Palestinian Pastor Flees Ramallah

More bad news from the “Holy Land”, as a Palestinian-American pastor is forced to flee from Ramallah:

…Pastor Isa Bajalia, 47, a US citizen born in Birmingham, Alabama, said that he had been threatened over the last two months by a Fatah security official from the Tanzim militia who also demanded $30,000 in protection money. Bajalia said he had moved to nearby Jerusalem since the threats began.

…For the last decade he served as pastor for a group of 30-35 people in Ramallah, holding Sunday services in private homes and carrying out missionary work among the Palestinians, who are predominantly Muslim.

…Initially, Bajalia said he was treated with respect, but some suspicion, by the locals, and viewed as an outsider coming in with a foreign concept. The pastor said the threats began about two months ago after a group of church workers were seen praying on behalf of Palestinians.

The unnamed official reportedly warned Bajalia that he faced the same fate as Rami Ayyad, who was murdered in Gaza last month by Islamists. Despite this, the threats against Bajalia appear to be more opportunist than religiously-inspired; doubtless Bajalia has made himself unpopular in some quarters with his proselytising activities, and the Fatah official has sought to use this for personal gain. However, it should be noted that Bajalia was complaining about harassment from PA officials back in 1997.

Bajalia is the son of Palestinian Greek Orthodox immigrants who relocated to the USA. According to his website, he himself became a Baptist and then a Charismatic. He trained at the Rhema Bible Training Center, which was founded by the late Kenneth Hagin and which emphasises financial prosperity and personal success for believers (the “Word-Faith” movement, which I discussed here). His church appears to have been an outreach of the Living Word Church in Pelham, Alabama, which has deleted its website but which can be accessed through Wayback. Living Word (which also has affiliated churches in Kenya, Mexico, and Russia) is headed by Pastor Truett Murphy. However, Bajalia’s website also shows links with another Rhema church, the Decatur Christian Fellowship. While some Rhema figures stress Christian Zionism – particularly Kenneth Copeland – it is not a central issue, and many Rhema churches are independent of each other.

The plight of Christian Palestinians is a matter of some controversy: strong supporters of Israel tend to blame the situation squarely on Palestinian Muslims, deliberately ignoring (or even dismissing) the context of the occupation, while strong supporters of the Palestinians risk underplaying the real pressures from Palestinian Islamists and corrupt officials. I looked at the issues in more detail here and here.

Bajalia’s relocation to Jerusalem is in contrast to what happened to another American-Palestinian pastor, Khader El-Yateem, whose Palestinian-American wife was refused entry into Israel last year (as I blogged here).

(Things are not all well for Christians across the border, either, where the The Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem was recently torched, apparently by Jewish extremists.)

Name variation: Pastor Issa Bajalia