Sunday, March 11, 2007

Palestinian Christians in the NYT.

Today's New York Times considers the position of Palestine's shrinking Christian population a year after Hamas assumed control over the government of the Palestinian Authority:

Jack Massis, 51, a grocer here in [Taybeh, the] last entirely Christian village in the West Bank, speaks matter-of-factly about how two of his teenage sons were beaten with clubs last month.

They had argued with members of a Muslim family that had moved three years ago to the edge of Taybeh, a picturesque village in the hills near Ramallah with a dwindling population of 1,300. Mr. Massis' sons had used a road that ran along the newcomers' property, which the newcomers insisted was private. The sons spent the night in the hospital, and five members of the Muslim family spent a few days in jail.

In the year since Hamas came to power, some of the fears of a newly Islamist cast to Palestinian society are being borne out. Christians have begun quietly complaining that local disagreements quickly take on a sectarian flavor. And reports of beatings and property damage by Muslims have grown.

. . .

But few point directly at Hamas, looking instead to the overall stresses on Palestinian society and its increasing thuggishness. As Mr. Massis said of his sons' beatings, "There are such problems every day."

While it is hard to gauge what role intimidation and nationalist sensibilities play, there is widespread denial of any official persecution. Some prominent Christians praise the Hamas leadership for allowing the Christian community its religious freedom and conducting itself in a more honorable fashion than the previous government did.

. . .

To explain their troubles, many Palestinians point to the economic hardship and unemployment caused by the cutoff of outside aid and Israeli security measures that bar most Palestinians from working inside Israel; the disruptions from internal Palestinian instability and lawlessness; and in some cases, corrupt elements connected with the secular Fatah party that dominated the Palestinian Authority for the decade before 2006.

Other factors make the Christians particularly vulnerable. In the Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, their numbers are now down to 55,000 or 60,000, or 1.7 percent of the Palestinian population. Those who remain must struggle to preserve their weakened communities and lands from encroachment by stronger parties. And Christians lack the protection other Palestinians claim from large clans or their own militias.

The Christians' problems are writ large in Bethlehem, where most Palestinian Christians live. Fifty years ago, its population was 90 percent Christian; that has fallen, because of emigration and relatively low birth rates, to just 35 percent.
Read the rest here. AMDG.


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