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memri
July 31, 2019 No.
8204

Palestinian Writer Reacts To Violent Incident Against Christian Residents of Village In Palestinian Authority: It's Not Unusual – And It's An Indicator Of The ISIS Demon In Us All

On April 26, 2019, an urgent appeal by the largely Christian residents of the Palestinian village of Jifna, in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh district, was circulated on social media. Addressed to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister and Interior Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, it followed a violent incident that had taken place in the village the previous night. The villagers stated in the appeal that armed "rabble" headed by "an influential individual in Ramallah district" had burst into the village, and that gunmen had fired their weapons and thrown rocks and firebombs at their homes, shouting "racist and sectarian" ISIS-like slogans, including demands that they pay jizya – the poll tax levied on Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule as a protected and subjugate class. The residents called on Shtayyeh to bring the attackers to justice in order to deter others from similar actions against them.  The message also stressed that the villagers were PA citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens, and protested against the attackers' use of the term "immigrant community" against them.[1]

The PA government and other senior Palestinian officials hastened to calm things down, stressing the Muslim-Christian brotherhood that exists in the PA and promising that the perpetrators would be punished. Prime Minister Shtayyeh condemned the term "immigrant community" and added, "The Christians are a major element of the Palestinian people and we will not allow such expressions to be used."[2] Laila Ghanam, governor of the Ramallah and Al-Bireh district, visited Jifna, condemned the incident, and emphasized that it had been carried out by a handful of individuals. She added: "The public order is a red line and the rule of law applies to all of us... The Muslims and Christians in Palestine are a single unit, partners in the struggle and the national path..." She too promised that the perpetrators would be dealt with in accordance with the law.[3] Similar statements were made by PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani, who said, "The Christian members of our people are one of our major and authentic elements" and also promised that the perpetrators would be dealt with lawfully.[4]

However, despite the assertions by PA officials and their assurances that the guilty parties would be held accountable, the Palestinian security apparatuses have moved to quietly affect a reconciliation using traditional methods, and refrained from punishing those responsible. Also notable is an obvious attempt to claim that the event was not in fact sectarian, even as manifested in statements by Jifna village officials. Village council chairman Amjad 'Awad called the incident a "brawl" and insisted that during it there was no demand for the paying of the jizya, but that "someone not representing any side" might possibly have mentioned it. 'Awad condemned what he referred to as rumors about the incident that were circulating on social media, as well as "the attempt to turn a personal [matter] into a 'sectarian' matter."[5] Furthermore, in a series of posts on the village council's Facebook page, 'Awad called for rescinding the villagers' appeal to Prime Minister Shtayyeh, stating that the incident had nothing to do with sectarianism, and added that once PA police and security personnel became involved, it was decided to hold an atwa, a traditional reconciliation ceremony, in the courtyard of the Jifna village church.[6] The ceremony was held April 29, 2019, with the participation of Christian and Muslim religious leaders, dignitaries, representatives of various political bodies in Palestinian society, and PA government representatives.[7]


Atwa ceremony in Jifna village church courtyard (Source: Facebook.com/Jifna-Council-310665966037710, April 29, 2019)

The violent incident in question reignited previous criticism of treatment of the Christian minority in Palestinian society,[8] and the PA's lenience in dealing with anti-Christian activity, as well as the handling of this particular incident.[9] Particularly notable was an article by Palestinian journalist 'Abd Al-Ghani Salameh, columnist for the Palestinian Al-Ayyam daily, that he posted on his Facebook page – not as a column, because, he said, the newspaper had refused to publish it. In it, he criticized the PA's handling of the affair, and called for harsh punishment for the perpetrators, so as to uproot religious intolerance from Palestinian society.

The following are translated excerpts from his article. [10]  

"In terms of security, this aggressive incident was the first test of Shtayyeh's government in proving how serious, and how capable, it is in standing against such disgraceful aggression against civilians and disturbance of the peace. But, unfortunately, the government has not announced clearly what [actual] steps it has taken, beyond those aimed at reassuring public opinion...

