Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

No reporting of Palestinian Christians living in fear in the West Bank

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The recent plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt has been the subject of significant attention since last year's revolution. The community suffered yet another outrage last week, as an Egyptian court sentenced 12 Copts to life-imprisonment, while acquitting eight Muslims, for their involvement in an incident of mob violence that resulted in dozens of Coptic homes burned and destroyed.

This incident did not receive the coverage that it deserved, however the world is at least broadly aware of the struggle that the Copts in Egypt are currently facing. What has been receiving even less press coverage is the similar situation in which Palestinian Christians are reportedly finding themselves in.

Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Hisham Jarallah, described as "a journalist based in the West Bank" has reported on an attack on a Christian village that may have slipped past without a mention from any other media outlet. The incident in question was a near-rampage that was averted at the very last minute by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces.

The attack, residents said, came after a Muslim man tried to force his way into a graduation ceremony at a girls' school in [the 100% Christian West Bank village of] Taybeh.

The man, who had not been invited to the ceremony, complained that Christians had assaulted him. Later that day, he and dozens of other Muslims stormed the village with the purpose of seeking revenge for the "humiliation."

Jarallah reported some more concerning details, including the vast number of residents of the village who have fled overseas. He also noted that the village had been subjected to a rampage in 2005 similar to the one that he alleged almost took place. That event, reported in Ha'aretz at the time, was sparked by a Christian man having the audacity to start seeing a Muslim woman -- who became the victim of an "honour killing" as a result.

Readers may recall the Easter story from Fairfax Middle East Correspondent Ruth Pollard, which quoted Bernard Sabella lamenting the plight of Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank who supposedly struggled to get to Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem over the holiday as a result of Israeli policies.

''The Israeli occupation affects everyone and everything and prevents us from worshipping as a family and a community during times such as Easter,'' says Sabella, who is Catholic.

One thing that Pollard omitted to mention is that Sabella, introduced as "a Palestinian politician and professor of sociology", represents the ruling Fatah party on the quisling Palestinian Legislative Council. That he directed his criticism only at Israel and not at Palestinians may not be surprising if we accept another of Jarallah's allegations:

Palestinian government and police officials later demanded that the Christians dispatch a delegation to the nearby Muslim villages to apologize for "insulting" the Muslim man. To avoid further escalation, the heads of Taybeh complied.

Also at the request of the Palestinian government, residents of the village were requested not to talk to the media about the incident.

Even some of the leaders of the Christian community in the West Bank urged the Taybeh residents not to make a big fuss about the incident. ...

I am curious to know whether Sabella was one of the "leaders of the Christian community" who encouraged the village to apologise for not allowing a Muslim man to harass their daughters and to stay silent about the whole incident.

Either way, he is certainly complicit in the same Authority that, while successfully preventing any serious damage this time, does not want any word of the incident to spread. This implies that the PA -- like the current rulers of Egypt -- may not be interested in administering any form of justice for Muslim attacks on Christians.

It is probably this attitude that has led to Christians fleeing the Palestinian territories, as demonstrated in the case of Taybeh and even in the Christian holy city of Bethlehem, whose population has gone from 75% Christian to 10% Christian over the last 30 years.

In stark contrast to this, take the recent conviction of two Israeli police officers in an Israeli court for abandoning an injured Palestinian car thief in the hope that he would be picked-up by passers-by.

Despite being injured in an accident while driving a stolen car, the man was treated in two Israeli hospitals and then the police who abandoned him to die were held criminally liable for doing so.

Of course, this is a very poor reflection on the two police officers, however it is also a testament to the commitment to justice in the Israeli legal system, no matter who the perpetrator and who the victim.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that, as Jarallah notes:
Such attacks, residents say, are not uncommon. They are more worried about intimidation and violence by Muslims than by Israel's security barrier or a checkpoint.

As for the silence from Pollard and her cadre of Western journalists? Well, one can only guess...

Western journalists based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have refused to report about the most recent attack on Taybeh, most probably because the story does not have an "anti-Israel angle."

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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