Dateline Jerusalem: Christian Trail of Tears on the Move While Archbishop of Canterbury Plays Blame Game
In a recent BBC radio interview for the program “”World at One” the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concerns about Christian minority populations all across the Middle East where life for Christians was “becoming unsustainable.”
The Archbishop is also organizing a conference to raise awareness of the “hemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land. The fact that Bethlehem, a majority Christian city just a couple of decades ago, is now very definitely a place where Christians are a marginalized minority. We want that to be a little bit higher on people’s radar. We want the public profile of the situation of Christians there to be better known. And we see that as of course part of a general hope to raise the profile of Christians in the region.”
The Archbishop noted that in the Little Town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Christians are now the “marginalized minority…It’s not ethnic cleansing exactly because it’s been far less deliberate than that I think. What we’ve seen though is a kind of Newtonian passing on of energy or force from one body to another so that some Muslim populations in the West Bank, under pressure, move away from certain areas like Hebron, move into other areas like Bethlehem. And there’s nowhere much else for Christian populations to go except away from Palestine.” 
In 1947, 20% of the total population of the Holy Land was Christian. Today, less than 1.3% of the total population of that troubled piece of real estate is Christian. Unless things change very soon, Holy Land churches will soon be nothing more than museums for the Christian Exodus coupled with their low birth rates may be the end of Christianity in the Holy Land.
In response to the Archbishops’ omissions, Rifat Odeh Kassis, Kairos Palestine Coordinator wrote:
“Your inaccurate and erroneous remarks cite Muslim extremism as the greatest threat facing Christians in Palestine and the primary reason for our emigration. Your statements about Bethlehem are particularly faulty and offensive especially when you say that the movement of Muslims into the Bethlehem area, where space is limited, is forcing Christians to leave.
“Equally shocking is how Your Grace managed, diplomatically –instead of being prophetic, as one would expect you to be, not to mention the Israeli occupation, the separation wall, Israel confiscation of Palestinian land, its policies that violate freedom of movement and worship (Palestinians in Bethlehem cannot, for instance, go to Jerusalem), or its brutal crackdowns on nonviolent protests as one of the major reasons that push not only Christians to emigrate, but also many other Palestinians.
“We were hoping that Your Grace would have a different voice than the one in mass media and other right wing political parties, which exploit our sufferings to fuel some islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam. Indeed, this is what the Israeli occupation persistently tries to do. It demonizes Islam in a way that deflects blame from the repression levied by the state itself…in the Bethlehem area alone there are 19 illegal Israeli settlements (such as nearby Har Homa built on Jabal Abu Ghneim) and the wall that have devoured Christian lands and put Bethlehem in a chokehold…
“Since Your Grace did not meet or consult with any Palestinian Christians during your recent visit here, we are wondering why would you be suddenly interested to speak on our behalf? This troubles us…Finally, we would like to remind Your Grace that Christian Palestinians need advocates for the truth. It is the truth, and only the truth, that will lead to peace and justice in our home.” 
On my third of seven trips to Israel and Palestine since 2005, Hind Khoury, who was the delegate general of the Palestine Liberation Organization in France from 2006 through 2010, informed this reporter:
“The truth has been hidden, and it has been maneuvered by an oppressive and violent occupation.
“This occupation violates every single human right imaginable. Governments today are getting their own way to serve their own interests which are: money and power.
“It is ethnic cleansing that is happening in Jerusalem. Bethlehem is a ghetto, an island, an open-air prison! When the gate in Beit Jala is done, it will completely isolate Bethlehem from her sister city Jerusalem which is only three miles away.
“Before Hamas won the elections there were 370 checkpoints. There are now 25% more. Because of the moral bankruptcy of the PA, Hamas won the elections and they should not be feared. They have an open mind and open heart and many of them say: ‘Fight them with love.’
“The International community put conditions on Hamas, but it is not about Israel’s existence we are speaking of, it is the existence of Palestine and Human Rights that must be addressed! The world is unbalanced and the polarization just increases the violence. Civil society must become responsible.”
In 2006, Reverend Chris Ferguson, Representative for the World Council of Churches said:
“I go to Bethlehem because of the Biblical injunction to visit the prisoners. In 2001, the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches and others decided that the world ecumenical community was not doing enough about this conflict. Now, we have joined hands and are working together globally to mobilize the international society to demand policy change. The absence of settlers does not mean there is freedom in Gaza.”
He spoke those words seven months after the “Disengagement” in Gaza, which was nothing more than redeployment, for Israel has maintained total control and all access to Gaza by land, sea and air.
