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Only the other day a work colleague of mine, who had visited Israel, told me that she thought it must be dreadful for Palestinian Christians, due to persecution by Muslims in Gaza and the West Bank. The real story, that it is the Zionist government of Israel that is considered by the vast majority of Palestinian Christians to be the real cause of oppression for them, is unheard of in the west. The real narrative of Christian persecution by the Zionist state of Israel is unwanted by our western media. It doesn’t fit with the dearly loved narratives of those such as Michael Oren and the former Australian Foreign Minister, Andrew Downer, that Muslims are the real cause of conflict and oppression in the Middle East and that Israel is the protector of human rights and democracy. The following article appeared on Stephen Sizer’s blog e on 31st March 2012, and can be taken as the voice of Palestinian Christians to a very large degree.
Church Leaders Open letter to Michael Oren ahead of Easter
Posted: 31 Mar 2012 12:52 AM PDT
As has been stated in our Kairos document, we Palestinian Christians declare that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.”
The Israeli occupation is the primary reason why so many members of the oldest Christian communities in the world have left the holy land, Palestine.
Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights began in 1967, the Israeli government has confiscated thousands of acres of land owned by Christian Palestinians to build settlements Israel now calls “neighborhoods.” These settlements have divided Bethlehem and Jerusalem for the first time in the two millennia since Jesus walked between these holy cities.
Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem have been hardest hit by this land grab policy.
The Israeli government has demolished the homes of hundreds of Palestinians in the occupied city and revoked the residency rights of thousands more, while promoting foreign immigration to the ever-expanding illegal settlements throughout our occupied homeland.
Your claim, Mr Oren, that the Christian population in Israel has grown is disingenuous.
In fact, the percentage of Christians in the area began to decrease in 1948 when the creation of Israel caused a large portion of the Palestinian Christian population to become refugees.
The exaggerated growth of the Christian population in Israel that you claim is due primarily to the immigration of Russian Christians whom Israel was unable to distinguish from the Jewish immigrants pouring into the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is not due to any accommodation for the indigenous Palestinian Christian population, which is victim to an ongoing displacement policy implemented by your government.
It is also misleading to suggest that the occupation does not dramatically affect the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Palestinian use of airspace, telecommunications, and critical resources like water are all ultimately subject to Israeli control. We cannot move between our cities or travel abroad without crossing an Israeli checkpoint.
Israel’s matrix of control has cost our economy dearly and it dramatically limits the opportunities available to our youth. In 2010 alone, the cost of the occupation to the Palestinian economy was almost $7 billion, 85 percent of our GDP.
Our Holy Bible says, “‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). We seek a just and lasting peace. But to achieve peace, Mr Oren, your government must recognize the reality your occupation has created.
Our reality is one of occupation, oppression and loss. We endure your government’s assault on our natural and basic right to worship and its policy of exile and division between our communities.
Contrary to your erroneous claims, we assert that Palestinians are one people enduring Israel’s relentless occupation and suffering, together, from its oppressive practices.
We are united in our conviction that we deserve to enjoy the rights to which all people are entitled. Christian and Muslim Palestinians have struggled for freedom together for over 60 years. We intend to continue that tradition.
Ending Israeli occupation is the only way for Palestinians — Christians and Muslims — to enjoy a life of prosperity and progress. It is also the surest way to secure a continued Christian presence in this, our holy land.
