source of legislation”.

As Weiner explains, the PA’s promotion of Sharia (Islamic Law)
immediately placed Christians in a precarious position, as Sharia
does not afford them equality before the law. Escalating hardship
and lawlessness, combined with the inequity of Sharia, makes
Palestinian Christians exceedingly vulnerable, and their life
increasingly unbearable. According to Prof. Weiner, while the
intifada and the economy are significant factors forcing Christians
to flee the Palestinian Territories, religious persecution at the
hands of increasingly intolerant Muslims is the primary catalyst.

Prof. Weiner’s research indicates that the present high rate of
Christian emigration out of the Palestinian Territories is not
normative, but a response to a phenomenon. He believes that the
phenomenon that is driving Palestinian Christians from their
homeland is the escalating hostility and persecution they are
experiencing due to the dramatic escalation of Islamic extremism in
the PA-administered territories. He says this is a direct result of
the systematic and pervasive radicalisation of Palestinian Muslim

School curriculum in PA-run schools is infamous for its
glorification of suicide bombers, its radical Islamic
fundamentalism, its denial of Israel’s right to exist, and its
denigration of non-Muslims. As a pre-election Hamas video boasts,
“We succeeded, with Allah’s grace, to raise an ideological
generation that loves death like our enemies love life.” (Link 1)

For more information on the what Palestinian children and youths
have been fed through PA-run schools and media, see links below.

Weirner describes the persecution of Christians as “diverse and
widespread”, adding that “institutionalised discrimination pervades
virtually all realms of life and has become an inexorable part of
Palestinian Christian existence”.

In his monograph Prof. Weirner details the various forms this
diverse, widespread, institutionalised discrimination and
persecution takes. In summary, Christian communities and individuals
suffer the following:


The deliberate and strategic marginalisation of Christians in the
Palestinian Territories is achieved by means of gerrymanders
combined with Muslim immigration that alter the demographics of a
formerly majority Christian area. This of course has drastic
implications for local elections.

Bethlehem is a classic case. In 1990 Bethlehem was 60 percent
Christian. After the PA acquired control of Bethlehem in 1994,
Chairman Arafat extended the city’s municipal borders to include the
30,000 Muslims living in nearby refugee camps. He also encouraged
Muslims in Hebron to immigrate to Bethlehem. After nine Christians
members of the Bethlehem City Council were driven to resign their
posts in protest of Islamisationist policies, Arafat appointed a
Muslim from Hebron as Governor of the Bethlehem District. The entire
political structure of Bethlehem was then gradually cleansed of
Christians. Christians are leaving. By 2001, Bethlehem was only 20
percent Christian.


Christians suffer economic hardship as Muslims boycott their
businesses. Islamic militants have also forced some Christians to
close their businesses. The practice of extortion of Christian
businesses is so widespread that one Christian businessman
interviewed told Prof. Weiner, “There isn’t a Christian businessman
exempt.” He said that around 90 percent of Christian businesses in
Bethlehem have been forced to close. Those that remain in business
are paying protection money to militants.

Christians in business in the Palestinian Territories are also
harassed, beaten and robbed by PA police (Weiner cites examples).
They are targeted simply because they are Christian. Refusal or
inability to pay bribes can lead to torture and even death. These
atrocities are committed with impunity.


Prof. Weiner also explains that, in violation of international human
rights norms, Palestinian Land Law prescribes the death penalty to
anyone selling land to Jews. According to Weiner, Jerusalem’s
Arafat-appointed mufti, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri has issued a fatwa to
the effect that death will be the penalty to anyone selling land to
any non-Muslim. This law extends to Christians, so that they cannot
sell land to each other.

In addition, adds Weiner, “…internationally recognised holy sites
in the West Bank are threatened, being vandalised and desecrated by
the PA without consequence.” The impunity granted to those who
attack Christians and Christian property only encourages Muslim
criminals to break in to churches and monasteries to steal valuable


According to Weiner’s research, violence against Christian women in
the Palestinian Territories was rare before the PA took control.
Christian women testify that before 1993, security was such that
they could walk the streets in safety. However, after the PA took
control, Christian women could be attacked with impunity. Weiner
gives several reasons for the sharp rise in sexual violence against
Christian women since the PA took control of the Palestinian
Territories: the rise is Islamist attitudes (such as Muslim
superiority and contempt of infidels); the denigration and
relegation of Christians to dhimmi (second class citizen) status
with limited rights and no equality before the law; combined with
the PA’s inaction, regardless of whether that is due to lack of
authority or lack of will. Once again, Muslim criminals know they
can rape Christian women without fear of retaliation or legal

Weiner reports that many Christian girls are being advised to dress
as Muslims to avoid problems. “The abuse of Palestinian Christian
women,” writes Weiner, “extends well beyond verbal harassment and
intimidation. The widespread occurrence of rape by Muslim men
against Christian women exemplifies perhaps the most blatant denial
of basic human rights as a result of religious identity.”

