Today's USA Today had a commentary by a "Palestian-American Christian" living in Michigan. The author, Sherri Muhzer, discusses the Christian minority of Palestinians (about 15 percent worldwide; she does not discuss how many of these are no longer living in "Palestine"). I have a few issues with her viewpoint, which seems to be strongly anti-Israel and anti-US, with a touch of Islamic apologia thrown in for good measure.
The questioner's tone is usually incredulous: "You mean there are Palestinian Christians?"
I understand the confusion. Many view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as purely Muslims vs. Jews. And aren't Arabs all Muslims and Muslims all Arabs?
The reality is that some 15% of the world's Palestinians are Christians, a vibrant community that has experienced as much suffering as Palestinian Muslims. In the latest uprising for freedom, Palestinian Christians have been among those killed or maimed for life by Israeli bullets. Christians also have been among the Palestinians who have been unable to leave their towns, go to their jobs, seek medical care and attend schools.
I don't doubt that Palestian Christians have suffered because of the Israeli reaction to the murder of Israelis by Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, some are exploiting the general lack of knowledge about Palestinian Christians, either for political gain or for religions reasons — or both. Many evangelical Christians believe the Bible promised the Jews the entire Holy Land, including the occupied territory. And some evangelicals also believe the second coming of Christ is contingent upon the full return of Jews to Jerusalem.
I am not sure if she is advocating the suppression of such beliefs. Further, the fact that Jews were EXCLUDED from their holy sites by the Jordanians prior to 1967 would seem to indicate that the situation is better for all concerned, since the Israelis allow Arabs access to the Temple Mount. If "full return" means "access to all" then I'm all for it, too.
Last month, conservative Christian activist Gary Bauer spearheaded a letter, signed by other evangelical leaders, that warned President Bush that "it would be morally reprehensible for the United States to be 'evenhanded' between democratic Israel, a reliable friend and ally that shares our values, and the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure." This week, the Jerusalem Post reported, the Rev. Pat Robertson, speaking on the Christian Broadcasting Network, said Bush's proposed road map to peace imperiled Israel and went "against the clear mandate of the Bible."
Bauer is right; until the Palestinians fully renounce violence, they are not morally equivalent to Israel. Their leaders have embraced terrorism (or been apologists for it), and their people overwhelmingly support the terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated by the extremist groups that wield enormous influence.
Robertson is a crackpot; he always has been. Few people take him seriously any more. There is nothing in the bible that justifies his views.
But the fact that Palestinian Christians are united with Palestinian Muslims in the goal of liberation shows that their struggle isn't so much religious as it is nationalistic and human.
There is one very important distinction between the Islamists and the Christians in the West Bank and Gazathe bombers and other assorted terrorists are all Islamic! There is no getting around that, and it is an extremely important distinction. The Christians in the middle east may or may not support the Palestinian cause, but they do not blow up innocent Israelis in support of their cause.
I can understand, however, the public-relations value for Israelis in ignoring Palestinian Christians. After all, given the unfair vilification of Islam after 9/11, why let your Western supporters know that you are also battling Christians?
The biggest obstacles to peace are not Christians; they are Islamic groups (led by Hamas) who are focusing on Israel only because they are the biggest target. Since Hamas calls for a fundamentalist Islamic state over the entire Israel/Palestine area, do you think they will allow Christians to practice their faith once independence is achieved? Remember, the Palestinian Authority's support is only slightly higher than that of Hamas; there will be an epic struggle for control of the government once an independent Palestine emerges.
The evangelical leaders who warned Bush not to be "evenhanded" in peace negotiations may believe that they are speeding up Jesus' return, but it was Christ who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
Is is not Israel who started the wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, nor did they start either of the Intifadas.
Which is it?
As I pointed out earlier, Ms. Muzher does not discuss the number of Christians still living in the West Bank and Gaza. The number is about 60,000, which is a dramatic drop since the end of World War II. Christians enjoy full civil rights in Israel, something that is not true of most Arabic states. It is interesting that there have been no Christians seeking political asylum in the US due to Israeli persecution, but the State Department has granted asylum to two Palestinian Christians who were being persecuted by their Arab neighbors.
For another Palestinian Christian view on the issue, read Christians in the Land Called Holy, which has a good deal of information on this subject, much of which contradicts Ms. Muhzer's assertions.
posted on June 06, 2003 12:52 PM
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