Palestinian Christians under attack

‘Price tag’ movement continues with apparent impunity

September 5, 2013


Palestinian Christians are under attack in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Israeli settlers have been vandalizing Palestinian churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and other Christian institutions and property in alarming numbers over the past three years.   

These crimes are thought to be part of the larger “price-tag” movement, a campaign started by Israeli settlers in 2011 both to intimidate Palestinians into leaving their land and to establish a punitive “price” Palestinians must pay for perceived setbacks to the security and geographic expansion of the Jewish state.

"Price tag" attacks are not aimed exclusively at Christian Palestinians.  Secular and Muslim Palestinians are regularly victimized by the price tag attacks as well.  But many attacks have, indeed, targeted Christian institutions."

A Palestinian monastery near Jerusalem, for example, was firebombed and vandalized on Aug. 19. The walls of the Beit Jamal monastery, which is inhabited by the Sisters of Bethlehem order, were defaced with Stars of David and the words “price tag,” “death to Gentiles” and “revenge” written in Hebrew.   

Vandals scrawled “revenge” and “price tag” on several tombs in a Palestinian Orthodox cemetery in Jaffa, Israel in June of this year.

In May 2013, Israeli settlers slashed the tires of a car belonging to the lawyer for the Society of St. Yves Catholic Center for Human Rights, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. 

The words “Jesus is a Monkey” appeared in Hebrew on the Church of the Dormition in occupied East Jerusalem in May 2013. The same church had also been attacked in October 2012, when “Jesus is a son of a bitch, price tag” was spray painted on its walls. 

The Church is believed by many Christians to be the site where the Virgin Mary died.

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land attributed the 2012 attacks in a statement on its website to “the education of the young in some [Israeli] schools where contempt and intolerance are taught.”

To solve the problem, the statement went on to say, “the Assembly again asks that radical changes be made in the education system, otherwise the same causes will produce the same effects over and over.”

In September 2012, the entrance door to the Latrun Monastery was set on fire and “Jesus is a monkey” was written in Hebrew on one of the walls. “We try to do everything with love,” said the abbot, Father Louie. “We are saddened by this incident.  It’s a shame that some people are unwilling to live with and accept people who are different.”   

The Israeli government, while officially condemning price tag attacks, has prosecuted few of the alleged attackers.

Meanwhile, the government has stepped up its own campaign of demolishing Palestinian homes, seizing Palestinian land, revoking Palestinians’ residency permits, and invading Palestinian institutions, including churches and monasteries.  These efforts are part of an official plan to Judaicize East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank ― Palestinian territories that have been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

Only the most populous Palestinian cities are not under full Israeli military control, but these places, including their religious institutions, are regularly occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces.

In late July, for instance, Israeli soldiers invaded the Cremisan Monastery in Bethlehem, in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, detaining the people inside before finally releasing them.  The adjacent convent and its land are scheduled to be annexed by Israel, in violation of international law. 

The raid was thought to be in response to the Salesian Sisters’ seven-year legal battle to block the planned annexation. The Israeli government is planning to extend its Separation Barrier through the property, thus placing the monastery and 75% of the convent’s land on the Israeli side and the convent and a primary school on the Palestinian side.      

The Israeli government has seized and/or demolished more than 28,000 Palestinian properties since 1967, according to the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD). At least 30 houses have been destroyed in East Jerusalem alone since January 2013, according to the Israeli human rights group, Btselem

Most of these properties are seized on the grounds that they were constructed without appropriate building permits. But Israel rarely grants building permits to Palestinians, rejecting more than 94% of the applications, according to ICAHD.       

In a 2012 letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres, Father Pierbattista Pizzballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land and head of the Franciscan Order in Israel, wrote, “the various [Palestinian] Christian communities live quietly and peacefully in Israel, with respect, appreciation and good relations with Jews and Moslems…Unfortunately, throughout the years we have learned to ignore provocations and continue our daily life. 

“Still it seems that this time red lines have been crossed and we cannot remain silent.”  

Robert Ross is assistant professor of global cultural studies at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. His research and teaching focus upon the political-economic geographies of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the United States.  He is a member of East Liberty Presbyterian Church and he has worked with the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) since October 2012.  

  1. Where politics can shift at any moment, it would be troubling to continue in engaging in them. Churches are being burned, mass kidnappings and forced evacuations, murders, hangings, and imprisonment. Looking to the bible can keep the church grounded. If you cannot see yourself in them then or a duty to help perhaps the way has become lost.

    by concerned presbyterian

    August 3, 2014

  2. Christian persecution becomes increasingly worse. Fellow Christians morally should not just stand by.

    by concernred presybyterian

    August 3, 2014

  3. Western christians please wake up and start doing something stop supporting Israel.

    by John Moses Christopher

    November 26, 2013

  4. Do educated Presbyterian people really support this kind of hate filled dribble ? If so it would help to explain the massive loss of membership. Most I have met would totally reject it .

    by DA

    November 19, 2013

  5. How can an article on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land not discuss their persecution at the hands of the Muslims? In Gaza, especially, the YMCA was burnt, a Christian bookseller tortured and murdered, and the Christian population under constant persecution by the ruling Elite of Hamas. Why does this very biased article not mention this?

    by Lashaudra Somersault

    September 10, 2013

  6. Thank you for your article, Mr Ross. I have seen the facts on the ground myself; it is just as horrible as you describe. When will we as Christians understand and speak out against the monumental imbalance in this conflict? The US pumps endless billions in to the Israeli Occupation. It is time to quit coddling the oppressor and apply our Christian conscience toward the countless violations of international law that are perpetuated every day by Israel against both Palestinian Christians, Muslims.

