Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Bethlehem regularly tell outsiders there is no friction between their communities, but Christian Arabs who are Israeli citizens - and don't live in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and dominated by Muslims - dispute that assertion.
In P.A.-ruled Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, adherents of the two faiths say they are all Palestinians, and as such are all suffering together.
But Israeli Christian Arabs say Palestinian Christians are living in "daily fear" of the growing lawlessness directed against them.
Because Christians are in the minority - they comprise less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - some Muslims reportedly feel free to encroach on their property and businesses.
Atallah Mansour, an Israeli Arab Christian living in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth - Jesus' boyhood home - described the situation in the Palestinian areas as chaotic.
Muslims might take goods from a Christian grocer and refuse to pay, for example, or steal fruit from a Christian owner's fruit trees, said Mansour, author of the recently released book about Christians living under Muslim and Jewish administration in the Middle East.
In a place where there is no law and order, many Palestinian Muslims rely on their large, extended family networks for protection, he told Cybercast News Service. But Christians - so small in number - lack the same sort of familial buffer.
Mansour said officials from Fatah or Hamas, the two ruling Palestinian parties, routinely claim that Christians are the most important people to them and that they will make sure no harm comes to them.
International human rights lawyer Justus Weiner said the situation is likely to get worse.
"The growing strength of Islamic fundamentalism within the Palestinian national movement poses problems for Christians, who fear they will be deemed opponents of Islam and thereby risk becoming targets for Muslim extremists," Weiner wrote in a recent report for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
"This is exacerbated by the fact that Hamas holds substantial power and seeks to impose its radical Islamist identity on the entire population within the P.A.-controlled territories."
Weiner said in an earlier report that Palestinian Christians were suffering from human rights abuses including land confiscations, rape and murder at the hands of the Muslim community.
The top Roman Catholic clergyman in Israel, Jordan and the P.A. areas, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, conceded earlier this week that there are problems in Muslim-Christian relations in the Palestinian areas.
The Christians have to get along with the Muslims because they have "daily relations" with them, said Sabbah in a guarded response during a press conference in Jerusalem.
Sabbah said Christians experienced "some difficulties" in their relations with Muslims but did not offer any details. "These difficulties are coming from the general instability in which we are living," he added.
When asked if there was trouble between Christians and Muslims in the West Bank, one Catholic taxi driver in Jerusalem agreed.
He said Christians in the P.A.-controlled West Bank "are praying 24 hours a day" that Israel will return to the area, because they have no personal security.
Some Muslims have good relations with Christians, but other Muslims hate the Christians, he said.
Mansour said Palestinian Christians are "living in real and daily fear."
Although nothing "dramatic" is happening at the moment, "there are many thousands of little things that are causing people to be afraid," he said.
Another problem for Christians is that the U.S. is viewed as a Christian nation under a Christian president. When the U.S. takes a stand that is viewed as being against Palestinians interests, the Christian community often feels the repercussions.
Mansur said Palestinian Christians are not inclined to speak out about these things because they fear retribution.
See Earlier Story:
Palestinian Christians Are Persecuted, Author Says (Nov. 21, 2005)
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