Adv. Nabil Mushahwar, Chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association
Fr. Faysal Hijazeen, Director-general of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and parish priest of Ramallah
Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Fr. Farah Bader, Assistant priest, Ramallah Roman Catholic Church
Fr. Johnny Abu Khalil, Roman Catholic priest of Nablus
Fr. Firas Aredah, Roman Catholic priest of Jifna
Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, Roman Catholic Parish Priest of Beit Jala
Rev. Saliba Rishmawi, Lutheran Church, Ramallah
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee
Fayez Saqqa, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Bethlehem
Fouad Kokali, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Beit Sahour
Hind Khoury, Ambassador, Jerusalem. Former PLO representative in Paris
Bassem Khoury, Architect, Jerusalem
Dr. Charlie Abu Saada, Director of Juthoruna Forum
Yusef Daher, Inter Church Center, Jerusalem
Lucy Thalgieh, Project coordinator, Wi’am Center, Bethlehem
George Saliba Rishmawi, Coordinator, Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies
Professor Gabi Baramki, Former President of Bir Zeit University, Ramallah
Issa Kassasieh, Deputy Head – PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, Jerusalem
Dr. Elias Iseed, Secretariat of the Orthodox organizations in Palestine, Beit Sahour
Khader Abu Abara, President of the Beit Jala Orthodox Club, Beit Jala
Marwan Toubasi, Governor of Tubas, Chairman of the Orthodox organizations in Palestine, Ramallah
Fr. Jamal Khader, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Bethlehem University
Salim Hodali, Head of the Diaspora Unit, Bank of Palestine
Nader Abuamsha, Beit Sahour YMCA
Dr. Jad Isaac, Head of the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem
Yousef Hallaq, Electrical Engineer, Jerusalem
Dr. Varsen Aghabekian, Management Consultant, Ramallah
Rania Elias, Director, Yabous Cultural Center, occupied Jerusalem
Wassef Daher, President of YMCA
Nader Muaddi, Palestinian Christian activist, occupied Jerusalem
Raji Zeidan, Mayor of Beit Jala
Dr. Bernard Sabella, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, occupied Jerusalem
Peter Abu Shanab, Chairperson of Holylanders, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Kholoud Daibes, Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism and Antiquities
Rif’at Kassis, General Coordinator of Kairos – Palestine
Andre Batarseh, YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Rami Saleh, Treasurer of the Palestinian Counseling Center, and Deputy Director of Jerusalem Legal Aid Center
Dr. Manuel Hassassian, Ambassador, PLO representative in London
Shawki Armali, Ambassador, PLO representative to the Holy See
Dr. Linda Tabar, Professor, Bir Zeit University
Rateb Rabie, President of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Anthony Habash, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Bethlehem
Ibrahim Mourad, Fashion Designer
Maggie Mourad, Former instructor, Bethlehem University
Maha Saca, Director – Palestinian Heritage Center, Bethlehem
Elham Salameh, Director, social and cultural department – YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Ibrahim Matar, President, National Christian Association, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Nabeel Kassis, Former president, Bir Zeit University
Ziad Bandak, Minister, Presidential Adviser for Christian Affairs
Hanna Amira, Member of the PLO Executive Committee
Janet Michael, Mayor of Ramallah
Dr. Rita Giacaman, Director of the Institute of Community and Public Health, Bir Zeit University
Mary Sabella, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Jacqueline Sfeir, Director of MaDad, Bethlehem
Eileen Kuttab, Director Women Studies Institute, Bir Zeit University
Zahi Khoury, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Palestinian National Beverage Company, Coca-Cola
Rev. Mitri Raheb, Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, president of Diyar Consortium
Dr. Nuha Khoury, Dean of Dar al-Kalima College, Bethlehem
Khalil Nijim, Consultant, secretary of Diyar Board, Bethlehem
Rev. Imad Haddad, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Beit Sahour
Layla Sayeh, Director of PenMedia
Michael Asfour, YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Afif Safieh, Ambassador, former PLO representative to the Hague, London, Washington, Moscow and the Holy See
Nora Kort, President Arab Orthodox Society, Jerusalem
Anton Salman, President Anthonian Charitable Society, Bethlehem
George Saade, Bethlehem Deputy Mayor, on behalf of the Bethlehem Municipal Council
Hani Hayek, Mayor of Beit Sahour
Maher Sahlieh, Head of the Arab Orthodox Scouts, occupied Jerusalem
Fr. Hanna Salem, Latin Seminary priest, Beit Jala
Dr. Muna Mushahwar, Arab Orthodox Club, occupied Jerusalem
Fr. Raed Abusahlia, Roman Catholic parish priest of Taybeh
Fr. Aziz Halawa, Roman Catholic parish priest of Beit Sahour
Omar Harami, Palestinian Christian activist, occupied Jerusalem
Elie Shehadeh, Palestinian National Initiative, Beit Jala
Iyad Aburdeneh, Environmental expert, Bethlehem
Claudette Habash , Palestinian Christian refugee, occupied Jerusalem
Yacoub Al Yousef, Arab Orthodox Club, occupied Jerusalem
Usama Salman, Director, San Vincent Association, occupied Jerusalem
Rami Zeidan, General manager, Traveller Experience Tours, occupied Jerusalem
Supporters of the Zionist State of Israel continually affirm that Israel is a state of democracy and tolerance, surrounded by barbarian hordes. An enlightened “western” nation that is forced , on a daily basis, to fight for its very survival against not only the Jihadist terrorists from the Muslim world, but the anti-Semitic protestations of liberals and phony progressives in the west. The following article, by a Palestinian Christian, paints a somewhat different picture. The article was first published on the Mondoweiss website.
