Palestinian Christians: The other side – What is it like?
What is it like to be an Armenian, Palestinian Christian living in Jerusalem in 2014?
by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Recently I attended a function to hear a gifted communicator talk about the plight of Palestinian Christians. Unfortunately for safety reasons I am unable to name this brave and compassionate speaker. Born and raised in Jerusalem, an ‘Armenian Palestinian Christian’. Armenians have a long, continuous presence in Jerusalem from the fourth century. Armenia was the first nation in 301 CE to adopt Christianity as its official faith . Here is some of what was shared at the event.
“Palestine, the word, the map, the people, they are all fragmented. They are a people who feel dispossessed, abandoned by the world and rejected from their own physical location. Disinherited”.
“Living in Jerusalem, every single day you feel conflict, heaviness and desperation. You feel very threatened and very alone. It takes a lot of energy to live in a place of conflict and it is a daily reflective process to make sure that you don’t become bitter”.
Most people when they talk about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict rarely talk about Christianity. It takes special reflection as a Christian to try to make sense of your role and identity and mission in the middle of a conflict. There are always other narratives involved. Each person tells you a different history and a different narrative.
There are many many sides to this story. There is a word in Hebrew for ‘face’ that is plural, in Hebrew you would say “How are your faces?” This is true of this area of the world, there are many faces to this story.
What is it like for a Palestinian Christian on a daily basis?
Well daily they are subjected to military checkpoints on the way to school and to work. Reality is the separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible. Religious liberty is severely restricted with millions forbidden to visit the holy sites. In 1948 when Palestinians were dispossessed of land, they were given refugee status. Today there are 7 million Palestinians who still live with refugee status, they have been waiting for the right of return generation after generation. They have no status, no passport, no birth date even though they have been born and raised in Palestine.
The citizens of East Jerusalem do not carry an Israeli passport and the papers that they do have are not recognized by any authority.
Then there are the 1.5 million Palestinians who remained in Jerusalem and who have Israeli citizenship are called the ‘demographic threat’ because they are perceived as a threat to Jewish control. Life here is still very complicated. For example, the speaker, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, needs to apply for a visa every 2 years just to remain in her own home.
“Israel is facing a serious demographic challenge that threatens its future as both a democratic and a Jewish state. There are moral, political, and strategic dangers in preserving the territorial status quo.
Israel cannot remain a majority Jewish, democratic state, by indefinitely controlling the Palestinian territories.” Only a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict can prevent this existential danger from becoming a reality” (Israels National Security Project – Sergio DellaPergola).
“The Palestinian territories or occupied Palestinian territories (OPT or oPt) comprise the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. The boundaries, subject to future negotiations, are generally regarded by the international community as being defined by the Green Line.
In 1980, Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem and considers the whole of Jerusalem to be its capital. The annexation was condemned internationally and declared “null and void” by the United Nations Security Council. The Palestinian National Authority, the United Nations, the international legal and humanitarian bodies and the international community” (Palestinian Territories Wikipedia).
In the West Bank, the disputed territories, 2.5 million Palestinians carry Palestinian passports. The fact that they live in the West Bank means that they cannot access the rest of the country. Israel is 10 minutes away but they are not permitted to travel there. They cannot even use the Tel Aviv airport, they have to travel to another country to catch a plane. They can see the beach from their houses but the will never be allowed to go to the beach.
This affects every aspect of someones life. Those living in Gaza, 1.6 million people, are land locked. Although they have a seacoast of their own, the continued delays in the construction of a seaport in Gaza have rendered it a de-facto land locked territory, isolated from global trade. They are not permitted to go anywhere. They cannot go to Israel or to any other country that surrounds them. All crossings into Gaza have been blocked off since 2007.
“In recent years, life in Gaza has been defined by the scarcity food, clothing, fuel and cargo. The markets are empty and there are fewer people and cars on the streets. many unemployed Gazans believe work in the tunnels is the only option available to them” Mohamed Harb.
That is why they dig tunnels. They dig tunnels to access supplies. Yes those tunnels are used to smuggle weapons and for warfare, but they are also used to smuggle lollies for their children, cows, nappies, bread, medicines, building materials and biscuits.
It is estimated that 7’000 Gazans scratch a living by working in the tunnels. There are thought to be around 1’000 tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel, most of them dug by hand.
The Tunnels of Gaza is a brilliant short film which aired on Al Jazeera on April 20,2014. It highlights the daily hardship of life in the Gaza strip and the result of the crippling siege. Here is the link. http://youtu.be/v1uatEfM7Xw
For Palestinians there is also the ongoing humiliation of going from one check point to another. Just to go to university each day involves violence and humiliation. Arrest is a constant fear and the lack of safety is something that you fear on a day-to-day basis. To be a Palestinian today does not matter any more, it is all about where you are born in a certain time in history. You are defined by your birth date and where you were born during what occupation.
It is very important to Palestinians for others around the world to be interested in Palestinians and the stories of Palestine. It is very important to feel that their is a national and international solidarity. When people talk about the conflict they talk about the politics, instead we need to look at the people and understand how it affects there movements, relationships, education and way of life. It is not just political, it is personal. Each person has the right to access education, to water, to basic services and basic human rights. It can be simplistic to just talk about peace, we need to talk about peace and justice.
Pope Francis recently extended an invitation to Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and to Israeli President, Shimon Peres, to come to the Vatican and join him in praying to God for the gift of peace. He also said this:
“In this, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace”, said Pope Francis,” I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer.
All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers. All of us – especially those placed at the service of their respective people s – have the duty to become instruments and artisans of peace, especially by our prayers.
Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment.
The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace” (2014-05-26 Vatican Radio).
At the end of this event we were given a thin A4 booklet called ‘Kairos Palestine – A Moment of Truth’. This is a work of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. It is hoped that through this book the world will see and understand and suffering that is going on in Palestine and that Christians will unite and pray for peace and Justice for all in this part of the world. This is the opening paragraph.
Patriarchs and heads of churches Jerusalem
We hear the cry of our children.
We,the Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, hear the cry of hope that our children have launched in these difficult times that we still experience in this Holy Land. We support them and stand by them in their faith, their hope, their love and their vision for the future.
We also support the call to all our faithful as well as to the Israel and Palestinian Leaders, to the International Community and to the World Churches, in order to accelerate the achievement of justice, peace and reconciliation in this Holy land.
We ask God to bless all our children by giving them more power in order to contribute effectively in establishing and developing their community, while making it a community of love, trust, justice and peace.
Then it is signed by all of the heads of the churches. Greek Orthodox, Latin, Armenian Orthodox, Custodian of the Holy Land, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, Maronite, Ethiopian, Greek Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Armenian Catholic. Dated Jerusalem December 15th 2009.
In this document these heads of the Church request the International community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced ‘oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel… we call out to all the Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region”.
This conflict has been going on for generations, it is complicated and it is often difficult to comprehend. However, one thing is simple. Each person on the planet deserves to be loved and deserves peace. Each person is valuable and should be treated with justice. We should all be advocates of peace in the Holy Land so that all people have an opportunity to live with dignity and justice. So that all people have the right of movement, the right of access, the right of education.
Let me finish with a scripture from the Holy Bible, Galatians 8:28-29
“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.
Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises”.
Please pray for all men women and children who suffer daily in this part of the world. They deserve peace, justice and freedom. Let us pray as Pope Francis indicated – “The men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace”.