As Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered his Christmas greeting which described Jesus as a “Palestinian messenger.” He also decried the supposed harsh treatment of Christians today under the Israeli occupation, as opposed to the supposed loving treatment accorded to Christians by the Palestinians.
Abbas’s identity theft insults the name and legacy of Jesus of Nazareth. For many Jews, Jesus, who was born into the Jewish faith, was a great prophet. For Christians, Jesus is the Son of God and redeemer. He transcends petty battles over territories and is no single group’s “messenger,” much less the Palestinians’ personal emissary. Even other Palestinian leaders realized that Abbas might have put his foot in his mouth. They tried to temper his statement by claiming that it wasn’t meant to be understood in a religious context. But a YouTube clip released last Sunday by the Palestine Liberation Organization had a decidedly religious theme. To the music of Silent Night, the video shamelessly portrayed a figure, who was presumably Jesus, holding a cross and riding in a chariot past armed Israeli soldiers and through an Israeli security barrier to Bethlehem.
Abbas was only reflecting the serial identity thefts committed by Palestinians.
Last year, for example, a Palestinian university lecturer claimed on a Palestinian Authority TV program that Moses was a Muslim who brought “the Muslims of the Children of Israel out of Egypt.” The Palestinian lecturer then went on to extol the conquest by the Children of Israel of the land of milk and honey as “the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine.”
That’s a neat trick of revisionist history considering that Islam did not even come into being until at least a millennium later, and it was the Greeks and then the Romans who first used the name Palaistinê as simply the descriptor for the geographical region in which they lived.
The truth is of no consequence to the Palestinian propagandists. Just as Jesus was magically transformed into a “Palestinian messenger” in the Palestinians’ mythology, the Jews who escaped from Egypt and their Jewish descendants who settled in the land of Israel were magically transformed into “Muslims” who liberated “Palestine.”
If Abbas truly believes that Jesus is the Palestinians’ “messenger,” then Abbas would do well to listen to the message of Jesus about truth. Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of John as declaring “the truth will make you free.” The Palestinians are not free today because they lie, not only to the world but also to themselves. Their false narrative of their own identity and history is one example. Abbas’s theft of Jesus’s identity is another. One more case in point is Abbas’s lie in his Christmas greeting about how the Palestinians treat the Christians so well while the Israelis treat them harshly. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Abbas claimed that Christians “are an integral part of the Palestinian people. Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Assyrians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Copts, Melkites, Protestants and others are all part of the rich mosaic of this free, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Palestine we aspire to have and as established in our declaration of independence and draft constitution.” That is an outrageous lie, considering the persistent pattern of harassment, discrimination and persecution visited upon Christians at the hands of Palestinian Muslims.
Abbas’s professed concern for Christians in Gaza “trapped under siege,” and for “those who are prevented from worshiping in Bethlehem,” is nothing more than rank hypocrisy. Moreover, to address any legitimate complaints about restrictions imposed by the Israeli government on Palestinians moving about freely in the territories in order to thwart terrorist attacks, Israeli authorities have announced that such restrictions will be eased to enable thousands of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem.
The Palestinian Authority’s constitution declared that Islam is “the official religion.” Sharia law applies, which means that in practice members of any faith other than Islam are treated as second class residents by Palestinian Muslims.
Michael Curtis, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University wrote the following account of Palestinian Muslims’ treatment of Christians:
Christians have suffered direct harassment. They have been intimidated and maltreated; money has been extorted, land and property confiscated, and Christian women have been abused, raped, abducted and been subjected to forced marriages. Attempts have been made to impose the Islamic women’s dress code on them…Christian holy sites have been disparaged or insulted…Theft of Christian land and property as well as desecration of Christian institutions and disparagement of the religion has occurred. There are allegations of Christians being forced off their land by gangs upheld by a corrupt judiciary. Businesses have had to pay protection money to maintain their existence. Individuals who have converted to Christianity have been threatened. After a Christian man dated a Muslim woman from a neighboring village in September 2005, armed Muslims crying “Allahu Akbar” attacked the Christian city of Taibe, setting fire to homes and businesses and destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Just as Nazis storm troopers thought nothing of invading the sanctuary of churches and monasteries to carry out their evil designs, the Palestinian militants have done much the same thing. In July 1997, for example, the PLO evicted monks and nuns from the Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron. On April 2, 2002 Palestinian gunmen took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which they used as a base from which to fire upon Israeli soldiers. The Israeli soldiers did not fire back out of respect for the Christian religious institution. Professor Curtis, describing the Palestinian invasion of this holy site, wrote: “Priests, monks, and nuns were essentially hostages of the Palestinians, who apparently stole gold and other property including prayer books.” The church was used as a latrine during the Palestinian occupation.
It is no wonder that since the Palestinian Authority assumed control over Bethlehem in 1995 the Christian population has plummeted from being a majority of the total population to less than twenty-five percent of Bethlehem’s population.
As further examples of the Palestinians’ pattern of destruction and intimidation, a Catholic church and a school were vandalized in August 2007, a Young Men’s Christian Association library was set on fire by Palestinian Authority militants in 2008 destroying thousands of books, and 70 Christian graves including stones and crosses were severely damaged in the village of Jiffna, near Ramallah in 2009. Anti-Christian riots have been reported in Ramallah, Nazareth and surrounding villages.
Gaza under Hamas is even worse. Christmas decorations and public displays of crucifixes are forbidden. The owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was brutally murdered after being kidnapped and then stabbed and shot multiple times in 2007. Christian stores and schools have been firebombed. In a December 2010 broadcast, Hamas officials urged Muslims to slaughter their Christian neighbors. It is no wonder that since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has taken off for safer places to live and worship.
Israel, on the other hand, respects and protects freedom of religion for members of all faiths. It opened Christian holy sites in Jerusalem for Christians to visit in 1967, when Israel defeated the Jordanians and reunified Jerusalem. The Jordanians had closed Christian and Jewish holy sites to worshipers of both faiths when the Jordanians had occupied Jerusalem. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, its Christian communities, including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants, have grown more than tenfold. In Jerusalem alone, the number of Arabs—including Christians—has tripled since Israel reunified Jerusalem in 1967. Israel is not perfect, to be sure. But its citizens are far more hospitable to Christians than Palestinian Muslims are to Christians.
Abbas claimed in his Christmas message that the Palestinian Authority remained committed to the peace talks with Israel. But then he reiterated that the Palestinians expected nothing less than “ending the occupation of the Holy Land with the establishment of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian State on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.” And he is reported to have handed Secretary of State John Kerry a letter laying down “Palestinian red lines,” which include “the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” What exactly is Abbas willing to negotiate in good faith? Apparently, nothing. And even if he were inclined to engage in real negotiations, he cannot control Hamas, which remains committed to Israel’s destruction.
These are not the “tidings of comfort and joy” in the Holy Land that one would hope for in this Christmas season.
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