While Christian leaders are busy condemning Israel and spreading blood libels against it, Christians in Bethlehem (pictured) are again being targeted by hoodlums and punks. (Image source: Daniel Case/Wikimedia Commons)
While Christian leaders are busy condemning Israel and spreading blood libels against it, Christians in Bethlehem are again being targeted by hoodlums and punks.
The latest victim of this anti-Christian violence is Dr. Salameh Qumsiyeh, a gynecologist from Bethlehem who was brutally attacked by unidentified thugs as he was driving his car in the center of the city on February 18.
Four masked assailants intercepted Qumsiyeh's car, eyewitnesses said, and beat him with clubs and sharp tools before fleeing the scene. Qumsiyeh was rushed to hospital, where medics said that the wounds he had suffered were serious.
The doctor's family, one of the biggest Christian clans in the Bethlehem area, issued a statement harshly criticizing the assault, dubbing it a "sinful and despicable attack by a group of cowards and violators of laws and national and social norms." The clan went on to express shock over the attack and was careful to claim that it had been carried out by "mercenaries." It urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces to do their utmost to "arrest the cowards and bring them to justice."
Palestinian factions in the Bethlehem area also denounced the "brutal and cowardly" attack on Qumsiyeh. "We strongly condemn this cowardly and suspicious act, which is alien to our traditions," the factions said in a statement.
The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem further condemned the assault on Qumsiyeh and urged the Palestinian security forces to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
The attack on Qumsiyeh came only weeks after a Christian woman from the town of Bet Jala, near Bethlehem, died when Palestinian police officers raided her home to arrest her son, Yusef, for unpaid debts. The woman was identified as 63-year-old Terez Ta'amneh.
Ta'amneh's daughter, Marian al-Hajal, accused the Palestinian security forces of "killing my mother" and said that as a Christian, she has no confidence in the Palestinian law and police. "The seven police officers who raided our home," she said, "were led by Jamal Hmeid, a nephew of Kamel Hmeid, the Palestinian governor of Bethlehem."
On the eve of last Christmas, 76-year-old Fairouz Ijha, a Christian woman from Bethlehem, complained that she has been in court for the past two years, fighting to attain family-owned land illegally seized by Muslims. "Each time I ask the judge for permission to speak, he tells me, 'it's not your turn yet,'" Fairouz said. "If I were a Muslim, I would have been treated differently."
A Christian schoolteacher who identified herself as "Diana" emphasized that discrimination against Christians was not new and has in fact increased. "The [Palestinian] police have separate rules for Muslims and Christians," she maintained. "If, for example, there's a car accident involving a Christian and a Muslim, the police always side with the Muslim."
The plight of Christians living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is one that is often ignored by the international community and foreign journalists based in the Middle East.
It is worth noting that that the Christian population in the Bethlehem area has dropped from 86% in 1950 to less than 12% today. Across the West Bank, Christians now account for less than 2% of the population, though in the 1970s they were 5%.
In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, the situation of Christians is even worse. The number of Christians living there has dropped from 4,200 in 2007, to only a few hundred today.
"The Hamas people took over my house and turned it into a war room," said Kamal Teresi, a Christian who recently fled the Gaza Strip.
"I was put in a number of prisons, and the Hamas prison is nothing but beating and psychological torture. We Christians are not bystanders in Palestine; we have been in Palestine for 2000 years; we are not guests. They [Hamas] are harassing and hurting the Christian public and Christian institutions, churches and associations. I can't go back to Gaza; returning would be a death sentence."
While ordinary Christians are saying they no longer feel safe living under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, their leaders continue to lie to the world about the predicament of their community. Instead of raising their voices against the persecution of Christians by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, these Christian leaders are busy trying to blame Israel.
These Christian leaders, possibly to avoid being targeted themselves, seem to want the world to believe that Christians are fleeing Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip because of Israeli security measures against terrorists, and not because of the brutalities perpetrated by the Palestinian authorities and Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
If that were true, why aren't Muslims also fleeing as a result of the purported Israeli measures? Israel's security measures, by the way, are usually not directed against Christians but against Palestinian Muslims for their involvement in terrorism. If anyone has good reason to flee from Israeli security, it is the Muslim terrorists and their families, and not peaceful and vulnerable Christians, most of whom are not involved in anti-Israel activities or terrorism.
What are Palestinian Christian leaders doing to defend their community? Unfortunately, nothing. Some even join the Muslims who spread blood libels against Israel.
One such cleric is the head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who recently claimed that Israel had "poisoned" him in an apparent failed assassination attempt. Hanna, who is known for his vicious anti-Israel incitement, alleged that he had inhaled a dangerous amount of poison when a gas canister was fired through the window of his room at the church.
It later turned out that Hanna's accusations were completely unfounded and simply the continuation of a despicable defamation campaign against Israel.
An investigation by the Israeli authorities revealed that the church had invited an Israeli company to spray the church with pesticide. "We expect a clergyman to adhere to the truth," the Israeli Foreign Ministry responded to Hanna's blood libel, "and that clergymen around the world denounce these outrageous false proclamations and refrain from distributing this libel."
Hanna, like other Palestinian Christian leaders, is not just a liar; he is a traitor to his own community. Hanna has not spoken a word against the attack on Qumsiyeh and other Christians in Bethlehem. He does not care about the suffering of his people under the oppressive Islamist rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
By ignoring the real reason why Christians are fleeing from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaders such as Hanna are emboldening the anti-Christian Muslims and allowing them to continue their attacks on Christians living there.
As for the international community and Christian institutions around the world, it is their most far-reaching duty to look into these blood libels by Palestinian Christian leaders to check if there is factual accuracy. If they fail to do so, the day will come when not a single Christian will be left in Bethlehem, the Gaza Strip, and most likely the Middle East, with the exception of Israel, where numbers are on the rise.
Bassam Tawil is based in the Middle East.