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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Yasser Arafat’s Exemplary Christian Spirit

Yasser Arafat has gone to great lengths over the past two weeks to identifywith Christians living in the Palestinian Authority. In his televised addresshe made clear to the world that he represents Christians as well as Muslim Arabsin the Palestinian Authority and then cried foul when the Israelis barred himfrom attending Mass in Bethlehem.

This was, of course, a pathetic masquerade. Not only has Yasser Arafat donenothing to bolster and protect the rights of Arab Christians in the PalestinianAuthority. He has embarked on a ruthless campaign to erode and dismantle theirrights.

The fate of Bethlehem offers a fine example. Since 1994, when Arafat firstcame to administer Bethlehem the Christian population has gradually been reducedfrom a 60 percent majority in Bethlehem to a mere 20 percent.

This Arafat ensured by first gerrymandering the municipal boundaries of thecity, extending them to include the neighboring refugee camps ‘#150; Dehaisheh,El-Ayda and El-Azeh and adding a few thousand from the Ta’#146;amarah Bedouintribe.

Concurrently Arafat fired the city council which was composed of 9 Christiansand 2 Moslems while appointing Muhammed A- Hjabari, a Moslem from Hebron asmayor. The entire political structure of the city ‘#150; in the bureaucratic,security and political spheres were eventually cleansed of Christians. Todaythe Bethlehem region is in reality run by the local Fatah leader and his thugs.

The physical and psychological intimidation of Palestinian Chrisitian Arabsthroughout the territory then proceeded rapidly. Mosques were erected in closeproximity to churches in order to obscure and dominate them. This is the casewith the Al Khanga and Abdul Malek mosques which today tower over the Churchof the Nativity. Christian cemeteries, convents and monasteries were desecrated,their personnel intimidated and in places, their land confiscated. Muslim gunmen,shooting at southern Jerusalem from neighboring Beit Jalah, have regularly locatedtheir positions either in or next to Christian homes, churches and hotels inorder to provoke a harsh Israeli retaliation that could then be interpretedby the world as an attack on Christians.

Then there is the rapid Lebanonization of the West Bank and Gaza. In the 1970sthe PLO occupied southern Lebanon, carrying out a campaign of terror involvingsummary executions of perceived Christian collaborators, rapes of Christianwomen and theft of Church property. Christian Palestinians in such towns asBethlehem, Beit Sakhur and Beit Jallah live with similar fears. Rapes of Christianwomen have occurred repeatedly in Beit Sakhur while the Palestinian police turna blind eye.

Christian shopkeepers and businessmen, who are among the most prosperous Arabsin the region, have seen their businesses devastated by the violence of theIntifada – the lucrative tourist trade being practically wiped out.

Added to this privation is the protection money now demanded by Fatah activistswho insist that Christians must be shielded from the excesses of Muslim fundamentalists.Is it then any wonder that close to 40,000 Christian Arabs have fled Bethlehemin the past eight years?

Not that it wasn’#146;t expected. The late Christian mayor of Bethlehem EliasFriej warned that the implementation of the Oslo Accords would result in Bethlehembecoming a town with churches but no Christians. For over seven years ChristianArabs in East Jerusalem and other West Bank towns have besieged Israeli officialswith requests for Israeli I. D. cards knowing full well that the institutionof Palestinian rule would result in the kind of extortion and corruption seenwherever the PLO has hoisted its tent.

Those who know something about persecution of Christians throughout the Arabworld will not be shocked by what has occurred in the Palestinian Authority.In Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, Christian populations suffer from both direct andindirect state sponsored discrimination.

In other Muslim countries such as Nigeria and Indonesia there is open persecutionof Christians while in the Sudan it is estimated that close to two million Christianshave lost their lives in the course of a bitter civil war.

In spite of Yasser Arafat’#146;s sniffles for Bethlehem, there is no evidencethat he cares any more for that town or its Christian population than he doesfor Israelis killed by Palestinian violence.

Yet the true irony that grips the Middle East is not that Yasser Arafat nowhas power over this hapless population; it is that many western governmentswho could have significant influence on Arafat, still fail to understand thatJudeo-Christian values, so fondly nurtured in their own countries, are mockedby a unrepentant malefactor who operates in the very heartland in which thosevalues came into existence.

-Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.

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