Palestinian Christians say anti-missionary bill is Israel’s latest attempt to squeeze them out
Palestinian Christians say they will be expelled from Israel after two right-wing Israeli politicians proposed legislation that would punish Christian proselytizing with jail terms.
Earlier this week, US-based evangelical Christians raised concerns after a powerful ally in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition proposed legislation that would ban missionary practices in Israel.
Under the proposed legislation, Christians would face up to one year in prison for encouraging conversion to their faith, while persuading a minor to convert would be punishable by two years in prison.
On Wednesday, following mounting criticism of the law in the US, Netanyahu released a opinion Christians assert that it would not be made law.
Love as Resistance: Christian Palestinians Speak to the World
Continue reading ”
“We will not introduce any law against the Christian community,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
Several evangelical groups in the US welcomed the decision, but Palestinian Christians told the Middle East Eye that anti-Christian sentiment is high and churchgoers are often targeted by far-right Israelis.
“The new law proposed by the Israeli legislature, banning speaking or attempting to spread Christianity in the birthplace of Christianity, is just another restriction on religious freedom,” said Huwaida Arraf, a Christian Palestinian lawyer and activist Based in the US, across from Middle Eastern Eye.
Jonathan Kuttab, director of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), a grassroots Christian movement committed to Palestinian liberation, said that while the law was unlikely to pass, it did come at a time of increasingly violent rhetoric from the Israeli lawmakers after Netanyahu’s return to Palestine achieve achievement.
“The religious parties in Israel are vehemently anti-Christian. It’s just that Israel is mostly a secular country and they haven’t had much influence in the past. Now they feel like they have influence and impact [in their bid] to turn the country into some sort of theocracy,” he told MEE.
Likewise, Glenn Plummer, bishop of Israel for the Church of God in Christ, based in Memphis, Tennessee, told The Times of Israel that he was concerned he could provoke hostility towards Christians even if the law were not passed.
Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which describes itself as the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, did not respond to MEE’s request for comment.
The Palestinian Christian population has shrunk in recent years, with recent estimates suggesting it is only a tenth of what it was 70 years ago.
“People don’t realize that there is a phenomenon of hatred against Christians [in Israel and Palestine]… it’s something they routinely downplay,” Kuttab said, highlighting the recent attacks on Christian clergymen as well as restrictions on holy sites across Palestine, particularly over the past three months.
Last week, two Israelis broke into the Church of Gethsemane in occupied East Jerusalem and physically assaulted a bishop and two priests during a service.
The Jerusalem Orthodox Patriarchate released a statement condemning the incident and lamenting the lack of international media coverage of the attack.
“The Patriarchate also emphasizes that terrorist attacks by radical Israeli groups targeting churches, cemeteries and Christian property, in addition to physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, have become an almost daily occurrence, evidently increasing in intensity on Christian holidays.” read the statement.
“This grim situation has not prompted an adequate response locally or internationally, despite appeals, supplications and protests from the churches of the Holy Land. It is now painfully clear that the authentic Christian presence in the Holy Land is in grave danger,” it added.
Meanwhile, a statue of Jesus at the Church of the Condemnation in the Old City was vandalized last month, with a Jewish-American tourist arrested over the attack.
“Despite Israel’s claim to respect religious freedom, Christians have long been oppressed by the state,” Arraf said.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which released a report earlier this month detailing laws prohibiting conversions in a dozen Indian states, did not respond to MEE’s request for comment.
“Don’t practice for free”
Arraf said the plight of Palestinian Christians is routinely ignored by US Christians, as are those of their Muslim counterparts.
“Palestinian Christian villages have been depopulated and leveled; Thousands of Christians were expelled from Palestine by Zionist forces and policies; and the remaining Palestinian Christians are not free to practice their religion,” she said.
“It has been decades since members of my family have been able to enter Jerusalem, just minutes from their home, to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Even Christians in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, are locked behind a massive concrete wall, unable to visit Jerusalem or other holy sites like Nazareth.
“Christians in Gaza cannot even dream of visiting Jerusalem, Nazareth or Bethlehem,” she added.
‘Til Kingdom Come: How Christian Evangelicals Fuel Chaos in Palestine
Continue reading ”
Kuttab said that US Christian Zionists, who are among Israel’s biggest sponsors and supporters, are either unaware of the plight of Palestinian Christians or are willingly ignoring them.
Evangelical Christians, particularly in the US, are among the strongest supporters of Israel, viewing the country as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy, some seeing it as a harbinger of a second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of days.
Israel has long welcomed political and financial support from evangelicals, largely ignoring concerns about hidden religious agendas.
“Most Christian Zionists don’t even know that Palestinian Christians exist. They think it’s a fight against Muslims and Jews,” said Kuttab.
“Their theology does not view Israel in political terms, but as a sign of the end times, and they support Israel not because they think it is the politically correct thing, but because they are doing God’s will.”
Kuttab added that attacks on Christians in Palestine are rarely singled out in the US, and when they are, people tend to think that the perpetrators are Muslims.
“So when you hear the phrase Judeo-Christian, you think, ‘Oh, we’re like the Jews and we’re fighting violent, radical Islam.’ So everything is tinged with Islamophobia,” he said.