Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Evangelical blindspot for Palestinian Christians

(Washington Post) - This week, Christmas pageants across the country will reenact the scenes of the nativity; carolers will sing the beloved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”; and millions will turn their hearts toward that ancient city, where many believe that Jesus was born. But it’s likely most Americans haven’t pondered what that birthplace is like today — or who lives there.

Bethlehem is the most heavily Christian city in Palestine. Its Arab Christian mayor, Vera Baboun, describes her hometown the “capital of Christmas” and says that between Bethlehem proper and the surrounding Bethlehem governate, there are upward of 38,000 Christian residents. Christmas celebrations there form an integral part of city life. “Bethlehem is the city that gave the message of peace to the whole world,” Baboun told me in a November interview at a conference hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. “But today, Bethlehem does not live the peace that it gave to the whole world.”

The existence of Palestinian Christians, and the difficulties they face under Israeli occupation in their homeland, is a blind spot for American Christians. Evangelicals in particular are often strong supporters of Israel and suspicious of Muslims but don’t seem to realize that those aren’t the only groups at play in the region.

“I and many other Americans of Palestinian Christian ancestry will often get asked: When did you convert? ‘2,000 years ago, when did you convert?’ is a standard response,” said Gregory Khalil, president and co-founder of the U.S.-based Telos Group, a self-styled pro-Israel and pro-Palestine organization that advocates peace in the region.

“One of the greatest challenges that IDC is working to tackle is the perception that the Middle East is void of religious minorities,” said Philippe Nassif, executive director of In Defense of Christians a U.S.-based organization dedicated to raising awareness of the challenges facing Middle East Christians. Nassif, who is of partial Arab Christian descent, told me that while some mainline Protestant congregations have begun to recognize and advocate for Palestinians in recent years, American evangelicals display little such awareness. They typically see support for Israeli security policies as an inherent Christian duty — while ignoring that those policies have also made life difficult for Christians in Palestine and have cut them off from parts of their homeland.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), an outspoken conservative Christian politician and proponent of Israel, demonstrated that particular myopia when he gave the keynote speech at a 2014 conference hosted by IDC. A day that will live in infamy for me. I watched that speech a number of times, and I'm still as displeased as I was the first time I watched it. A contingent of Arab Christians booed Cruz off stage after he declared “Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.” For Palestinian Christians, that simply isn’t true...
Complete article here.


  1. Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown in the past 40 years. It's the only place where Christians have freedoms to practice their religion. It's the only place where Christian businesses aren't boycotted by the larger population.

    The plight of Christians in Palestinian Authority is more complex than presented in this article. Evangelicals generally don't recognize other Christians who aren't Protestant. Portraying Evangelicals as blind to the Palestinian Christian population ignores their charitable efforts in the region and their solidarity with Israeli Christians.

    This article is a swipe at anyone who supports Israel.

    1. All of these statements are false. In relative terms, the proportion of Christians in Israel has fallen precipitously since its establishment in 1948 (while in Lebanon, where there has been a similar, albeit less extreme proportional loss, the absolute number of Christians has increased in the same period.). As for freedom of religion for Christians, that exists in Lebanon, Jordan and the government-controlled parts of Syria, as well as in Iraq at least de jure. In my experience in Lebanon and Syria, I'm unaware of any widespread religiously-based boycotts of businesses.

    2. The fact that the Christian population in Israel is thriving and growing is easily demonstrated. A recent study by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel as reported by the Jerusalem Post (and others) in 2012 shows that Christians have the highest quality of life in Israel compared to any other country in the Middle East. They have the highest education and have full rights of citizenship, including representation in the government and access to the finest healthcare.

      Any suggestion to the contrary is pure propaganda.

    3. So, as a Lebanese Christian, I take huge issue with your claim that Israel is friendliest for Christians and the only place that Christians can worship freely.

      First, Christians are free in Lebanon, Jordan, and, before US interference, Syria and Iraq. in fact, in Lebanon, by law, half of parliament is Christian and the president is always Christian.

      on the contrary, Israel has been known to block Christians from holy sites during holy days, such as Bethlehem at Christmas a few times.

      I don't like the Palestinian government or the Israelis. The fact is that Israel is friendly to those that will help them. They tolerate Christians to not piss off the US. That's all.

    4. Bethlehem is of course in Judea. Christians in Judea and Samaria had second class status under the Status Quo agreement that the British and other European powers had with the Ottoman Empire. The agreement enforced the Islamic Pact of Omar which prevented Christians from repairing churches, forced them to stoop to enter buildings, etc but at least they couldn't be murdered with impunity. The reason why Christians in the Middle East lived in protected European enclaves was because of the tyranny Islamic Ottoman Empire. France protected the Christian and Druze population in Lebanon and created arrangements like the ones you describe by force.

      These protections ended for Christians in Judea in 1948, when Jordan invaded. Christians were forced into camps and lost much of their property. They became a minority in Judea, including Bethlehem, overnight.

      Christians were liberated in 1967 by Israel after a massive attempt by their neighbors to destroy Israel was thwarted. The invading countries didn't permit their citizens who flooded into Judea and Samaria seeking a new life at the expense of those who lived there to return. Christians became an even greater minority in their own land as a result.

      After conducting a successful guerrilla war against Israel and the native non-Muslims, terrorist organizations were given the chance to rule parts of Judea and Samaria including Bethlehem in 1995. The Christian Church of the Nativity was used as a terrorist sanctuary in 2002. They desecrated the building. It was finally liberated by the IDF after 39 days.

      As a result of almost 70 years of constant attack by radical Islamic terrorists what used to be a large majority Christian population in parts of Judea has been reduced to the tiniest minority, less than 3%. The only part of Judea where the Christian population has grown during that time is the part continuously run by Israel.

