Interview with Dr. Edy Cohen of Bar Ilan University
Dr. Edy Cohen was born in Lebanon and is currently a researcher at Bar Ilan University, specializing in Middle East affairs and Arabic media. He recently published a paper on the persecution suffered by Christians in the Palestinian Authority administered cities of the West Bank as well as in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. This week, he was kind enough to answer some questions from ICEJ News about the plight of Palestinian Christians.
Q: Roughly how many Christians live in the Palestinian Authority administered areas in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip” How many belong to traditional churches and how many are converts from Islam or other religions?
“There are approximately 50,000 Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and 4,000 in Gaza. But they are fleeing as fast as they can. They are going to Israel if they can, or Europe, mostly France. There also many secret believers who are afraid to speak up, including many converts. The Constitution of the PA is based on Sharia, so when you are a Christian living in this area you are a second class citizen by law. There is severe persecution in the PA, but it’s ignored by the media. There have been incidents of vandalism in Bethlehem, church properties are attacked and the media doesn’t report on it.
Q: Why doesn't the media report on such incidents?
The media is not reporting it because the European media and even the Israeli media are invested in a narrative of the Palestinians as victims and the Israelis as the oppressors, so they don’t want to publish anything which would call that narrative into question. The Palestinian media will not publish anything that will harm the PA because they will be crushed if they do so. The Israeli media also has a vested interest in not harming the image of the PA because it would damage their access to the PA and that would make it more difficult for them to report in the Territories. So if the local media doesn’t report on these incidents neither does the international media.
On the other hand, you’ll almost never see anything reported on the Christian Arab population in Israel, which is growing and thriving, because news reporting is usually about problems and bad things that are happening. Because there’s so little friction between the Israeli Arab Christian population and the State, there’s nothing “newsworthy” to report on. The same is true of most other minority populations in Israel which get along with the Jewish majority.
Needless to say, this would also harm the narrative of Arabs and other minorities being the victims of the oppression of Israel’s Jewish majority, so that’s another reason for the international media to ignore it.
Q: Has the persecution of Palestinian Christians gotten worse recently and if so what explains it?
Things are getting worse for Palestinian Christians, partially due to the rise of the Islamic State (IS) terror militia. The violence IS waged against Christian populations in Iraq, Syria, Sinai, Nigeria and elsewhere had a radicalizing influence on some Moslems in the PA territories. The PA officially ignored this radicalization and didn’t confront it, while anecdotal incidents hinted that it had seeped into the PA security services, which are funded and trained by the US and UK.
Q: In your contacts with Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, what are they telling you they most need? How can Christians around the world pray for and otherwise support them?
They are very shocked that no one ever reports on the persecution of them. They also wonder why the Pope hasn’t spoken up in their defense. They also wonder why the PA hasn’t done anything to help or protect them. They need more security, and more than anything they want to leave.
I speak with a lot of Christians who say they live in fear in the PA administered areas, they are not part of the majority culture. They are constantly pressured to convert to Islam. Moslem boys want to marry Christian girls and convert them to Islam. When the girls say no, it causes tensions and the girls get harassed. These Christians need help, they are alone.