The Plight of Palestinian Christians

The following link is lengthy (pardon the pun) but well worth watching. It is an excellent update on the above topic.

https://www.vomcanada.com/index.php?option=com_youtubegallery&view=youtubegallery&listid=26&themeid=4&videoid=145294782&tmpl=component&TB_iframe=true&height=550&width=630

Below, I have used the text from the conclusion of a slightly dated but nevertheless still very relevant book by Justus Reid Weiner, ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’ (full reference listed at the end of this article).  Throughout this article, I have  included latest updates of some of the events and issues raised in Weiner’s summary.

“The plight of the Palestinian Christian Community cannot remain the sacrificial pawn in the larger game of the Middle East peace process.”

A Backward Glance

In April 2002, the Church of the Nativity was invaded by more than 100 Palestinian Muslim gunmen who shot their way inside, while attempting to evade capture by Israeli soldiers who had entered Bethlehem (West Bank – my comment) to quell on-going terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings. As confirmed by Abdullah Abu-Hadid, a senior commander in the Tanzim militia, “the idea was to enter the Church in order to create international pressure on Israel” (Raab 2003). Reporting on the event, a Jerusalem-based cleric told the Jerusalem Post that, “propaganda is all that is being heard, in part because of the many cover-ups by the Christians who don’t dare speak up. They are cowards” (Gelfond 2002:260). The cleric explained that fear of Muslim terrorists silences both the churches and the communities. A Bethlehem priest quoted in the same article confirmed the assessment of the Jerusalem cleric, noting with anger, “I would have preferred silence rather than saying that everything is okay. We are worse than cowards, we are lying.” (Gefond 2002:260)

Even if peace negotiations are resumed and successfully navigate the numerous obstacles ahead, the fate of the average Palestinian will depend on the strength and orientation of his state’s institutions. The PA (Palestinian Authority) interim governing authority has proven itself incapable of guaranteeing the protection of the basic rights of Palestinian Christians, the most significant minority under its jurisdiction. One independent report stated that “the risk is that if present structures and practices go unreformed, they will shape and even predetermine future ones in negative ways.” The importance of monitoring the PA’s record, even during the ongoing violent intifada, cannot be overstated.

Some More Recent Developments

The recalcitrance of the PA to enforce international human rights standards, along with its refusal to respect the requirements of the Oslo interim agreements has made it an accomplice and even perpetrator of gross human rights abuses. Though the international community is tempted to donate further sums to the PA following the death of Yasser Arafat (in 2005 – my comment), they appear to be under the as yet unproven assumption that the ascendency of Mahmoud Abbas will rejuvenate the peace process and reinstate respect for human rights and religious freedom under the Palestinian Authority (my insert: elected interim prime minister in 2012 by Hamas and Fatah). This attempt at showing a united front has just been strengthened, as reported in an article by Aljazeera, dated 18.1.2017: “The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has agreed to form a unity government with rival organisation Hamas, Al Jazeera has learned. The agreement was reached late on Tuesday after a three-day negotiation in the Russian capital, Moscow [‘due to America’s seeming pro-Israel new Trump administration’ – as mentioned in same article, my comment]. The two organisations will form a new National Council, which will include Palestinians in exile and hold elections. “Today the conditions for [such an initiative] are better than ever,” Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, said. The deal also includes the Islamic Jihad group, which had not been involved in negotiations for a long time.”).

In the opinion of this author, the U.S., Israel, and other members of the international community should make human rights a major issue in any future peace negotiations. By using financial incentives during this pre-state stage, the U.S., Israel and international donor communities can prevent the egregious violations of human rights partially described in this monography from accompanying the PA into the emerging Palestinian state. The leverage of the donors is significant, with over 70 percent of the PA’s budget derived from foreign sources. (Sabella 2004).

(My insert: “…in budget years 2015 and 2016, …the US Agency for International Development …sent the Palestinians $355 million…” source: http://www.businessinsider.com, dated January 2017.

Quoting from Wikipedia: “The entities that provide aid to the Palestinians are categorized into seven groups: the Arab nations, the European Union, the United States, Japan, international institutions (including agencies of the UN system), European countries, and other nations (possibly Russia? – my comment).”