      I don't know why you don't like the only democratic, secular government in the Middle East where your brother and sister Christians have freedoms and have been growing.

      I would encourage you to Google the Pact of Omar and learn why Christians in the Middle East have lived this way for over 1,000 years and ask yourself if you want to keep living this way for another minute. If you love freedom then join with other people who do as well.

    5. "I don't know why you don't like the only democratic, secular government in the Middle East where your brother and sister Christians have freedoms and have been growing."

      I don't know why you insist on repeating blatant lies. Additionally, you're talking about the 40's and the 60's and Ottoman times. You do know this isn't the Ottoman period, correct?

      Again, your claims that Israel is a friend of Christians and that Middle Eastern Christians are only free there is completely incorrect. I don't want to call you a liar, since that does nothing for the conversation, but I'm not sure what else to say. At first, I assumed you just didn't know any better. Understandable, many people don't understand the Middle East. But, I have now informed you that, in fact, there are many countries in the Middle East where Christians are very free. So, now you are no longer misinformed. So, please re-read what I said and research the countries. I hope it proves to be enlightening. One of the biggest things that we need to do is help the West realize what the Middle East really is, especially in places like Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, etc. Spreading these false claims that Israel is the only good place for Christians is both incorrect and misleading.

    6. Recently, Israel officially recognized Aramaic Christians as a distinct ethnic religious group. In fact, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which recognizes non-Arab ethnic groups. In Israel Christians serve at every level, even on the Supreme Court. 40% of Christian population of Israel volunteer to serve in the IDF.

      Lebanon, by contrast, used to be a majority Christian. Today the country is run by Hizbollah, a Shi'it terrorist organization. Parts of the country are run by ISIS. Recently, by signing an agreement with Hizbollah a Maronite Christian named Michel Aoun was named President, the office being vacant since 2014. Mr. Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement Party has said that the government of Lebanon is trying to wipe out Christians. He said,

      "Our honor is greater than the crisis. We should take to the streets and call on the Lebanese, specifically the Christians, to take to the streets with us." He continued: "Today, there is an attempted takeover of Lebanon's Christian roles... Christians are facing an existential threat, because the wily Lebanese politicians have taken over all Christian rights and roles... Our sin as Christians is that we live in peace with everyone while the Muslims can't [even] live in peace with each other."

      Lee, maybe you disagree with General Aoun. Maybe you think he's a liar when he says that Christians existence in Lebanon is at risk. Certainly, if Christians continue to flee the violence those that remain behind will be at even greater risk.

      Will you stand with us as we fight for religious freedom in the Middle East?

    7. Well,I do think Gen. Aoun is a coward and a liar (for several reasons) and despite the corruptness of the Lebanese government, I'm still amazed the Parliament elected him.

      I'm not sure who "we" are or what you mean by "religious freedom." I will say that the situation in Lebanon is a mess. ISIS does not control any part of Lebanon. They have made some attempts but the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah have kept them back (Hezbollah is one of the "enemy of my enemy" situations), though the Hezbollah action has been limited since they're too busy doing stupid things at the Israeli border.

      By the way, the quote from Gen. Aoun shows his ridiculousness. "Our sin as Christians is that we live in peace with everyone..." No, our calling as Christians dictate that. We don't start problems and we should, to the best we can, live in peace.

      Anyway, I'm not sure why you seem so infatuated with Israel. It certainly reminds me of many Protestants here in America. I still cannot, for the life of me, figure out why they are so in love with the Israeli state.

      Anyway, I still encourage you to do a little more research when it comes to the Middle East and Christians. You have been extremely misled. Beyond that, we can have our opinions and if your opinion is that Israel is better than other nations, then fine. But please don't act like they're doing Christians any favors beyond what other Christian-friendly nations are in the Middle East.

    8. According to Western news reports and Wikipedia, ISIS controls parts of Northeast Lebanon and has active cells in Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and in every refugee camp. The Lebanese Army has recently captured ISIS commanders in Arsal and Qaa. Right now ISIS has 25 Lebanese Army hostages.

      Lebanon has been carved up by at least a dozen Islamic militant groups such as the Sunni Al-Nusra Al Qaida Front, ISIS, the Islamic Communist terrorists group known as Fatah, the former PLO Arab Nationalist terrorists group called the Populist Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Communist Militia and others.

      After the arrest of a Saudi Prince in Lebanon recently who was smuggling 2 tons of methamphetamines, the Saudi government announced it was cancelling the billions of dollars in military aid it gives each year to the Lebanese government. Great Britain recently announced that it was sending billions of British pounds in aid to the Lebanese military in order to fight foreign military activities in Lebanon.

      You may think that ISIS and other foreign Islamic terrorist militias aren't controlling parts of Lebanon but the world disagrees.

      Lebanese infrastructure is in danger of collapse. The border is increasingly meaningless, city services like waste disposal is sporadic. Government salaries are far behind. Rural areas are on their own. Every refugee camp is rife with active terrorists. Over 2 million refugees live in camps throughout the country.

      Lebanon is a disaster caused by Islamic terrorism. If the government falls a Christian genocide will take place. The only hope for Christians around the world is to stand together with the only democracy in the region, Israel and work together to defeat terrorism and tyranny.

  2. I lived in Israel for one year and attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I befriended a few Christian Palestinians; two Orthodox (Greek) and one Catholic. With respect to Bethlehem in particular, they reported to me that it was Muslim aggressiveness that negatively impacted the town as opposed to Israeli intervention or "occupation". They lament the Israelis giving the town over to the Palestinian Authority as they tell me of how the town has gone downhill both economically and socially. In public, the Christian Arabs speak of their support for the PA, but in private, it is a totally different issue. They FEAR their Muslim brothers.