Bob Simon’s Sixty Minutes segment titled Christians in the Holy Land can be legitimately accused of the journalistic crime of omission, and for those with an ungenerous spirit, Simon may be blamed as well for the act of commission. Simon simply ignored the obvious in covering the status of Christians in the Holy Land: the fear and intimidation Palestinian Christians suffer at the hands of the Muslim-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
In a polity such as the PA, not to mention Hamas in Gaza, where Sharia law governs to the extent that any law other than the “law of the gun” exists, Christians feel excluded and discriminated. That alone may explain the increased pace of Christian flight from the Palestinian territories since the mid-1990s when Israel left the cities of the West Bank to PA control and since Hamas began to rule Gaza in 2007. Such factors as economic pressure, lack of safety and the rule of law, the increasing dominance of Islamists, and above all intimidation through violence and the threat of violence, have been contributing factors in the fleeing of Christians from the Holy Land.
Reverend Dr. Bill Harter, a Presbyterian Church USA pastor who has logged more than 40 missions to the Holy Land, pointed out to a State Department top official (in the presence of this writer) that what Palestinian Christians say in public is vastly different from what they say in private. To maintain their safety and to hold up their bona fides as loyal Palestinian patriots, they must denounce Israel more vociferously at times than Muslims, otherwise they might be accused of collaborating with Israel. The consequences for not cooperating with the Palestinian propaganda machine can be most severe: rape of daughters and wives, torched businesses and, ultimately, death by a bullet or a knife.
Privately, however, where there are no prying eyes, and when it is anonymously whispered, ordinary Palestinian-Christians reveal their suffering at the hands of their Muslim neighbors and roving gangs of Islamic extortionists. Their methods do not differ much from the Mafia, but Christians are targeted specifically because they are not Muslims, and these militant Muslim extortionists get a free pass from the Gaza and Ramallah regimes.
The only utterances ordinary Christian-Palestinians can make on a public microphone or a television camera are anti-Israel statements. Did Simon expect them to denounce the PA? Simon’s life was not on the line, theirs were.
The second factor in Simon’s hatchet job (on Israel) is to ignore the fact that the top clergy and leadership of the Christian Palestinian community have been co-opted by the PA, as well as by other Arab dictatorial regimes. Popes (Coptic Pope in Egypt) bishops, clergy (Rev. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, and others) and politicians like Hanan Ashrawi enjoy pay and position given to them by the PA. Moreover, all of these figures know that defaming Israel carries only credit and no danger to themselves from the Israelis. On the other hand, speaking ill of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas will carry a death sentence for them and their families.
In a piece published by the Gatestone Institute in 2009, Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim reporter for the Jerusalem Post wrote that Christians have complained about acts of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority. And, if that wasn’t enough, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.
Toameh recounted hearing stories of shakedowns by Muslim gangs. He writes: “Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay ‘protection’ money to local Muslim gangs.” Abu Toameh pointed out that this is not the story Palestinian Christians tell Western reporters.