Since assuming control in 1995, Arafat has Islamized Bethlehem by changing the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem and its twin towns Beit Jallah and Beit Sahour. Together, they used to constitute the Christian enclave in Judea and Samaria. Arafat transformed the demography there by incorporating into the town three neighboring refugee camps, Dehaisheh, El-Ayda and El-Azeh. Thus 30,000 Muslims were added to the 65,000 residents in Bethlehem's municipal boundaries. He intensified the Islamization of Bethlehem by adding to its population a few thousand Bedouins of the Ta'amrah tribe, located east of Bethlehem, encouraging Muslim immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem, and inducing Christian emigration/flight away from Bethlehem. The Christian population has been reduced from a 60% majority in 1990 to a 20% minority (23,000) in 2001.
As a result, more Beit Jallah Christians reside in Belize (Central America) than are left in Beit Jallah itself! A similar process has also afflicted the Christians of Ramallah, now down to 20,000.
Christmas and New Year celebrations have become a personality cult of Arafat.
Aware of what was likely to happen under Arafat, Christian leaders had sought to prevent the transfer of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority. Between the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords and the 1995 transfer of Bethlehem to the PA, Palestinian Christians lobbied Israel against the transfer. The late Christian mayor, Elias Freij, warned that it would result in Bethlehem becoming a town with churches but no Christians. He urged Israel to include Bethlehem in the boundaries of Greater Jerusalem, which had been the Jordanian practice until 1967. On July 17, 2000, upon realizing that then Prime Minister Barak recklessly proposed to repartition Jerusalem, the leaders of the Greek-Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Churches sent a letter to Clinton, Barak, and Arafat, demanding to be consulted before such action was undertaken. Barak's proposal triggered a flood of requests for Israeli I.D. cards by East Jerusalem Arabs, who dreaded PA rule with its oppressive track record.
Setting out to "religiously cleanse" Bethlehem, in 1995 Arafat, defying tradition, slapped Christians in the face by appointing a Muslim from Hebron, Muhammed Rashad A-Jabari, as its governor. Arafat fired the Bethlehem city council (nine Christians and two Muslims) replacing them with a council equally balanced between Christians and Muslims. The entire top level of bureaucratic, security and political officials have been cleansed of Christians. The area is run by the local Muslim Fatah leader and his thugs, along with Tanzim gunmen, mostly Ta'amrah Bedouins. The PA has seized control of the Church of the Nativity, and has tightened the pressure on the Greek-Orthodox, Armenian, Latin,, and Franciscan Order in East Jerusalem. The Abraham's Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron was seized by the PA on July 5, 1997, which then violently evicted its monks and nuns.
In addition, Arafat and the PA embarked on a campaign of physical and psychological intimidation of Christians. During anti-Israel PA rallies the chant is heard: "After we do away with the Saturday People, we shall take care of the Sunday People." Mosques have mushroomed adjacent to--and usually taller than--churches, implementing the tradition of Saladin, who constructed two taller mosques, Al Khanqa and Abdul Malek, contiguous to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The curriculum at church schools has been altered, adding Islamic--and reducing Christian--studies. Loudly magnified Muslim sermons have been aired during Christian services, including the April 2000 address by the Pope in Bethlehem, which had to be recessed until the purposely-loud Muslim sermon was concluded. Abusing Church tradition, the PA has transformed a Greek Orthodox monastery, located next to the Church of Nativity, into Arafat's official residence in Bethlehem.
Christmas and New Year celebrations have become a personality cult of Arafat. Christian cemeteries, churches, convents and monasteries have been desecrated, their personnel intimidated, telephone lines cut, windows and sculptures blasted by rocks, and some of their land (and that of their worshipers) confiscated. Muslim gunmen, shooting at south Jerusalem (Gilo), have located their positions next to, or in, Christian homes, hotels, churches (e.g. St. Nicholas) and the Greek Orthodox club in Beit Jallah. The military clash with Israel has harmed Christian businesses much more than it has those of Muslims.
There has been congressional testimony on Arafat's oppression of Christians. According to former Senator Connie Mack (R-FL), "[The Palestinian Christian] was arrested and detained [by the PA] on charges of selling land to Jews. He denied the charge, since he owned no land. He was beaten and hung from the ceiling by his hands for many hours. After two weeks, he was transferred to a larger prison where he was held for eight months without trial... These Christians conveyed to me a message of fear and desperation." (Senate speech, March 3, 2000, www.senate.gov/~mack/issue/statement.htm).
The PA has imported to Gaza, Judea and Samaria in general, and most especially to Bethlehem, its oppressive legacy of Lebanonization. The Christians of Bethlehem, Beit Jallah, Beit Sahour and Ramallah are now undergoing the experiences of Lebanese Christians from 1970 to 1982. They are perceived by the PA--as
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Outpost - 8 - January 2002