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Blaming Israel, not Muslims, for Christian woes

As some Christian leaders in Israel and around the world blame Jews for diminishing Christian numbers in the Holy Land, the true culprit—hostile Muslims—goes unnamed. 

A Christmas tree in Jaffa, Dec. 9, 2018. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
A Christmas tree in Jaffa, Dec. 9, 2018. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Chaim Silberstein and Hillel Fendel

Fact: The 2016 killing of a gorilla in Cincinnati received six times more media coverage than the beheading by ISIS of 21 Coptic Egyptian Christians who refused to recant their faith. This is just one example of the woeful paucity of reporting on rampant Muslim persecution of Christians around the world. Others abound.

In Nigeria, no fewer than 32,000 Christians were butchered to death by the country’s main jihadists over the course of the decade that just ended. Another more than 3,000 Christians were murdered there during the first seven months of this year, and three months ago, Muslims attacked a Christian community, murdering 49 Christians and kidnapping another 27.

The situation in other Muslim countries is better, but that’s little comfort. Raymond Ibrahim, author of a 10-year-old monthly Gatestone Institute series entitled Muslim Persecution of Christians, says that “the phenomenon of Muslim persecution of Christians is real: it’s unwavering, constant and systemic, and it conforms to sharia-approved patterns—meaning its root source is Islam.”

Ibrahim emphasizes that in addition to the “pure genocide” of Christians in Nigeria, this same jihadist spirit is well entrenched or increasing in other African nations, such as Somalia, Mauritania, Kenya, Mozambique and many more. In Christian-majority Uganda, it is common to see Muslims attacking or killing family members for converting to Christianity.

In Pakistan, Ibrahim writes, “blatant and systemic discrimination against Christians is downright disgusting. Not a week seems to go by without a young, underage Christian girl being abducted, raped and then forced to convert and marry her abductor—with the police and courts siding with the abductors and rapists.”

In Egypt, numerous churches have been bombed by Muslims over the years, killing many worshipers, while others have been banned outright, and kidnappings and forced marriages of Christian women and girls to their Muslim abductors have reached record levels.

Palestinian Authority Christians

What about in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas? A 2019 report by Edy Cohen of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies cited three horrifying incidents that received very little attention, because they are “not connected to Israel.” These stories “encapsulate the persecution of Palestinian Christians,” in the words of an report.

One of them occurred on April 25, 2019, when Muslims stormed a village near Ramallah in response to a Christian resident who complained to police that the son of a Fatah leader had attacked her family. Rather than protecting the innocent civilian, police ignored the armed Fatah-affiliated rioters as they lobbed petrol bombs at homes and fired live rounds into the air.

The men even demanded that the Christians pay a jizya, a yearly tax historically levied, by authority of the Quran, on permanent non-Muslim subjects (dhimmi) of Islamic states.

In the two other incidents in Cohen’s report, vandals broke into, desecrated and stole equipment from churches in Bethlehem and Ramallah. In 2013 in Gaza, the Christian Holy Family School was set on fire, while the five Christian schools in the district were closed by Hamas government order.

“The only thing that interests the P.A. is that events of this kind not be leaked to the media,” Cohen wrote, because Fatah exerts heavy pressure on Christians not to report the attacks, so as not to damage the P.A.’s image.

“[Many] Christians in the PA … fear—with good reason—that Muslim aggression against them will only escalate. Such fears are all the stronger in light of the thunderous silence of the Western (and Israeli) media in the face of the Christian minority’s ongoing disappearance from the P.A. and Islamic lands in general—in striking contrast to the growth, prosperity and increasing integration of the Christian community in Israel proper.”

Church leaders blame Israel

With all this, a recent declaration by church leaders in Jerusalem puzzlingly lays all blame for Christian woes in the Holy Land at the feet of Jewish and Israeli elements. They warned that Christians have become targets of “frequent and supported attacks by radical fringe groups”—Jewish ones, that is. Nowhere do they mention attacks, both physical and otherwise, initiated against Christians by Muslims. The religious leaders warned of a “systematic [Jewish] attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”

Several days later, two leading Christian clerics, one in Britain—no less than the head of the Church of England, Justin Welby—and one in Jerusalem, wrote an article supporting the claims and clearly suggesting that Israel is at fault for the decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. This, even though the Christian population in Hamas-run Gaza has plummeted by 80 percent (!) over the past 15 years, to around 1,000.

The article states: “The growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.” Again, these vague and undocumented accusations totally obfuscate the true picture of ongoing Palestinian-Arab persecution of Christians. The article does not even mention the P.A. or Muslims.

Regarding the insinuations that Israel is responsible for a drop in its Christian population, the facts tell a different story. Though the percentage of Christians in Israel has dropped drastically over the decades, largely because of the massive Jewish immigration to the Jewish state, in absolute numbers the Christian population in Israel proper has actually grown, and Israel is the only Middle East country in which this is the case.

It is notable that the Christian charity organization “Open Doors” attributes to “Islamic oppression” the steep decline of Christian numbers in the P.A.-controlled areas. The organization claims that “Islamic extremist militants” have been causing Christians to fear violent attacks.

Keep in mind that Christian numbers are dwindling in Muslim lands around the world. In 2019, Christians comprised 5 percent of Middle Eastern populations, compared with 20 percent a century ago.

Despite all, it might be of some consolation to know that even the Welby article notes that “Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region.”

Israel officially recognizes no fewer than 10 Christian denominations that regulate personal status issues, such as marriage and divorce: Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic—to which most Israeli Christians belong—as well as Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic and (Anglican) Episcopal. Israel is the only country in the region where freedom of Christian worship is not only permitted, but also protected.

In light of the Welby accusations, it behooves honest and freedom-loving citizens, especially in the Christian world, to protest yet another blatant anti-Semitic attempt to delegitimize Israel. These transparently false attacks serve only to delegitimize their own credibility. Shame.

Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism.

Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz 7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs.

This article was written in collaboration with United with Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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