[My conclusion from research into this topic: NGO’s, involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, who have greatly increased in numbers, are said to act to protect human rights in this region of conflict, as well as exerting considerable influence over such huge organisations as the UN and the EU, have been shown to have overt or more often covert political bias against one or the other party involved; more often against Israel. Nevertheless, finding unbiased facts is extremely difficult, as even a widely respected “NGO monitor” is funded and staffed largely by the Jewish community! Bias seems to be ingrained in the human psyche! End of my comment]

Financial incentives can be earmarked to train PA security personnel in human rights practices, to construct modern penal institutions, and to reform the legal system.

Clearly, the U.S. has considerable economic leverage in the region, and could use that influence to demand human rights improvements. However, the [past – my comment] President may be reluctant to impose serious sanctions against the Palestinian entity or even push human rights as an issue in the peace talks. The primary objective of the U.S. in the region is peace and the secondary objective is the fight against terrorism. To rebuke the PA or to make human rights an issue in the negotiations would cause the U.S. to lose influence with the PA [my comment: which seems to have happened under Trump, as identified previously by Aljazeera] when dealing with other, ‘more important’ issues.

However, in the opinion of this author, the PA’s adoption of sound human rights policies and practices would contribute immeasurably to the success of the peace process. Although Arafat’s commitment to these values in the agreements was vague at best, the Palestinians’ expectations regarding an improvement in their lives deserves to be met, and should not be limited to issues of pride or economics. As the international community furnishes financial resources to the emerging Palestinian state, it should reflect on its complicity in the human rights abuses that have emerged.

If the internal reforms fail and pressure from the U.S., Israel, and the donor communities does not materialize, there is one last resort for the Palestinian Christians. Since the PA is not a sovereign state even it has administrative responsibilities in designated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli military rule is still in effect in the territories. This means that, legally speaking, human rights are the responsibility of the PA on a day-to-day basis, but the ultimate legal responsibility rests with Israel (Weiner 1995). Of course, the current Israeli government …frustrated by endemic Palestinian terrorism, would appear ill disposed to shouldering this responsibility, given its policy of unilateral disengagement.

(Insert: …in the enclave [Gaza strip], where some two million Palestinians live… Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.
The UN development agency has said the enclave, run by Islamist movement Hamas, could become uninhabitable by 2020, while others have warned of frustration spilling over and leading to fresh violence.

Israel strictly controls traffic into and out of Gaza, while the enclave’s border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to keep Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials to make them.

Mike Smith (Tel Aviv), Middelburg Observer, 30 March 2017)

Therefore, the Israeli Supreme Court is the last resort for Palestinians living under the jurisdiction of the PA. The Supreme Court, long a liberal voice, has in recent years become increasingly committed to improving human rights and the rule of law, frequently demonstrating its commitment to ensuring human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, the Palestinian Christians living in the PA would be reluctant to utilize Israeli legal institutions, but, as victims, they clearly have a need for an institution of last resort, as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of Christians who have left the territories.

It seems logical that, instead of turning to Israeli courts, the Palestinian Christians should be able to turn to the PA’s justice system. This however, would be largely unproductive at the present time. The PA’s justice system has no practical autonomy from the executive branch, even though it is independent in theory. The PA President and Justice Minister can hire, fire, retire, and otherwise control all judicial employees, including judges at all levels. Two previous chief justices were ‘retired’ by the executive branch, one possibly for un unsympathetic comment made against the PA in an interview, and the second for a decision that called for the release of ten Birzeit University students who were being detained unlawfully. (Amnesty 1999:7)

The future of the Palestinian Christian community and any other religious minority living under the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance and the rejection of fundamentalist and archaic attitudes towards non-Muslims. As long as the Constitution of the PA reflects the principles of Sharia law, it seems as though the emergence of religious tolerance will remain highly unlikely. Additionally, the PA must crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad and eliminate their influence and role as the enforcers of the more brutal aspects of Sharia law [my comment: which appears even more unlikely than when this report was written, as they have now formed a threesome alliance; Fatah/Hamas/Islamic Jihad, see previous insert published by Aljazeera].

