Brian Schrauger, a pro-Zionist Christian writer who has been living in Beit Jala since December was visited earlier this week by officials from the Palestinian Authority and told in no uncertain terms that he should leave the city. He was visited by the PA on Thursday morning.
During his discussion with the PA officials, Schrauger was told that his writings had offended too many people and something bad could happen to him if he stayed. Most of the Palestinians are peace-loving people, but a small minority might do something violent, Schrauger was told during the conversation. People knew where he was staying, he was informed.
“It was innuendo, a thinly veiled threat, all done with impeccable politeness,” Schrauger said. “Afterwards, I talked to several very knowledgeable people and they all said, ‘You need to leave.’”
Within a few hours, Schrauger left the city and is currently staying temporarily in Efrat. A phone call and an email to the PLO mission in Washington, D.C. inquiring about the PA’s interrogation of Schrauger have gone unreturned.
Schrauger, a freelance writer who is probably best known for his book, “Walking Taylor Home: A Fatal Disease, a Father’s Love and a Son’s Courageous Journey,” which chronicles his son’s struggle with cancer, has been highly critical of the narrative offered by Palestinian Christians about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He made his concerns known by live-tweeting the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference that took place in March and in an article about the conference published in the Jewish Press. He also published an article explaining his support for Zionism in the Christian edition of the Jerusalem Post, where he is a contributor.
Schrauger was going out the door for an appointment in Jerusalem when the men from the PA came to talk with him.
“I came to the entryway and there were five men who said they were with the Palestinian Authority and they wanted to talk to me,” Schrauger said. One of the officials spoke English. Only one of the men wore a uniform, the rest were wearing plain clothes, Schrauger said.
Soon after the PA officials arrived, Schrauger sent a message to some of his supporters telling him that he had been picked up by the PA for interrogation. Ardie Geldman, founding director of I Talk Israel, a pro-Israel organization (and a resident of Efrat), was one of the recipients.
“I turned white when I saw the message,” Geldman said. “I immediately sent a text telling him to call as soon as possible.” It was a few hours before they could talk.
On the way to the PA office in Bethlehem, they took Schrauger’s passport.
“We need to talk about some matters about why you’re here and what you’re doing here,” Schrauger quotes the PA official as saying.
Schrauger was then taken to an unmarked car and driven to PA offices in Bethlehem. Once he got to the office, he was brought into a room with a plain wooden desk and a man with badly stained teeth sitting behind it, smoking a cigarette.
The man asked if he spoke Arabic, and Schrauger said no. The man behind the desk then deferred to the English-speaking PA official who had been in the group that picked Schrauger up. As the man, who went by the name Osama (and who claimed to be a Catholic), started to ask questions, Schrauger took out his smart phone to take notes.
Upon seeing the phone, the PA official took possession of it and began reading the texts on it.
“I said, ‘You’re reading my private texts,” Schrauger reported. “He said, ‘Don’t worry.’”
At this point, Schrauger was brought to another room and told to wait.
“I was taken out and they have my passport and my phone,” Schrauger said.
Eventually, Schrauger was brought back into the room where he was asked about the people he had texted before he was taken in. Then he was asked about his writings.
“I see what you’ve written,” the man said. “I really don’t like it. You do not have balance.”
“Op-eds are supposed to be opinion pieces,” Schrauger responded. “That’s what they are.”
“Who is sponsoring you?” the man asked.
“Nobody,” Schrauger said. “Over the past two years I’ve rarely had more than 500 shekels in my pocket,” he said later.
After Osama was through complaining about Schrauger’s writings, he told him that people are really upset with him.
“He volunteered that complaints had come from local people associated with Christ at the Checkpoint and ‘internationals,’” Schrauger said.
Munther Isaac, conference director for Christ at the Checkpoint, a pro-Palestinian conference held every two years in Bethlehem expressed dismay over Schrauger’s interrogation and denied having made any complaints to the PA over his writing.
“We have not made any complaints to the PA about Brian,” he wrote in an email. “We had never complained to the PA about anyone’s writing. I am shocked to hear about this.”
Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust and a prominent figure in the CATC movement, also expressed dismay over Schrauger’s interrogation.
At one point during the conversation, Schrauger says he asked explicitly if he had to leave. After some conversation in Arabic between Osama and the man behind the desk, he was told, “No you don’t have to, but we think you should.”
Ninety-nine percent of the Palestinians are peaceful, Osama told him, but one percent are not. “Anything could happen,” Schrauger was told. “We don’t want anything to happen.”
At the end of the discussion, Schrauger was shown to the gate of the PA building. On the way to the gate, his escort encouraged him again to leave.
“You don’t have to,” he said. “You really should.”
“I like where I live, it’s safe,” Schrauger said in response.
“Everybody knows you’re there,” Osama said. “A lot of people know where you are.”
Once the two got to the gate, Osama asked Schrauger if he knew where he was.
“I thought he was going to drive me back,” he said, adding that he walked the mile back to where he had been living. “All these warnings about my safety and they usher me to the gate to have me walk back.”
After getting a ride out of Bethlehem, Schrauger made it to Geldman’s house in Efrat. Going back to Bethlehem is out of the question.
“He should not go back there,” Geldman said. “I don’t think he should ever go back there. They’ve got his number.”
The PA’s visit to Schrauger, and his de facto expulsion from Bethlehem took place two days before PA police destroyed the equipment owned by a CNN film crew working in Hebron. CNN producer Ben Wedeman tweeted photos of the event here.
The PA’s decision to politely roust Schrauger from Bethlehem contrasts with the continued presence of foreigners associated with pro-Palestinian groups such as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel in the West Bank.
“There’s no free speech,” Schrauger said. “They don’t want to be challenged.”