Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Churches Burn in Palestinian Territories
Pope’s comments on Islam cause an uproar
A year after Palestinians burned and vandalized synagogues in abandoned Jewish
settlements in the Gaza Strip, churches were hit by arson attacks in Judea
and Samaria. Terrorists threw firebombs and poured gasoline into churches
and set them alight in protest over comments by the pope seen as anti-Islam.
The sanctuary of a 170-year-old church in Palestinian-ruled Tulkarem was
entirely destroyed, its pews and ornate door turned into blackened wrecks
of charcoal. Other churches were attacked in the militant hotbed of Nablus.
In Gaza, gunmen opened fire at the St. Perfidious Church, hitting the building.
The Greek Orthodox Church is 1,425 years old. There are a few thousand Christians
in Gaza, but the community is in danger of disappearing because of emigration
and intermarriage—and now, persecution.
Rosette Sayyegh said she was publicly insulted while shopping in Gaza and
wearing a big golden cross. “An old, bearded, respectable-looking man wearing
a white robe stood in front of me and said, ‘I spit on your cross,’” she
Most of the churches that were attacked weren’t even Catholic. Anything with
a cross was a target.
Groups such as the “Sword of Islam” and the “Lions of Monotheism” claimed
responsibility, accusing the pope of leading a new Crusade against the Moslem
Palestinian Christian leaders played down the attacks as “isolated” incidents.
Victor Batarseh, the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, says relations between
Moslems and Christians are good. “We have been living together here for hundreds
of years,” he said, “and we’ll keep living together as good neighbors and
good friends forever.”
Palestinian Christians chose to lay low because, after all, they have to
live alongside the powerful Moslem majority. But the dwindling Christian
community in the Holy Land is facing a growing challenge from the Islamic
militancy that is sweeping through the Palestinian territories. Christians
in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and East Jerusalem are believed to number 50,000,
about 2 percent of the population.
“The attacks on Christian institutions point to the precarious position of
Christians in the Holy Land,” said Daniel Rossing, director of the Jerusalem
Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.