Perspectives: Christianity and Islam
…that the Palestinian authorities have a policy intended to change the demography, particularly of Bethlehem, and that this was successful pointing to the fact that in 1947 Christians comprised 78 percent of the population of Bethlehem, and now they represent less than 23 percent of the population.
An obvious reason for this decline is the low birth rate among Christians as compared to the Muslims in the area — Christians more than Muslims are influenced by the values of western secularism. Another reason Christians are emigrating is because of Israeli-imposed travel restrictions, e.g. permits, checkpoints, etc.
The Palestinian authorities have upheld, and continue to uphold, equal rights for Christians. Although this does not mean there has never been incidents of discrimination, but those incidents are the exception rather than the rule. Historically, there have always been two Christian ministers in every government body. Israeli law stipulates that six council seats be reserved for Christian candidates: two from Bethlehem, two from Jerusalem, one from Ramallah and one from Gaza. In addition, the law requires Christians serve as mayors for the towns of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah, Birzeit, Jifna, Aboud, Taybeh, Ein Arik, and Zababdeh.
During the years Yassar Arafat served as president, when conflicts arose between Christians and Muslims, usually as a result of a Christian woman eloping with a Muslim man, he often personally intervened. Muslims even accused him of favoring Christians. Nonetheless, the muftis (Muslim scholars who interpret the law based on the Koran) often pressured President Arafat to limit the rights granted to Christians in the constitution.
Under the current government of Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas, there has been a clear improvement for Christians. The two leaders consider the presence of Christians in the Holy Land important and aspire to decrease their rate of emigration. As part of that effort, they have offered considerable financial assistance to Christian institutions, e.g. approximately $2.6 million to St. Joseph Hospital and $2 million in the form of interest-free loans to construct homes for Christian families in Beit Safafa (a project of the patriarchate in close collaboration with Pontifical Mission).
The president has also established a presidential committee for Christian affairs consisting of seven members (two of whom are Muslim), which has direct access to the president and the P.L.O.
In addition, the Hamas-led government in Gaza has expressed support of the Christian community as its official position. The fact remains, however, that the situation in Gaza is much more volatile, as indicated by incidents such as the burning of a Christian-owned restaurant and convenience store.
It has been said…/b>
…that Muslims destroyed much of the interior of the Church of Nativity and planned to keep priests and nuns hostage during the siege. This allegation is absolutely untrue! The Franciscan superior of the Church of the Nativity opened its doors to fleeing Palestinian civilians, police and soldiers, who were roaming the streets because their homes or barracks had been completely destroyed, and as the Israeli army cornered them in Manger Square. No one in the group dishonored the church, as happened later, unfortunately, at the hands of Western peace activists.