    by SueD

    September 10, 2013

  7. I remain in humble admiration of our Christian brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine in these troubled days. A friend of mine who is a Christian leader, and was part of the drafting of the Kairos Document, has steadfastly refused to be intimidated through similar things. She built a cultural center in the Old City, and it was vandalized, along with one of her workers being assaulted and stabbed. Thankfully, he recovered, but she had to have a security guard with her at all times for a while after that. Then she came home from work one day to find the fire department extinguishing what was left of her home after an arson fire was set. She lost many wonderful family heirlooms and antiques, but three things remained in the ashes: her Bible, a cross, and a religious icon. Within a week of that event, her office caught fire, but damage was minimal, thankfully. No one was ever brought to justice in these targeted attacks. Then, about a year after her home was burned, and after she was able to rebuild and restore her home, she was sitting at home in her slippers when she received a phone call around 10:30 at night. It was her neighbor, very worried about her. He and his wife had just seen a car pull up to her driveway. Three men with black ski masks over their faces jumped out and smashed the windows in her car! She did not realize this had just happened! Thankfully, her neighbors were able to write down a license plate number for the car, so there was hope that the perpetrators would be caught this time. But no, the Israeli police refused to investigate, and nothing was ever done about pursuing the attackers. There are some wonderful Israeli people who would be horrified to know these things are happening, but it is clear that the current government of the State of Israel will do nothing to stop the harrassment and blatant intimidation of Palestinian Christians, or any Palestinian leaders who work to keep hope alive for all people in their shared land. Thank you for this article, which finally outlines just some of the events that illustrate this day to day policy of persecution. May God continue to bless and strengthen our Christian friends who are committed to living out their call to be peacemakers and givers of hope amidst hopelessness!

    by The Rev. Mary Robinson-Mohr

    September 10, 2013

  8. Historical reality is not "unacceptable language." Robert Ross nails it, and actually has credentials to back his work up.

    by Jeffrey DeYoe

    September 10, 2013

  9. Sorry folks, "Mondoweiss" is not a "radical website" -- right wingers are fond of throwing out such terms, calling virtually anything left of their position as "ultra-left" or the like. Bias? You betcha, the same kind of 'bias' that provoked Jesus to cleanse the temple of those who negated the biblical call to both justice and reconciliation. I think it is clear that the IPMN sides with Jesus in this matter; the question then becomes: 'on whose side are you?' Perhaps it is a good time for you to reexamine your theology of the kingdom of God, the New Covenant community, the core things that Jesus calls his followers to embrace and act upon as His agents. When we pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" this implies that we actually do the stuff on Jesus' kingdom now, not 'when he returns'. So again, this is a good opportunity for you to rediscover kingdom values -- and I am pretty sure that IPMN is closer to them than these commentors thus far.

    by John Berg

    September 10, 2013

  10. Thanks to Ross for shedding light on an under-reported, mostly unacknowledged, feature of the Israeli ocvupation. Christians in the region are the invisible minority.

    by Robin Kash

    September 10, 2013

  11. for those who are willing to hear more about the continuing confiscation of land by Israel, one of the more informative website isזוכרות an NGO in Israel that considers the Nakba an ongoing movement, not only in Palestine but in Israel as well

    by Ted Settle

    September 10, 2013

  12. The violence of the settlers is well documented by the Jewish Human Rights organization, B'Tselem

    by Ted Settle

    September 10, 2013

  13. This article is somewhat like another article by Robert Ross on Mondoweiss a radical news site. In that article after writing about price tag crimes, he writes: "But the hooligan Israelis who carry out these price tag attacks are striving for the same goals as Messrs. Peres, Bennett, and Netanyahu: namely, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel/Palestine. They merely use different means to accomplish that goal. In fact, price tag vandalism, while indeed reprehensible, pales in comparison to the far more insidious and far more powerful policies that the Israeli government has long enacted and enforced. In other words, “price tag” crimes and criminals are merely one component of a historically and politically vast ethnic cleansing machine. The first phase of ethnic cleansing, in 1948, focused on systematically driving more than 750,000 Palestinians from the new state of Israel into exile (see Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, 2006). Central to this phase has been the ongoing refusal by Israel to ever let Palestinian refugees return to their homes and land. (Meanwhile, Israel will instantly grant citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world, simply because they are Jewish.) The second phase of ethnic cleansing has been taking place since 1967, when Israel began its occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip (in addition to the Syrian Golan Heights and Egyptian Sinai Peninsula). The ethnic cleansing has accelerated since the mid-1990s. As Munir Nuseibah explained, today’s ethnic cleansing is carried out using several methods. In addition to the price tag attacks, the demolition and confiscation of property and the revocation of residency permits are the most common methods employed." This is unacceptable language. I would put the link to my blog posting here but that is probably not considered acceptable by PNS. However, I just must say this is a very one sided report and the one like it on the other site is horrific.

    by Viola Larson

    September 6, 2013

  14. Let's be clear about what exactly "support"of the "BDS Movement" means. Neither the Presbyterians nor the Lutherans nor the Methodists support divestment. The ""BDS Mövement"has a clear call to support all three: boycott, divestment and sanctions>

    by GRZ

    September 6, 2013

  15. Actually, GDB, the PCUSA doesn't stand alone. The United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and General Board of Global Ministries also support the BDS movement and engage in one-sided reporting and opinionating on a regular basis. Other than that, you are exactly right.

    by Palamas

    September 6, 2013

  16. The bias drips from this article. It uses selective facts and figures, treats vandalism prosecuted by Israel as Israeli policy, and ignores both Israeli security concerns and Palestinian persecution of Christians. The Presbyterian Church should be ashamed that it stands essentially alone among churches in its support of hateful boycotts and one sided messages.

    by GDB

    September 5, 2013