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Palestinian Christians do not tolerate life under occupation

Ambassador Michael Oren insists that in all the Middle East, Christians have it the best in Israel, but a history of dispossession paints a more complex picture. The writer asserts Palestinian Christians are emigrating due to Israel’s discriminatory policies, and calls attention to upcoming resolutions by churches in the United States to divest from Israeli companies that profit from the occupation.

By Philip Farah | Originally published in the Huffington Post on May 1, 2012

In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren claimed that Christians in Israel are better off than their brethren anywhere else in the Middle East. Two Sundays ago, “60 Minutes” made clear he attempted to intimidate Bob Simon by going over Simon’s head to speak to Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” to complain that Simon’s story on Christian Palestinians was “a hatchet job” against Israel. In fact, it was a hard-hitting, but honest piece in which Simon helped to expose the terrible harm the Israeli occupation — not Muslim Palestinians as the ambassador claimed — is doing to Christian Palestinians in the Holy Land.

I am a Palestinian Christian, now a U.S. citizen, and my own experience and that of my family attest to the falsity of Ambassador Oren’s assertion. I was born in East Jerusalem, Jordan in 1952, only a few years after my family and the majority of Palestinians fled from their homes when the newly established Jewish state took over three-quarters of historical Palestine. My family, like almost all the other Palestinians who fled — Christians and Muslims alike — became refugees, losing their fields, orchards, homes and practically everything else, to Israel. Israel defied the international consensus and a U.N. resolution calling on it to allow the Palestinian refugees to return.

Had Israel allowed the Palestinians to return, it would not have become a majority Jewish state. Israel’s fear of a Palestinian presence within its borders continues to drive its brutal policies of occupation, which victimize Palestinian Christians as well as Muslims. Israel occupied the rest of historical Palestine in 1967, gaining control over a large Palestinian Arab population which many Israelis view as a threat to the “Jewish character” of their country.

There is a simple test of Ambassador Oren’s claims: I say to him, “Mr. Ambassador: If your country is so good to Christians, why don’t you allow me, my family and thousands of Palestinian Christians to return to our homes in the part of Jerusalem which Israel occupied in 1967 or the western part of the city from which Palestinians were forced out in 1948? Why is it that any Jew from any country in the world can claim full rights of citizenship as soon as he or she sets foot in Jerusalem, while I, whose family roots in Jerusalem go back many centuries, am barred from living with full human rights in my hometown?”

Ask Ambassador Oren about the Palestinians who hail from the predominantly Christian villages of Iqrit and Kufr Bir’im which, like the majority of Palestinian Arab villages, were razed to the ground after 1948. Iqrit and Kufr Bir’im are only two of many such Christian villages, but well known because of the long — but unfortunately failed — campaign waged on their behalf by courageous Israeli human rights advocates.

There is no doubt that Arab Christians face problems in the Middle East. The worst examples were during the Lebanese civil war and in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, when political and economic stability collapsed. Israel’s attacks on Lebanon played a major role in destabilizing that country, and Israeli hawks cheered the loudest for the U.S. invasion which destabilized Iraq.

Palestinian Christians are, indeed, worried about the militancy of extremists who cloak themselves in distorted Islamic rhetoric. Yet, the majority of Palestinian Muslims and Christians have chosen peaceful resistance. To say that Hamas is the cause of the declining Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories is standing the truth on its head.

Our people are fleeing their homeland because the Israelis are confiscating the land of Palestinians — Muslims and Christians alike — to build Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall which is ghettoizing many Palestinian communities. Palestinian Christians are leaving because of Israeli checkpoints and barriers that severely restrict the freedom of movement of Palestinians, destroying their economy and preventing their access to their holy places in Jerusalem. They are leaving because Israel diverts Palestinian water resources in a way that gives illegal Jewish settlements the right to enjoy swimming pools while the fields of Palestinian farmers next door go fallow for lack of water.

But Palestinian Christians are speaking for themselves through the Kairos Palestine Document:

“We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation. … Today, we bear the strength of love rather than that of revenge, a culture of life rather than a culture of death. … [We] endorse nonviolent resistance based on hope and love that puts an end to evil by walking in the ways of justice.”

There is no difference at all in the degree of suffering that Palestinian Christians and Muslims are experiencing under Israel’s long military occupation. To suggest that Palestinian Christians are doing well under Israeli domination couldn’t be further from the truth.

