PITTSBURGH

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.