On December 26, Iran's Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah attacked St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church in Iqrit, northern Israel. An anti-tank guided missile fired from Lebanon directly hit the church, severely wounding an 85-year-old civilian. Nine Israeli soldiers who rushed to rescue the churchgoer were then wounded by a second missile strike. Hezbollah boasted about the attack and posted a video of its missiles hitting the church.
The attack did not elicit any response from any major Christian organization in the West. By contrast, the pope was quick to denounce the killing of two Christian women in the Gaza Strip, falsely insinuating, however, that Israel was responsible.
Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter, Samar Kamal Anton, were reportedly killed in a shooting incident at the compound of the Holy Family Catholic Parish in the Gaza Strip. The pope claimed that the two women "were killed, and others were wounded by the shooters while they were going to the bathroom." Although he did not name the alleged shooters, the pope, in the article , echoing false claims by Hamas and other terrorist groups, was clearly pointing the finger of blame at Israel:
"At the Angelus prayer, the Pope said he continues to receive troubling news from Gaza, where unarmed civilians are the targets of bombings and gunfire."
As of this writing, no Christian leader had anything to say about Hezbollah's missile attack on a church.
When Muslims commit such crimes against Christians in the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries, no one, including the Western media, takes notice. Why? It is not about Israel. No Jews are at fault.
It is just as likely that the Christian women were killed by Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists. In recent years, there has been increased evidence that Hamas not only uses mosques to launch attacks against Israel; Archbishop Alexis, a prominent Christian leader in the Gaza Strip revealed that during one of the recent rounds of fighting, Hamas terrorists used the church compound to launch rockets into Israel.
These are the same terrorists, by the way, who fired a rocket that struck a hospital in the Gaza Strip and rushed to falsely accuse Israel. After examining images of the damage at the point of impact at the Al-Ahli Hospital, a European military source ruled out the hypothesis that the attack was an air-to-ground strike by an Israeli fighter jet. The source, as well as the US government, assessed that the explosion was caused by a Gazan rocket that had misfired on its way toward Israel. The source, in addition, questioned the death toll quickly announced by the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, saying it was unlikely that 471 people died in the explosion; US intelligence estimated far fewer.
Earlier, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem had directly accused Israel, without any evidence, of killing the Christian mother and daughter. "They were shot in cold blood," the patriarchate claimed in a statement.
The Israeli military, however, refuted the claim that its troops had targeted the Greek Orthodox church in the Gaza Strip. Stressing that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) "do not target civilians, no matter their religion," the army said it had been contacted by church representatives about an incident in the Holy Family Parish, but "no reports of a hit on the church, nor civilians being injured or killed, were raised. A review of the IDF's operational findings support this."
Later, the army said its initial review found that "Hamas terrorists launched a rocket-propelled grenade at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church." The troops identified three people in the vicinity who were operating as "spotters" for Hamas and "guiding their attacks," and fired at the spotters, hitting them.
"While this incident occurred in the area where the two women were reportedly killed," it said, "the reports received [of the two women killed] do not match the conclusion of our initial review, which found that the IDF troops were targeting spotters in enemy lookouts."
The IDF said it was continuing its "examination of the incident," adding:
"The IDF takes claims of strikes on sensitive sites very seriously, especially churches that are the holy sites for the Christian faith. The IDF directs its operations against the Hamas terrorist organization and not against civilians, regardless of their religious affiliation. The IDF takes many measures to mitigate harm to civilians in the Gaza Strip. These efforts stand in contrast to Hamas that does everything in its power to endanger civilians and exploits them, as well as religious sites, as human shields for their terrorist activities."
By pointing an accusatory finger at Israel, the pope and the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem are actually buying into the false claims made by Iran's Palestinian proxy, Hamas. The pope and the patriarchate were quick to make a judgement against Israel, largely on the basis of a false claim made by Hamas, whose terrorists invaded Israel on October 7 and murdered more than 1,200 Israelis and wounded thousands of others. The pope and the patriarchate did not even bother to wait for the Israeli army's investigation into the Gaza church incident. Instead, they, like many in the mainstream media in the West, chose to parrot the false claims made by Hamas and other terrorists.
