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An occasional Palestinian Christian encounter of Israeli intolerance

April 17, 2012 3:26 P.M. (Updated: April 20, 2012 2:54 P.M.)
By: Baha Hilo
The Israeli ambassador to the US appears to really believe that Palestinian Christians suffer significantly from Palestinian Muslims, and just occasionally from Israeli intolerance.

Palestinian Christians' reality is the complete opposite.

The ambassador's latest missives in the American press have provoked Palestinian Christian leaders to remind him and his readers that Israel really isn't all that friendly to its Christians.

Yet again, we have another irresponsible article coming out of a high profile Israeli diplomat, and yet again, Palestinians have to formulate a response while being deeply insulted and disturbed by these irresponsible opinions.

Of course, as an ambassador of Israel, he is expected to defend Israel’s crimes, serve its interests, and every now and then come out with something positive, just to give the impression that Israel is not only about murdering Palestinians, stealing their land, destroying their houses, restricting their movement, and denying them free access to their holy sites in Jerusalem.

But our reality tells a different story.

In recent years all Palestinians, regardless of their religious background, have been subject to Israel’s practices of oppression, including murder.

Palestinian Christians killed by Israel’s military and security forces include Samir Salman, 45, the bell ringer of the Church of Nativity, who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper during Israel’s siege of the church, which effectively placed the entire Christian and Muslim population under house arrest for more than six weeks.

Christine Saadeh, 10, was murdered when an Israeli military unit opened fire at her family’s car injuring her dad and sister and killing her.

Johnny Thalgieh, 17, was killed by the Israeli military near the Manger Square in Bethlehem.

Daniel Abu Hamameh, 23, was murdered by an Israeli unit during Easter of 2006, an act largely seen as Israel’s gift to his family in that occasion.

Having the representative of the state of Israel referring to such history as occasional acts of Israeli intolerance feels like representatives of US states like Georgia or Mississippi last century saying that lynching of Christian African Americans was an "occasional act of white supremacists’ intolerance."

While lynchings are visibly more barbaric, the nexus of murder and the racism is the same.

The "occasional" encounter of intolerance also falls down when reflecting on the predominantly-Christian town of Beit Jala.

Beit Jala has suffered continuous Israeli destruction, the latest example of which was two days after Palm Sunday of this year.

Four houses of Christian families in Beit Jala were demolished as well as the entire electrical network that provides power to the houses in the al-Makhroor neighborhood.

When the Israeli government sent its bulldozers to the area, they decided 4 a.m. was the time to begin the destruction. In the ambassador’s language is this is "occasional," but in reality it is intentional destruction.

Since 1967, Beit Jala’s Christian families have suffered loss and destruction of their property, while the Israeli settlements of Har Gilo and part of the Israeli settlement of Gilo are built on land stolen by Israel from the town's Christian community.

Israel’s construction of part of bypass road 60 is built on land taken from Beit Jala’s Christian families, as well as two tunnels and a bridge serving the road. Four kilometers of a 12-meter wide road is built on, above, and below property of Christians from Beit Jala.

Moreover, the families that lost their land for the road and the tunnels are prohibited by Israel from driving, walking on or having access to it.

More destruction of Christian property came as Israel built its wall in Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour.

In all three of these communities, Christian families have lost property for the construction of the wall, and have lost access to their property on the other side of the wall ever since it was built.

In Beit Sahour the wall was completed in 2006 and the olive fields and the Christian owners of these fields were denied access to them by the state of Israel since that year. This denial is not occasional; this denial is constant.

Every loss of life, property, shelter and freedom of access that Palestinian Christians suffer is a constant reminder of Israel’s occasional acts of intolerance.

The Anastas family in Bethlehem is one of the city’s Christian families that is reminded of that intolerance every morning. Entirely encircled by the wall, every time they dare to open the shades of their house's third floor, or even want to go to their rooftop, they greet intolerance face-to-face.

The ambassador of Israel in the United States, as well as his readers and those who praise him, should be reminded that Israel has never done anything to redress the injustices resulting from its occasional acts of intolerance.

Israel has never rebuilt a house for a Palestinian Christian that they destroyed, let alone allowed them the freedom to rebuild it themselves.

Israel never dismantled any section of the wall that is illegally built on the land of Christian families nor allowed them free access to their land on the other side of it.

Israel has not brought to justice criminals who have murdered innocent Palestinian Christians.

Israel’s ambassador should have been more honest with his readers, by either researching the reality his state imposes on Palestinian Christians as part of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, or perhaps by not tackling a subject he does not know enough about.

The credibility of the ambassador when commenting on Christian affairs equals the credibility of South African ambassadors in previous decades commenting on black South African Christian affairs.

In both cases their credibility amounts to zero.

Baha Hilo works for the Joint Advocacy Initiative.
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