Tuesday, February 7, 2006

What now for the Christians of Hamastan?

Date: Tuesday 7 February 2006
Subj: Palestinian Territories - 2.
What now for the Christians of Hamastan?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

Question: What sort of life are Palestinian Christians to expect now that Hamas has been elected to govern the Palestinian Territories? Answer: more of the same, and worse.


Hamas' electoral win is not a surprise result that cannot be explained. Hamas will not radicalise Palestinian Muslims. Hamas won the elections because the Palestinian Authority has already radicalised Muslim society to the extent that it freely elected a terrorist organisation as its government. Hamas' win is the culmination of decades of growing discontent – with the economy, violence and corruption – coupled with the increased radicalisation of Palestinian Muslim society.

Institutionalised discrimination, inequality, and pervasive persecution of Christians have been escalating in the Palestinian Territories for decades. When the Palestinian Territories came under Palestinian Authority (PA) administration after the Oslo Accords, security deteriorated and Islamic zeal and radicalisation increased. This has made life in the Palestinian Territories increasingly difficult for Christians. They live in a state of fear. Those who are able, emigrate. For a detailed scholarly description of the conditions suffered by Christians in the Palestinian Territories see "Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society" by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner. (Link 1)


In a 31 January Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report, George Friedman comments on Fatah's loss of power in the recent Palestinian National Authority (PNA) elections. "It was not simply internal Palestinian politics that drove the Hamas victory. A wave of Islamist politics is sweeping the Muslim and Arab worlds, and the Palestinians are far from immune. The Islamist movement is doing far more than simply challenging the West: It is challenging the secular Arabists who were the heirs of the Nasserite tradition... In many ways, Fatah was the embodiment of secular Arabism -- the purest form of Nasserism. The Palestinians were among the most secular in the Arab world. Therefore, challenging and defeating Fatah represents a critical moment in the history of the Arab and Muslim world. It represents a new high-water mark for Islamists."

Friedman suggests that Hamas will be primarily concerned with internal, not international politics, as it works to consolidate its position. Hamas will therefore say and do those things that will increase the fervor of their followers and discourage their opponents. They will look to the Islamic world while provoking the West. The West will react to the benefit of Hamas which, as Friedman says, "benefits from a sense of embattlement – the sense that it is confronting the enemies of Islam. As it backs the Israelis and Americans into a corner, and both start reacting, Hamas will increase its strength and authority."

Even before its election victory, Hamas was preparing to further the Islamisation of the Palestinian Territories. In December 2005 the leader of the Hamas contingent at the municipal council of Bethlehem, Hassam El-Masalmeh, told The Wall Street Journal that Hamas intends to re-institute the "jizya", a tax mandated by the Qur'an (sura 9:29) to be imposed on non-Muslims who have chosen not to convert to Islam and must now pay for their right to life. (Jizya is a form of systematic religious humiliation, persecution and extortion). (Link 2)

On 3 February 2006, Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al gave a fiery speech at a mosque in Damascus that demonstrated clearly Hamas is not interested in peace or any dilution of Sharia (Islamic Law). In his speech Mash'al warns that "...the law of Allah cannot be changed or replaced", and threatens that Hamas is prepared "...to place the entire Palestinian people at the disposal of the resistance and its weapons". (Link 3) We need to ask: what will this mean for Palestinian Christians who do not support Islamic jihad?


For years, the institutionalised discrimination against and persecution of Palestinian Christians has been covered up by Christian leaders who are either afraid of the consequences of upsetting the status quo, or afraid of losing their good standing with the PA; and by Western nations and human rights organisation that are only interested in appeasing and coaxing the Palestinian Authority into peace negotiations. Well the "status quo" (as intolerable as that was) has ended, and peace is not on the table.

Writing prior to the elections, Professor Justus Reid Weiner called on the PA to crack down on Hamas and eliminate its influence and role as an enforcer of Sharia. It is too late for that now that Hamas controls the PA. But as Friedman notes in his Stratfor commentary, "Since peace is always made with enemies, better to deal with your worst enemy than with hapless moderates." This is as good a time as any to commence advocacy on behalf of the persecuted Christians of the Palestinian Territories.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) "Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society"
by Prof. Justus Reid Weiner, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.

2) "Democrats" For Jihad and Jizya
by Andrew G. Bostrom. 30 Dec 2005

3) Hamas Leader Khaled Mash'al at a Damascus Mosque
MEMRI (No 1087). 7 Feb 2006