WEST BANK: PASTOR THREATENED WITH VIOLENCE FLEES TO U.S.
House church leader still alert for danger following Palestinian militiaman’s demands.
LOS ANGELES, November 21 (Compass Direct News) – A West Bank pastor who fled to the United States this week following threats of violence from a Palestinian security official said he feels he is in as much danger stateside as he was in Ramallah.
“I know that the man has relatives in the states – I don’t know how far they would go in searching for me, but back in August he said, ‘We will break your arms and legs when we get you, we know exactly where your business is and where your brothers work,’” U.S.-born Isa Bajalia, who has ministered in Ramallah since 1991, told Compass. “We know they do have contacts here in the states, so I’m taking it as serious as I would if I were still in Ramallah.”
Bajalia, 47, said that the Fatah security official from the Tanzim militia, Nader Dahoud Abu Dahoud, demanded $30,000 and the deed to property the pastor recently inherited. He said Dahoud had raised objections to a team of Christian visitors, which Bajalia had brought from the United States, praying for Muslims in Ramallah.
In a telephone interview from Ramallah, Dahoud denied making the threats and said he was seeking only repayment of money he had given Bajalia for property the pastor had failed to sign over to him.
Bajalia, however, said he never agreed to sell Dahoud the land. He told Compass that when the Islamic security official began harassing him in August, he made reference to the ministry project by the Christian visitors in May.
“It’s not unusual for the Palestinian Authority [PA] to plant people in Christian projects so that they’ll see if you’re trying to convert Muslims to Christianity or if there’s any political agenda involved,” Bajalia said. “My people were very zealous for praying for the people that came in, out of a compassion for the heart of the people, they were very zealous about distributing vitamins and medication, they were very zealous about treating those who were sick.”
Palestinian Authority officials warned him about the team praying for the Muslims, he said.
“They were saying, ‘Your people would pray for the Muslim people, so you’re an evangelistic organization trying to convert Muslims to Christianity,’” he told Compass. “That was where the problem started, it was a result of that project.”
Dahoud and his associates have continued to threaten Bajalia’s Christian colleagues in Ramallah, he added. The pastor said he is taking the threats seriously only because Palestinian Bible Society bookstore manager Rami Ayaad was murdered on October 7 in the Palestinian territory of Gaza after Islamic militants made similar threats.
Bajalia said that when he advertised the sale of land inherited from his grandfather, Dahoud – who works part-time in a real estate office with Abdullah Kustandi Abu Bishara – began scheming with Kustandi to wrest it from him.
“They thought, ‘Not only are we going to stop the evangelistic projects, but we’re also going to take your land from you’ – and it became an extortion thing,” Bajalia said. “The last thing they said to me was, ‘You’re going to sign a piece of this land over to my name, and you’re going to pay me 30,000 U.S. dollars. And with that, then you’ll be left alone.’”
Bajalia said that since receiving this threat, he has heard other reports of Palestinian Muslims forcing Christians to give up title deeds to their land.
The pastor, who has been legally blind since birth, said that Dahoud could not have made his threats against him without the approval of leaders of the Tanzim, a militant faction of the Fatah movement that has recruited female suicide bombers. When Dahoud approached one of his colleagues in search of the pastor, Bajalia said, the security official was wearing Tanzim militia khakis and was armed with a pistol.
“There’s no member of the Tanzim who can put on a uniform in public and put on a gun unless they have permission from their leadership,” he said. “He had a couple of other men with him, and their intention was to kidnap me and force me into signing over the property – how they were going to force me I don’t know, but the imagination can run wild.”
Bajalia said he escaped kidnapping when friends quickly alerted him and helped to get him a taxi out of Ramallah. He lives in East Jerusalem, regularly traveling in and out of Ramallah for his ministry.
His parents, who were Greek Orthodox, were born in Ramallah but immigrated to the United States in the 1950s.
In Kustandi’s real estate office in Ramallah, Dahoud told Compass by telephone through an interpreter that he had not threatened to break Bajalia’s arms and legs nor demanded $30,000 and the property.
Rather, the Tanzim militia officer said, he had agreed to purchase the land from Bajalia and given him $15,000 for it, but the pastor declined to sign the property over to him.
“We just want the money for the land deal,” Dahoud said. “He should either give the money back, or sign over the documents for the land.”
Real estate agent Kustandi, who is not Muslim, told Compass that he and Dahoud are not insisting on obtaining the land.
“Nader bought this land and gave him $15,000 to sign the document, but he escaped to the United States,” Kustandi said. “We will be content just to receive the money back.”
Kustandi and Dahoud later told Compass the amount in question was $12,500, not $15,000.
Bajalia said that Dahoud and Kustandi have threatened not only him but the lawyer he hired to handle the sale of the land in Ramallah.
“He was also threatened by these same two men,” Bajalia said. “The demands being made by these men include $30,000 in cash and that I register my personal property in their names.”
Bajalia said he has asked the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for help without effect. He said that if the consulate were to request the intervention of the area director of secret police, Taufik Tarawi, the harassment would stop.
“One word to this man from the American consulate, or from somebody in the states or somebody in the European Union, will get these guys off of my back immediately – and all he [Tarawi] has to do is speak one word,” Bajalia said. “He’s the one who really has a say-so over the Tanzim.”
Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, public affairs officer for the Jerusalem Consulate General, told Compass by e-mail that the consulate is aware of Bajalia’s case and has been in frequent contact with him.
“We have given him advice about seeking the assistance of a local attorney and contacting the Palestinian Police,” Schweitzer-Bluhm said. “Property disputes are subject to the laws of the country in which the property is located. We are monitoring the situation and doing our best to give advice and assistance as appropriate.”
Bajalia said that he went to Palestinian authorities before seeking help from the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, but an official there tried to get him to pay $5,000 for protection.
“He said, ‘If you have to have an attorney to protect you, you’d have to pay him $5,000, and he may help you and he may not – but if you pay the $5,000 to me, I can protect you,’” Bajalia said. “I just told him, ‘I don’t need your help. I’m sorry I even came to you,’ and I left.
“I felt that, on top of the fact that these guys were trying to extort $30,000 from me, I’m going to the PA and they in turn want to extort $5,000 from me,” he added. “It was a matter of choosing who you wanted to be extorted by.”