May 22, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6938

Palestinian Writer Warns: There Is An ISIS-Like Culture Among Us That Excludes Christians And Is Intolerant Towards Them

May 22, 2017
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 6938

In an article he published April 17, 2017 in the Palestinian paper Al-Hadath, Nihad Abu Ghosh, a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the director of the PLO's diaspora affairs department, described the dire situation of the Christians living in the Palestinian Authority (PA) territories and the drastic decline in their numbers over the years. He wrote that this situation results not only from the occupation but also from an ISIS-like culture that has infiltrated Palestinian society. As an example, he noted that preachers at Al-Aqsa call to impose a poll-tax on the Christians and forbid Muslims to greet them on their holidays. He warned that this treatment of the Christians, which drives them to emigrate, could tarnish the pluralistic image of Palestinian society, and called to place this issue on the public agenda and act to find ways to protect the Christians.

Nihad Abu Ghosh (image: Al-Hadath, Ramallah, April 17, 2017)

The following are excerpts from his article:[1]

"From time to time we hear warnings about the dangers facing the Christian presence in the [Middle] East region. These warnings are justified, considering what has happened to Christians in Iraq and Syria and the [recent] series of bombings of Egyptian churches.[2] Prior to and during these incidents, there was a discourse of division, of accusing the other of heresy, and of continuing to treat Christians as ahl al-dhimma[3] and as second-rate citizens. All the Arab countries, without exception, have failed to establish a civic state with full equality of rights and duties among all citizens regardless of religion, origin, ethnicity or gender.

"It should be noted that in Turkey, our close neighbor, the number of Christians fell from 30% to less than 1% in the second decade of the 20th century alone. This was due to the massacre of the Armenians, the Syrians and the Assyrians, the ethnic cleansing and population transfer campaigns that also included the Greeks…

"And what of Palestine, the cradle of Jesus? Is a danger hovering over the Christian presence in our country [as well]? In answering this question, there is usually a tendency to fall into the trap of fine and emotional words about national unity, and to mention a few pioneers of the [Palestinian] national movement, [as well as] intellectuals, artists and politicians, who are Christians, or to blame the occupation for the steady decline in the number of Christians among the Palestinians who remain in their homeland. But this is not enough to explain or justify [the fact that] the Christian [population] of Palestine declined from 20% before the nakba to less than 2% in the lands that were conquered in 1967, and their proportion in all the territory conquered since 1948 is [currently] 10% of the Arab Palestinians and about 2% of the entire population of the State of Israel.

"Undoubtedly, the occupation bears most of the blame for the tragic predicament of all Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, [a predicament] that leads entire sectors to consider emigration. It is also possible that cultural and demographic factors make the option of emigrating and integrating in the host societies easier for Christians than for Muslims, as evident from the fact that the Palestinian communities in South America, and particularly in Chile, are overwhelmingly Christian.

"The warnings and dangers, then, are serious and genuine. [But] they are not connected solely to ISIS and its crimes, but to an ISIS-like culture and the existence of an environment that excludes the Palestinian Christians and is unsympathetic towards them. To this very day we hear of [a preacher] at Al-Aqsa Mosque who gives lessons and advocates imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Christians, while ignoring the occupiers and the settlers. We also hear of someone issuing a fatwa that bans congratulating Christians on their holidays, or who claims that too many positions are reserved for them in the municipalities and the Legislative Council.

"This bleeding wound [represented by the plight of] the Christians does not only pose a danger to the issue of rights and duties and to the tolerant culture we aspire [to create]; it can also damage the Palestinian national identity. This identity, since its inception, is pluralistic and encompasses all components of Palestinian society, all its hues and all its communities – and is the very opposite of the monolithic exclusionary and racist identity embodied by the Zionist program. Our Palestinian identity resembles the brightly embroidered Palestinian national dress, or our four-colored flag, rather than the ISIS flag or the chador [a black robe that covers a woman's body from head to toe] worn by the Taliban.

"When the late PA president Yassir Arafat was furious over the Israeli-American plan to annex part of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's old city to the Jewish Quarter, he said, 'I am Yasir Arafatian' [making his name sound Armenian], for he always ascribed importance to the pluralistic image of the Palestinian identity, and was scrupulous about granting representation in the official Palestinian establishment to all components of Palestinian society, including the Samaritan community and the anti-Zionist Jews, alongside Muslims and Christians. This issue requires a frank and open discussion at the highest echelons, in order to characterize the problem and find solutions to staunch the bleeding wound of the Christians and protect the historic Christian presence in Palestine…"



[1] Al-Hadath (Ramallah), April 17, 2017.

[2] In recent months there were several terror attacks on churches in Egypt. On December 11, 2016, a powerful blast rocked the chapel near the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo's Al-Abbasiya neighborhood, killing 25 and wounding 49. See Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 12, 2016. On April 8, 2017 two churches, in Tanta and Alexandria, were bombed by ISIS. See Al-Hayat (London), April 10, 2017.

[3] A subjugated non-Muslim community under the rule and protection of the Muslims.


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