The testimonies (more found in the actual book – my comment) provided in this monograph make it pointedly clear that lawlessness and anarchy have swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years. Gangs of thugs and thieves have created what a former Palestinian cabinet minister described as “total chaos”. It is essential that the PA arrest these militants who, in their range of mafia-like conduct, frequently abuse and intimidate Christians. (Toameh 2002c)

The political conflict, or halting efforts to resolve it, can no longer be used by the international community as an excuse for evading responsibility for the gross human rights abuses the Palestinian Christian community has come to accept. Human rights standards cannot any longer be subordinated to political motives. Only when the international community is prepared to stand behind the lofty ideals enumerated in its formative instruments, with its full economic and political resources, will the perpetrators of such abuses be forced to relinquish habits of abuse and ascribe to the norms expected of all sovereign entities.”

Main body of this extract taken from ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’, written by Justus, Reid Weiner, 2005: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

A Just Australia campaign

The A Just Australia campaign is managed by the Refugee Council of Australia. The core mission of the campaign is to campaign for positive changes to government policy on refugee and asylum seekers. By working together with prominent Australians and community groups and thousands of concerned individuals, A Just Australia aims to achieve just and compassionate treatment of refugees, consistent with the human rights standards which Australia has developed and endorsed.

Exercise your right to be heard
In 2001, as Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was rapidly deteriorating in the weeks after the Tampa incident, no one knew that significant change would come three years later from within the government’s own ranks. The situation today is similar: a government pushing ahead with harsh treatment of asylum seekers in the name of deterrence, supported by many in the Opposition, but with a small number of MPs and Senators in different parties publicly or privately expressing misgivings about policies which punish people seeking Australia’s protection from persecution. In thinking about when and how change might come, we can be sure that change will not come if Australians who oppose current policies remain silent.

In 2002, a group of Australians began a campaign, A Just Australia, to encourage Australians to speak up for just treatment of asylum seekers. Today, the Refugee Council of Australia is keeping this campaign alive by inviting Australian citizens and residents to exercise their right to be heard. We want you to let your local MP and the Senators who represent you know how you feel about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

Participate in our “Write To Be Heard” campaign
We would like you to join us in our new “Write to Be Heard” campaign. The aim is to write to the MPs and Senators who represent us (by email or post) to let them know that we and many other fair-minded Australians oppose policies which punish and harm people who have sought Australia’s protection from persecution.

At least once a month, we will invite you to consider a current issue of concern to asylum seekers and refugees and to write to your political representatives about it. Our first request for your support is on the issue of Temporary Protection Visas.

Don’t underestimate the influence you can have. Every elector in Australia is represented in Federal Parliament by one member of the House of Representatives and either 12 Senators if they live in a state or two Senators if they live in the ACT or Northern Territory. The territories have Coalition and Labor Senators while each State has Senators from the Coalition, Labor and the Greens and one or two of the minor party or Independent Senators who hold the balance of power. The politicians who represent you will probably include people who strongly support current government policy, others who openly oppose and some who toe the party line but have misgivings or only limited knowledge of the issues.

Release all children from immigration detention
At the end of October 2014, 726 children were in immigration detention facilities.
We know the damaging effects of detention on young people’s lives.
The Government doesn’t have to detain children – there are community-based alternatives at its disposal.
The Write To Be Heard campaign is asking you to urgently write to MPs and demand the release of all children from immigration detention facilities.

The Refugee Council of Australia has produced a one-page background briefing on the issue which is available here.
We have developed a sample letter which can be used to develop your own letter. Please forward the campaign details to friends and like-minded people. Email, postal and telephone contact details for all MPs and Senators are available here.

Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill will harm vulnerable people
The government’s Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill is currently before the Senate. If passed it will have a devastating impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Write To Be Heard is asking you to contact the cross-bench Senators and urge them to vote against the Bill. Find out how here.
If passed it will:
• Give the Minister for Immigration extraordinary powers during interception and turnback operations while limiting review by the courts or Parliament.
• Reintroduce harmful Temporary Protection Visas and remove pathways to permanent protection, condemning people to constant uncertainty.
• See asylum seekers ‘fast tracked’ through the visa application process where they will have to navigate complex legal systems without support or legal advice.

