by Abe W. Ata
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 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.
This essay is used by permission of the author.
Palestinian Christians are in danger of being slowly destroyed, because of a combination of Israeli lawlessness, American religious right misunderstanding of the Bible, and American politicians’ hypocracy and cyncism.
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 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.