A Woeful Lack of Awareness

Earlier this month, a report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, stated that there is ongoing, pervasive persecution of Christians in the Middle East, which sometimes gets close to genocide.

Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes. Many have been discriminated against, others have been imprisoned, kidnapped and killed.

A burned out church in EgyptA burned-out church in Egypt

Within that context, a member of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land commented on the impact of the recent conflict on the Gaza border with Israel:

‘While this conflict is devastating to all who live in the area,
Christians in the Holy Land have an especially difficult time
enduring the consequences because of their faith … continued discrimination is what
causes Christian families to flee the birthplace of Christ in search of a better life.’

In the 1940s Christians made up as much as 85 percent of the population of Bethlehem. But towards the end of 2016, Bethlehem’s mayor indicated that the Christian population had dropped to just 12% of the total.

Observers have suggested a number of reasons for this decline. But verbal reports from the area indicate that militant Muslims are using a variety of tactics to drive their Christian neighbours away.

Puzzlement and despair

What gives great cause for puzzlement and despair in the region, is that Western Christians are woefully unaware of the persecution experienced by their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Far too often any persecution is blamed upon the Israelis, when the Christians in Israel enjoy a much greater degree of freedom and security. Indeed the Israelis pride themselves on maintaining freedom of worship. Last October the Israeli Prime Minister said:

We don’t just protect Christian religious sites – we protect Christian people.
Christians should enjoy all the freedom to worship as they please in the Middle East and anywhere else …”

Examples of the persecution around the region include a string of six occasions on which the St. Charbel Monastery in Bethlehem has been attacked and desecrated. The latest attack occurred on 13th May and included the theft of expensive equipment.

The monastery`s leadership demanded that the Palestinian police bring the culprits to justice. But while Mahmoud Abbas had been present at the rededication of the repaired sanctuary on 24th December 2018, that seemed to be a purely political ploy. The police hadn’t even arrested anyone in connection with the previous attack.

Protesting about that previous attack in 2015, Father Gabriel Naddaf blamed Palestinian extremists for burning down the church, saying:

“I condemn with all my heart the laxness of the Palestinian Authority
in protecting Christian holy places it controls.”

In contrast, the Palestinian Authority blamed the fire on an electrical malfunction; prompting another Christian leader to note that:

“The [Palestinian Authority] tries to sweep these incidents under the rug
but it never condemns these acts which interfere with freedom of religion.”

Back to this year, on 16th May the Anglican Church in the village of Abboud, west of Ramallah, was robbed. The assailants cut through an outer fence and broke the windows of the church before desecrating the site and again making off with expensive equipment.

These latest incidents might seem much less important than imprisonment, kidnap and murder, but they are a sign of the threat that exists for Christians who stay in the region.

Egypt’s Coptic Christians often come under attack, seven of them were killed in an attack on buses in November 2018, and the Christians in Syria have suffered dreadfully during the Syrian Civil War, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives.

This all leaves a major question for Christians in the West: when are we going to provide more support for our brothers and sisters in Christ?

 

N.B. This article was updated on 4th June 2019