Other measures will replace the internationally-accepted definition of refugee status with the Government’s own interpretation. Even the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, chaired by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, says the Bill breaches Australia’s core human rights commitments.

The Write To Be Heard campaign is asking you to urgently write to MPs – in particular cross-bench, Greens and Labor Senators – before it’s too late. Let MPs know that we will not support a Bill that strips refugees and asylum seekers of the few rights they have.

Please forward the campaign details to friends and like-minded people.

We have developed a sample letter which can be used to develop your own letter. Email, postal and telephone contact details for all MPs and Senators are available here.

Stop the forcible return of asylum seekers to Afghanistan
Last week, Refugee Council of Australia President Phil Glendenning wrote to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, urging the Australian Government to suspend forcible returns of asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Phil’s pleas followed revelations in The Saturday Paper that an asylum seeker Zainullah Naseri, who was returned in August 2014, was subsequently abducted and tortured by the Taliban.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison said he would investigate the circumstances surrounding Zainullah’s case. Write to Mr Morrison and urge him to immediately suspend the forced return of asylum seekers to Afghanistan. We have developed a sample letter which can be used to press the case for suspending returns.
Please send a copy of your letter to Shadow Minister for Immigration Richard Marles, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Palmer United Party Federal Leader Clive Palmer, your local MP and Senators in your State.

Temporary Protection Visas
Federal Parliament is expected to push for the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). There is still time to write to Members of Parliament – in particular the Senators from the minor parties and independents – and let them know why the TPVs must be rejected.
We have developed a sample letter which outlines the case against TPVs and a series of key points you can use to write your own letters.
How to contact your MPs and Senators
Email, postal and telephone contact details for all MPs and Senators are available here.
Feedback is encouraged
Please share any responses you receive through your advocacy work. Send any feedback to writetobeheard@refugeecouncil.org.au

Join us on Facebook – look for ‘RCOA’
Follow us on Twitter – OzRefugeeCounc #WriteToBeHeard

Tips for writing letters
• Keep your letter short by raising only one or two key issues.
• Ask a question on those issues that require a personal response (refer to our sample questions for inspiration)
• If you are emailing your letter, write it in a word program and attach it as a document to the email rather than place it in the body of the email. Many electorate offices do not reply to emails as they are often not considered official communications.
• Use the correct title of the person you are addressing
• ‘Mr/ Mrs/Ms/Dr First Name Last Name MP’
• ‘Senator First Name Last Name’.
You are likely to get a wordy or evasive answer. Read it carefully. If it does not actually answer your question, write again pointing out politely that they have not answered the question. Repeat the question and ask for an answer. Repeat this process as often as necessary.

Sample questions on different topics
Use these to help as inspiration for your letters to elicit a personal response and reflection from your representatives.

As the elected representative in my electorate of XX, I would like to know your position in the following matter:

Asylum seekers:
• Do you believe that Australia should accord to refugees and asylum seekers all their rights and entitlements under relevant international laws? Are you aware that current laws and policies violate these rights?
• Do you believe that people commit an offence by arriving in Australia without permission and seeking asylum? If Yes, what offence do they commit?
• Do you agree that all refugees should be treated equally regardless of how they arrived in Australia?
• Do you agree that asylum seekers not afforded protection in Australia should only be returned in safety and dignity, and never to a place of danger? Do you agree that where there is credible evidence this does not occur, Australia has a responsibility to investigate our methods and locations of forced removal?

Employment:
• Do you believe that work rights should be afforded to asylum seekers holding bridging visas?

Detention:
• Do you agree that children should not be detained?
• Do you agree that refugees and asylum seekers should not be detained indefinitely?
• Do you agree that no refugee or asylum seeker should be subjected to any human rights violation in order to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia?

Gender Specific Issues of Female Refugees

Overview of Representation of Females amongst Refugees:

“Women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population.”

“… over 50% of the cases of violence against women are not reported.”

