Palestinian Christians: the forgotten faithful

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“We are doing this mass to pray [to] God, because nobody is hearing us. Just God can hear our prayers and He can change the mind of all the people who are putting injustice on the Palestinian people. We are losing our land, Americans are doing nothing for us, Europe is doing nothing for us, just God can help us change the mind of everybody to give us back our own land”.

It may surprise you, but these are not the words of some Islamist fanatic, looking to sweep the Jewish people into the sea and create a medieval Islamic caliphate in Palestine. These are the words of Father Ibrahim Shomali, the Catholic priest of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, as he celebrates an open-air mass in the beautiful Cremisan valley. His mass takes place every Friday, as a sign of protest against a planned extension of Israel’s separation barrier which will lead to the confiscation of yet more Palestinian Christian land.

In October 2012, the Foreign Secretary William Hague, a politician not known for his activism on behalf of the Palestinians (as his ill-judged statement on Palestine’s application for non-member observer status at the UN demonstrated), formed an improbable alliance with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, to protest against Israeli plans to extend its separation barrier near Bethlehem. The extended barrier will run between Cremisan’s famous wine-making monastery and convent, separating the two establishments and cutting off the monks from the local Christian community in Beit Jala. It will also separate the convent and more than 50 families from land they own.

But the indignity and humiliation of having ancestral lands stolen are not the only problems facing Palestinian Christians today. Many Christians in the West do not even know that the Palestinian Christians exist. My friend the Rev Dr Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem tells how, when he tells US Christians that he too is a Believer, the question comes back (presumably from people who think that Jesus came from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania): “Wow, when were you converted?”

“About two thousand years ago” is Naim’s stock reply.

Read HERE the rest of this article.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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