Blaming Israel for the Middle East’s Christian Exodus

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Jewish settlers, the Israeli government and “Christian Zionists” are the main cause of Palestinian Christian emigration from the Middle East, not the rise of Islamic extremism, according to the chiefs of two Palestinian Christian groups.

In protesting letters to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Anglican Priest Naim Ateek of Sabeel and Kairos Palestine Coordinator Rifat Odeh Kassis chastised the head of the Anglican Communion for citing increasing Islamic extremism as a key factor in the departure of Christians from the region.

In a June 14 interview with the BBC Radio, Williams warned that Islamist groups were exploiting the chaos of the “Arab Spring” revolutions to attack Christian minorities.  In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Christians who had once been in the majority were now a “marginalised minority,” Williams told the BBC.

There has been a Christian exodus from Muslim majority countries throughout the Middle East for the last century.  But anti-Israel activists only cite the departure of Palestinian Christians as a tool for blaming Israel.

“Your inaccurate and erroneous remarks cite Muslim extremism as the greatest threat facing Christians in Palestine, and the primary reason for our emigration,” Kassis complained to Williams. “We were hoping that Your Grace would have a different voice than the one in mass media and other right wing political parties, which exploit our sufferings to fuel some islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam.”

In his own letter to Williams, the Rev. Ateek explained:  “Your words were negatively received by our people; and we have been asked by our friends – locally and internationally – to make a public response.”

Patterned after a group that opposed South Africa’s apartheid, the Kairos Palestine group includes the Patriarchs of indigenous Latin and Orthodox churches in the Holy Land, plus a number of other Christian prelates. Like the South African group, Kairos Palestine calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel ostensibly on behalf of oppressed Palestinians. The group does not similarly criticize Fatah or Hamas, except for blanket condemnations of all violence. Sabeel is a Palestinian liberation theology group that sharply criticizes Israel – and by extension, the United States – as imperial forces that oppress an aggrieved indigenous population. It regularly denounces Israel and also likens it to the South African apartheid state, claiming Israeli racism. Sabeel devotes almost all of its energies towards organizing campaigns against Israel and networks with friendly overseas church officials in North America and Europe, counting as supporters former U.S. Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning.

In his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ateek insisted that Palestinian Christians primarily identify themselves as part of a Palestinian majority, not as part of a Christian minority.

“You singled out the extremist Islamists as a threat to Christian presence, but neglected to mention two other extremists groups, namely, Jewish extremists represented by the religious and racist settlers on the West Bank that are encouraged directly by the present extreme rightwing Israeli government, and Christian extremists represented by the Western Christian Zionists that support Israel blindly and unconditionally,” Ateek wrote. “Jewish and Western Christian Zionists are a greater threat to us than the extremist Islamists.”

Ateek cited a 2006 survey of Christians in Israel and Palestine conducted by Sabeel that indicated that the primary causes for the emigration of Christians from the West Bank were political and economic conditions.

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  • marc

    If these people are real Christians they would tell the truth.

  • WLIL

    These types of christians that pandered to islamic agenda excessively are just not worth talking about. That is another reason why their migration from middle east is such a farce. Are we able to trust those christians who kept on changing their allegiance whenever it suit them or whatever benefitted them? I just hope they know what is bad and what is good to prevent their problems from getting worse. I guess they would start telling the truth when they see the futility of supporting any irrational extremist groups.

  • Amused

    What they are not saying ,what they are AFRAID to say is , the reason for their troubles are the muslims themselves , who harrass and persecute them ,and defile their churches .But if they say that it will be worse for them .

  • jayne

    Demographics don't lie. the Christian population in Palestine before the 1948 mass exodus was 40-60 percent. It dropped dramatically after Irgun and Lehi troops began a campaign of terror, which included assassinations of British officials and horrific massacres such as Dier Yassin. Those who have stayed, the ones who were too poor to leave, were caght up in a nightmare of systematic abuse,opression,and genocide. They live under the Israeli boot to this day. This is the truth. These are the facts. If you don't believe me, google white phosphorus gaza.


    • Michael Dar

      Christian community in Israel grow while those in the Arab lands and under the Fakestinian authority decreases, subjected by Muslims to hardships of all kinds and even murdered. It is too long to go into the details of history during the British Mandate and the Arab-Fakestinian's fabricated narratives..which I by the way am ready to debate with you..but there was never any genocide by Israel. Look up the word you probably don't understand it. The Arabs, Muslims and Christians who remained in Israel in 1948 are by far better off than those in any of the surrounding Arab countries!

    • MixMChess

      Jayne, you are a LIAR.

