Thursday, 27 December 2007

European Coalition for Israel: concern over lack of religious freedom in Palestinian controlled territories

The European Coalition for Israel calls the European Union leaders' attention to the plight of Christians in Palestinian controlled areas:
"In a letter to the two leaders of the European Union the Coalition points out that "according to international human rights law everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion". These fundamental rights were codified in the new EU Reform treaty which was signed in Lisbon earlier in December. In the new treaty the European Union commits to affirming and promoting human rights and fundamental freedom in their relations and cooperation with non-EU countries. The Palestinian Authority receives annually over 500 million euro in funding from the European Union and is the single largest recipient of EU aid.
This Christmas the European Coalition for Israel wishes to draw attention to the fact that the Christian communities living in the Palestinian controlled territories in the West Bank and Gaza are likely to dissipate completely within the next 15 years as a result of increasing Muslim persecution and maltreatment. According to a report by scholar Justus Weiner from Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, Christians are streaming out of the Palestinian Authority controlled areas, including some of the holiest sites of Christendom.
"Christians comprised 85 percent of the population of Bethlehem in 1948; today their numbers have dwindled to 12 percent", concludes Weiner* in his report. Elsewhere in the Palestinian territories only about 3.000 Christian, mostly Greek Orthodox, live in the Hamas run Gaza Strip, out of a strongly conservative Muslim population of 1.4 million.
In a resolution adopted by the European Parliament on November 15, 2007 the deputies expressed concern over "a number of serious events which compromise the existence of Christian communities" and mentions specifically the Palestinian controlled territories."
*Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, by Justus Reid Weiner (JCPA, 2005)
report is "dedicated to the memory of a courageous man, Ahmad El-Achwal, a Palestinian convert to Christianity. El-Achwal was a married father of eight who lived in the Askar Refugee Camp. Despite repeated harsh treatment at the hands of the Palestinian Authority including imprisonment, severe beatings, arson, intimidation and torture, El-Achwal clung to his religious beliefs and even ran an informal church in his house. El-Achwal was murdered on January 21, 2004, at the entrance to his residence."

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