"This criminal attack does not exactly come as a surprise, and it is nothing unusual in our society as the [Palestinian] media repeatedly claim. It was preceded by many attacks of a sectarian nature, and were it not for the general national consciousness and the responsible outlook among the majority, the cycle of sectarian violence would spread [with each new incident]. Most important, though, is that the reactions of the Christians who were attacked showed responsibility, humanity, and caution. This [community] was not drawn into violence, nor into reciprocal exchanges of incitement [with the other]; its members settled for biting their lips honorably and silently, so as not to expand the cycles of violence and so that there be no civil, sectarian war bringing destruction upon the land.

"Anyone who thinks that our country is immune to sectarianism is mistaken. We are no wiser than the Syrians, the Lebanese, or the Iraqis, who destroyed their lands with their own hands for the sake of stupid sectarian slogans. Simply put, those lands have ethnic and sectarian diversity, and their sectarian leaders' coordination with the hostile foreign plots lit in them the fuse of civil war, until these lands were completely destroyed... Here in Palestine, I absolutely think – and I hope I am mistaken – that within every one of us is a sectarian demon, residing and hiding deep within. There are those who succeed in killing this demon, there are those who manage to restrain it, and there are those who hide it for a while and release it at the right moment...

"The Egyptian media brag day and night about [Egyptian] national unity and [Egyptian] Muslim-Christian coexistence. But in fact every time that the bullying masses burst into Christian villages and neighborhoods, attacking them, breaking windows, and burning homes, the government stands idly by and is satisfied with enacting a few pathetic security measures. In Mosul [in Iraq], the Christians and Muslims were neighbors, friends, and colleagues, living together in peace and security. But when ISIS came, dishonoring and expelling the Christians, expropriating their homes, taking their money, and abandoning them in the wilderness – as they did with the Yazidis – the Muslims stood idly by, neither lifting a finger nor defending their neighbors; some of them even joined in the attacks, as if all their common history of coexistence and tolerance was no more than a lie and a [bursting] bubble.

"If [this phenomenon, as manifested by the Jifna attack] isn't uprooted and taken care of on the national level, and if the maximal punishment is not meted out to the criminals, this criminal attack will be another a link in the chain of civil war, security chaos, and societal collapse, just as happened in the neighboring countries. It is not only a security incident. It is an incident that is an indicator of the existence of extremist ISIS thought and extremism concealed in our hearts – exclusionary thinking that negates the other and sees members of other religious communities as denizens of Hell, unbelievers, and misguided, whose sentence is death or expulsion or living in humiliation, under a false motto of religious tolerance...

"The Ministry of Religious Endowments must ban Friday preachers from uttering sectarian curses and hate-filled calls and statements, and must prosecute them for doing so. The Jifna [incident] is shameful, and remaining silent about it is criminal."

 

[1] Facebook.com/Jifna.village, April 26, 2019.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), April 28, 2019.

[3] Facebook.com/Dr.laila.ghanam, April 26, 2019.

[4] Pnn.ps, April 27, 2019.

[5] Raya.ps, April 27, 2019.

[6] Facebook.com/Jifna-Council-310665966037710, April 26, 27, 2019. In Bedouin law, an atwa is an agreed-upon truce in a blood feud until a reconciliation agreement can be reached. Facebook.com/Jifna-Council-310665966037710, April 26-27, 2019.

[7] Raya.ps, April 29, 2019.

[9] The critics included Israeli Christian Arabs, some of whom posted on Facebook about the closing of the case with an atwa ceremony instead of punishment for the criminals, which they said legitimized bullying and violence. Facebook.com/tamim.abukhait, Facebook.com/sariy.khourie, April 30, 2019.

[10] Facebook.com/abdel.salameh, May 1, 2019.