Palestinian christian 22.
(photo credit: AP)
An Arab-American evangelical pastor said Wednesday that he has been threatened by a Palestinian security official in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and has fled to Jerusalem for safety.
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.
The pastor has been living in Ramallah, considered to be the most liberal of all the West Bank cities under Palestinian control, since 1991, together with his American wife and son, who attended school in Jerusalem and has since joined the US Air Force.
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.
"We will do to you what Hamas did to Fatah in Gaza," Bajalia said the Palestinian security official warned him. Bajalia, who has a vision problem, said he was also told that in addition to his eye problems he would not be able to walk anymore.
The Palestinian security official subsequently told Bajalia to register some of his family's land in the official's name and pay him $30,000, the pastor said. Bajalia said he had also been watched for six months.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday if the pastor was threatened specifically because of his missionary work among Muslims or as a result of the land his family owned in the city, or a combination of the two.
Last week, Bajalia filed a complaint with the US Consulate in Jerusalem over the threats, he said.
The consulate, which is responsible for US citizens living in the West Bank, told him that they were aware of the problem, but had no response or follow-up to his complaint, he said.
"You would think that they would have gotten back to me and said something," Bajalia said.
A US Consulate spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday, citing privacy regulations.
Bajalia said he became more concerned for his safety after a prominent Christian activist, Rami Khader Ayyad, 32, was killed in Gaza last month. "It made me take the threats more seriously," he said.
He has moved to east Jerusalem, and is uncertain when he will go back to Ramallah.
Bajalia's parents, who were Greek Orthodox, were born in Ramallah but immigrated to the United States in the 1950s in search of better economic opportunities, he said.
A decade and a half ago, Bajalia, who together with his four siblings had become evangelical in the US, stunned family members by telling them that he planned to return to the Holy Land.
"They thought I was crazy to come back since my parents did everything they could to get to the United States," he said. "It was quite a paradox."
Bajalia, who had worked in various ministerial roles in Alabama, said he had made the move due to a "sense of calling" to help the people of Ramallah. "I don't want to leave Ramallah, I feel a calling to be there - I consider it my city."