Abuses on Ethnic & Religious Grounds
Delivered to the Security Council by Ambassador Ron Prosor on 27 March 2015
Next week, Jewish people around the world will celebrate Passover which commemorates the exodus story. In recent years, another exodus story has unfolded, but this one is driven by a plague of persecution aimed at Christians, Kurds, Yazidi, Bahai, and of course, the Jews.
For more than 2,500 years, one million Jews lived peacefully in Arab lands. In 1947, the situation changed dramatically. Following the UN vote to establish a Jewish state, Arab governments turned on their Jewish citizens. From Baghdad to S'ana'a to Tripoli, thousands of Jews were murdered in violent riots and hundreds of thousands more were forced to run for their lives.
Radical Islamists have a saying, “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” Having succeeded in driving Jews out of Arab lands, extremists have now turned their attention to the Christians. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians comprised 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure is less than 10%.
The Nineveh Plains in Iraq had been home to Christians since the first century. ISIS tore through the region, desecrating churches and destroying artifacts. Christians were given the grim choice of converting to Islam or face death by beheading, stoning or crucifixion.
Fearing for their lives, tens of thousands of Christians have fled to northern Iraq and taken refuge in Kurdistan. Kurdish forces are fighting valiantly to defend their homes and push back the extremist threat.
In December, Kurdish fighters broke the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, freeing thousands of Yazidis and Christians. The Kurds are the leading force in the fight against ISIS. They have shown tremendous courage and fortitude. They need the support of the international community and they deserve political independence.
The persecution of minorities isn’t just taking place at the hands of extremist groups. In the Middle East, tyrannical regimes uphold archaic laws as a pretext to segregate, discriminate, and murder. Last year, Islamist police in Saudi Arabia stormed a Christian prayer meeting and arrested its entire congregation, including women and children.
Arresting someone for praying is like arresting someone for having lunch – one is feeding his hunger and the other is feeding his faith.
In 2013, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of (quote) “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of waging war against God and spreading corruption on earth.
For decades, the Baha'i have been systematically persecuted as a matter of government policy in Iran. In 2013, Ayatollah Khamenei, issued a fatwa in which he branded the Baha’is as “deviants.” At his direction, Iranian Baha’is are arrested, tortured and denied most basic rights, including the right to study at university.
There is only one place in the Middle East where minorities have the freedom to practice their faith, change faiths, or practice no faith at all – and that is Israel.
Israel is home to the Baha'i World Centre; it is the only place in the Middle East where Druze have reached the highest echelons of society; and, it is the only place where the Christian population is growing.
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, its Christian communities have expanded more than 1,000 percent. Israeli Christians have risen to the highest ranks of Israeli society, serving both in our parliament and on our Supreme Court.
The same cannot be said for Christians living under the Palestinian leadership. Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has fled. The situation is no better under the Palestinian Authority. After the PA took control of Bethlehem in 1995, Palestinian gunmen seized Christian homes, occupied and looted the Church of the Nativity. As a result of this persecution, the city’s Christian population fell by 70%.
There is a crisis unfolding in the Middle East. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what faith you belong to, or what politics you preach - no decent human being can ignore the calamity facing minorities in the Middle East.
Millions of people put their faith in the United Nations. It is time for this Council to give them a reason to believe.
Thank you, Mr. President.