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Date posted: May 04, 2006
By Amb. Patrick N. Theros

In the early 19th Century, American travelers reported that Christians made up more than a fifth of the population of Palestine, including Jerusalem. Bethlehem and many smaller towns and villages were majority Christian. Among Christians, more than two thirds were Orthodox.

On June 5, 1967 - the day before Israel attacked and occupied Jerusalem - the Christian population of that city totaled about 15,000. Orthodox were a plurality among a Christian majority in Bethlehem. Overall, Christians in Palestine - Israeli and Arab - numbered about 10-14 percent of the population.

Today, Christians make up less than 4 percent of the population of the Holy Land. There are fewer than 400 Orthodox households in Jerusalem, and about the same number for other Christians. At this rate, the Christian population in Palestine and Israel will disappear in a couple of decades. The Christian presence in the lands where Christ was born, taught, suffered, died and rose again will be reduced to “holy museums.” The greatest shrines of Christendom, including the Most Holy Tomb in Jerusalem and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, will have foreign priests and monks as curators and gawking tourists as the congregation. Christianity, and especially Orthodoxy, will suffer a tragedy greater than the disappearance of Hellenes from Constantinople.

Muslims know the tragic consequences of this exodus. For Muslims, Christians represent the most vibrant and dynamic segment of the Arab population. Christian Arabs created the concept of Arab nationalism in the 19th Century and stood loyally by the short-lived Arab Kingdom of Damascus, which the French and British dismantled in 1920. Christians organized all the secular nationalist political parties of the Arab World, from the far right through the moderate center to the communist left. Greek Orthodox Christians led the fiercest resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Sadly, this destruction of Christianity in its birthplace can be laid almost exclusively at the feet of Western Christendom and Western politicians. Western Christendom has never disguised its hostility to Eastern Christianity. The First Crusade massacred Muslims, Orthodox and Jews without discrimination when those “Holy Warriors” liberated the City of Jerusalem in 1099. A Latin Bishop, with hands still stained with the blood of innocents, became Patriarch of Jerusalem. The rightful bishop of the See of Saint James, the oldest in Christendom, fled to Cyprus. He was not to return until 1187, when Saladin restored both Muslim rule and a Greek Orthodox Patriarch.

In the ensuing centuries, Western Christendom did its best to dislodge the Greek Orthodox and other Eastern Christians from the Holy Land. The Vatican created the Uniates, euphemistically known as “Byzantine Rite Christians” or “Greek Catholics.” The Uniates are nothing more than Bishops bribed or intimidated to recognize the political supremacy of the Pope. In order to make submission to Rome more palatable to their flock, the Vatican permits the Uniates to retain Orthodox practices which they deny to other Western Christians. Rome permits Uniate clergy to marry, and to offer the Blood of Christ to the laity with leavened (as opposed to unleavened) bread as the Body for the single purpose of undermining Eastern Christianity.

The advent of Protestantism created fissures in Western Christianity, but did little to relieve the unremitting Western hostility against Eastern Christians. Protestant missionaries came to the East to preach and to convert, but preached and converted only among Eastern Christians. To the best of my knowledge, no Muslim has been documented as a convert to Christianity in Palestine through the efforts of Western missionaries.

Protestant and Catholic missionaries, financed by Western wealth, targeted Eastern Christians through an insidious campaign by offering education, hospitals and often cash to converts. To no one's surprise, Orthodox Christians in Palestine and Jordan refer to Protestants as “Shilling Christians.” Apologists argue that the Catholics and Protestants offered education innocently and charitably because the Orthodox Church lacked the resources to do so. If that were the case, one might ask why they did not bother to help through the institutions of the native Church, rather than undermine them?

To indicate the determination of Western Christianity and its accompanying scholarship, one should learn about the Treaty of Omar. In 632 AD, Jerusalem surrendered to Muslim forces led by the Caliph Omar al-Khatab. Omar granted then Patriarch Sophronios Christians' rights in the Muslim World through this Treaty, which also recognizes the Patriarch of Jerusalem as head of the flock. The Treaty concludes with a curse on any Muslim who violates it. Orthodox Christians and Muslims recognize the validity of the treaty, which has been reissued until today by the Muslim authority to each succeeding Patriarch for almost 1,400 years. Western “scholars,” in their desire to undermine Easter Christianity, question its validity. In other words, better to undermine the entire Christian presence in the Muslim World rather than allow the Orthodox to maintain their special privileges with Islam.

The post-World War I colonial occupation and the subsequent Israeli occupation of Palestine accelerated the demise of Christianity in the Holy Land. The Palestinians now perceive Protestants and Catholics as a fifth column for the colonial powers, while they see the Orthodox as their brethren. During the 1999 Camp David negotiations between Yasser Arafat and Israel's Ehud Barak, the American delegation introduced a plan drafted in the Vatican as a “solution” to the issue of Jerusalem. Arafat rejected it out of hand, saying that “only the Greek Orthodox Bishop speaks for Jerusalem.” The American negotiators added this rejection to the long list of reasons why they blamed Arafat for the collapse of the negotiations. In 2000, the West stood by silently while the Israeli Army attacked the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, ostensibly to root out Palestinian militants who sought asylum there.

The United States regards obstruction of Western missionary activity as violating religious freedom. Somehow, fraudulent land grabs, freezing of Orthodox bank accounts and trying to undo the canonical election of a Patriarch are not, in the eyes of the U.S. Government, a violation of religious freedom. Of note, only representatives of Orthodox and Muslim countries attended the enthronement of Patriarch Theophilos last November. The American and non-Orthodox European Consuls in Jerusalem, all of them fervent religious rights advocates, boycotted the enthronement. To their credit, the Catholic and Anglican hierarchs in Jerusalem joined the Muslim clergy in attending the enthronement, but the other Protestants were conspicuous by their absence.

The U.S. turns a blind eye to the Israeli Government's ongoing campaign against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Recently, some Jewish American groups circulated accusations that the Patriarch is an “anti-Semite,” claiming he signed a letter promising not to sell land to Jews. When challenged, they could not produce the letter they all claim to have seen.

In a recent article which appeared in this paper (see Press Clippings, April 22 edition, page 12), Robert Novak highlights the catastrophic consequences of Israel's “separation wall,” which runs right through Christian Arab communities, separating farmers from their fields and children from their schools. Novak also notes propaganda efforts by Israelis and their evangelical Christian allies to spread completely false accusations that Christians are fleeing the Holy Land because of Muslim intimidation.

The truth is, Muslims have stood by their Christian compatriots, while the Western World, as it did during the Crusades, turned against them.

Easter came and went once more. Will the Greek Orthodox in America and Europe continue to ignore the plight of their co-religionists in the Holy Land? How many years remain before we will see the complete disappearance of Christians from the Holy Land?

Ambassador Theros served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 36 years, mostly in the Middle East, and was American Ambassador to Qatar from 1995 to 1998. He also directed the State Department's counter-terrorism office and holds numerous U.S. Government decorations. He is the Representative of the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the United States.

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Source: National Herald, 1 May. 2006
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