A Dear Colleague letter is currently being circulated in the House by Rep. Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. McCaul (R-TX), entitled “Help Save the Oldest Christian Community in the World, Co-sponsor a resolution recognizing the plight of Palestinian Christians.”

A Dear Colleague letter is currently being circulated in the House by Rep. Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. McCaul (R-TX), entitled “Help Save the Oldest Christian Community in the World, Co-sponsor a resolution recognizing the plight of Palestinian Christians.”  While attention to the plight of the Christians is welcome, their situation is portrayed in a dangerously distorted way.  The letter and accompanying resolution accuses the Palestinian Authority of systematically persecuting Palestinian Christians and claims that this is the major motivation of Christian emigration.  The resolution has many inaccuracies, exaggerations and omissions. Your Representative needs to hear from you about your concern for the plight of Christians in the Holy Land and the problematic way their situation is being presented in this bill. 

The McCaul/Crowley resolution has not yet been introduced, but sponsors are being sought and a number of Members have already signed-on including: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Connie Mack (R-FL), Mike Pence (R-IN), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Henry Brown (R-SC), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Mark Souder (R-IN), John Carter (R-TX), Thomas Tancredo (R-CO), and Steve Chabot (R-OH).

TAKE ACTION

Email or send a fax to your Representative.  Email forms are available at: http://www.house.gov/writerep/ and general contact info can be found at: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt?command=congdir. Include the following points in your message.  Below is further background on the situation of Christians in the Holy Land that you might use in your correspondence with your Member?s office or send along as an attachment.

* Thank your Representative for their interest in the plight of Christians in the Holy Land.

* Ask them not to co-sponsor the McCaul/Crowley resolution currently being circulated in Congress because its portrayal of the situation of the Palestinian Christians and their treatment under the Palestinian Authority contains serious inaccuracies, exaggerations and major omissions.

* The findings of this resolution are not based on the concerns most frequently expressed by Christians in the Holy Land .  The Christian Churches of the Holy Land and their U.S. counterparts were not consulted.

* The resolution fails to address the two most significant factors for Christian emigration: the deteriorating economic situation and the political instability created by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli occupation.  US engagement in addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Territories and promoting the peace process is the best way to stem the tide of Christian emigration.

* Some Christian-Muslim tensions do exist and should be addressed.  In addition, the Palestinian Authority should be stabilized so that it can enforce the rule of law.

* While it may have been the intent of the drafters to help the Holy Land Christians, this resolution in fact drives a dangerous wedge between Christian and Muslim Palestinians and risks making the minority Christian population even more vulnerable at a time of already heightened internal Palestinian friction.

* Request that Congress engage in further study of the situation of the Palestinian Christians before this resolution goes any further. The study should be conducted with input from a wide spectrum of Holy Land Christians and in consultation with major Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical US churches and church-related organizations.

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FAQs on the McCaul/Crowley Resolution and the Situation of Christians in the Holy Land

What information is the basis for the Crowley/McCaul resolution?  The research that forms the basis of the resolution was conducted by Professor Justus Weiner, an American/Israeli academic who is a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in Israel.  His research includes little or no input from the local indigenous Palestinian Christians—Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran communicants, and has significant inaccuracies, exaggerated conclusions and major omissions. 

Who was consulted in the drafting of the resolution?  The resolution itself was drafted without the consultation of any major US church or church organization, including the Vatican- appointed Papal Nuncio who?s located here in Washington,  the US Conference of Catholic Bishops,  World Vision, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) or any of CMEP?s 21 Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant member churches and church-related organizations.

What effect would this resolution have on Christians in the Holy Land? The resolution would reinforce a perception that their plight is not understood and that they are not heard.  The resolution fails to address major concerns of Christians in the Holy Land that contribute to emigration.  The McCaul/Crowley resolution drives a wedge between Christian and Muslim Palestinian communities in a dangerous and provocative way. While it may have been the intent of the drafters to help the local Christians, this resolution in fact puts them in a very precarious situation at a time of already heightened internal Palestinian friction.