By 1998, UNHCR had undergone a ‘perceptible paradigm shift from focusing on women to focusing on gender.’ UNHCR developed a Strategy for Mainstreaming Gender Equality into UNHCR’s Protection and Programmes, the objectives of which included ensuring that UNHCR assesses the implications of all its protection and programme activities for men and women and incorporates strategies to redress any discrimination; creating a permanently gender-sensitive culture within UNHCR; and ensuring that staff are able to apply gender relation analysis, devise strategies to reduce inequities and strengthen the participation of women and communities in resolving protection and assistance problems. This Strategy helped UNHCR to move away from analyzing the different experiences of men and women to undertaking specific programming aimed at redressing gender-based discrimination. This approach was followed in a Gender Training Kit developed by UNHCR in December 2002.

…UNHCR began to realize that improving protection at the field level required a better understanding of the ways in which age, gender and other social and cultural characteristics can create particular protection risks. UNHCR’s age and gender mainstreaming approach was, therefore, expanded to include diversity.

Summary of Some Main Consequences of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

 HEALTH

Injury, disability, death

STIs and AIDS

Reproductive health disorders

Problem pregnancy, difficult labour

Miscarriage

Unwanted pregnancy

Unsafe abortions

Depression à chronic illness

Shock

Infection, chronic infections

Excessive bleeding

 

EMOTIONAL/PSYCHOLOGICAL/SOCIAL

Anger, fear, resentment, self-hate

Shame, insecurity, loss of ability to function in family and society

Depression

Sleep and/or eating disorders

Mental illness

Social isolation

Suicide

Blaming the victim

Isolating/rejecting the victim

Strain on community resources and supports

 

LEGAL/PROTECTION

Strain on already overburdened police and court systems

Inadequate laws governing various forms of sexual and gender-based violence may translate into lack of judicial remedies for victim/survivor; no penal sanctions for perpetrator

Inappropriate judicial responses that further traumatise the victim/survivor, such as early

and forced marriage to the perpetrator

Poor reporting of incidents as a result of lack of confidence in a dysfunctional judicial

system

Increased incidence of repeat offences against the same victim/survivor or other women or girls in the community

 

SECURITY/COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENT

 Victim/Survivor feels insecure, threatened, afraid

Climate of fear and insecurity, either among the entire community or only among women

Community could feel inadequate or powerless for not preventing the violence through forming watch/security groups

Community resorts to vigilante ‘justice’ to protect itself against suspected perpetrators

Social workers and victims/survivors are ostracised”

From UNHCR Website, Women

“Around the world, up to six of every ten women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. During war or other humanitarian crises—such as the brutal conflict currently occurring in Syria—the risks to women and girls are heightened. With the breakdown of moral and social order that occurs during emergencies, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse and exploitation, rape and human trafficking. Perpetrators may be family members, neighbors or others in the community, members of armed groups or, in some instances, humanitarian workers. Even after a crisis abates, gender-based violence (GBV) may continue at high levels as communities struggle to heal and rebuild.”

Women’s Refugee Commission (USA)

“Sexual violence has become a strategic weapon of war used to de-stabilise, punish, coerce and instil terror in refugee populations, and it has been institutionalised in many countries by security forces and places of supposed “refuge”.

“Among the myriad challenges of gender-based violence, the major themes warranting global attention include: viewing sexual assault and violence as security risks; eliminating the culture of impunity for offenders; empowering victims; and creating appropriate facilities for victims.”

The Refugee Irony: Gender-based violence against female refugees in Africa by Liz Miller, The University of Denver

“…the safety illusion of refugee camps…”

Term used by Amnesty International, “No Place for Us Here” (2009)

Pia’s comment: Looking into this issue, including reading some personal stories of refugee women and girls, it quickly becomes clear that the trauma and pain suffered by these victimised girls and women is enormous. Fear of further violence becomes endemic and can shape their personalities and make them vulnerable to further violence.

We also need to remember that often these traumatised women need to continue to care for families, in very difficult circumstances. This very task exposes them to further abuse, as they often are forced to venture out into unsafe communities to earn a living, gathering firewood etc., where perpetrators lie in wait.

They desperately need our prayers and whatever further help the Lord lays on our hearts to provide.