Bethlehem, the Plight of Religious Minorities in the Middle East and a Year-Long Christmas Gift from Israel to the People of Haiti
This week, I was honored to participate in a conference organized by Ashraf Ramelah of the Voice of the Copts movement, celebrating International Human Rights Day, entitled, "Human Rights in the Middle East:ã€€What the West Needs to Know."
The snow that almostã€€ paralyzed most of Washington this Thursday did not prevent these courageous individuals, mostly Christian, but some Muslim, fromã€€ coming out and revealing their deplorable treatment as religious minorities who have lived in the Muslim world. ã€€I am honored to call these wonderful people "friends."
They spoke about the Koranic roots which command the obligation to subjugate, fight and kill the "Kafir" (unbeliever).
Not all Muslims take this literally, but enough do to have made life an absolute living hell for religious minorities living under Muslim rule.
Each one of these brave people, representing a wide breadth of geography, including Ashraf Ramelahã€€ of Egypt, Ali Alyamiã€€of Saudi Arabia and Nazir Bhatti of Pakistan, among others, spoke about the humiliating Dhimmi laws, the lack of due process and the rule of law, the arbitrary ã€€taxes, arrests, tortures, sometimes resulting in death,ã€€that theyã€€ personally, or someone they know and love, had been subjected to.
They all spoke about the egregious treatment of women in their native lands. For example, in Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot drive or vote. A woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s. If she is raped, she is stoned to death by male relatives for dishonoring the family. She cannot even be admitted into a hospital without being accompanied by a male guardian, even if it means she will die in childbirth.
This coming Saturday, Christmas will be celebrated throughout the Christian world.
Christmas in Bethlehem is not at all what it sounds like in the Christmas carols.
Since the Palestinian Authority has taken over the city, Christian families have been leaving Bethlehem and the nearby towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla by the droves. ã€€Before the P.A.’s takeover of Bethlehem, Christians made up approximately 70 per cent of the city’s population.
Today, Christians, in the city of the Jesus’s birth, make up less than 15 percent of the population. They complain about constant employment discrimination, constant intimidation, land theft, forged documents and the sexual abuse and intimidation of their women.
Many Christian businessmen have been forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay the special taxes or protection money to Muslim gangs.
As Khaled Abu Toameh wrote last year in The Jerusalem Post, "As a Muslim journalist, I am always disgusted and ashamed when I hear from Christians living in the West Bank and Jerusalem about the challenges, threats and assaults that many of them have long been facing. The reason why I feel like this is because those behind the assaults and threats are almost always Muslims. For decades, the delicate and complicated issue of relations between Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land was treated by Palestinians as a taboo. Most Palestinians chose to live in denial, ignoring the fact that relations between the Muslim majority and the tiny Christian minority [about 10%] have been witnessing a setback, particularly over the past 15 years."
I would like to close this week’s column with a pleasant story of Israel’s tremendous gift, not only during Christmas, but throughout the year to the people of Haiti.
Dr. Yehuda Skornick, the chief of surgery of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and the president of Magen David Adom International, Israel’s Red Cross, was in Haiti last month. He spoke to me this week of the continuous presence of Israelis in Haiti since the earthquake.
He spoke of a special rehabilitation center that Israel has opened up in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. This was done through combined monetary contributions from Magen David Adom, Israel’s Tel HaShomer Shiva Hospital and the Joint Distribution Committee.
Said Dr. Skornick, "When we saw the situation after the earthquake, there were a great deal of people under compression who were forced to have their limbs amputated, or else they would become necrotic. We knew that thousands of young people with amputated arms and legs remained behind in Haiti, and we had to do something about it."
Since the earthquake, dozens of doctors from Magen David Adom and Tel HaShomer have remained behind. In the last four months, the Israeli team has managed to successfully do eighty prostheses surgeries. Then, the rehabilitation begins with a team that has flown in from Tel HaShomer Hospital. At the same time, team members train local physicians and nurses on proper rehabilitation.
The rRehabilitation center officially opened as part of the university hospital on November 17. Said Dr. Skornick, "When you go to the hospital, you see the incredible misery that the people are enduring until this day. There are no roads, no traffic lights, no sanitation. You see huge camps of plastic bag homes where the people live. There, they are exposed to temperatures in the upper 90s. As soon as a building is marked for demolition, the people are immediately evacuated into the street, and live in these camps. …
"It was incredibly depressing to see the apathy at death. Entering the emergency room, there was a corpse of a young woman who died of cholera. She was only partially covered. People seem to pass by without paying any attention.
Dr. Skornick described an emergency room with tens of patients, some in severe pain, lying passively in beds, waiting for some sign of help, not complaining, as if accepting their destiny.
From within this dark environment, the rehabilitation center has emergeds as a light in the darkness. People, from government officials to medical workers to patients, gathered from all over the country to express their profound gratitude to Israel.
Three of the victims treated there, told their stories. One was a 25–year-old dancer who had lost his legs. He was treated by Israeli doctors in Haiti and taken to Israel to complete the rehabilitation. He is able to dance again.
Another two victims who lost their legs, ages 20 and 25, sang a song in Hebrew, although they did not understand the words. "But they were singing with such pure emotion," said Dr. Skornick, "that it was as though they were praying, and not singing."
Dr. Skornick said that Magen David Adom also has created an emergency medical system in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. ã€€He points with pride to the emergency medical services Magen David Adom has provided in Uganda, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and India.
"It is simple," saids Dr. Skornick. "It says in the Bible, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ We, as Israelis and Jews, try to do that."