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Theme: Plight of Christians in the Holy Land

December 18, 2006

O, Muslim town of Bethlehem

The town’s Christian population has dwindled from more than 85 per cent in 1948 to 12 per cent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006.

There are reports of religious persecution, in the form of murders, beatings and land grabs.

Meanwhile, the breakdown in security is putting off tourists, leading to economic hardship for Christians, who own most of the town’s hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

The situation has become so desperate that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, are to lead a joint delegation to Bethlehem this week to express their solidarity with the beleaguered Christian populace.

The town, according to the Cardinal, is being “steadily strangled”.

The sense of a creeping Islamic fundamentalism is all around in Bethlehem.

Christian crucifixion in Palestine

Nazareth is marked by its famed black-domed Basilica of Annunciation, the largest church in the Middle East. In 1997, Muslim fanatics laid a green canvass tent-mosque next to the Basilica. They claimed it to be the gravesite of Shahib al-Din, the nephew of Saladin, who disposed the Crusaders of Jerusalem in 1187 AD. Their objective was to build there the largest mosque in the world, with minarets that would tower above the Basilica. Their real purpose was to intimidate the Christian pilgrims, audibly with blurting of azan on loudspeakers, and visibly by presence of bearded Muslim fanatics.

This culminated in the Easter ‘riots’ (actually Islamic aggression) in March, 1999. The Christian (Palestinian Greek Orthodox) mayor who supported building of the plaza was knifed by local Muslim fanatics. Fights erupted on the streets with screams of Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is great) and many people were hurt. Any car with Cross on the mirror of sticker of The Virgin Mary, was destroyed. During two days of rioting, churches were torched, more than sixty Christian-owned stores and two Muslim ones, both owned by supporters of the mayor, were vandalised. Binyamin Netanyahu (1998) and Ehud Barak (1999) governments approved the project for building a small mosque that would not overshadow the Basilica of Annunciation. The controversial mosque was partially built by March 2002 when during Ariel Sharon’s premiership the Israeli cabinet decided to halt the project. Finally, the mosques foundation was demolished by Ariel Sharon’s government in 2003. In 2002, the then Housing and Construction Minister had correctly observed a few days before the cabinet took the correct decision: “The Islamic Movement will hate Israel regardless of what the government decides, therefore it should have concerned itself with the minority rights of Christians than gaining a few (Muslim) votes, which it could never get anyway”.

The Beleagured Christians of the Palestian-Controlled Areas

The most glaring example of PA disregard for the holiness of Christian shrines, however, was the March 2002 takeover of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem by PA forces and their taking of over 40 Christian clergy and nuns as hostages.

(…)

The Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity [had] seized church stockpiles of food and “ate like greedy monsters” until the food ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry. They also guzzled beer, wine and Johnnie Walker scotch that they found in priests’ quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on drinking alcohol. The indulgence lasted for about two weeks into the 39-day siege, when the food and drink ran out, according to an account by four Greek Orthodox priests who were trapped inside for the entire ordeal…

(…)

Catholic priests said that some Bibles were torn up for toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects were removed.

The Custody Must Be Doubled in the Holy Land

In the historic “Christian triangle” formed by Bethlehem and the two adjacent villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur, three quarters of the population were baptized Christians half a century ago. Today the Christians in Bethlehem have been reduced to 6,500 out of 35,000 inhabitants, and they have fallen by half in Beit Jala and Beit Sahur. Everywhere the sound of the church bells is drowned out by the blaring loudspeakers of the muezzins.

minarets.jpg

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