The Cross is Banned in Bethlehem, and Christians in the Middle East are Under SeigePosted by Peter Schweizer Dec 24th 2010 at 3:59 am in Featured Story, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East | Comments (30)
We are far too accustomed to thinking that the Middle East is populated only by Muslims and a few Jews. There are Christians living there, too, often beleaguered and under attack. Here are three stories that remind us during this Christmas season that life for Christians in the Holy Land during this Holy Season can be particularly perilous. First, we learn that the cross, the very symbol of Christianity, has basically been abolished from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
“This Christmas in Bethlehem, the cross has been banned from souvenirs for tourists and pilgrims in the Holy Land. Some textile workshops in Jerusalem and Hebron have begun to print and sell T-shirts depicting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem without the cross. Because of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Palestinian territories, the cross was also removed from t-shirts of football teams.Interviewed by AsiaNews, Samir Qumsieh, journalist and director of the Catholic television station Al-Mahed Nativity TV in Bethlehem, said: “I want to launch a campaign to urge people not to buy these products – he says – because the removal of the cross is an intimidation against Christians, it is like saying that Jesus was never crucified. ”
Like every year, thousands including authorities, faithful and tourists from all over the world crowd, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for midnight mass on the night of 24 December. It will be celebrated by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and will be attended by the highest offices of the Palestinian Authority.”
From Gaza we read:
“More than 500 members of the Gaza Strip’s tiny Christian community left the blockaded territory on Thursday to participate in Christmas celebrations in Jesus’ traditional birthplace of Bethlehem.
The Israeli military coordinated the rare passage to the West Bank ahead of the holiday, saying it was part of its goal to ensure freedom of worship for all religions.
About 3,500 Christians live in Gaza among 1.5 million Muslims. Relations have traditionally been good, though there has been sporadic violence against Christians since the Islamic Hamas movement wrestled control of the strip three years ago.
Residents leaving Gaza on Thursday played down any differences with Hamas, saying they were in solidarity as Palestinians in the struggle against Israel.
“Of course I am very happy that I will see my relatives and join them for Christmas. It happens only once a year,” said Hatem Al-Far. “The only problem is they (the Israelis) did not issue permits for all of my children.”
During the Hamas takeover, vandals ransacked a Roman Catholic convent and an adjacent school, breaking crosses and smashing the face of a ceramic Jesus.
In the following months, unidentified assailants detonated a bomb outside a Christian school, firebombed a Christian bookshop and killed a Christian who worked at one.
Hamas says it is committed to protecting the Christian minority, but no arrests have been made in any of the incidents.”
And from Baghdad we read:
“Faced with renewed threats by Al-Qaeda and still mourning a church massacre, Christmas for Iraq’s Christian community will this year be a time of fear and cancelled celebrations rather than rejoicing.
The Council of Churches in Iraq has asked the faithful to limit Christmas celebrations “to a spiritual feast of participating in mass, for reasons of caution and sadness,” said Shlimun Warduni, the Chaldean bishop of Baghdad.
The attack was later claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq, which also threatened further attacks on Christians.
Ten days later a string of attacks targeted the homes of Christians in Baghdad,killing six people and wounding 33 others.
Rights group Amnesty International has called on Iraq “to do more to protect the country’s Christian minority from an expected spike in violent attacks as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.”
With Christmas just two days away, our Lady of Salvation carries an air of mourning rather than festivity, and its interior remains scarred more than a month after the attack.
Instead of Christmas decorations, the front of the sanctuary holds a banner picturing the two priests and the worshippers killed in the attack framing an image of a bloodied Jesus on the cross, while individual pictures of victims sit below