Christians are attacked in Bethlehem. A rabbi calls on Israel to intervene

You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.




(the israel bible)

November 21, 2022

4 min read

A series of attacks targeting Christians and Christian sites in the Bethlehem area has many faith leaders deeply concerned. The persecution is threatening the existence of the oldest Christian community in the world.

There has been a marked uptick in religiously motivated attacks by Palestinian Muslims on Christians in Bethlehem. Just over two weeks ago, a Muslim man was accused of harassing young Christian women at a Forefathers Orthodox Church in Beit Sahour near the city of Bethlehem. Soon after, the church was attacked by a large mob of Palestinian men who hurled rocks at the building while congregants cowered inside. Several of the congregants were injured in the attack.

The Palestinian Authority, responsible for security in the area, did nothing. 

In October, unidentified gunmen shot at the Christian-owned Bethlehem Hotel after a video on social media associated the hotel with a display that included cardboard cutouts of a Star of David and a Menorah. The video showed the display in the conference room of the hotel which also included cardboard cutouts of sheep and a wine chalice that had been set up by Filipino guests. The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism ordered the closure of the hall, claiming the hotel was preparing for a Jewish festival.

No arrests were made in connection with the shooting.

Perhaps the greatest shock to the community came in April when the Palestinian evangelical pastor, Johnny Shahwan, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority security forces on charges of “promoting normalization” with Israel. The arrest came after Shahwan appeared in a photo alongside Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a former member of the Knesset. After the photo of the pastor and rabbi appeared on social media, unidentified gunmen fired shots at the center. The pastor was held for 40 days and his ministry was shut down, purportedly for his own protection.

In January, a large group of masked men carrying sticks and iron bars attacked Christian brothers, Daoud and Daher Nassar, on their farm near Bethlehem. The Palestinian courts have been working to confiscate the farm that has been owned by the family since the Ottoman Empire. The court claims the farm is “Israeli state land” and therefore legally belongs to the PA. The family uses the farm to promote peace among nations.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab journalist, wrote an article for the Gatestone Institute claiming that there is a deeply disturbing reason that these anti-Chrisitan incidents went unreported in Western media:

“The attacks by Muslims on Christians are often ignored by the international community and media, who seem to speak out only when they can find a way to blame Israel,” Toameh wrote. “Another disturbing situation is that the leaders of the Christian community in the West Bank are reluctant to hold the Palestinian Authority and their Muslim neighbors responsible for the attacks. They are afraid of retribution and prefer to toe the official line of holding Israel solely responsible for the misery of the Christian minority.”

A Christian Arab resident of Bethlehem spoke to Israel365 News on the condition of anonymity. 

“This needs to be heard for the purpose of educating the Jewish world and the Christian world about the state of Bethlehem,” he said. “There are incidents happening constantly, whether it be neighbors against each other, or people in the streets, or even organizations and churches. Most times, it is a case of the Muslim community overpowering the minority, which is the Christian community.”

He referred to the events mentioned above, emphasizing that they went under-reported even in Israel.

“The real issue is that the Palestinians don’t want us to normalize relationships with Jews or normalize Judaism, Jewish symbols, and Jewish holidays,” he said.

He noted that the attack on the Bethlehem Hotel was motivated by this and was particularly concerning.

“That’s the more alarming thing to the Christian community because now it’s this hotel with Jewish symbols but what is next? In a couple of years, the violence may be in reaction to a cross hung in a conference room, or some kind of symbol for Christianity. The concern for many Christians is that now it’s these Old Testament symbols, but this could lead to New Testament symbols as well.”

He emphasized that public exposure was the most important strategy for combating the persecution of Christians.

“The Palestinians Authority needs to understand that this persecution brings negative attention from the world,” he said. 

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki,  the Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), launched Blessing Bethlehem in 2016 to help the persecuted Christians living in the city of Bethlehem and its surrounding areas. As part of their work, they distribute food and food vouchers to 120 Christian families in Bethlehem. Christian Arabs transport the parcels to a central location in Bethlehem and directly to the elderly. Much of their work must remain secret in order to protect the recipients.

“Unfortunately, these recent attacks against churches are not new, Rabbi Wolicki said. “Christians have been under attack in Bethlehem for many, many years. There have been bombings. There are near-constant physical attacks against Christians. They’re going on on a regular basis, ever since the Palestinian Authority took over.”

Rabbi Wolicki emphasized that aiding the Christians in Bethlehem was a Biblical mandate incumbent upon the Jews and the State of Israel.

“Moses repeatedly told the Jews to love the ger (stranger),” the rabbi told Israel365 News. “A ger is someone from a nation other than yours. The nation of Israel, even in the ideal form described in the Bible, includes other people from other nations who want to live peacefully with the nation of Israel in the land that God gave to the Jewish people.”

“It is a Jewish responsibility to not only tolerate but to love and care for those people who look upon us peacefully and want to live with us peacefully,” he continued. “And there is no population that represents that more than the Christian population in Israel. It is a Jewish responsibility for us to speak up on behalf of these Christians who have been persecuted by Muslim terrorists in Bethlehem.”

Rabbi Wolicki called on the international community to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for their actions and their inaction in the face of persecution of the Christians in Bethlehem. 

Rabbi Wolicki noted that there is also a demographic threat to the Christians in their holy city. Revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem was historically majority Christian but that has changed drastically. Bethlehem came under Muslim Jordanian rule during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and was later captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Since the 1995 Oslo Accords, Bethlehem has been administered by the Palestinian Authority as part of Area A of the West Bank. In 1947, Christians made up 85% of the population but by 2016, the Christian population of Bethlehem had declined to only 16%. 

“The fact that the Palestinian Authority continues to make sure that there is a Christian mayor in Bethlehem is only window dressing,” Rabbi Wolicki emphasized. “It’s a show used to convince the world that Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity is still a Christian town. It is not Christian. It is Muslim in every regard.”

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