The Palestinian Christian Is
An Endangered Species
By Prof Abe W Ata
02 May, 2007
When the modern state of Israel was established there were about 400,000
of us. Two years ago the number was down to 80,000. Now it’s down to 60,000.
At that rate, in a few years there will be none of us left. When this happens
non-Christian groups will move into our churches and claim them forever.
Palestinian Christians within Israel fare little better. On the face of it,
their number has grown by 20,000 since 1991. But this is misleading, for
the census classification “Christian” includes some 20,000 recent non-Arab
migrants from the former Soviet Union.
So why are Palestinian Christians abandoning their homeland?
We have lost hope, that’s why. We are treated as non-people. Few outside
the Middle East even know we exist, and those who do, conveniently forget.
I refer, of course, to the American Religious Right. They see modern Israel
as a harbinger of the Second Coming, at which time Christians will go to
paradise, and all others (presumably including Jews) to hell. To this end
they lend military and moral support to Israel.
Even by the double-dealing standards of international diplomacy this is a
breathtakingly cynical bargain. It is hard to know who is using whom more:
the Christian Right for offering secular power in the expectation that the
Jewish state will be destroyed by a greater spiritual one; or the Israeli
Right for accepting their offer. What we do know is that both sides are abusing
the Palestinians. Apparently we don’t enter into anyone’s calculations.
The views of the Israeli Right are well known: they want us gone.
Less well known are the views of the American Religious Right. Strangely,
they find the liberation of Iraqis from a vile dictator just, but do not
find it unjust for us to be under military occupation for 38 long years.
Said Senator James Inhofe (Rep.,Oklahoma): “God Appeared to Abraham and said:
‘I am giving you this land’, the West Bank. This is not a political battle
at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”
Inhofe must have got it wrong. Promises are being made to earthly Jerusalem
that God did not make. The Holy Land was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
and their descendants, as stated in the Bible. These are the Palestinian
Muslims, Christians and Jews, who have been living in the land for thousands
of years. The Bible never mentioned that God promised it solely to Jews.
Anyone can be a Jew, but not anyone can be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac,
Jacob and their descendants. James Inhofe and followers are unable to tell
the difference between Jew, Israelite and Israel.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (Rep.,Texas) was even more forthright: “I'm
content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank … I happen to believe that
the Palestinians should leave.”
There is a phrase for this. Ethnic cleansing.
Silencing us, from seeking your support and enlightening you about our suffering,
goes counter to what Jesus has mandated us to do. We all know that Muslims
and Jews get ceaseless support (political, spiritual and financial) from
Saudi Arabia and America respectively, while Palestinian Christians get nothing
from Australian and other Western “Christian” governments. (The Pope has
been an exception.)
Prior to the 1967 war, the Christian youth at the Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist
and other churches in Bethlehem used to pray and rejoice and have a good
chat with hundreds of American Christian pilgrims. In particular Texas and
California were two places from where many came to visit the Holy Land. Today
only fading memories prevail. Bethlehem has been vacated by Christian families.
The remaining Christians are paying the price by experiencing curfews which
last for weeks. They remain sandwiched between Muslims and Jews without drawing
the slightest concern from the many so-called Western Christians.
So why do American Christians stand by while their leaders advocate the expulsion
of fellow Christians? Could it be that they do not know that the Holy Land
has been a home to Christians since, well … since Christ?
Do not think I am asking for special treatment for Christians. Ethnic cleansing
is evil whoever does it and to whomever it is done. Palestinian Christians
- Anglican, Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Armenians, Baptists,
Copts and Assyrians - have been rubbing shoulders with each other and with
other religions - Muslims, Jews, Druze and (most recently) Baha’is - for
centuries. And we want to do so for centuries more. But we can’t if we are
driven out by despair.
We are equally frightened by those who commit suicide bombings. None of us
Christians have condoned it or even contemplated the idea. Our commitment
to Jesus’ teachings will never shake our resolve in this matter.
American journalist Anders Strindberg makes a clearer conclusion. He says
Palestinians are equated with Islamists, Islamists with terrorists. And presumably
because all organised Christian activity among Palestinians is non-political
and non-violent, the community hardly ever hits western headlines. Suicide
bombers sell more copy than people who congregate for Bible study.
What we seek is support: material, moral, political and spiritual. As Palestinians
we grieve for what we have lost, and few people have lost more than us (the
Ashkenazi Jews are one). But grief can be assuaged by the fellowship of friends.
Prof Abe W Ata was a temporary delegate to the UN
in 1970 and has lived and worked in the Middle East, America and Australia.
Dr Ata is a 9th generation Christian Palestinian academic born in Bethlehem,
and currently works at the Australian Catholic University. firstname.lastname@example.org