To:      "Hebraic Heritage Newsgroup"<>
Date:    Thu, 25 Dec 1997 03:54:23 +0000
Subject: Pray for Christian converts from Islam


Subject:       Christian converts on the run from Arafat's men - The Telegraph (UK)Article

Christian converts on the run from Arafat's men - The Telegraph (UK)Article

By Aliza Marcus in Nablus      
21 December 1997 - The Telegraph (UK) newspaper

YASSER Arafat's Palestinian Authority is waging a campaign of
intimidation and harassment to push Muslims who have converted to
Christianity to renounce their new faith.

 The Palestinian converts - members of an evangelical Christian
congregation in the West Bank - say they have been threatened,
beaten and some jailed by Palestinian officials. "The first time
the Palestinian police called me in, they told me I had better
become a Muslim again," said 25-year-old Mustafa, who converted six
years ago. "But when that did not work they would accuse me of
being a spy for Israel. Finally, I started to get death threats in
the post, so I ran away from my village."

 Another convert, who also feared giving his full name, said he had
been threatened by neighbours in his village and detained twice
this year by Palestinian police. "They gave me a few kicks and a
few slaps and asked me what I was doing going around with
Christians," said 31-year-old Imad, who changed religion six years
ago after meeting a Christian pastor while hitch-hiking.

 Soon afterwards, his tyre repair shop was burnt down, he was
beaten up and his car was defaced with Islamic slogans. "Many
Christians think the Palestinian Authority is against them and it
has made us very fearful," he said. Since taking control of parts
of the West Bank and Gaza under a 1993 peace deal with Israel, the
Palestinian self-rule administration has been accused of torturing
detainees, jailing people for years without charge and holding
midnight trials in which defendants are sentenced in a matter of

 The New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch/ Middle
East described the situation as "deplorable" in a recent report.
Pastor Isa Bajalia, a Palestinian-American Christian who moved to
the West Bank city of Ramallah three years ago to open a
Pentecostal church and proselytise Muslims, said: "Forget the issue
of Christianity and converts. This is a human rights issue that
supporters of the Palestinian Authority should be dealing with."

 The converts to Christianity are concentrated in the West Bank,
where some 1.5 million Palestinians live a mainly traditional life
marked by the Muslim call to prayer five times a day. Women usually
cover themselves in black chadors or headscarves when they go out
of the house and girls are still married off as teenagers. The
estimated 106 converts are barely visible. They do not wear crosses
for fear of being identified and they hold their prayer meetings in
secret or at the Pentecostal Church in Ramallah.

 "I would love to build a church in my village, where we could pray
when we wanted, but if I did the church would be burnt down, along
with everyone inside," said a convert from the Nablus area, a
stronghold of Islamic fundamentalism. Palestinians suggest that
converts are being harassed because Islam demands death for
ex-Muslims who do not renounce their new faith. Although the
Palestinian Authority does not have any laws making it illegal to
convert, religious Muslims may consider the Islamic precepts as a
legitimate reason to put pressure on converts.

Converts may also face problems because generally they are members
of evangelical churches which opposed an independent Palestinian
state. Evangelical Christians read the Bible literally and say that
God gave this stretch of land to the Jews. This makes the
Palestinian Authority suspicious of the converts. Many of the
Palestinian converts profess some support for an independent
Palestinian state - just not one led by President Arafat.

 "We were thrilled when Arafat came back here in 1994, but now my
respect for him has disappeared, because any money just goes to the
people who work for him while the rest of us must struggle to buy
bread," said one convert. It appears that Palestinian officials are
both accusing converts of disloyalty and using laws - such as
accusing converts of stealing or selling land to Jews - as a way to
put a legal face on the harassment. One convert, a 34-year-old
father of six, has been in prison four times this year because
police say they suspect him of stealing. He has never been charged.

Another has been held for five months, allegedly for selling land
to Jews. But his seven children and wife live in two cramped rooms
in a poverty-stricken village in the West Bank. His relatives say
he never had any land. David Ortiz, a 41-year-old American-born
pastor who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, is trying
to help the families, but he is concerned this month with how to
arrange the Christmas celebration.  "In their villages it is not
safe for them to celebrate because of opposition from some of the
Muslims, so instead we will bring them to our home," he said.