JERUSALEM: WHERE RAVE ALL THE CHRISTIANS GONE?

by Dianne Roe

Pastor Naim Ateek serves the Palestinian Christianteommunity at St Georges' Cathedral, an Anglican church located in occupied East Jerusalem. On Sunday, July 21,1996 he tooked around at the international group that gatherstafter the sermon to join in fellowship and discussion with the indigenous Christian community, and announced, "The IDF(Israeli Defence Force) has closed Ramallah. That's why there are so few of us Palestinians here today" The Palestinians numbered three.

I first attended Naim's after-church discussions in March1990 among an enthusiastic group of 20-30 Palestinians. It was a lively community in spite of the fact that 23 years of Israeli occupation had contributed to a large exodus of Palestinian Christians.

In March 1993 a closure was imposed after a series of terrorist activities. My Palestinian Christian friend Kefah could no longer go with me from Bethany, just two miles away over the Mount of Olives. Christians in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, a few more miles away, also could not come to Jerusalem.

The closure was still in effect when I returned three years later. The number of Palestinians in the Sunday discussions had dwindled to about ten. Then in March 1996 a second closure was imposed after another series of bus bombings. Thousand of workers previouosly given permits to work in Israel were denied entry. In the- four months that have followed, the average attendance by Palestinians in the discussions at St. Georges was about five.

But always in the last six years, the face that I have looked for was that ot a woman named Cedar. Cedar lives in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. Many times over the last four months she has been late for church because of difficulties at checkpoints. Yet Sunday after Sunday she has waited patiently because this was her opportunity to reconnect with the Christian community. Last Sunday, Ramallah was closed; Cedar's face was missing.

I called her Sunday evening. She told me that even though Ramallah is now under the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis have divided the city by extending the borders of Jerusalem to include part of Ramallah. "The closure was imposed on Ramallah," she told me, "because the Palestinian Authority police had entered Israeli-occupied section, A-Ram, to arrest a Palestinian resident on civil charges.

Cedar said that an easing of the closure had been scheduled to begin Sunday. Thousands of workers (those over thirty and married) unemploved since March 5th were scheduled to be able to return to work. Eager workers showed up at checkpoints and were turned back once again.

The diminished Palestinian Christian community at St. Georges is one symbol of the effects of closure on Palestinians. Palestine is becoming a collection of cantons inside a "greater israel." Settlements, bypass roads, and security zones are eating into the West Bank and turning villages into ghettoes.

Cedar wonders about the future of her five year old granddaughter who joins her in church. Will there be a Palestinian Christian community in Jerusalem when she grows up? Will she even be allowed into Jerusalem?

More than a year after this question "Jerusalem: Where have all the Christians gone? was asked, the USA administration continues to support Israel, the Israelis continue their politic of Closure, demolition of Palestinian houses, confiscation of Land and Palestinian ID's, building settlements with our American Tax-money. The Council for National Interest (an American council) speaks about $14 million dollars are given daily to Israel.

For more information about "Jerusalem What is the Truth?" visit http://www.al-bushra.org