Like many in the mainstream media in the West, they also chose to ignore the Hezbollah attack on the church in northern Israel. They probably see no reason why they should respond to an attack that cannot be blamed on Israel.
Where were the pope and other Christian organizations, one wonders, when Christians living under the terrorist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, were being systematically targeted and persecuted?
During the volatile period of 2006-2008 in the Gaza Strip, Islamist terrorists murdered Rami Ayyad, a Palestinian Christian activist who served as manager of the only Christian bookstore there. The bookstore had been the target of several attacks in the past, including bombings and arson. Ayyad was known to have received death threats over the years.
On October 6, 2007, as Ayyad was locking up the bookstore, he was forced into a car by a group of masked men and driven away. The next day his body was found in a field near the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City. He had been severely beaten, and a note found near his body accused him of being a "missionary" and warned others not to engage in similar activities.
"Since the election of the Hamas government in 2006, and the coup by which Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, religious tension has only intensified," wrote the late international human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner, who extensively researched human rights abuses against Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"Hamas has enacted policies that are turning the [Palestinian-controlled areas] into an Islamic theocracy, and the Christian religion and its followers are consistently discriminated against. Muslim groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have built a culture of hatred upon the age-old foundations of Islamic society. In 2008, Muslim militants bombed the Gaza City Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and a bomb went off in a Christian school."
In Weiner's view, the crimes committed against Christian Arabs result from a way of thinking that dates back to the earliest days of Islam:
"Traditionally, Christians and Jews are given an inferior social status known as dhimmitude in Islam. The dhimma is a legal contract of submission that was imposed upon the indigenous non-Muslim populations in regions conquered by the spread of Islam. Although Jews and Christians were not forced to convert to Islam, they were not treated as the equals of Muslims. As dhimmis, Jews and Christians were subjected to both legal and cultural restrictions under Islamic law. For example, Muslims could rise horses, whereas Christians and Jews were limited to donkeys. Or, Muslims were permitted to wear garments of fine cloth, while Christians and Jews were only allowed to wear clothing made from coarse fabric."
Weiner went on to note:
"In Palestinian society Christian Arabs have no voice and no protection. It is no wonder they have been leaving. Because of emigration – some of its dating back to or three generations – seventy percent of Christian Arabs who originally resided in the West Bank and Gaza now live abroad."
How ironic, then, that the latest attempt to label Israel as a country that targets Christians coincided with the massacre in Nigeria perpetrated against Christians celebrating Christmas. More than 160 Christians were murdered in coordinated attacks by Islamist militant groups that took place between December 23-25. Nigeria has been a hotbed for Christian persecution in recent years, with the country, in 2022, leading the world in Christians killed for their faith. When such atrocities are committed, we rarely hear the voices of those who claim to care about the well-being and safety of Christians around the world.
The top 10 state persecutors of Christians, according to Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians, are North Korea, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan. Other notable countries who made the list include India, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Egypt, Mexico, Turkey and Nicaragua.
In Israel, meanwhile, the Christian community grew by 1.4 percent in 2020 and numbered some 182,000 people. Eighty-four percent of the Christians said they were satisfied with life in Israel: 24% said they were "very satisfied" and 60% "satisfied." Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where Christians feel secure and where their numbers are growing. By contrast, in 2022 about 1,100 Christians lived in the Gaza Strip -- down from more than 1,300 in 2014.
Christian leaders who turn their backs on the plight of the Christians in the Gaza Strip, or anywhere, while continuing to obsess about Israel are doing immense harm to their flocks: away from the public's attention, Christians will be targeted more fiercely than ever. Worse, those who are ignoring the attacks on Christians are giving a green light to Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamists to destroy Christian holy sites and murder Christians.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.