The Palestinian Authority and most of the Arab governments have not missed a chance since US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel to remind us that construction of 1,600 new apartments in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, as well as the renovation of an ancient synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, would trigger a "third intifada" or, even worse, an all-out war in the Middle East -- and is the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East.
It is funny to see countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Egypt condemn Israel for being an "apartheid" state and for restricting freedom of religion. These countries, along with the Palestinian Authority and predominantly Islamic countries, should be the last to talk about "apartheid," freedom of religion bad persecution of minorities.
Of all Arab and Islamic countries, Saudi Arabia is often described as a "glaring example of religious apartheid."
Although Saudi authorities allow Christians to enter the country as temporary workers, they dont permit them to practice their faith. Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are prohibited. Conversion by a Muslim to another religion is considered apostasy, a crime punishable by death. Saudi Arabia does not allow non-Muslim clergy to enter the kingdom country for the purpose of conducting religious services. Christians, and other non-Muslims, are prohibited from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina.
In Riyadh, the death sentence against a Lebanese charged with "sorcery" has just been re-confirmed. The man, Ali Hussein Sibat, a father of five, is a former host of a popular call-in-show that aired on a Lebanese satellite TV channel. H was arrested by Saudi Arabias religious police and charged with sorcery while visiting the country in May 2008. According to his lawyer, Sibats only crime was the he used to predict the future on his show and give out advice to his audience.
The real threat to peace in the Middle East is the absence of freedom, democracy and transparency in the Arab and Islamic world.
But the medias obsession with Israel has diverted attention from other news that could also be seen as a threat to stability and peace:
In Cairo earlier this week, a court postponed the trial of three Egyptian Muslims accused of murdering six Coptic Christians and a police officer in southern Egypt last January. The murderers sprayed worshippers with bullets as they emerged from services on the eve of the Coptic Orthodox Christmas in the village of Nagga Hammadi. Egypts Copts are an endangered minority. Over the past few decades, hundreds of thousands have emigrated, while many of those who are left behind are forced to convert to Islam every year to escape persecution.
In Baghdad earlier this week, Iraqi Christians took to the streets to protest against increased attacks and to demand government protection. The demonstration was held after nine Christians were killed in the past two weeks in the city of Mosul. The United Nations says more than 600 Christian families have fled the city since the recent attacks. Attacks on Christians in Iraq are not a new phenomenon. In 2004, five churches in Baghdad were bombed, and any Christians have since been kidnapped, murdered and maimed.
Earlier this month, more than 200 villagers, most of them Christians, were slaughtered by Muslims in a Nigerian town called Jos. The perpetrators were reported to have set homes on fire and slashed peoplke with knives and machetes.
In Rabat, Moroccan authorities last week expelled some 70 foreign Christian aid workers for allegedly trying to convert local Muslims. Many of those targeted in the nationwide crackdown cared for 33 Moroccan orphans at the Christian orphanage Village of Hope in the town of Ain Leuh. Moroccos government defended the decision by claiming that the Christians had violated the Islamic countrys religious traditions and legislation banning proselytizing.
Earlier this month, more than 200 villagers, most of them Christians, were slaughtered by Muslims in a Nigerian a town called Jos. The perpetrators were reported to have set homes on fire and slashed people with knives and machetes.
In Sudan, Christians, especially those living in the southern part of the country continue to complain about persecution and murder.
In Lebanon, Christians continue to flee the country in search of a better life in North America and Europe.
In Bethlehem last week, the Palestinian Authority closed down the only Palestinian Christian TV station in the West Bank. The station, called Al-Mahed (Nativity) TV, had been operating for the past 14 years and was known as the only mouthpiece for the Christian minority in the Holy Land. The Palestinian Authority claimed that the station was shut because it did not have a proper license.
The Egyptians and Jordanian authorities who in the past few days denounced Israels measures and policies have also been arresting activists who collected donations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Many newspaper readers and TV viewers in the US, Canada and Europe by now know where Ramat Shlomo is, although many Jews and Arabs had not heard about this relatively small and neighborhood until the announcement that was made during Bidens visit.
Ironically, the protests that followed have thus far led to a fresh wave of violence in Jerusalem and some parts of the West Bank, prompting Israel to impose temporary security restrictions on Palestinians wishing to pray at the Aqsa Mosque or visit Jerusalem.