Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Many Christians Want to Leave Palestine. And Why Most Won’t.

In Bethlehem—the little town of Jesus’ birth—only 1 in 5 residents today are Christians (22%). A decade earlier, more than 4 in 5 were believers (84%).

The steep decline is reflected in other traditional Christian cities in the Holy Land. In Beit Jala, the Christian majority has fallen from 99 percent to 61 percent. In Beit Sahour, it has fallen from 81 percent to 65 percent.

When the Ottoman era ended in 1922, Christians were 11 percent of the population of Palestine—about 70,000 people. According to the 2017 census by the Palestinian Authority (PA), they now number 47,000—barely 1 percent.

There are competing explanations of what—or who—is to blame. Some identify the Israeli occupation. Others describe Muslim chauvinism.

The overwhelming answer, according to a new survey of local Christians by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), is economics.

Nearly 6 in 10 respondents identified this as the main reason they consider emigration (59%).

The poll, commissioned by the Philos Project, a US-based initiative promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, surveyed 995 Christians in 98 Palestinian locations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January and February.

Compared to the economy, other cited reasons paled in significance.

Security conditions were named by 7 percent. Another 7 percent cited better education. And another 7 percent blamed the political situation.

Only 4 percent blamed corruption, while 3 percent gave a religious explanation.

But this particular question measured the primary driver of desire to leave the Holy Land. What secondary factors might be involved? Philos “affirms the right of all Christians to…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 4, 2020. Please click here to read the full text, and here for the Arabic translation.

Categories
Current Events

13 Christian Takes on Trump’s Peace Plan for Israel and Palestine

Trump Peace Plan

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 28, 2020.

After three years of anticipation—and dread—President Trump announced the launch of his “Deal of the Century” to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, he outlined details for a proposal that would recognize a Palestinian state following extensive land swaps and security arrangements.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not present, having broken off communication with the White House following several US decisions deemed biased toward Israel.

Abbas immediately rejected the plan, which Palestinians had long declared “dead on arrival.”

But Netanyahu’s acceptance was enthusiastic, declaring himself willing to begin negotiations with the Palestinians on such terms. A day earlier, Netanyahu’s challenger Benny Gantz also signaled his party’s agreement with Trump’s proposal.

With three Arab states lacking a peace treaty with Israel in attendance—Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates—Trump hopes there will be a regional push to implement his plan.

And with $50 billion promised as investment for the nascent Palestinian state, the president believes all the necessary pieces are in place.

“All previous generations from Lyndon Johnson tried and bitterly failed,” Trump said. “But I was not elected to do small things, or shy away from big problems.”

It only required he approach peace in a “fundamentally different” manner…

 

Following a summary the article includes the perspective of

  • Joel Rosenberg, co-founder of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem
  • Salim Munayer, head of the Jerusalem-based Musalaha reconciliation ministry
  • Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and secretary of the Jordan Evangelical Council in Amman
  • Hanna Massad, a Palestinian pastor who led Gaza Baptist Church for 12 years and returns regularly
  • Gerald McDermott, Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School who recently wrote The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land
  • Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian pastor and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College
  • Lisa Loden, the Messianic Jewish co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel–Palestine
  • Joel Chernoff, general secretary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
  • Martin Accad, chief academic officer at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut
  • John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel
  • Todd Deatherage, cofounder and executive director of Telos Group, which seeks to build a “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace movement”
  • Wissam al-Saliby, the Geneva-based advocacy officer for the World Evangelical Alliance
  • Ibrahim Nseir, Syrian pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Aleppo

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Palestinian Evangelicals Gain Official Recognition

Palestine Evangelical Council
Bishop Efraim Tendero announces the legal recognition of a Palestinian Evangelical Alliance at the general assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance. (Image: Jeremy Weber)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on November 27.

After 12 years of waiting, evangelicals in Palestine now claim they have greater civil rights than their fellow believers in the Holy Land.

Earlier this month, the president of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land—which represents congregations and ministries located in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—triumphantly held aloft his evidence at the once-a-decade general assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

“Here is the presidential decree signed by … President Mahmoud Abbas,” Munir Kakish told the approximately 800 WEA delegates from 92 nations gathered in Bogor, Indonesia. “Our hearts are full of thankfulness to God for this new declaration.”

When the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994 following the Oslo Accords, pastors of local evangelical churches met to create a council in order to have a voice with the new government, Kakish told CT.

Ministering in the Holy Land since 1978, Kakish pastors two churches: an independent congregation in Ramallah, Palestine, and a Baptist congregation in Ramla, Israel. They are only 30 miles apart, but divided by the Israeli separation wall.

“I knocked on [the PA’s] doors many times,” he said. “But now the timing was right, and the personnel … were understanding.

“Most of all, it was our persistence to obtain our civil rights as Palestinian citizens.”

Over time, the council—which Kakish has led since 2007—gained credibility as…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

How Palestine Divides Messianic Jews

Messianic Jews
(Oded Balilty, AP)

This article was first published in the May print edition of Christianity Today.