Mar 15, 2012 06:45 am | Fida Jiryis
Amb. Michael Oren’s article, ‘Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians,’ presents Israel as a tolerant, dove-like, and peaceful democracy. This is belied by the facts.
I am one of those Palestinian Christians living inside Israel to whom Oren refers. At no time in my life have I ever felt the ‘respect and appreciation’ by the Jewish state, which Oren so glowingly references. Israel’s Christian minority is marginalized in much the same manner as its Muslim one or, at best, quietly tolerated. We suffer the same discrimination when we try to find a job, when we go to hospitals, when we apply for bank loans, and when we get on the bus — in the same way as Palestinian Muslims.
Israel’s fundamental basis is as a racist state built for Jews only, and the majority of the Jewish population doesn’t really care what religion we are if we’re not Jewish. In my daily dealings with the State, all I have felt is rudeness and overt contempt.
Oren’s statement that ‘The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude’ is outright shocking to anyone familiar with even the basic history of how Israel was founded. I would like to remind him and others that this founding expelled thousands of Palestinian Christians from their homes in 1948 and displaced them, either forcing them to flee across the border or making them internal refugees. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that comprised the founding of Israel is, too, an injustice of historic magnitude. A man living in a glass home — or a home stolen from Palestinians — should think very carefully before tossing stones.
My cousin’s husband, Maher, is from Iqrith, a village a few miles from mine in the Galilee. His family, and all of Iqrith’s inhabitants, were expelled from their village in 1948 and Iqrith was razed to the ground by Israeli forces on Christmas eve, 1950, in a special ‘Christmas gift’ to its people. The timing of this destruction leaves one to wonder at the intended message. Maher was born years after his family took shelter in Rama, a village nearby in the Galilee. Today, he struggles with finding a place to build a house to live in with his wife and children. Israeli policies that severely restrict the building zones in Arab towns and villages result in land shortages impeding the population’s natural expansion. Limiting land to residents of the same town or village means that internal Palestinian refugees face severe housing discrimination.
The return of people like Maher has been made impossible by Israel, which refuses to negotiate on the right of refugees to return to their homeland. If Oren is so concerned for Palestinian Christians, would he kindly give the green light for the return of Christian refugees from Iqrith, Bir’im, Tarshiha, Suhmata, Haifa, Jaffa, and tens of other Palestinian towns and villages that they were expelled from in 1948? The answer, I assure you, is no. Many of these refugees are living in refugee camps in nearby countries, where Israel and Oren are happy to leave them.
The terrorists referred to in Oren’s statement that ‘Israel, in spite of its need to safeguard its borders from terrorists, allows holiday access to Jerusalem’s churches to Christians from both the West Bank and Gaza,’ are in fact Palestinian Christians living on the land that Israel has occupied — in flagrant opposition to all human rights charters — and from which it is refusing to withdraw its soldiers and illegal settlers. To applaud Israel for giving people permits to travel across what by law is their own country is the height of hubris.
His claim that ‘In Jerusalem, the number of Arabs–among them Christians–has tripled since the city’s reunification by Israel in 1967’ fails to mention Israel’s relentless policies of cracking down on Jerusalem: building unending settlements; building a Separation Wall that slices right through the city, severing its families, neighborhoods and businesses and hitting hard at its Arab economy; seizing Arab lands and expelling families that have lived on them for generations; and revoking the citizenship of any Palestinian resident who travels abroad for too long. Imagine the outcry if an American citizen traveled abroad for two years and upon return discovered that his citizenship was revoked and that he had lost his American ID and passport.
Israeli officials don’t care whether the Palestinians they discriminate against are Christian or Muslim. It is true that inter-religious strife is on the rise in a region long tormented by poor living conditions, for which the West bears significant responsibility having aided the region’s many dictators.
Oren’s faux tolerance and crocodile tears over the plight of Christians fool no one. Were he serious, I would urge him to have a close look at Israel’s policies of occupation and racial discrimination.
As Jesus said, ‘Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?‘ (Matthew 7:3)