The most recent report by the US State Department on Religious Freedom in Israel and the Palestinian territories noted that though “Israel’s security fence restricted the ability of some Palestinian Muslims and Christians to reach some places of worship”, overall “the Israeli government respected the right to freedom of religion within the Occupied Territories“.
Regarding Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, however, the State Department reached a far different conclusion, documenting the institutional discrimination against Christians, their minority Shiite population and all Muslims who didn’t abide by the strictest interpretation of Islam.
Here are some highlights from the report:
“The de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza continued to restrict religious freedom in both law and practice, and the negative trend for respect of this right was reflected in such abuses as arresting or detaining Muslims in Gaza who did not abide by Hamas’ strict interpretation of Islam and broadcasting a program calling for Jews to be killed.”
Since the 2007 Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip, Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, has exercised de facto authority over the territory and has enforced conservative Islamic law, harassed non-Muslims, and imposed religious restrictions on women.
Hamas maintained control of Gaza throughout the year, used it as a base for attacks against Israel, and sometimes exploited its security apparatus to arrest or detain Muslims in Gaza who did not abide by Hamas’ strict interpretation of Islam.
In January Hamas authorities reportedly raided a Shia religious gathering during the holiday of Arbaeen in the Gazan neighborhood of Sheikh Zayyad. Reports differed on whether excessive force was used, although some claim at least 14 persons were arrested and some hospitalized. Hamas Ministry of Interior public statements claimed that the raid was a response to an illegal group with “corrupt views” that sought to commit unspecified crimes. It further stated that Gaza was a “Sunni country where Shiism does not exist.“
Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam on Gaza’s Muslim population. For example, Hamas operated a women’s prison during the year to house women convicted of “ethical crimes” such as “illegitimate pregnancy.”
local [Gaza] religious leaders received warnings ahead of Christian holidays against any public display of Christianity. Christians raised concerns that Hamas failed to defend their rights as a religious minority. Local officials sometimes advised converts to leave their communities to prevent harassment against them.
More broadly, reports abound demonstrating that Christians face systemic persecution throughout the Arab and Muslim Middle East, with studies predicting that “Christianity will “effectively disappear from the region as a cultural and political force within our lifetime”. As The Telegraph commented on a recent study by the think-tank Civitas, “the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam”. The report estimates some 2 million Christians have reportedly fled the region in the past 20 years alone.
Yet, despite the fact that Israel is the only safe haven for Christians in the Middle East, the Guardian’s new Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont filed a report employing quintessential Guardian trickery on the issue: imputing Israeli intolerance from a few highly questionable accounts that are, at the very least, completely devoid of context, while ignoring the far more egregious crimes against Christians by Palestinian Muslims.
His report, Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem find their path to the Via Dolorosa is an ever harder road, April 20, all but ignores the larger story, that tens of thousands of Christians were able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as part of Easter celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City, and characteristically focuses on a few sporadic complaints.
Typical is this passage:
Orthodox worshippers complained of a heavy-handed Israeli police presence at the Holy Fire ceremony on Easter Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with many worshippers denied access.
Of course, such “heavy-handed” security and crowd control measures, to keep worshipers from surging into the church, may be one of the reasons why there were no reports of violence despite the incredibly large number of visitors. Further, testifying to the overall success of the day’s events, Christian officials reportedly thanked Israeli police for their professional handling of the event.
Beaumont’s narrative appears to have taken an even more dishonest turn in the following passages:
On Sunday morning it emerged that Israeli police had prevented the UN’s peace envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, other diplomats and a crowd of Palestinians from attending the Holy Fire ceremony on Saturday.
Serry said in a statement Israeli security officers had stopped a group of Palestinian worshippers and diplomats in a procession near the church, “claiming they had orders to that effect”.
However, it appears that Serry was allowed to pass and did attend the ceremony.
As the Washington Post reported on the same incident:
A precarious standoff ensued ending in an angry crowd pushing their way through,” Serry said. Serry spokeswoman Elpida Rouka said that the envoy and his party were trapped for about 30 minutes but that eventually the police retreated and the group, along with “an anxious crowd of worshipers,” was able to enter.
Additionally, we emailed Israel Police Spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld who confirmed that Serry did indeed attend the ceremony.
It appears that Beaumont got it wrong.
Moreover, a more honest assessment of the day’s events would invariably conclude that Israel pulled off a remarkable feat on Saturday, allowing tens of thousands of Christians to visit holy sites in Jerusalem for Easter - a day which wasn’t marred by even the smallest incident of violence.
But, of course, such an honest account of Israel’s progressive advantages in the region would betray the Guardian narrative. And, as we’re slowing learning about the paper’s new regional correspondent, when there’s a competition between allegiance to accuracy and telling Guardian readers what they want to hear, the former will lose almost every time.