The Palestinian Christian: Betrayed, Persecuted, Sacrificed (An Essay by Abe W. Ata)


The following essay was written in 2006 by Dr. Abe W. Ata, a Palestinian Christian who was born in Bethlehem. I read it once before, but was reminded of it a couple days ago when my friend, Mark Church, shared it on Facebook. Whether or not one agrees with every word Dr. Ata says, it’s instructive to hear his perspective and it’s good for Christians to be made aware of how many of their brothers and sisters in Christ are being affected by the dire situation in Israel/Palestine, a situation that has become even more heart-breaking in recent days.

The Palestinian Christian is an endangered species.

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 for ever.

I fear that when/if the last Palestinian Christian leaves, extreme groups will move instantly to our churches and schools and have a field day hatching world plots. It would be too late for Bush (or Kerry) to do anything about it!!

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:

bullet The Christian Right for offering secular power in the expectation that the Jewish state will be destroyed by a greater spiritual one; or
bullet 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 (R-OK):

“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 again, God did not make! For Paul wrote that the Holy Land was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. 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.

It is very clear, that in Israel, there will be no continuing city!

bullet (Hebrews-13-13-14) Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His Reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek on to come!
bullet His Promise to Abraham! (Hebrews-11-10) For he looked for a City which has foundations (Christ The Foundation) whose builder and maker is God!
bullet (16) Now they desire a better Country, that is, An Heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He HAS prepared for them a City!

Heavenly Jerusalem, of Heavenly Israel!!

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) 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) consecutively from Saudi Arabia and America respectively; We, the Palestinian Christians, get nothing from the 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 from to visit us in the Holy Land. Today only fading memories prevail. Christian families have vacated Bethlehem. 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: – MuslimsJews, 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. Presumably because all organized Christian activity among Palestinians is non-political and non-violent, the community hardly ever hits the Western headlines. Suicide bombers sell more copies [sic] 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 (the Ashkenazi Jews are one) have lost more than us (the Ashkenazi Jews are one). But grief can be assuaged by the fellowship of friends.

Source

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From his bio: “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 Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Advancement of Research, and lectures in Psychology at the Australian Catholic University. Dr Ata is a 9th generation Christian Palestinian academic born in Bethlehem.”

“The Stones Cry Out”: New Documentary Challenges Evangelical Bonds With Israel


I’m interested in seeing this documentary when/if the opportunity arises. In the meantime, if anyone who comes across this post has seen it, I’d be glad to know what you think about it.

Graham Liddell has written an article for Ma’an News Agency highlighting a new documentary called “The Stones Cry Out.” The documentary is directed by Yasmine Perni, an Italian-born journalist who has lived in various places in the Middle East, including Israel. I’ll share an observation that jumped out at me after viewing one of the links in Graham’s article, but first here’s the article itself:

A new documentary about Palestinian Christians is challenging mainstream evangelical assumptions about the Holy Land in the United States.

As evangelical organizations hold events across the US presenting an unbreakable bond between Christians and Israel, first-time director Yasmine Perni tours American churches with a film that instead documents the plight of Palestinian Christians at the hands of Israel.

“The (Palestinian) Christians have never been covered like this before,” Perni told Ma’an Saturday.

“The Stones Cry Out” starts by documenting the history of Kifr Biram, a predominantly Christian Palestinian village that was destroyed by Israel after the Nakba.

Former residents of Kifr Biram tell the story of being expelled from their homes by Jewish militants in 1948 and becoming refugees in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. Many attempted to return, but in 1953, they watched as their village was demolished on orders from the Israeli government. Israel has since converted the village lands into a national park.

Perni wants Western audiences to hear the story of Kifr Biram firsthand while they still can. Many of the original residents have already died, including three elderly men who passed away during filming.

“And so I feel that telling their story is a way of keeping their memory alive and their struggle to find peace,” Perni said.

The film moves to an overview of the Six Day War and Israel’s ongoing military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Footage of the events overlaps with Palestinian Christians’ accounts of their experiences throughout the First Intifada – during which Israeli forces killed over 1,000 Palestinians – and throughout Israel’s 2002 siege on Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity during the Second Intifada.

“Most of the Christians abroad were silent (during the siege),” Bethlehem pastor Rev. Mitri Raheb says in the film.

