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Palestinian Authority's Treatment of Christians in the Autonomous Areas

The following is an English translation of the Israeli Government report (Translated by: IMRA (Dr. A. Lerner), October 30, 1997.

The Takeover of Bethlehem

On taking control over Bethlehem in December 1995, the Palestinian Authority changed the rules for Christians. The Church of the Nativity and other sites of central importance to Christianity came under Palestinian Authority control, giving Yasser Arafat leverage over the heads of the Christian communities. Since then, the local Christian leadership has toed the line of the Palestinian Authority.

The Latin patriarch, Greek Archbishop, Anglican bishop and Lutheran bishop are all Palestinian Arabs. They have become effective propaganda mouthpieces throughout the Christian world.

An example of Arafat's attitude toward the Christians was his decision to unilaterally turn the Greek Orthodox monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile during his periodic visits to the city. This was done without prior consent of the church.

Treatment of Christians by the Palestinian Authority On the social and religious level, the Christians remaining in Palestinian Authority controlled areas are subjected to relentless persecution. Christian cemeteries have been destroyed, monasteries have had their telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins to convents. Nuns are afraid to report such incidents.

In August 1997, Palestinian policemen in Beit Sahur opened fire on a crowd of Christian Arabs, wounding six. The Palestinian Authority is attempting to cover up the incident and has warned against publicizing the story. The local commander of the Palestinian police instructed journalists not to report on the incident.

Palestinian security forces have targeted and intimidated Christian leaders and Palestinian converts to Christianity. Recent incidents of persecution of include the following:

In late June 1997, a Palestinian convert to Christianity in the northern West Bank was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security Service. He had been regularly attending church and prayer meetings and was distributing Bibles. The Palestinian Authority ordered his arrest. He is still being held in a Palestinian prison and has been subjected to physical torture and interrogations. The pastor of a church in Ramallah was recently warned by Palestinian Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for spreading Christianity. A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus was recently arrested by the Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was brought in by the police, and he attempted to convince the convert to return to Islam. When the convert refused, he was brought before a Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious leader. He is currently being held in a prison cell with more than 30 people, most serving life sentences for murder. A Palestinian convert to Christianity in Ramallah was recently visited by Palestinian policemen at his home and warned that if he continued to preach Christianity, he would be arrested and charged with being an Israeli spy.

As a result of unceasing persecution, the Christians are forced to behave like any oppressed minority which aims to survive. Christians in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas have taken to praying in secret. The wisdom of survival compels them to assess the "balance of fear", according to which they have nothing to fear from Israel but face an existential threat from the Palestinian Authority and their Muslim neighbors. They act accordingly: they seek to "find favor" through unending praise and adulation for the Muslim ruler together with public denunciations of the "Zionist entity."

Emigration of Christians from Palestinian Authority territory In the last census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel in 1967 (after the Six Day War) showed just 11,000 Christians remaining in the city. This means that some 17,000 Christians (or 61%) left during the days of King Hussein's rule over Jerusalem. Their place was filled by Muslim Arabs from Hebron.

During the British mandate period, Bethlehem had a Christian majority of 80%. Today, under Palestinian rule, it has a Muslim majority of 80%.

Few Christians remain in the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank. Those who can - emigrate, and there will soon be virtually no Christians in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas. The Palestinian Authority is trying to conceal the fact of massive Christian emigration from areas under its control.