By David Parsons
It has the ring of a spy novel “the Bethlehem dossier.”
The author, Samir Qumsieh, an Arab Orthodox parishioner from Beit Sahour, came forward in August with a list he had compiled of 93 incidents of abuses committed against Bethlehem’s Christians by local “Islamic mafia” and 140 cases of land theft against the dwindling Christian community over the past five years. Accompanied by a petition signed by scores of traditional Christians, the Bethlehem dossier was quietly delivered to leading bishops and clerics in Jerusalem, as well as to the Papal Nuncio, Ambassador Pietro Sambi, and the head of the Franciscan Custos in the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Like Luther nailing his 95 points to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, the dossier sent ripples through the corridors of Jerusalem’s historic churches. Here was a catalog of grievances compiled by grassroots parishioners documenting what the holy city’s pro-Palestinian bishops and patriarchs had been denying for decades.
Armed Muslim gangs have invaded our homes, extorted our businesses, torched our shops, raped our daughters, and stolen our lands, the dossier charged. Our appeals for protection and redress to Palestinian authorities go unanswered or even worse spark clan retaliation against us for filing complaints in the first place. Thousands of our family members have fled abroad. And the whole time, you shepherds remain silent!
THE SHEPHERDS indeed have not been just silent, but actively deceptive concerning the Muslim oppression of local Christians, adamantly insisting that all is well between Palestine’s Islamic majority and its tiny Christian remnant.
In but one example, prominent Arab clerics totally dismissed substantiated reports early in the second intifada of Muslim militiamen shooting at Gilo from Christian homes in Beit Jalla in a deliberate effort to draw IDF return fire.
“The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims,” Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Riah Abu ‘Assal told the Washington Times at the time.
“The Arab Christian community in the Palestinian territories is an integral part of the Palestinian people. It suffers with it, rejoices with it, and shares with it the same hopes and aspirations,” concurred the Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate, Father Raed Awad Abusahlia. “Therefore, the recent Israeli rumors about getting the town of Beit Jalla involved in the recent clashes is not a coincidence, but aim to ‘divide and rule’ among the one Palestinian people.”
“Refuse... the propaganda that wants to prove that there were any studied or willed persecution from our Muslim brothers and sisters of the Christians. We consider it as mere propaganda against Islam, a cold war against our Muslim brothers that only benefits the Zionists of Israel,” added Father Labib Kobtl, another representative of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah.
Sabbah himself assured Newsweek at Christmas 2002 that, “[i]n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians.”
Even now, leading Palestinian clergymen affiliated with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in east Jerusalem are being hosted in Protestant churches across North America, spreading the ruse that the salvation of Christians in the Holy Land lies in divesting from Israel and dismantling the security fence. Follow the Sabeel ‘road show’ this fall and you will not hear one word about the “dossier” of appalling cruelties by the Islamic mafia in Bethlehem.
THE BETHLEHEM dossier directly challenges these tired blame-it-all-on-Israel refrains instead sending up a desperate, genuine cry from the pews to the church hierarchy in Jerusalem to end their long silence regarding Muslim persecution and finally speak out in defense of their embattled flocks.
The source of the dossier was also startling Samir Qumsieh happens to be no friend of Israel. Exiled for a number of years for his activism in Fatah, he returned to Bethlehem under Oslo to open a local TV station named Al Madeh (“Nativity” in Arabic). But when Muslims recently claimed a plot of his land that he had set aside for expanding the station, Qumsieh had enough.
According to an article in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera in September, he was counseled by the Vatican representative not to go public with his compilation of grievances. “You could be killed”, warned Sambi.
“We have to complain, we have been silent long enough,” responded Qumsieh.
Father Pizzaballa of the Custos was finally ready to speak out as well, telling the Italian daily:
“Almost every day, I repeat, every day, our congregation is being attacked by Muslim extremists in the territories. And if it’s not Hamas or Jihad members attacking us, we run against a wall of ignorance in the Palestinian Authority, who does very little, if anything at all, to punish the culprits. In the past it even happened that these [attacks] were perpetrated by Mahmoud Abbas policemen or militant members of Fatah, by those who are actually supposed to protect us. I am so exhausted to hear the same complaints again and again that I sometimes don’t even check some of them.”
State of Fear
THE HISTORIC explanation for the silence of Arab church leaders in the face of Muslim persecution is well known by now. It stems from their long, sad status as second-class citizens steeped in dhimmitude a survivalist mentality passed down through the generations that conditions them to never say anything bad about their Muslim neighbors since it could prove deadly.
No doubt, Palestinian Christians have a deeply engrained fear that the Islamic religious hostility now directed primarily against Jews might one day be more fully turned against them.
Scholars monitoring the plight of Palestinians Christians are increasingly employing the analogy of the battered spouse syndrome, in which the wife of an abusive husband becomes conditioned to defend and identify with their tormentor even as the abuse worsens.
It helps to have a more precise clinical diagnosis of the problem, but what is much more needed now is an effective and compassionate prognosis for lifting the Muslim siege and preserving these ancient, fragile Christian communities. What is also sorely needed is for the shepherds to stop standing in the way of relief for their beleaguered flocks.
David Parsons serves as ICEJ Media Director in Jerusalem and a Contributing Editor of 'The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition' in which this article was first published.