Rev. Bill Harter is a charismatic and well-respected Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor who has taken forty church missions to Israel and the Palestinian Authority territories. On various occasions at meetings with State Department officials, Rev. Harter revealed to them that Christian Palestinians say one thing in public and the opposite in private.
He requested that the State Department appoint a human rights officer and station him at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem in order to monitor, record, and redress the abuses that Christian Palestinians are undergoing at the hands of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-sponsored gangs.
Rev. Harter was told in whispers, in the privacy of Christian Palestinian families’ homes, about the fears they have of remaining in their towns and living there under the control of a Palestinian state. During his earlier trips, members of the Arab Christian community had expressed great fear for their safety as Israel withdrew from the Bethlehem area and handed it over to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA). According to Harter, Christians under PA control are intimidated into speaking out against Israel and are abused if they seem to accuse the PA of any wrongdoing.
Palestinian Christians, according to researcher Justus Reid Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, have faced uninterrupted persecution since the Oslo Accords were implemented and Israel handed over the territories to the PA. Weiner asserts that the “very existence of the 2000 year-old Christian community” is in doubt. As a minority in a society governed by strict adherence to Islamic religious law, their leadership has also been intimidated and has abandoned them — choosing to curry favor with the PA leadership rather than acknowledge and speak out against the ever-increasing suffering of Christians under the Palestinian Authority and the more militant Muslim-led Hamas in Gaza.
Christian Palestinians have also been abandoned by the international community — by NGOs and human rights organizations. On their own, this educated Christian community has had to endure anarchy and lawlessness, widespread corruption in the PA security and police forces, and a xenophobic and intolerant Muslim majority.
Lacking protection and subjected to continued abuse including murder, robbery, rape, and physical assault, Christians have begun to emigrate from the Palestinian territories on a massive scale. Back in the 1990s, when this writer asked the late mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, where the Christians of his city are, he pointed west and said, “You can see them in Santiago de Chile.” Former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts attributed the departure of the Palestinian Christians to having been “driven out by the steady persecution of the PA and the realization that they will face worse treatment under a possible future Palestinian state.”
Article 5 of the draft constitution of the Palestinian Authority unequivocally declares: “In the State of Palestine Islam will be the official religion. … Sharia Islamic law will be the primary source of legislation.” Although that same article also “guarantees that monotheistic religions (Christianity and Judaism) will be respected and that the state will provide for freedom of worship,” the best that Christians (Jews do not live under PA control) can expect from the PA is dhimmitude — the discriminatory social and legal status “provided” to the Peoples of the Book.