Sunday, December 03, 2006

I read somewhere the suspicion that Carter's interior motive for writing the kind of book he did was in fact to try and subvert the Christian Right in America, known for its enthusiastic support of the Hebrew state. In this article, Mitchell Bard describes Carter's insinuations and accusations, and goes on to rebutt them, one by one.

Singling Out Christians

One of the most nefarious elements in the book is Carter’s effort to paint Israel as hostile to Christians. He repeatedly refers to “Christians and Muslims” rather than simply the Palestinians in a transparent effort to suggest that Israeli actions were harming Christians and not just Muslims or Arabs. He claims, for example, that “many priests and pastors” were disturbed by the control of Israeli religious parties over “all forms of worship.” On a visit to Jerusalem in 1990, he said he met with a variety of Christian leaders who he said complained of various abuses. He doesn’t offer a single specific example, but tars Israel with bigotry. He then says that Prime Minister Shamir told him that religious parties had authority over all religious matters because of the needs of the coalition government. Carter says that this conversation made him understand why “there was such a surprising exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.”

These charges are so vile they require a more substantial response. First, while Christians are unwelcome in Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, and most have been driven out of their longtime homes in Lebanon, Christians continue to be welcome in Israel. Christians have always been a minority in Israel, but it is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population has grown in the last half century (from 34,000 in 1948 to 145,000 today), in large measure because of thefreedom to practice their religion.

By their own volition, the Christian communities have remained the most autonomous of the various religious communities in Israel, though they have increasingly chosen to integrate their social welfare, medical and educational institutions into state structures. The ecclesiastical courts of the Christian communities maintain jurisdiction in matters of personal status, such as marriage and divorce. The Ministry of Religious Affairs deliberately refrains from interfering in their religious life, but maintains a Department for Christian Communities to address problems and requests that may arise.

In Jerusalem, the rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the Christian holy places were established during the Ottoman Empire. Known as the “status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem,” these rights remain in force today in Israel.

It was during Jordan’s control of the Old City from 1948 until 1967 that Christian rights were infringed and Israeli Christians were barred from their holy places. The Christian population declined by nearly half, from 25,000 to 12,646. Since then, the population has slowly been growing.

Jonathan Adelman and Agota Kuperman noted that Yasser Arafat “tried to erase the historic Jesus by depicting him as the first radical Palestinian armed fedayeen (guerrilla). Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has adopted Islam as its official religion, used shari’a Islamic codes, and allowed even officially appointed clerics to brand Christians (and Jews) as infidels in their mosques.” The authors add that the “militantly Islamic rhetoric and terrorist acts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah...offer little comfort to Christians.”

WhenYasser Arafat died, Vatican Radio correspondent Graziano Motta said, “The death of the president of the Palestinian National Authority has come at a time when the political, administrative and police structures often discriminate against [Christians].” Motta added that Christians “have been continually exposed to pressures by Muslim activists, and have been forced to profess fidelity to the intifada” (Christians in Palestine Concerned About their future,” Zenit News Agency, November 14, 2004).

While Carter charges Israel with a variety of unspecified anti-Christian acts, Motta reported, “Frequently, there are cases in which the Muslims expropriate houses and lands belonging to Catholics, and often the intervention of the authorities has been lacking in addressing acts of violence against young women, or offenses against the Christian faith.”

It certainly wouldn’t be difficult for Carter to find evidence of mistreatment of Christians in the PA if he were interested, but unlike Christians who enjoy freedom of speech as well as religion in Israel, beleaguered Palestinian Christians are afraid to speak out. One Christian who has gone public is Samir Qumsiyeh, a journalist from Beit Sahur who told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Christians were being subjected to rape, kidnaping, extortion and expropriation of land and property. Qumsiyeh compiled a list of 93 cases of anti-Christian violence between 2000 and 2004. He added that “almost all 140 cases of expropriation of land in the last three years were committed by militant Islamic groups and members of the Palestinian police” and that the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped from 75% in 1950 to 12% today. “If the situation continues,” Qumsiyeh warned, “we won’t be here anymore in 20 years.” Thus, it is Palestinian Muslims who are seizing Arab lands and would be the more appropriate target of Carter’s wrath ( Jerusalem Post, October 28, 2005; Harry de Quetteville, “‘Islamic mafia’ accused of persecuting Holy Land Christians,” Telegraph, September 9, 2005).


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