During the “disengagement” 25 of over 150 settlements were dismantled, and 8,475 of over 436,000 settlers [less than 2% of settlers] were evacuated.
As of October 2005, 12,800 new settlers had moved into the West Bank, which are 50% more settlers than were evacuated! Gaza is less than 6% of the Occupied Territories and that leaves 94% of Palestinian territories under the boot of the IDF.
During my 2006 visit to the Little Town of Bethlehem which is Occupied Territory, I met four of the newly elected members of Hamas, and for the fourth time I met the Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh.
Mayor Batarseh spoke about the dire need for tourists and pilgrims to sleep and eat in Bethlehem for unemployment was well over 50% and the Bethlehem Municipality was borrowing money to pay its own employees.
The first time I met Mayer Batarseh was when he traveled to Orlando Florida, to meet with Mayor Buddy Dyer, with the hope to re-ignite The Twinning Agreement that was signed in May 2001 by the then Mayors of Bethlehem and Orlando.
The Twinning Agreement is a sister-pact that affirmed Orlando and Bethlehem would encourage tourism to the other and promote a global community.
I followed up on Mayor Batarseh’s visit with my own visit to Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office one week after the Mayors had met and I informed the Orlando Mayor’s public relations representative about an opportunity to help the city of Bethlehem. I was seeking the Mayors support in getting the word out about two events that were already scheduled and my involvement with Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund which imported goods crafted by the artisans in Bethlehem that volunteers sold throughout the world and returned 100% of all proceeds back to the crafts people and helped support the children who endure in the refugee camps of the Holy Land.
Mayor Buddy Dyer did not even have the common courtesy to respond to any of my three follow up emails. I also informed The Orlando Sentinel about the opportunity for the Central Florida community to do something to make true the words of the Twinning Agreement without traveling all the way to the Little Town of Bethlehem in occupied territory. I got nowhere then, but I persist to be a voice of conscience.
During my March, 2006 trip to Bethlehem, Mayor Batarseh informed me:
“When the occupation is ended there will be peace. If the world boycotted Israel for six months they would comply with the UN Resolutions, which is all we want! There is state terrorism and Israel must be forced to recognize our right to exist. For the past ten years Hamas has worked with and helped the poorest of people, they have built schools and orphanages. The PA took the money but Hamas was providing the social services!
“Israel is a state built on religious beliefs. The US and EU and all the free world are against theocracies. But Israel has the right to do anything! The world needs to WAKE UP! If there is no peace in the Holy Land there can be no peace anywhere. End the occupation and there will be peace the very next day. All the terrorism in the world can be traced back to the Palestinian situation. All the money spent on weapons and war could eliminate world poverty.”
In 2006, I also met with four newly elected Hamas members but I still haven’t met any terrorists. Two had been elected to the Palestinian Parliament/PLC and two to the Municipality/local government. PLC Representative, Anwer M. Zboun, lives in the Abiet refugee camp and has a Masters Degree in Physics.
Zboun began with a smile and said, “We welcome you to our home and the Holy City of Bethlehem. We are suppose to be terrorists, are you afraid?
“We are a Palestinian resistance movement and we are not against any people. We are against the occupation. We want to rebuild what the occupation has destroyed. Hamas was born from the suffering of the Palestinian people and we belong to the global Muslim movement. It was on December 14, 1987 after an Israeli driver killed nine Palestinians that the first Intifada [uprising] began and the Islamic Resistance movement in Palestine was renamed Hamas.
“Hamas is a national liberation movement based on Sharia; Islamic Laws and Orders. Hamas is not against any religion. We are not a terrorist movement, but we resist the occupation. Christians voted for us for many reasons and they know we are faithful to this cause: that God knows better than we ourselves know what is for our benefit. We do not force anyone to believe as we do. The public and private schools both teach Islam and Christianity.
“In November 1988 Arafat issued a birth certificate for the Palestinian State and under religion he stated: ‘None.’ This is because we are a secular state. As Muslims and Christians we live together peacefully and our attitude is citizenship is for everyone. Everybody should have freedom of belief, traditions and a personal life. Hamas does not propose anything that contradicts Christianity.
“Our slogan is: Remove Suffering for everyone. The issue of Israel is about the occupation. We have no problems with religious beliefs; our problem is that Israel is illegally occupying our land. Since March 2005, we have honored a unilateral cease-fire. But Israel martyred 200 Palestinians, injured 1,200 and has detained 3,500. Many are under the age of sixteen. In the last two weeks Israel has killed twenty-five Palestinian and yet we have maintained the cease-fire. Israel does not recognize us and recognition takes both sides.
