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Letter: Claims made about Israel don’t reflect reality


I am writing in response to John Malgaard’s letter “Christmas in Bethlehem,” Dec. 28. Molgaard’s claim that Israel carries out maltreatment of Mideast Christians is tantamount to historical revisionism.

The plight and flight of the region’s Christian population is due exclusively to Muslim extremists who have persecuted Christians through the violent imposition of radical Islam.
Times Online columnist Michael Gove has argued, “The parlous position of Palestinian Christians, indeed the difficult position of most Christians across the Arab world, is a consequence not of Israeli aggression but of growing Islamist influence.”
According to a report by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, the Christian population in the West Bank and Gaza is likely to dissipate completely within the next 15 years as a result of increasing Muslim persecution.
Indeed, most West Bank Christians live in cities such as Nablus, Jericho and Ramallah, which are under Palestinian Authority control. Once 15 per cent of the population, Christians now make up less than two per cent. Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has argued that, “when Bethlehem was under Israeli control the city’s Christian population grew by 57 per cent. But under the Palestinian Authority since 1995, those numbers have plummeted. Palestinian gunmen seized Christian homes — compelling Israel to build a protective barrier between them and Jewish neighbourhoods — and then occupied the Church of the Nativity, looting it and using it as a latrine. Today, Christians comprise a mere one-fifth of their Holy City’s population.”
Only in Israel is the Middle East Christian community growing. There are roughly 161,000 Christians living in the Jewish state, equalling about two per cent of the population, and up from 158,000 in 2012.
As Oren observed: “Christians are prominent in all aspects of Israeli life, serving in the Knesset, the foreign ministry and on the Supreme Court. They are exempt from military service, but thousands have volunteered and been sworn in on special New Testaments printed in Hebrew. Israeli Arab Christians are on average more affluent than Israeli Jews and better educated, even scoring higher on their SATs. This does not mean that Israeli Christians do not occasionally encounter intolerance. But in contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East, where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged, Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to ‘ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion.’ It guarantees free access to all Christian holy places, which are under the exclusive aegis of Christian clergy. When Muslims tried to erect a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Israeli government interceded to preserve the sanctity of the shrine.”
Israel has been praised for its efforts to safeguard the right to free practice of religion, conscience and belief for all faiths, and has preserved, restored and funded Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites and places of worship. Israel recognizes five religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Druze and Bahá’í and all adherents have full rights under the law. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Muslims enjoy Ramadan in Jerusalem. Every Christmas, close to 100,000 pilgrims visit the Holy Land with tens of thousands visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to take part in Easter celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City, all in freedom, safety and security.
It’s no wonder that Israel is the only place in the region where its Christian population is growing. In sharp contrast, Coptic Christians in Egypt suffer from persecution, discrimination, and are fearful of the rise of Muslim Brotherhood, while over 100,000 Christians have fled the civil war in Syria.
Molgaard conveniently fails to mention that under Islamic rule, Christians are subjugated and treated as second-class citizens, face brutal and unwarranted discrimination, their cemeteries are defaced, convents pillaged, all the while innocents are savagely attacked. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there are no churches and Christians are barred from practising their religion.
In sharp contrast to the Arab world and the broader Middle East, Israel’s a safe haven for Christians, not its serial abuser.

Mike Fegelman, executive director
Honest Reporting Canada
Toronto

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