Will the last Christian in the Middle East put out the lights?
Two reports from Britain's Independent Catholic News and Fides indicate how difficult, even dangerous it has become to be a Christian in the Middle East and why the pope's call for reciprocity remains so important. The first story relates the increasingly precarious position of Christians in Iraq, where their numbers are dramatically diminished. The second story relates the outcome of a Mass and demonstration of another IDF seizure of Arab land on the West Bank. You will not read about such events in the mainstream media, so ICN and other nontraditional news outlets remain your best bet for evidence of the daily grind which is life under occupation and an Israeli regime intent on accelerating the "facts on the ground" policy of Palestinian displacement and encirclement (Here is Claudette Habesch of Caritas Jerusalem, describing the plight of Christians in Palestine):
Iraq: 'Mosul becoming a graveyard for Christians'
Fear and shock today are the dominant feeling among the Christians of Mosul, Fides was told by a Chaldean priest of the local church, requesting anonymity for security reasons.
The ferocity and horror of the "truly cold-blooded murders" of four Christians in the last four days seem to have left their mark on the community of believers. "It is an ethnic cleansing that goes on day after day, in silence and indifference. We are in deep distress as the authorities and the police do nothing to stop this massacre," he notes.
People feel a sense of desperation that forces many families to leave Iraq, to emigrate with the hope of saving their children: "Mosul has become a graveyard for Christians; it's terrible," the priest said.
The murders occurred in broad daylight: on February 14, Rayan Salem Elias, 43, a Chaldean store owner, was killed. The next day, Mounir Fatoukhi, another shop owner, 40, was stopped by unknown persons while he was in his car and shot dead. On February 16, two Christian Assyrians who were cousins - Ziya Toma, 21, and Ramsen Shmael, 22, both students, were hit in the centre of the city by bursts of gunfire. The first died instantly and the other is seriously injured, with little hope of survival. On February 17, Wissam George, a 20-year-old Christian, was shot to death in the neighborhood south of the city. "It's a trail of blood that knows no limits, and the murders take place with impunity. We are helpless victims. One reads the terror in the eyes of Christian families who are wondering: Who is going to be next?” our source said.
Some analysts say the violence is in some way related to the upcoming elections and the rise of extremism, but it seems clear that "some groups want to decimate the Christians in Mosul," according to some obscure political plan.
Archbishop Sleiman, the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, issued a warning asking to "break the silence about Christian Iraqis," noting "a new exodus of faithful from the country, forced to flee the prevailing radicalism." Since 2008, there have been at least 40 targeted assassinations. In Mosul, there are over 18,000 Chaldean Catholics and about 40,000 Syrian Catholics. However, in the last two years at least 12,000 faithful have left the city and the Christian presence is thinning.
Israeli troops attack congregation at Sunday Mass
Israeli troops fired tear gas grenades yesterday, breaking up an open-air Mass about to begin at Beit Sahour, a Christian town near Bethlehem.
About 100 people, including elderly people and children, accompanied by some international supporters, had gathered on open land at the evacuated Israeli military base of Ush Ghrab east of the city for the service. Some people were holding banners demanding the halt of the recently renewed Israeli construction at the site, and called for the end of settlement activity around their homes. As the service began, seven military jeeps arrived and told the crowd to disperse, before they began throwing teargas grenades.
As teargas filled the air, the priest appealed to the solders to stop and led the congregation in prayers for peace.
Beit Sahour is one of the few remain Christian towns in the West Bank. Israel had built a military base at Ush Ghrab, but this was abandoned in April 2006. The Palestinians had transformed part of the site into a public park and were planning to build a children's hospital there when, in 2008, Israeli settlers announced plans to erect a settlement there called Shdema. Last week, the Israeli army came back started to bulldoze land and put in military installations. They have now announced the area as a closed military zone.
No injuries were reported. The priest and his congregation have appealed for Churches overseas to support them by writing to their their MPs and the Israeli government.