The source the authors of 15-09 were rather dishonest with is “JCPA Background Paper: The Palestinian Christian Population.” This is an excellent paper which I highly recommend to all commissioners to the General Assembly of the PCUSA, in particular those commissioners who will be in committee 15. The author is Ethan Felson, Vice President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. I wondered if he could be fair when writing about Christian communities and after reading the whole paper I see that he was fair. And it was his fairness that was misused.
At the beginning of the GA item rationale the authors write, “The decline of the population of the Arab Christian community has been reported by many sources including the State Department, the World Council of Churches, and the Palestinian Authority,” and then they name the JCPA and quote from Felson’s paper:
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs [JCPA] describes the pressures faced by the Christian community including “restrictions on visas and travel, family reunification, poor economic opportunities, and the difficulties of everyday life including checkpoints and in some instances residential separation from places of work due to the security barrier. These conditions are real.”But the authors fail to quote what comes immediately after that:
The Palestinian Christian Community also faces pressures related to the Muslim majority among which they live. For example, in 2007, the only Christian bookstore in Gaza was firebombed, its owner kidnapped and murdered. These factors all contribute to emigration, which remains a real and serious concern.Felson goes on to point out that the Palestinian Christians have a low birthrate and he figures that into his discussion of the seemingly decreasing population. The rest of his paper counters the charge that the Palestinian population is decreasing because of Israel. He uses numbers, charts and a great deal of general information that is very helpful. But my point is that the authors of item 15-09 took Felson’s paper and used it dishonestly to their advantage.
As to the concern of Item 15-09 about religious freedoms and the protection of holy sites, there is a more recent report, 2010, by the U.S. Department of State. It does list abuses by various groups and even government officials although it is not an overwhelming report. As for protection of holy sites it includes this:
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law safeguards the holy sites of all religious groups including in Jerusalem. All holy sites enjoy certain protections under the penal law, which make it a criminal offense to damage any holy site, and historic sites are also protected by the antiquities law. The government provided resources for the upkeep of holy places of all recognized religious communities, but provided significantly greater levels of government resources to Jewish holy places.The report is very long it covers both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. And it covers the religious laws of all parties. Interestingly the PA and Israel have some of the same laws but in reverse. Islamic law affects a great deal of the West Bank and Jewish law, Israel. But different Christian communities, in both places, are given legal rights. Hamas on the other hand uses strict Sharia law.
A government policy since 1967, upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court and routinely enforced by the police citing security concerns, denies all non-Muslims the opportunity to worship at the Temple Mount. While the government ensured limited access to the Temple Mount to everyone regardless of religious beliefs, only Muslims were allowed to pray at the site, although their access has been occasionally restricted due to security concerns. Israeli police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and removed non-Muslim visitors if they appeared to be praying. Since 2000 the Jordanian Waqf that manages the site has restricted non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to be worn on the Temple Mount.
Israel’s biggest problem stems from its desire for security and has to do with giving various faiths, both Christians and Muslims, access to their holy sites. Also, although Israeli law allows for proselytizing, still those who do have been harassed. But there are problems on all sides. One part of the report has this:
Nazareth (population 72,000), the city with the country's largest Arab majority, experienced strained relations between the growing Muslim majority and the Christian minority. On October 6, 2010, Sheikh Nazem Abu Salim, the imam of the Shihab al-Din mosque, was indicted for inciting violence against Christians and Jews that resulted in attacks (including one Jewish death), supporting Al Qaeda, and recruiting for global jihad. Some Arab Christians in Nazareth said that fear of reprisal by members of the Islamic Movement prevented them from proselytizing openly.But also:
On October 29, 2010, an arsonist broke into the basement of the Christian Alliance Church in Jerusalem and set fire to the building, partly destroying it. Ten foreign volunteers were awakened and escaped, but required treatment for smoke inhalation. The church is located in a predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and allows Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian congregations to use its facilities. A large crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews watched the fire, with four of the young men chanting loudly "Let it burn!" The fire marshal determined the cause was arson, and the police began an investigationBut here is the Presbyterian problem: For the GA to vote and pass this item which is aimed only at the Israeli government rather than at the whole complex situation is ludicrous. It really is a stab at the Jewish people. It makes no sense at all. Some religious persecution happens from a policy that is perhaps over sensitized to security needs. (Sometimes rightly sensitized.) Some abuse happens because a radical Muslim cleric becomes over zealous in his sermons and his people over zealous in their actions. Some happens because ultra religious Jews become over zealous in their speech and actions.
This isn’t an issue for Presbyterians to be voting on. And as I have shown the item itself is flawed. Some times, probably too many times, Presbyterians tend to believe they can solve the problems of the world by voting on them, and by sending mandates out to world leaders. Jesus made the statement that some demons only come out by fasting and prayer … But since you must vote, vote no. But do fast and pray for this troubled land.
 The authors of the report used a 2008 and 2009 report