“Abbas has stated that we do recognize Israel, but there must be clear borders and Israel does not yet have them. The PA recognized Israel ten years ago but we Palestinians are detained in an open air prison. We resist the occupation, which is our right guaranteed under International Law. International Law demands Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders, release the prisoners, and stop the assassinations, illegal wall and home demolitions.
“Hamas defines terrorism as a violation of the rights of others and their property. Bush defined terrorism as evil. We are weak with resources and our voice is not heard in the West, only the voice of America and Israel gets press. America asked us to hold democratic elections and we did. We thank everyone who was involved in our transparent and democratic elections. We did what the USA asked and now they are punishing our people. Democracies are supposed to respect and not intervene in what others want.
“We had democratic and transparent elections and how are we rewarded? By the EU and the USA who have cut funds to the poorest of people who live under occupation. Hamas suggested that the International community monitor all the financial aid to assure that it went to the people and not to Hamas. We offered this suggestion to the world and we have been ignored.
“So now we look to the Arab and Muslim world to strengthen our local infrastructure and economy and hope to bring back investors. We know there are people in Europe and America who will not allow us to go hungry. We believe aid and support are in Gods hands and not governments.”
On 15 March 2006, I was in Nazareth and learned from Fuad Farah, Board member of Sabeel and the Chairman of the Orthodox National Council in Israel, that “90% of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, never even meet any Palestinian Christians!
“No Christians can live here anymore. They fled in ‘48 and their homes were destroyed in the ‘50’s for the settlers. Christians once were 20% of the total population of the Holy land, today we are less than 2% and maybe in thirty years there will be no Christians here if things do not change soon. There are more Christians in India and Syria than there are in the Holy Land!
“The reasons are many and include our low birth rate, migration due to lack of economic opportunities especially for the most highly educated, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalism, land confiscation and now Nazareth has become a retirement community because our young people all leave!”
I imagine if I were a young Palestinian with an opportunity to leave that troubled land; I would too and Palestinians all tell me that is exactly what the Israeli government hopes for!
In 2006, I also met BADIL [Arabic for Alternative] Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.
The Founder, Muhammed Jaradat, grinned as he said, “I learned to speak English in prison, I was arrested first at 13 years old and spent a total of 5 ½ years in prison because I was a peace activist. I was arrested for winning a high school student union election in my village and charged with terrorism!”
“They said I was a gangster that I was against Israeli rights, but justice for Palestinians means justice for Israelis too! The issue of the right to return is the ultimate issue. The refugee issue is the core issue and since 1948, 800,000 Palestinians have been evicted from their homes and their families land.
“Two-thirds of Palestinian people are refugees. A democracy is supposed to be that the majority rules. But we have been told to SHUT UP about the refugee issue. If you really want to solve a problem you must attack the roots and that leads to the refugee issue.
“International Law, the Declaration of Human Rights and UN Resolutions all affirm the rights of refugees. For 57 years and 157 times the UN General Assembly has affirmed the right for refugees to return home, resettle with compensation or to choose a new country.
“The Israelis claim there is not enough room in the Holy Land but according to their own documentation in 2000, 86% of Israeli Jews live on 15% of Israel proper. 90% of state land is Palestinian land! The problem is not that there is not enough room, the problem is racism. I was born here but I am not a citizen of any country. They can revoke my residency at any moment.
“From 1989 to 1993 Israel absorbed 1.1 million new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have illegally settled in the West Bank and Gaza. Historic Palestine is 26,000 square kilometers, about the size of Texas. The separation mentality has been at work since the 1930’s. Uniting this country with universal and basic human rights is the only way to success in the future. Israel has built the facts on the ground to not have two states. We are not stupid, we live under the harshest of conditions and we have survived. We have been divided into 28 different countries but we are united on the goal to achieve our human rights.
“The future depends on what happens to Palestinians and we are the legal owners of this land and Israel needs to get its nose down and realize they are living in the Arab world. Christian Zionists are the most destructive group of all and they want Israel to use their bomb. Who will they destroy? They will destroy themselves. The Dimona reactor is leaking and will cost more to remove than it did to build.” 
But that is another story that I told in BEYOND NUCLEAR: Mordechai Vanunu’s FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and My Life as a Muckraker: 2005-2010
- Christians in the middle east archbishop on world at one
- Kairos Palestine letter to Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of canterbury-London
- “Memoirs of a Nice Irish American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory” by Eileen Fleming