Palestinian Flags Over the Churches of Jerusalem?
Hours before Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat made his December pledge to stop the suicide bombings and terrorist attacks on innocent Israeli civilians, he made another promise. Speaking in a mosque in Palestinian-held Ramallah, Arafat declared, “No one will succeed in removing us from our land, including Jerusalem, and the Palestinian flag will fly from the Temple Mount and from the churches in Jerusalem” (The Jerusalem Post, December 16).
As is usually the case with such declarations, the chairman’s statement was not reported in the Western media. It should have been.
The impending establishment of some form of Palestinian state raises serious issues for Israel and her neighbors in the Middle East. It also harbingers searching questions for the Christian community at large and the evangelical community in particular. Mr. Arafat’s bold statement reveals why.
On the surface, his words may appear benign—an attempt to rally his Islamic compatriots to his cause. Given his history in Palestinian-controlled sectors, however, we Christians should be more than a little wary over what the future holds for our brethren in a new Palestinian state.
It is well known that for years Yasser Arafat has attempted to promote the fiction of an alliance between Palestinian Muslims and Christians. In fact, the exercise is a less-than-subtle attempt to identify Christians and Muslims as victims of a greater mutual enemy: Israel and the Jewish people. What disconcerts objective analysts is the eagerness of some leaders in the liberal religious Christian establishment to get on board the fanciful Arafat Express.
When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to allow the PA chairman to travel to Bethlehem for the 2001 Christmas commemoration, these clerics joined the chorus of political critics indicting the Israelis for their “inhumane” and “insulting” action. Yet the chorus was conspicuously silent concerning Arafat’s refusal to arrest the men who murdered Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in October. Indeed, there were good reasons to restrict Arafat’s travel. The facts speak for themselves.
Since 1995, when Bethlehem came under PA control, Yasser Arafat has used the Christian Christmas celebration as a personal, international public relations extravaganza. The little town of Bethlehem was transformed into an arena from which to trumpet Arab determination to “redeem” Jerusalem and the whole of “Palestine” (Israel proper) by conquest and by blood. Arab Christians living in Bethlehem have been the first to taste the PA’s peculiar brand of liberation.
As soon as the PA began to occupy the town, Christian Arabs began their exodus. In little more than five years, the Christian population declined by some 60 percent while the Muslim presence grew by roughly the same number. A December 24, 2001, report in the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv documents Christian fears:
Out of fear for their safety, Christian spokesmen aren’t happy to be identified by name when they complain about the Muslims’ treatment of them. Off the record they talk of harassment and terror tactics, mainly from gangs of thugs who looted and plundered Christians and their property, under the protection of Palestinian security personnel.
Ma’arivfurther stated, “Israel began receiving complaints from Christians about damage to churches and the smashing of crosses, without any real preventative measures taken by the local police.”
These events all occurred after the Palestinian flag began to fly over the churches of Bethlehem. And, one might add, they occurred under the watchful eye of Yasser Arafat. The Muslim Palestinian leader also allowed the town to be turned into a terrorist enclave from which militants repeatedly invaded the nearby, peaceful Christian-Arab village of Beit Jalla to set up firing positions used to kill, maim, and harass Jewish citizens in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
As a result, Arab-Christian businesses that had flourished for generations from trade with visiting pilgrims were forced into bankruptcy, causing owners to close up shop and get out of town.
Given these indisputable facts and the macabre history of Christians in militantly Muslim countries, the prospect of Palestinian flags flying over the churches of Jerusalem is nothing short of morbid. Neither should we shed tears for a pouting Yasser Arafat who wasn’t allowed to stage his customary performance at a Christmas Eve mass in Bethlehem. On the contrary, we should be sending our sincerest congratulations to Prime Minister Sharon and his cabinet for finally pulling the welcome mat from under Arafat’s feet.