Israel/Palestine — June 2005

Sociopolitical Situation

The current cease-fire or “hudna” has resulted in relatively fewer violent incidents but with upcoming events, the situation is subject to change. Israel is planning its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip although settlement expansion in the West Bank continues.

Palestinian municipal elections were held in May. Hamas-sponsored candidates won in Bethlehem, Rafah and Qalqilia, a sign of its growing influence in Palestinian politics. As Hamas gains politically, it is curbing its military operations. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that parliamentary elections will be delayed until November. Probably the reason is the fear of defeat on the part of activists of the Fatah party since signs on the ground have been indicating a possible success by Hamas.

The Separation Wall is gradually making it impossible to implement a viable Palestinian state. In February, the revised route of the wall was extended from 670 km instead of the projected 622 km raising concerns for Palestinians, especially for the residents of Bethlehem.

Religious Situation

After much controversy within the Greek Orthodox community concerning selling church land in East Jerusalem to a settler organization, their Holy Synod voted for the dismissal of Irineos as patriarch. The Palestinian and Jordanian governments accepted the dismissal and Archbishop Cornelios was temporarily appointed to the position, until the next election. All this has highlighted the strong division between Palestinian clergy and parishes and the Greek Orthodox hierarchy in addition to internal conflicts in the Holy Synod. Mismanaged financial administration has left the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem with irreversible problems.

After the unprecedented rioting in Maghar, the Arab Action Committee was launched in Haifa to recognize and publicize Christian issues to the Israeli public, the international community and local governments however, the establishment of the committee has angered many Christians and non-Christians who believe that it is a “separatist idea” which isolates the Christian community among other religious groups in the country. Many have distributed leaflets to the public in protest, creating further tensions in Maghar and other areas.

Tensions have also arisen in Bethlehem and Ramallah in May, when two Christian teenage girls from Bethlehem eloped with Muslims. In a rare incident, a Christian girl from Ramallah was killed by her father for eloping with a Muslim, an “honor killing.” Local demonstrations erupted within Christian communities our of fear that Muslim men are persuading Christian girls into marriage without the consent of their families. There is also some fear among Christian families for the future safety of their children and property, with the increasing radical Islamic influence on local politics. Hamas won five out of seven seats allocated for Muslims on the Bethlehem municipal council.

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