The Forgotten Palestinian Refugees (WSJ)
Where’s the international outrage over these displaced Arabs?

The Forgotten Palestinian Refugees

Even in Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians are suffering under Muslim intolerance.


Meet Yussuf Khoury, a 23-year old Palestinian refugee living in the
West Bank. Unlike those descendents of refugees born in United Nations
camps, Mr. Khoury fled his birthplace just two years ago. And he wasn’t
running away from Israelis, but from his Palestinian brethren in Gaza.

Mr. Khoury’s crime in that Hamas-ruled territory was to be a
Christian, a transgression he compounded in the Islamists’ eyes by
writing love poems.

“Muslims tied to Hamas tried to take me twice,” says Mr. Khoury, and
he didn’t want to find out what they’d do to him if they ever kidnapped
him. He hasn’t seen his family since Christmas 2007 and is afraid even
to talk to them on the phone.

Speaking to a group of foreign journalists in the Bethlehem Bible
College where he is studying theology, Mr. Khoury describes a life of
fear in Gaza. “My sister is under a lot of pressure to wear a
headscarf. People are turning more and more to Islamic fundamentalism
and the situation for Christians is very difficult,” he says.

In 2007, one year after the Hamas takeover, the owner of Gaza’s only
Christian bookstore was abducted and murdered. Christian shops and
schools have been firebombed. Little wonder that most of Mr. Khoury’s
Christian friends have also left Gaza.
On the rare occasion that Western media cover the plight of Christians in
the Palestinian territories, it is often to denounce Israel and its
security barrier. Yet until Palestinian terrorist groups turned
Bethlehem into a safe haven for suicide bombers, Bethlehemites were
free to enter Israel, just as many Israelis routinely visited Bethlehem.

The other truth usually ignored by the Western press is that the
barrier helped restore calm and security not just in Israel, but also
in the West Bank including Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity, which
Palestinian gunmen stormed and defiled in 2002 to escape from Israeli
security forces, is now filled again with tourists and pilgrims from
around the world.

But even here in Jesus’ birthplace, which is under the control of
the Palestinian Authority (PA), Christians live on a knife’s edge. Mr.
Khoury tells me that Muslims often stand in front of the gate of the
Bible College and read from the Quran to intimidate Christian students.
Other Muslims like to roll out their prayer rugs right in Manger

Asked about why Muslims would pray so close to one of Christianity’s
holiest sites, Pastor Alex Awad, dean of students at the Bible College,
diplomatically advises me to pose this question to the Muslims
themselves. Mindful of his community’s precarious situation, he is at
pains to stress that whatever problems Christians may have with their
Muslim neighbors, it’s not the PA’s fault.

“Muslims and Christians live here in relative harmony,” he tells
reporters, only to add that Christians “feel the pressure of Islam . .
There is intimidation and fanaticism but these are little instances
and there is no general persecution.”

Samir Qumsieh, the founder of what he says is the holy land’s only
Christian TV station, also stresses that there is no “Christian
suffering” and that the Christians’ problems are not orchestrated by
the PA. Yet his stories of land theft, beatings and intimidation make
one wonder why, if the PA doesn’t approve of such injustices, it is
doing so little to stop it?

Christians have only recently begun to talk about how Muslim gangs
simply come and take possession of Christian-owned land while the
Palestinian security services, almost exclusively staffed by Muslims,
stand by. Mr. Qumsieh’s own home was firebombed three years ago. The
perpetrators were never caught.

“We have never suffered as we are suffering now,” Mr. Qumsieh
confesses, violating his own introductory warning to the assorted
foreign correspondents in his office not to use the word “suffering.”

Always a minority religion among the predominantly Muslim
Palestinians, Christians are, Mr. Qumsieh says, “melting away,” even in
Bethlehem. While they represented about 80% of the city’s population 60
years ago, their numbers are now down to about 20%, a result not just
of Muslims’ higher birth rates but also widespread Christian
emigration. “Our future as a Christian community here is gloomy,” Mr.
Qumsieh says.

Palestinian plight not attributable to Israel barely seems to
register in the West’s collective conscience. As Christians around the
world remember Jesus’ birth, perhaps we can think of Mr. Khoury and
those Christians still suffering in Gaza and Bethlehem.

Mr. Schwammenthal is an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.

Thanks to David in Florida for sending this to my attention.


One Response

  1. Very nice post and kudo to the interesting comment, i also subscribed your RSS feeds for more updates.

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