      While Christians are unwelcome in Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, and most have been driven out of their longtime homes in Lebanon, Christians continue to be welcome in Israel. In fact, Israel is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population has grown in the last half century (from 34,000 in 1948 to 145,000 today), in large measure because Israel guarantees their equal rights and freedom to practice religion.

      In fact, it was during Jordan’s control of Jerusalem from 1948 -1967 when Christian rights were infringed and Israeli Christians were BARRED from their holy places. The Christian population DECLINED during that time by nearly 50%, from over 25,000 to less than 12,500. Since Israeli rule over Jerusalem, the population has slowly been GROWING.

      The Christian population has been rapidly declining under Palestinian Authority rule. Currently, less than 27,000 Christians live among 3 million Muslim Palestinians. The proportion of Christians in Gaza and the W. Bank has dropped from 15% of the Arab population in 1950 to less than 1% today. Over 75% of all Bethlehem Christians now live abroad, and the majority of the city’s population is Muslim. The Christian population declined 29% in the W. Bank and 20% in Gaza from 1997 – 2002 ALONE. By contrast, during the same time period, Israel’s Arab Christian population GREW from 14% to over 27%.

      Of course the Palestinians regularly persecute Christians. For example, Samir Qumsiyeh, a journalist from Beit Sahur reported that Christians were being subjected to "rape, kidnapping, extortion and expropriation of land and property." Qumsiyeh, has a list of "93 cases of anti-Christian violence between 2000 and 2004" and specifically mentioned the case of a 17-year-old girl from his town who was raped by members of Fatah. He added that “almost all 140 cases of expropriation of land in the last three years were committed by militant Islamic groups and members of the Palestinian police” and that the "Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped from 75 percent in 1950 to 12 percent today." Qumsiyeh has warned that if that trend continues, “we won't be here any more in 20 years."

    • MixMChess

      "It dropped dramatically after Irgun and Lehi troops began a campaign of terror, which included assassinations of British officials and horrific massacres such as Dier Yassin."

      The Deir Yassin massacre is a myth created by the Arabs. The town was filled with hostile residents and foreign troops who opened fire on the approximately 100 Irgun fighters.

      The Irgun had provided ample warning for the civilians to evacuate the area, which many did. In fact, the irgun left open an escape corridor from the village and more than 200 residents left unharmed.

      Surprisingly, after the “massacre,” the Irgun escorted a representative of the Red Cross through the town and held a press conference. The New York Times’ subsequent described that more than 200 Arabs were killed, most of whom were soldiers or militants. No hint of a massacre appeared in the report.

      Contrary to claims from Arab propagandists at the time, and some since, there was no massacre and no women were raped. On the contrary, every villager ever interviewed has denied these allegations. Like many of the claims, this was a deliberate propaganda ploy, but one that backfired. Hazam Nusseibi, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service in 1948, admitted being told by Hussein Khalidi, a Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate the atrocity claims. Abu Mahmud, a Deir Yassin resident in 1948 told Khalidi “there was no rape,” but Khalidi replied, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.” Nusseibeh told the BBC 50 years later, “This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror."

      The Arab Higher Committee hoped exaggerated reports about a “massacre” at Deir Yassin would shock the population of the Arab countries into bringing pressure on their governments to intervene. Instead, the immediate impact was to "stimulate a new Palestinian exodus."

      Interestingly enough, just four days after the reports from Deir Yassin were published, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the director of the hospital. Another 23 people were injured. This massacre attracted little attention and is never mentioned by people such as yourself who are quick to bring up Deir Yassin.

    • MixMChess

      "If you don't believe me, google white phosphorus gaza."

      Another LIE by jayne. In 2009 the International Red Cross CONFIRMED that Israel never used white phosphorous illegally against any civilian populations.

      You failed to mention that white phosphorus was being used as a weapon against civilians by HAMAS, which fired mortar shells from Gaza into Israel filled with white phosphorus.

  • Ethan

    The real distortion is that there is any Palestinian Christian exodus. The Palestinian Christian population decreased more than 40 years ago. Since then, it has increased – under both Israeli and Palestinian rule in the West Bank – and it has increased significantly in Israel proper. Groups like the Sabeel Center have distorted the data to state that something different has occurred. They inaccurately argue that Israeli policies have caused an exodus of Palestinian Christians. It's a myth. The data tell a different story. The number of Christians has increased. They have decreased as a percentage – but only because the Muslim population is increasing exponentially. This is hardly the fault of Israel.

    Some Palestinian Christian leaders have lied to state there were 350,000 Christians prior to 1948 – more than doubling the actual number – no doubt to make the drop more dramatic. They have said that 5,000 Christians have left Gaza – a mathematical impossibility given that the population never included that many Christians in the first place.

    I have no doubt that Palestinian Christians suffer for many reasons. It is a shame that one of those reasons is the lack of integrity of their leaders.