Palestinian Christians React to Israeli Ambassador’s Claims about Holy Land Churches

Palestinian Christian Mass

Photo by Ryan Roderick Beiler

Two weeks ago, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claimed in an article in The Wall Street Journal that the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza is the fault of Palestinian Muslims. The article was full of inaccuracies and even lies, and Palestinian Christians responded with anger and disgust. The Wall Street Journal then featured some of these responses.

This is a serious issue for Palestinian Christians. We are not saying that radical Islam is not a threat. We are not denying that there are some struggles that we face as a minority. We are not denying that there are some incidences in which Christians were attacked by radical Muslims, like in the death of Rami Ayyad in Gaza.

What we are saying, is that for us, the real issue and the core of our struggles is the Israeli occupation. The occupation is real. It has been our reality for the last 45 years. It is the main reason why Palestinian Christians are leaving. Every Palestinian Christian leader and every major Christian movement, Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike, have stressed this. The Kairos Palestine document, which clearly states that the occupation is the core issue for Palestinian Christians, was endorsed by all the heads of the churches. In addition, when one speaks about the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the Holy Land, it must be stressed that almost 50,000-60,000 Christians were forced to leave historical Palestine as a result of the Nakba of 1948.

To insist that radical Islam is the primary struggle for Palestinian Christians undermines the sufferings of Palestinian Christians caused by the occupation, and labels these struggles as imagined and unreal. This is insulting. To blame the Muslims is an attempt to mask the injustices of the occupation. It is also an attempt to color the conflict with familiar Western "black and white" colors. This is the shameful goal behind Oren's article: to stereotype Palestinians as radical Muslim persecutors of Christians, with Israel as the only ally for Christian Americans who are concerned for Christians in the East.

I suggest that ambassador Oren spends time listening to Palestinian Christians, instead of speaking on their behalf. Perhaps he should listen to the almost 50 Palestinian Christian families from Beit Jala near Bethlehem, whose land is under the threat of being confiscated by his own government. Recently, I again joined members of these families in their weekly prayer which they have been holding in the land for the last four months. These families have been persistent in their stand against this injustice, holding this weekly witness without interruption through bitter winter weather. Their persistence and patience is amazing, and the continual presence of many international activists is an encouraging factor. These families decided to put their hope in God and in God alone, for it is God who is our real and only hope in the Holy Land.

The World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) has published a new book called Faith Under Occupation: The Plight of Indigenous Christians in the Holy Land. The book narrates stories of Palestinian Christians and their struggles in face of the Israeli occupation. According to the Introduction of the book:

Many people in the West tend to view the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict as a Muslim-Jewish one, and unless they belong to either of these faiths, they often find it difficult to relate to the conflict and those who are affected by it. This report aims to expose the grim realities of life under Israeli military occupation, and the impacts that it has on all Palestinians, such as land and water confiscation, settlement expansion, access and movement issues, violence, residency rights and many other human rights violations as told by Palestinian Christians.

The book is about real-life stories and real-life struggles, and gives insight into issues that are seldom told in the media, such as water distribution, tourism control, and residency rights. It also tells the stories of some of the most "forgotten" Christians who live in remote Palestinian villages like Taybeh, Zababdeh, and Burqin.

These stories give voice to Palestinian Christians, and they come at a very important time.

Munther Isaac
Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College, PhD candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, and Director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.

Note: This blog post was originally published on Sojourners' God's Politics Blog.

Photo: Palestinian nuns participate in a prayer service as a nonviolent witness against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank town of Beit Jala. By Ryan Roderick Beiler.

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