How Yasir Arafat Drove Christians from Bethlehem

Dec. 28 2020

With Christians in the Middle East, China, and elsewhere suffering from severe persecution, one might think the Western media would have used last week to call attention to their plight. Instead, some journalists engaged in what has become a tradition of Yuletide Israel-bashing. David M. Weinberg writes:

[T]he Western media annually devote considerable Christmas ink, and many Christian NGOs dedicate their Christmas appeals, to purveying the false impression that Christians are under assault by Israelis. And worse still, that Jews are [metaphorically] crucifying Christians smack in the heart of Bethlehem.

These screeds demonize Israel and seek to cover up the real reason for Christian decline in Bethlehem: the Palestinian Authority and radical Islam. It started with Yasir Arafat. Arriving from Tunis [in 1994], Arafat immediately set out to suppress the Palestinian middle class across the West Bank, which he understood could be the only real opposition to his planned dictatorial authority. He nationalized most business sectors and squeezed Palestinian small businessmen out of business. Especially hard hit were middle-class businessmen of Bethlehem, mainly Christian.

Arafat then sidelined the long-time Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, and Arafat’s henchmen led a campaign of terror and intimidation against Christian institutions and families in the city. Land theft, beatings, and intimidation of Christians in Bethlehem by PA security services and other gangs became routine. Forced marriages between Christian women and Muslim men were reported. In 2002, Arafat’s terrorists even took over and defiled the Church of the Nativity for 39 days, holding 200 priests as hostage as the terrorists sought to escape Israeli justice.

The result was an inexorable and ongoing Christian exodus from Bethlehem.

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Read more at David M. Weinberg

More about: Media, Middle East Christianity, Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy