On Muslims and Christians -2
While Muslim religious scholars and the heads of Christian communities are trying to build bridges between the believers – yesterday’s topic of discussion in this column – Israel and its agents in America, including the Christian Zionists, are trying to promote the myth of the clash of civilizations, instead of the clash of nationalities, or the nationalism of the local population, or the nationalism of the settlers imported from Europe.
However, what undermines this theory advocated by Israel and its allies, according to Jonathan Cook, a writer and journalist based in Nazareth is that the presence of Christian Arabs among Muslims over centuries thwarts the theory of the clash of civilizations. This is especially demonstrated by the fact that the Christian Palestinians are among the most active in the struggle against Israel; examples include writers Emile Habibi and Antoine Chammas, film-makers Elia Sleiman and Hany Abu Assad, politician Azmi Beshara, as well as Edward Said and George Habash.
I have chosen Cook because he is not an Arab and unlike us, no accusation is brought against him. Cook wrote an article entitled ‘Israel’s purging of Palestinian Christians’. I move on to Charles P. Lutz, a retired Lutheran church executive, whose article is entitled ‘Holy Land Christians: An Endangered Species’.
He says the means of pressure used by the Israelis are aimed at expelling the Christian Palestinians so that the confrontation happens between the Jews living in a democratic state and radical Muslims. Being a witness to Israeli perpetrations, Lutz accurately notes them and focuses on three measures taken by the Israelis:
- A delay in granting visas or the refusal to grant them to the Church staff working in hospitals, schools, and associations to hinder their work.
- An attempt at abolishing the exemption from Israeli taxes the Church has been enjoying for 50 years. It is worth noting that Israel yearly receives from American Jews billions of dollars exempted from American taxes as they are considered donations.
- The separation wall that has isolated churches from their parishes, especially the isolation of Church associations from people in need of assistance.
I continue the discussion by referring to Don Wagner, a university professor who wrote and article entitled ‘Palestinian Christians: An Historic Community at Risk?’. He starts his article with the story of Johnny Thaljyia who gets out of the Church of the Nativity, holds his neck, cries in pain, and falls on the ground as a bullet fired by an Israeli sniper hit him, as is the case now and then. He then records the history of Israeli persecution of the Palestinians and the decline in the number of Christians in the Holy Land.
I am quoting from the three western writers I have just invoked, figures they came up and other sources also firmly established them. Such figures indicate that the Christian Palestinians left in Israel and in Palestinian land only total 160,000, ie 1,5 % out of 10 million, after forty years of persecution and occupation.
A British census conducted in 1922 revealed that the Christians constituted 51% of the Jerusalem population. After 1947, around a million Palestinians, mostly Muslims emigrated. But in Jerusalem in particular, the Christian emigrants constituted 37% while Muslim emigrants constituted 17%. Whereas the Christians had made up 18 to 20% of the population of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip until 1947, they dropped to 13% on the eve of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The decline continued until they reached 2,1 % out of the total Palestinian population, or 1,5 % of the total Palestinian population under the mandate. The most reliable available study is the 94-page paper entitled ‘The Sabeel Survey on Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Israel’.
The figures are self-explanatory, but since I first referred to clergymen on both sides, I carry on today’s discussion with a historical review of the type of relationships established between Christians and Muslims in the Orient.
Damascus was delivered to Muslims in September 635 A.D. following a six-month siege. Khaled Ibn Al-Walid made a pledge to its population, cited by Al-Balazri as follows:
‘In the name of God, Most Merciful, this is what Khaled Ibn Al-Walid has granted the Damascus population upon entering the city. He has offered them protection to their lives, their money and churches. Their city wall can not be destroyed and no one can live in their homes. Thus, they have a divine oath and the guarantee of His Messenger, God’s praise and peace be upon him, and that of the Caliphs and the believers. Once they pay the tribute, they are met with welfare.’
The above became an example emulated in all Syrian cities. A more famous example is the Omari custodianship introduced by Omar Ibn Al-Khattab when he visited Jerusalem. He effected a reconciliation with its people and made it enforceable after the Jerusalem Patriarch Safronios welcomed him and nicknamed him ‘the smooth-tongued Church protector’. The patriarch toured the city with him and showed him the holy sites. I do not need to repeat the famous story of Omar’s refusal of the invitation to pray in the Church of the Resurrection to prevent Muslims from transforming it into a mosque, and his choice to pray beside it instead, where Omar’s mosque still exists. But I choose from the pledge the following:
‘This is what God’s servant, the Caliph, has provided the people of Ilia in terms of security. He has offered protection to their lives, their money, churches, and crosses; he also offered protection to the sick, the healthy, and the rest of their community. No one can live in their churches or destroy them, nor can anyone touch their money. They can not be forced to pay any dinar, nor can any Jew live in Ilia with them … In the event that any of the people of Ilia wishes to go on his own, take his money, and join the westerners and live with them, he enjoys safety till he reaches his destiny.’
How far are the Zionist Nazis in today’s Israel from Khaled and Omar! The latter ensured people’s safety and financial security, and they gave them the opportunity of leaving in case they wished, whereas Israel is confiscating the land from its people and killing children. The believer Minister Condoleezza Rice paid a visit to Jerusalem a couple of days ago. As a pastor’s daughter and granddaughter, she talked about the extent to which she is influenced by the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus will show her the way to righteousness.