American Methodists and Presbyterians are increasingly troubled by Israel’s ongoing subjugation of Palestinians — Christians and Muslims alike. Though they have long-standing concerns for the welfare of Israelis, many Methodists and Presbyterians believe the time has come to move beyond words and into actively demonstrating to this right-wing Israeli government that they will not stand aside silently as Israel oppresses generation after generation of Palestinians.

In the days and weeks ahead, both the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) will consider resolutions to divest themselves from companies — Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard — profiting from Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

If they do so, they will be alerting the Israeli government that the occupation will no longer be tolerated as business as usual. Palestinians have the right to live free of Israeli domination. Methodists and Presbyterians alike could send a very strong message to the Israeli and American governments if they move ahead with these sensible resolutions to divest from companies that shamefully benefit from the repression of Palestinians.

Philip Farah is the co-founder of Palestinian American Christians for Peace and of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace, www.wiamep.org. This post was originally published in the Huffington Post on May 1, 2012. 

Read also:
60 Minutes report on Christians gets it wrong
Israeli PR machine in frenzy over CBS report

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    1. Leen

      Very well written, it is appalling to suggest that Christians in Palestine are leaving because of ‘Muslims’. I’ve mentioned before in other articles related to this, but half of my family is Christian and the other half is Muslim. To suggest that it is because of ‘Muslims’ is incomprehensibly offensive and that Christians are doing ‘well’ under Israeli military occupation. Palestinians, regardless of their religion, whether they are a ‘Khoury’ or a ‘Abed Rahman’, they are Palestinians and they are treated exactly the same.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Seth Morrison

      More proof of Israeli efforts to marginalize #Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem.


      Initiatives like this continue the economic pressure on Christians in Bethlehem. Very disappointing.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Eli

      It seems to me that everyone (on both sides) is just making this issue more complicated than it needs to be. My neighbor is an elderly lady from Nazareth. I once asked her why she left, and her answer was simple: life here is better. It’s easier to be a Christian in America than it is to be a Christian anywhere in the Middle East, including in Israel/Palestine, plus there is less of a threat of war/violence/bombings here. Why WOULDN’T you want to leave, aside from some vague fondness for what the area once was? Palestinian Christians are abandoning their homelands for the same reason that Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Iraqi Christians are… the West is just a better and safer place.

      I mean, here are your options: live in a country with a 0% chance of a land war, where your religion is the majority religion, where you can educate your children at the world’s best universities and live in a safe neighborhood, OR live in a Muslim-majority non-nation with subpar living and education standards, where militants hide in nearly every neighborhood and the threat of war is real, where your neighboring countries are either in chaos or in the hands of Islamists, and where your community is dying and will soon be completely obsolete.

      Doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to choose.

      Reply to Comment
    4. delia ruhe

      Excellent! I hope a copy of this was sent to Bob Simon — and maybe one to that fundamentalist pastor who heads up CUFI, since the fundamentalists are always whining that Christians are the most persecuted people on earth.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Eli – to an American, those sound like good reasons, but America is a land of immigrants. Other peoples may have a stronger attachment to homeland, to a home village where their ancestors have been buried for generations.

      And to a Christian, living in the Holy Land, as they perceive it, may bring incomparable spiritual benefits.

      Reply to Comment
    6. “Well, we see that Bob Simon and the Kairos Israel bashers aren’t as influential as they like to think they are.”
      No, just that certain lobby groups are rather mroe powerful.

      Reply to Comment
    7. XYZ

      So your you hold by the conspiracy theories that says EVERYTHING that works to Israel’s benefit is due to some nefarious plot, and that if the world really operate in a “natural” fashion, the whole world would go against Israel? Is it not possible that the Methodists weighed both sides and reached a rational conclusion not to support BDS? It has to be that they were bought off or intimidated by AIPAC?

