Palestinian Christians: Victims, Not Partners

This week the Chicago Tribune prefaced a series of articles on Islam, including one about how radical Muslims gained control of a large Chicago-area mosque, by reassuring readers that “Islam, the world’s fastest-growing religion, preaches tolerance, non-violence and respect for human life.”

But this week I interviewed Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who has become a Christian and has recently been speaking out against jihad ideology. He confirmed something I discussed in Onward Muslim Soldiers: that this talk of tolerance and non-violence is often cultivated by radical Muslims as part of a larger tactical strategy.

In the Palestinian Authority, this strategy involved the co-opting of the embattled Palestinian Christian minority into the larger jihadist agenda. With Christians, Shoebat explains “we saw a need for unity.” Palestinian Christians were happy to oblige. Most Palestinian Christians, says Shoebat, were “educated on Replacement Theology, in which God was done with Israel and Jews. They were in turn supportive of the Palestinian cause to liberate all Palestine.”

Their attachment to the jihadist cause was cemented by Muslim talk of tolerance. Says Dr. Bernard Sabella of Bethlehem University: “My Muslim students at Bethlehem University always describe Islam as being tolerant and accepting of others.”

However, Shoebat continues, “the Christians were betrayed. Even though they were promised equality, the PLO and Arafat established footholds in the Christian towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. In them, he used and abused holy places and homes to the point that most of the Christians left the country.” The Christian population in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been declining rapidly. Estimated at nearly 50,000 in the mid-1990s, it has been declining by as many as 1,000 each year.

On the other hand, Sabella says that it’s a “mistake” to think that “Palestinian Christians leave because of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. . . . This is not our experience. We have lived with Muslims as neighbors for centuries . . . The mutual tolerance of Islam and Christianity shows itself in practical activities of daily life: this is the real dialogue of life.”

But Shoebat says that when he and his fellow Muslims were engaging in this “dialogue for life,” they never really saw Christians as equals: “As Muslims . . . it was a good idea to make peace with Christians and work hand-in-hand in order to gain our goal: to liberate the land from the Jews. Yet it was sacrilege to sell land to Christians when Muslim customers were available. It was also a death sentence for a Christian male to fall in love with a Muslim girl. It would have meant nothing to me to kill my sister or cousin if it was found out they had run off with a Christian.”

Even more ominously, the Muslims wanted ultimately to restore dhimmitude: the institutionalized second-class status that Islamic law, Sharia, mandates for Christians as well as Jews. “In religious study in school or mosque,” he recounts, it was normal for Muslim teachers to refer to Christians as “ahlu-dhimma — protected people — who would be subjects under an Islamic Khilafa [caliphate] which can demand taxation from Christians — jizya.” He says that Islamic leaders envisioned the Christians as subject people from whom this “protection sum” would be collected yearly; “but without the Khilafa the time for this injunction is not yet.”

The restoration of the caliphate is a primary item on the agenda of Osama bin Laden and other radical Muslims worldwide. “Khilafa,” says Shoebat, “was an aspiration most Muslims were waiting for, but with no such government in place the need for Christians to help Muslims to throw out the Jews still remained. It was better for us to simply get along — for now.”

Not that “getting along” is too taxing for Muslims. Shoebat declares: “The treatment today of Christians is deplorable. . . . Christians have no one to stand for them. Leaders like Michael Sabbah [the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem] work with the PLO, making it hard for Holy Land Christians to remain there.”

The ultimate purpose of all this? A Palestinian state established by jihad and ruled by Sharia: “Today,” concludes Shoebat, “with the almost total eradication of the Christian presence, one can see that in our mind [as Muslims] it all goes to one thing: the end justifies the means. In jihad one can lie and use others to promote the cause, since jihad is in stages.”

As Muhammad himself said, “War is deceit.” Has Michael Sabbah heard that one?