Christian Palestinians: Israel 'manipulating facts' by claiming we are welcome

Israel's envoy to U.S. writes that Christians are morethan elsewhere in Mideast. Too bad the Christians disagree.

Photo: Peter Williams/WCC except when indicated otherwise
Photo: Peter Williams/WCC except when indicated otherwise
Here's some information that Interior Minister Eli Yishai might want to consider: Since the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, its Christian communities have expanded 1,000 percent.

This information might have excited the Americans who read a March 9 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal written by Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, about Christians being forced out of Arab countries but flourishing in Israel.

Of course, Oren does not mention the Christians who lived in the country before 1948 and fled the horrors of war or were expelled by us - and who, like their Muslim compatriots, were not allowed to return to their homes after the establishment of the state.

He does, however, bring up the Jews who were expelled from Arab states. (Zionist ideology wants to have its cake and eat it too: It wants all the Jews from around the world to immigrate to Israel, and for this purpose it sent special emissaries who not only prepared the flying carpets but also encouraged and intensified the panic and flight; in the meantime, it complains about bans on Zionist activity and about the expulsion of Jews. )

Nor does Oren mention the systematic decline in the status of Jews from Arab states, who became third-rate citizens after they moved to Israel, a proxy agent of the enlightened West (a fan of slaves and other countries' natural resources ) in the barbaric Middle East. He is too busy with current matters:

"As 800,000 Jews were once expelled from Arab countries, so are Christians being forced from lands they've inhabited for centuries," he writes. Of all the countries in the region, he adds, a Christian community is thriving only in the State of Israel.

Oren distinguishes between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In these Palestinian areas, he says, the Christian community is dwindling: "Christians in those areas suffer the same plight as their co-religionists throughout the region."

This statement sparked the following rebuke from Yisrael Medad, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Shilo, to post a comment: "Mr. Ambassador, Your repetitive use of 'West Bank' is unfortunate. Not only is it incorrect geopolitically, historically and legally; not only does it go against the direction of your superior, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who calls the area 'disputed'; but it is simply damaging diplomatically. Use 'Judea and Samaria,' please." And here we have the Israeli right wing airing its dirty laundry in public, or at least in front of whoever bothers reading the more than 240 reader comments.

The Wall Street Journal also published four letters rebutting Oren's article. Geographic definitions were the least of the concerns expressed by Rev. Robert O. Smith of Chicago, who wrote: "The biggest problem with Mr. Oren's analysis, however, is that it stands in sharp disagreement with the perspectives shared by those he presumably wants to protect. Mr. Oren seeks to speak for Palestinian Christians before he has spoken with them."

And Oren's piece did, in fact, anger these Christian Palestinians. Eighty prominent Christian Palestinians signed a letter sent to the ambassador last week in response to his article, accusing the ambassador of manipulating the facts.

"Your attempt to blame the difficult reality that Palestinian Christians face on Palestinian Muslims is a shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community," they said in the letter. "The exaggerated growth of the Christian population in Israel that Mr. Oren claims is due primarily to the immigration of Russian Christians whom Israel was unable to distinguish from the Jewish immigrants pouring into the country after the fall of the Soviet Union."

One of the letter's signatories is Rifat Qassis, the coordinator of Kairos Palestine, an umbrella organization of Palestinian Christians of various denominations that was founded in 2009 to explain, primarily to fellow Christians, what Israel's occupation is all about. Speaking in measured tones, Qassis, who lives in the West Bank town of Beit Sahur, told me: "Oren is trying to reap propaganda dividends from what is occurring in the Arab world, whereas the context in which we Christian Palestinians live is completely different. There are problems in this region, and I don't want to downplay them, but Oren is trying to erase the occupation as the main cause of Palestinian suffering."

In 2006, Qassis conducted a survey of Christians who live in the occupied Palestinian territories, and, he says, the vast majority said their desire to emigrate was linked to the lack of security and stability they feel under Israeli rule. Less than 1 percent spoke about being afraid of Muslims.

Kairos Palestine also sent a letter to The Wall Street Journal that blamed Israeli policy for driving away Christians, but it was not published. "In the case of Bethlehem, for instance, it is in fact the rampant construction of Israeli settlements, the chokehold imposed by the separation wall and the Israeli government's confiscation of Palestinian land that has driven many Christians to leave," the letter states. "At present, a mere 13 percent of Bethlehem-area land is left to its Palestinian inhabitants."

The letter also states that Oren's article "reveals a disturbing conception of democracy itself" by claiming that Israel is acting to promote the prosperity of Christians who live under its rule.

"Oren implies the Israeli state's lack of interest in ensuring the same [prosperity] for Muslims. Any democratic state that bothered to implement its own ideals - and, moreover, any ambassador to such a state - would be ashamed of such an evidently distorted attitude toward its inhabitants and their rights," the Palestinian Christians write.

They also expressed amazement at Oren's "ludicrous boast" that Israel guarantees free access to all Christian holy sites, writing that "one of occupation's chief outrages is the fact that anyone would need a permit to visit the city to begin with: restricted freedom of movement is among the fundamental injustices constricting our lives."

Amira Hass


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