      Reply to Comment
    8. The motion to divest whipped up opinion from both directions. There was nothing hidden or conspiratorial about it. Due to the history of anti-Semitism within Christianity, churches are often very wary of doing anything that might get that label stuck on them (and that label is thrown about with impunity in the BDS debate). Where business is concerned, there is also the very mundane matter of money and what’s profitable. For many senior members, these investments pay their salaries. In the most cynical sense, their choice was very ‘natural’.
      The conference wasn’t voting on whether or not to support BDS as a whole. They were voting on whether or not to divest from specific companies – Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard – in keeping with their policy on ethical finance. To give one example of what those companies are involved in, a friend of mine is currently doing rehabilitation work with a little girl who has been so traumatised by her family’s experience of repeated home demolitions that she has actually become afraid of the colour yellow. Do you know what that kind of fear looks like in a child? What it does to her parents when they try to comfort her in the night with, “It’s OK, Daddy’s here,” and she can’t be comforted, because she’s already learned that Daddy being there doesn’t make any difference when the bulldozers come?
      Caterpillar profits from this. It’s not ethical or rational to invest in the company that supplies those bulldozers – unless your rationality is based on stocks and share prices and desire to maintain a good public image in the current US political climate, which yes, is overwhelmingly supportive of Israeli policy. So no dire conspiracies. Just politics and money and perhaps a little cowardice. Fortunately, several individual churches have taken the decision to divest from these companies, independently of the Methodist Church as a whole. There are other reasons to be positive: the BDS movement in South Africa began in the 1950s, but it took about ten years for the international community to start joining in and about twenty-five before the UN issued its official support (in 1980). Palestine’s BDS movement is only seven years old, and it benefits from the support of people like Tutu, Mandela, and other experienced campaigners in the South African context. Considering its relative youth, even to have divestment raised as an issue at the conference was an achievement.
      Hopefully better achievements will follow. In the meantime, we have to keep letting people know what it is they are profiting from.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rafael

      The fact is that there are pro-Israel lobbies in the US. And as SP and JM asked: why the need of a lobby, if an alliance with Israel is indeed in the interests of the US? It’s also telling that criticism of Israel — though increasingly common on the US left — was considered before off limits on the media, and it still is for US politicians. Again: if the link between Israel and the US is so solid, their interests shared, why the need to censor those who scrutinize this partnership?
      Israel’s previous sponsors — the Soviet Union and France — eventually dropped their partnership with Israel after they decided that this hurt their interactions with Arab states, who are far more numerous, provide a greater market for their products to say nothing of indispensable raw materials, than Israel could ever do. I don’t know why is it taking the US so long. After all, in contrast to the Soviets and the French, Americans’ interests don

      Reply to Comment
    10. Rafael


      Americans’ interests don’t coincide with Israel’s nearly as much as did the Soviet Union’s (who saw Israel as a bulwark of socialism) and France (who saw in Israel an ally in suppressing national liberation movements in the Arab world). And the Americans see in Israel — what exactly? (Warning for dummies: please no fake rhetoric about the inherent sympathy between democracies.)

      Reply to Comment
    11. Rafael

      Though XYZ strives to present himself in rational language, it doesn’t escape my attention how his thought-process is clouded by tribalism. The Kairos ministries, according to him, aren’t the representatives of a besieged population, of a people that is tired of being occupied and have their lands stolen to build Jewish settlements and land-grab barriers. In his words, they’re nothing but “Israel bashers”. With people like this on one of the sides of the conversation, it is clear why the peace process hasn’t advanced. One of the sides is incapable of doing justice to the other and its feelings, preferring instead the path of self-promotion and petty demonization of its partners.

      Reply to Comment
    12. XYZ

      (1) Yes, I am a tribalist.
      (2) Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but Russia now has very good relations with Israel. So does the whole former Soviet Bloc. This hasn’t harmed their relations with the Arab countries, particularly Syria.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Cortez

      “(2) Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but Russia now has very good relations with Israel. So does the whole former Soviet Bloc. This hasn’t harmed their relations with the Arab countries, particularly Syria”
      -it makes sense. Also reminds me that Israel is still culturally and maybe technically an Eastern European country in the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Leen

      @Vicky, exactly comparable to the boycott/anti-apartheid movement, BDS is a very young movement. It took 30 years for the AAM to be successful, the boycott movement was unheard of in 1957, it was only properly established in 1960 in England and it was a very small movement to begin with.
      BDS has achieved quite a lot given its only 7 years old and the fact that it is getting discussed and contemplating divestment is a big move.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Donal Heggarty

      I am sure it must be swell for Christians to live in a country with Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs and Hamas as your neighbours.

      Reply to Comment