Talk Given at White Plains, NY - 04 March 2007
What Christians Need to Know about Palestine
assalaam alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh
Peace be upon you with God’s mercy and blessings
I am truly honored to be included in your Sunday service today. I would like to thank Rev Joe Agne and all my friends at Memorial for a truly enriching experience in exploring the human dimension of our lives. I speak to you with all sincerity and with no ill will towards anyone. The theme of my talk is very simple and familiar to you all: it’s about living justly, loving compassionately and walking humbly with our God. I want to share with you what I think the Christians in America need to know about Palestine. As you know Palestine is the holy land for all the children of Abraham, those who are related by lineage and those who have converted, whether Semite or non-Semite. Unfortunately, it is a contested land because some of these children believe it has been divinely promised exclusively to them. That is why it is called the Promised Land – sadly it is a land that is yet to find true peaceful coexistence.
There are people that have been living continuously on this land for centuries since the Day of Pentecost. Among the many multi-ethnic tribes that were present on that day were the Nabatean tribes. The apostle Peter was preaching to them in their own language, the early Arabic language. It was only natural that these Arabic-speaking pagan folks would take their newly adopted faith into the surrounding towns and also into Arabia. That was how many of these tribes embraced Christianity. All of this was happening long before Islam was born.
Many of the Jewish and non-Jewish indigenous tribes, who became Christians and who remained in the LAND OF CANAAN, (as the Bible rightfully calls it) have been the steadfast custodians of Christianity nurturing their faith ever since. Yes, these are the Palestinian Christians of today. These folks were never converted by fundamentalist evangelical Christians. They have always been the conduit of Christianity to the world. If the entire Christian world has written off the importance of the Holy Land to their faith, the Palestinian Christians will not betray the land of their heritage. They are not the children of a lesser god. They will continue to be true to their Abrahamic faith and persistent in their rightful claims to peacefully live in towns like Jerusalem, Nazareth or Bethlehem along with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors.
Ishmael & Isaac, the sons of Abraham who are recognized in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, came home to bury their father in the cave of the Patriarch in Hebron. A burial site that Abraham insisted on purchasing from the Hittites even though God promised the land to him and his seed. If 50% of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Israel over 2,000 years ago were non-Israelites, why can’t the inhabitants of the Holy Land coexist in peace today? The point I am making is that the Christian and Muslim Palestinians have just as much right to live in the Holy Land as Israeli Jews and non-Jews.
Naim Ateek, a Palestinian pastor from Jerusalem said: “Western Christians and many religious Jews are using the same Bible as we, but claiming to take from it a revelation from God that justified the conquest of our land and the extermination of our people”.
Throughout history, Palestine, as it was called by the Romans, was the crossroad of many civilizations. This has resulted in the influx of various customs & traditions. However, it managed to preserve many aspects of its ancient indigenous culture. With the advent of Islam, life in the Holy Land did not lose its mosaic character and eastern traditions. That all changed with the European Zionist conquest and the creation of Israel – a state that was and still is intent on excluding non-Jews, by design. When the Byzantine Patriarch Sophronius handed control of Jerusalem to the Muslim Caliph Omar in 638 CE, Christians were free to continue to worship in their churches. Few years later, the Muslims allowed the Jews to return back to Jerusalem and reside in it. Jerusalem was once again inhabited by the children of Abraham.
What is happening on the ground in Palestine NOW?
The Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, are suffocating under 40 years of continued occupation and economic sanctions. The erection of the Wall and the daily humiliation at the road checkpoints have added misery to their lives. What happened in 1948 is happening again today – a very subtle campaign of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and fertile areas of the West Bank. This takes the form of
o Home demolitions,
o Elimination of the farmers’ livelihood by cutting down their olive and other fruit trees,
o Confiscation of farmland in order to build settlements.
o Diverting the underground water supply,
o Refusal to grant building permits to non-Jews,
o Withdrawal of residency status to Palestinians upon their return home with foreign passports. They and their relatives will eventually be persona non-grata when they attempt to return again to their homes.
o No residency permits are granted to spouses from inside or outside Israel who are married to Palestinians from the occupied territories.
Unfortunately, the myopic vision of the Israeli government – out of sight, out of mind - has not been corrected. Today, there are “Jewish only” tunnels, “Jewish only” bridges and “Jewish only” roads that connect Israel to settlements deep inside the occupied Palestinian territory. This situation has prompted many Palestinians, particularly Christians, to leave their ancestral homeland. Israel wants you to believe that the Christians are leaving because of intimidations by their Muslim counterparts. This is untrue. They are leaving because of the occupation.
While all of this is happening, a 4th generation of destitute Palestinians is born in squalid refugee camps, dehumanized and alienated with a very bleak future and no political rights in their host Arab countries. Without passports that represent a real nation, many Palestinians seeking employment and a better life, are stranded at the borders or airports denied entry to any country.
What needs to be done in order to build a solid foundation for peace in the FUTURE?
Truth & Reconciliation needs to be initiated. There needs to be an acknowledgement by Israel of the atrocities and ethnic cleansing crimes committed by its Jewish militias in 1947 & 1948 that lead to al-Nakba (The Palestinian Catastrophe). Both sides must observe an immediate cessation of all actions that may lead to violence.
The responsible parties must prescribe a true measure of justice in order to ensure a lasting peace. The Bible asks us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah. 6:8). There needs to be a willingness to look into the others’ eyes and show mutual respect. All should strive to preserve the other’s dignity and humanity.
There ought to be a willingness to share resources in an equitable manner. There needs to be the political will that ensures equal treatment under one law, the same law for all the people regardless of their faith.
There ought to be an equitable reciprocity with regard to the repatriation of refugees from both sides. The only hope the 4 million stateless Palestinian refugees have is to be given the choice to either return to their homeland from which they were evicted or be awarded a fair settlement that will enable them to live in dignity as equal citizens in their host countries. Likewise, the Sephardic and Eastern Jews who are currently living in Israel need to be given the choice to either return to the land of their ancestors and reclaim their rich heritage in the Arabic speaking world or remain in Israel.
In closing, I would like to read to you a quote from Bishop Younan of the Palestinian Evangelical Lutheran Church:
He said: “If Jesus were to look out at Jerusalem today, he would weep again over a Jerusalem that is being turned into the exclusive realm of one group at the expense of others. Jesus called us to do the things that make for peace and to be ministers of reconciliation. Justice and truth-telling are necessary for the birth of peace and reconciliation. Faith leaders cannot be silent when religion is used to provoke conflict and justify exclusive rights for one group and collective punishment for another. We ask you, fellow Christians and people of good conscience, to help us preserve the multi-faceted character, holiness and exclusivity of this great city by affirming that Jerusalem is still the Holy City of and for the three Peoples of the Book, where all have the same right of free access to pray, without permits and permission from the powerful.”
May the peace of God that passeth understanding be with you now and forever. Amen
Salem D Mikdadi