One Palestinian Christian girl (aged 23) told Prof. Weiner that
Muslim men often rape Christian women purely to render them
undesirable to Christian men
. “She can’t get married, at all, after
that,” she said.

According to Weiner, Christian girls are also being forced into
marriages with Muslim men. He retells the story of a wealthy
Christian family man who had to resort to force to protect his
daughter. A Muslim family came to his home, their son dressed for a
wedding and accompanied by a sheikh and 15 Muslim men. They demanded
that he hand his daughter over for marriage. After opening fire on
the Muslim entourage, the Christian family had to immediately flee
the Palestinian Territories. Other girls are less fortunate. There
are even reports of PA officials leveling death threats at Christian
families to force them to hand over their daughters for marriage to
a Muslim.


Prof. Weiner’s research makes it clear that the negative attitudes
held by Palestinian Muslims against their Christian counterparts are
supported by the overwhelmingly Muslim PA leadership. Mosques
broadcast sermons that drive home the Quranic injunction not to
partner with, trust or befriend Jews or Christians, providing
Muslims with religious justification for their religious intolerance.

Weiner quotes Joseph Farah, a Lebanese-American Christan editor of
the WorldNetDaily online, as saying of Christians under the PA,
“They are being driven out. They are being murdered. They are being
raped. They are being systematically persecuted. They are being
harassed. They are being intimidated.” Weiner reports that
Palestinian Christians under PA authority are discriminated against
“…in the field of education, the receipt of medical benefits, and
other government aid”. A Lutheran pastor told Weiner, “…if food
aid is brought in from Saudi Arabia, Christians are told that they
are not entitled to receive any because they are not Muslims.”


According to Prof. Weiner, PA security personnel frequently combine
ignorance of the law with Islamist sentiment to become persecutors
rather than protectors. Christians are often imprisoned on trumped
up charges of collaborating with Israel. Apostates can expect to be
punished mercilessly through torture in PA prisons. Weiner writes,
“The attitude of the police toward Christians constitutes one of the
most egregious forms of institutional persecution… When subjected
to harassment and worse by Muslim extremists, Palestinian Christians
usually opt not to report incidents to the PA police… Palestinian
Christians remain silent because they consider the PA police to be
hostile to them.”


As has been well documented before, Islamic militants frequently
choose to launch their attacks on Israel from Christian churches and
homes, in order to draw the Israeli response to those sites.


Prof. Weiner’s monograph contains material that will help people
understand why Palestinian Christians are often quick to deny their
suffering. Some Christian leaders deny the sufferings of Christians
in order to retain privileges from the PA: for example, access to
the media, or permission to travel – privileges that are granted in
exchange of the dissemination of PA propaganda. Some deny the
sufferings of Christians because they are simply blinded by
Palestinian nationalist aspirations. But most are simply acting (or
rather, not acting) out of fear of violent retribution – they are
paralysed into silence by threat of terror.

Weiner reports that one Christian cleric in Jerusalem compared the
behaviour of Christian dhimmis to that of battered wives and
children. A vulnerable, trapped, battered wife knows she cannot
afford to provoke her abuser’s wrath. For the victim it is easier,
psychologically, to blame oneself (or to gain the approval of the
abuser, blame the abuser’s “enemy”) and it is easier, physically, to
avoid confrontation all together.


Weiner recounts one horrific case of a Palestinian apostate and
persistent evangelist named Ahmad El-Achwal, a married father of
eight, who struggled for seven years with persecution that included
severe torture in PA prisons (the horror of which is described in
Weiner’s text), as well as frequent severe beatings and death
threats from Hamas. Ahmad El-Achwal was murdered on his doorstep by
Islamic militants, on 21 January 2004. US State Department
officials, who were fully informed, had persistently refused to
address his case.

Weiner regards Palestinian Christians as the sacrificial pawns of
the Middle East peace process. He writes, “The importance of
monitoring the PA’s record, even during the ongoing violent
intifada, cannot be overstated… The future of the Palestinian
Christian community and any other religious minority living under
the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance…,”
something Weiner fears is unlikely, at least in the short term.

Elizabeth Kendal
[email protected]


Teach Kids Peace.
Teach Kids Peace is affiliated with Middle East Media Watch. It
monitors and documents progress in children’s education for peace.
This site contains analysis of Israeli and PA educational materials.
2003 Palestinian Authority Textbook Calls for Jihad and Martyrdom
Incitement in the Palestinian Authority After the Aqaba Summit

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