What do Holy Land Christians report about their situation?  From visits to the Holy Land and in dialogue with church leaders and congregants, US churches have heard that the most pressing issues affecting the daily life of Christians, as well as Muslims, is related to the occupation and the conflict.  The route of Israel’s separation barrier, the presence and expansion of Israeli settlements and the difficulty in reaching jobs, schools, health care facilities and places of worship because of lack of freedom of movement are among the causes of greatest hardship.

Why is the number of Christians in the Holy Land dwindling at such a high rate?  Factors for the dwindling Christian population are varied and complex with the two major reasons being economic deterioration and the difficult political conditions due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Other factors include the low birth rate of Christians in comparison to Muslims and the relatively high socioeconomic status of many Christians which makes it easier for them to leave.   Islamization of Palestinian society is a concern of Christians, whose preference is for a secular and pluralistic form of governance, but to date this concern has not been identified as a major reason for emigration.

Are Christian institutions and NGOs able to operate safely in the Holy Land?  Church institutions in the Holy Land, such as the Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta and the Catholic Bethlehem University operate freely and openly as Christian-based organizations that provide services to all Palestinians, regardless of their religion.  Church-related development organizations such as World Vision and Catholic Relief Services report that they employ both Christian and Muslim Palestinians and that their Christian employees are free to practice their faith.

What is the Palestinian Authority’s track record on religious freedom and the rule of law and how are Christians treated?  Now and previously the Palestinian Authority has not adequately enforced human rights standards and the rule of law, which has had adverse effects on all Palestinians.  There have been a few cases of insufficient intervention of PA security forces on behalf of Christians; however, contrary to some reports the PA has not been responsible for systematic persecution of Christians. The PA generally maintains good relations with the Christian community.  In fact, the PA has set a Christian quota in the Palestinian Legislative Council, securing seats for Christian representatives from Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem districts.  Christmas and Easter are freely celebrated and Christians hold many prominent positions in Palestinian society.  Hanan Ashrawi was a long-time member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and an official Spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Process in the 90s.  The head of the PLO mission to the US (which also relates to the PA) is Afif Safieh, a Roman Catholic.  Christians currently hold other important positions, such as advisor to the President, head of the Palestinian Monetary Authority and mayors of Ramallah and Bethlehem.

What is the state of Christian-Muslim relations in the Palestinian territories?  As a minority group, Christians are particularly vulnerable to societal friction and the instability of life in the West Bank and Gaza.  Real tensions do exist between Christian and Muslim Palestinian communities, with some unofficial harassment and discrimination taking place on the local level.  Generally, violent incidents are not widespread and relations are congenial.  Thuggery, mob violence and revenge attacks are problems in Palestinian society that need to be dealt with more effectively.  When the victims are Christians, these problems are sometimes cast as religious persecution.  Moreover, disputes between Christians and Muslims related to inter-marriage, conversion and other family and community issues have occasionally resulted in violence, but are more often related to social or inter-family conflicts.  At times, Christian leaders, such as Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, have mediated these disputes and helped to restore good relations. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Palestinian society is a concern of Christians as it is for the majority of Palestinians.  This concern may increase now with the election of Hamas.  Furthermore, the failure to achieve a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contributes to increased support for fundamentalist Islam in the region.

What role do Palestinian Christians play in Palestinian society?  Palestinian Christians, by their political preference and presence itself, constitute a necessary element in the development of a secular, non-theocratic form of Palestinian governance. The Church often emphasizes the importance of nonviolence and reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and the three Abrahamic faiths. The presence of Christians and Christian institutions is an essential part of the rich history and common future of the land where Christianity began.


Background and Supporting Documents:

Testimony at the Hearing on the 2005 Human Rights Report of the U.S. Department of State before the International Relations Committee of the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations”, Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski, Roman Catholic Bishop of Orlando and Chairman, Committee on International Policy, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, March 16, 2006.

Response to Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society (Justus Weiner, 2005)“, Salim J. Munayer, PhD, Academic Dean, Bethlehem Bible College, On behalf of the Local Council of Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land [A grouping of various Evangelical churches including Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Church of God and others], April 25, 2006

International Religious Freedom Report 2005, Section on the Occupied Territories (including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority), “Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, November 8, 2005.