He says Christians “like to sing about the little town of Bethlehem in the churches on Christmas Eve, but I felt at that time that actually Bethlehem was abandoned.”

Featured prominently in the film, Raheb told Ma’an Friday that the story of Palestinian Christians is little known in the West, and even less “among Evangelical Christians.”

He said he hopes the documentary reaches as many people as possible.

Hopes for impact on Western audiences

Christian Zionism – the belief that the modern State of Israel is a manifestation of God’s biblical promise to the Jews – is a significant force in US politics. One Christian Zionist organization, Christians United for Israel, is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States. In addition to lobbying Congress and contributing financially to pro-Israel causes including illegal settlements, CUFI holds regular “Nights to Honor Israel” in US churches using scripture to back up pro-Israel political action. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke at one such event last Sunday.

“I think that is using the Bible as a weapon,” Perni told Ma’an.

Though she hopes Christian Zionists will see the film, they are not necessarily her intended audience.

“The film is for everyone. … I’m not a theologian. I’m a journalist. I report the stories that I see,” Perni said.

Without dwelling on theology, “The Stones Cry Out” simply tells “the Palestinian story, but through the eyes of the Christians.”

Despite widespread Christian support for Israel in the US, Raheb told Ma’an that he was optimistic about changing evangelical mindsets on Palestine.

“It’s not a hopeless case,” Raheb said. “The first time I went to the States in 1991, most of the people I met knew nothing about Palestine. That has changed a lot.”

“I see among the evangelical Christian community more openness towards the Palestinians.”

Christians under Israeli occupation

In 2012, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal in which he blamed Christian emigration from Palestine on Muslims.

Raheb says in the film that Israel “would love” Palestine to be free of Christians, “because then they can sell this conflict as a Jewish-Muslim conflict, as a religious conflict.”

“Oren at the end of the day really is interested in fueling Islamophobia because this sells well with certain groups,” Raheb told Ma’an, “as if Israel actually is the one defending the Western value.”

He said that in an academic study he conducted, less than 1 percent of emigrating Christians said they were leaving because of tensions with Muslims, and most actually left due to political and economic situations imposed by the occupation.

The documentary, Perni told Ma’an, “reveals my own discovery of what it really means to live under occupation.”

Though she lived in the Arab world throughout much of her life, she said that the reality of the occupation only set in when she moved to Jerusalem and visited Bethlehem. A major hub of Christianity in the West Bank, Bethlehem is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. A wall constructed by Israel beginning in 2002 separates Palestinians not only from Israel, but in many cases from their own property.

One Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem shows in the film how the wall encases her house on three sides, rendering access to her backyard impossible and turning her home “into a tomb.”

“Christians are hit by the occupation the same way Muslims are,” Raheb told Ma’an.

Unfortunately, Perni said, many in the West are unaware of the very existence of Palestinian Christians. When they meet Christians from Palestine, “people in America ask them when they converted.” 

“The Stones Cry Out” premieres in cities across the US in late October and early November.

In this article, Liddell pointed to a link describing how the former village of Kafr Bir’im had been turned into a national park by Israel. I was struck by the revelation that Kafr Bir’im “was located in an area which IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] wanted, for security reasons, populated only with Jews.” So in November 1948 “most of the inhabitants were evacuated by the IDF ‘temporarily’ to the town of Jish further south ‘until the military operations are over.'”

The reason this struck me is because in numerous conversations I’ve had with Christian Zionist individuals, I’ve been told that the Palestinians were advised by Arab outsiders (e.g. from Jordan, Egypt, etc.) to temporarily take refuge in Arab lands until an Arab alliance could wipe out all the Jews. Therefore, I’ve been told, these Palestinians relinquished their right to the land, and only the Arabs are to blame for leaving them in limbo. This (Israeli) source, on the other hand, indicates that at least Kafr Bir’im was largely cleared of Palestinians by the IDF.

Removing one people group from an area in order to replace them with another people group is not only racist, but this fits the definition of ethnic cleansing. Elias Chacour, another Palestinian Christian, shares similar first-hand stories in his book, “Blood Brothers.” In some of the stories he shares, it wasn’t just ethnic cleansing that took place, but genocide as well.

In any case, I’m glad to see that more Palestinian Christians are being given a chance for their voices to be heard.