Following the death of her 63-year-old mother during a raid "for unpaid debts" by the Palestinian Authority (PA) police, Marian al-Hajal and many Christians want the world to know that Christians have become easy prey under the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Pictured: PA policemen stand in Manger Square, Bethlehem, in front of the Church of the Nativity. (Image source: iStock)
In a few weeks' time, the Palestinian Authority (PA) will perform its annual Christmas deception show. As is its custom, the PA will invite foreign journalists and diplomats to Bethlehem, where its spin doctors will wax poetic about good relations and harmony between Christians and Muslims in the city on the eve of Christmas. PA officials often seize this opportunity to blame Israel for the "plight" of Palestinian Christians, who make up only one percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There is one incident, however, that the PA officials will do their utmost to keep under wraps. It is the story of 63-year-old Terez Ta'amneh, a Christian woman from the town of Bet Jala, near Bethlehem, who died when PA police officers raided her home to arrest her son, Yusef, for unpaid debts.
The story of Ta'amneh is one of those that cause serious damage to the PA's propaganda machine, which is, instead, preoccupied with blaming Israel for the fact that a large number of Christians have left the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past few decades.
The number of Christians in the Gaza Strip is currently estimated at a few hundred. Until 10 years ago, there were about 3,500 Christians living under Hamas rule. Most fled to Israel, the West Bank or other countries in the West.
According to a 2017 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics census, approximately 47,000 Christians live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. In the past seven decades, since Israel was declared a state, tens of thousands of Christians have emigrated to the US, Canada, Europe and Latin America, mostly for economic reasons. The low birth rate among Christians, as well as mass emigration, has resulted in a steep decline of the Palestinian Christian population, from an estimated 10% in 1948 to around one percent today.
The timing of the death of Ta'amneh in Beit Jala could not have been worse for the Palestinian Authority leadership, particularly because it came shortly before Christmas, when PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior officials usually go out of their way to present a rosy picture about the conditions of Christians living under their rule in Bethlehem and other West Bank areas.
Abbas himself has made it a habit to participate every year in the Christmas eve celebrations at Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This is his way of showing the world how much he cares about Christians and provides them with security.
Ta'amneh's daughter, Marian al-Hajal, however, presents a different picture. She has accused the Palestinian Authority police of "killing my mother" and says that as a Christian, she has no confidence in the Palestinian law and police.
Marian made her allegations in a video she posted on Facebook shortly after the death of her mother. "My name is Marian al-Hajal, from Bet Jala, and I'm the daughter of the late Terez Ta'amneh, who holds Jordanian citizenship," she said in the video.
"I appeal to His Majesty King Abdullah to seek justice for my mother, who died as a result of the barbaric behavior of the Palestinian police when they raided my mother's home."
The daughter said the incident took place at 10:30 pm on October 5. "The Palestinian police came to my mother's home in Bet Jala to arrest my brother, Yusef, because of a financial dispute he has with another person."
Marian pointed out that the Palestinian law allows the police to deal with financial disputes only between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. "The seven officers who raided the house were led by Jamal Hmeid, the nephew of Kamel Hmeid, the Palestinian governor of Bethlehem, she said. "Here I want to ask: is the job of the police to protect citizens or is it a private company for collecting debts?"
The police officers, the daughter said, attacked her brother and began beating him in front of their mother. "My mother told them that Yusef suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure," Marian said.
"She begged them to stop beating him. In response, the commander of the force, Jamal Hmeid, pointed a pistol at my brother's head and threatened to open fire. He told my mother: We all have orders to open fire at him."
According to Marian, her mother panicked and collapsed, dying instantly. "I don't know what happened to her, but she fell to the ground and died," she said.
"The next day, my sister and I went to the hospital to retrieve my mother's body and prepare her for burial. We were shocked to find that my mother's body was not in the morgue. We were told that the body was sent for autopsy. Who gave them the right to perform an autopsy on our mother's body without our knowledge? As a Palestinian citizen, I have no confidence in the Palestinian forensic institute. I also have no confidence in the Palestinian law. I'm sure the results of the autopsy will be in favor of the police, and not in favor of my mother."
The daughter said that the PA has taken no measures against the officers she claims are responsible for her mother's death. "How can the Palestinian law protect me, when the representatives of the law themselves killed my mother?" Marian asked. "The Palestinian Authority has been offering us money to remain silent. They are trying to bribe us so we would remain silent about the crimes of the police."
Palestinian Professor Jamal Harfoush, who currently lives in Latin America, appealed to Abbas to launch an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of the Christian woman. Harfoush also expressed outrage that senior PA officials were trying to bribe the woman's family in an attempt to keep them from speaking out. Addressing Abbas, the professor said: "We want a civil and humane state based on the rule of law and justice."
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority police in the West Bank claimed that Ta'amneh's son, Yusef, tried to escape and attacked the police officers who came to arrest him. The spokesman also denied that the police officers had entered Ta'amneh's home and insisted that her son was arrested outside the house.
As far as Marian is concerned, the police version is nothing but an attempt to cover up for their criminal behavior. She and many Christians want the world to know, particularly on the eve of Christmas, that Christians have become easy prey under the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
As far as Abbas is concerned, it is business as usual. The cries of the Christian family in Bet Jala seem entirely lost on him. Next month, he and his senior officials will arrive in Bethlehem and again talk about the harmony and brotherly relations between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.
Abbas may be worried about the future of the hefty funding he gets from Christian countries and organizations if they find out what his police did to the Christian family in Bet Jala. What he seeks is to continue ensuring the success of the Palestinian lie that Christians are fleeing because of Israel.
Another day, another opportunity. Will the international community and media continue to swallow -- as they have done year after year -- the diet of lies that the PA leaders and spokesmen feed them? Marian, for one, feels confident that she cannot rely on the international community or the PA to bring her family justice. Who, then, will step up to do so?
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East