Among Christians in America, Israel can be viewed as a fulfillment of prophecy, a democratic ally in a region of chaos, or an occupier oppressing stateless Palestinians. How to choose?

Given that 2 out of 3 US evangelicals have a positive perception of Israel, according to LifeWay Research, perhaps a better question is: How should evangelicals identify with the issues Israel faces?

Fortunately, there is a useful interpreter. “If the Christian community wants to understand Israel from a believing perspective,” said Jamie Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and a believer in Jesus, “going through Messianic Jews is best.”

However, the complexity of Israel divides even Messianic Jews in attitude toward Palestine, as illustrated by debate this year over an interview provocatively summarized as supporting ethnic cleansing.

“The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights,” Paul Liberman, executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy (AIA), told The Intercept.

He described how the lobbying arm of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) was pushing for a shift of US funding from UN–administered Palestinian aid ($364 million in 2017) to an Israeli-led effort offering money to relocate from the West Bank. The goal: eventual annexation of the territory in a one-state solution with fewer Palestinian citizens, maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

First adopted by the MJAA in 2015, the idea reverberated within Messianic Jewish circles once TheIntercept highlighted efforts to harness evangelical influence in Congress and the White House.

“It is not a removal. It is an opportunity for a much better life,” said Joel Chernoff, CEO of the MJAA. “But the demographic issue is real.”

About 700,000 Jews and 1.5 million Arabs live in Judea and Samaria—the favored name in Israel for the West Bank. Chernoff desires more Jewish settlements there. And he believes many Palestinians already want to escape the territory’s corrupt Palestinian Authority. (A 2017 MJAA poll found half of residents were discussing a move abroad and were open to resettlement in exchange for about $5,000.)

The “ethnic cleansing” headline was a smear tactic by liberal and anti-Israel media, Chernoff said. The issue is not controversial among the MJAA’s 3,000 dues-paying members, 12,000 supporters, or 155 affiliated synagogues. But it is controversial to other Messianic Jews.

“There is not a consensus this is a good proposal,” said Monique Brumbach, executive director of the 75-member Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC). “The Scriptures promised the land to the Jewish people. But there will always be other people within it.”

Nearly all Messianic Jews believe modern-day Israel is the fulfillment of biblical promises…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Pew: US Christians Like the Israeli and Palestinian People More Than Their Governments

Pew Israel Palestine
(via Vox)

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on April 24, 2019.

When it comes to the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, do American evangelicals favor one side or the other?

Research Center finds one-third actually feel favorable toward both—when it comes to their peoples. And one-third feel unfavorable toward both governments.

Politico Magazine recently profiled Telos, an evangelical group dedicated to changing the narrative on Israel. “Christian faith communities persistently advocate for one-sided postures towards the conflict,” states the group, whose name means purpose in Greek, on its website. “Our telos is the freedom, security, and dignity of every human being in the Holy Land.”

But the profile prompted a strong critique from Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), who describes such “ambivalence” as actually harming both Israelis and Palestinians. Without solid evangelical support buttressing the US alliance with Israel, all sides will only entrench and deepen the conflict, he argues—making negotiation less likely.

“Impartiality and avoiding polemical stances are now de rigeur in much of nouveau Evangelicalism, so the Telos appeal has resonance,” he wrote on IRD’s blog. “Aren’t Christians supposed to be on everybody’s side?”

Pew’s new survey aimed to measure exactly that.

For decades, Pew has asked which side Americans sympathized with more: Israel or the Palestinians? But this year, researchers recognized a problem: this approach compared a country (Israel) with a people (Palestinians).

It was not apples-to-apples, nor did it allow for respondents to signal sympathy for both. So this year, they instead used separate questions asking about a favorable or unfavorable opinion toward the Israelis and the Palestinians as peoples, as well as toward their respective governments.

About 1 in 3 evangelical church attendees (34%) reported favorable opinions of both peoples.

However, the weight is still on the Israeli side…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Will Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ on Israel-Palestine Please Evangelicals?

Trump Deal Century Israel Palestine Evangelical
Image: Illustration by Rick Szuecs / Source image: Senior Airman Delano Scott / JBA via CT

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 12, 2019.

When it comes to Israel, nearly all evangelicals hold dear the biblical maxim: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

But what does it mean after a fiercely contested election?

President Donald Trump will soon propose his vision of practical exegesis.

Two years in the making, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is slated to be released soon, now that Israel has reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud party secured a virtual tie with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but Bibi’s right-wing coalition will push him over the top.

Neither leading candidate made the peace process with Palestinians a major plank of their campaign as the entire Israeli electorate has shifted to the right, emphasizing security over negotiation.

Other American presidents have tried and failed to advance official US policy of a two-state solution. But while Trump has brought a new energy—and unpredictability—to forge an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he may face two very skeptical partners.

Even so, Trump has shaken the system.

Last year in May, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

In February, he stopped US funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Last month, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

And more than any president prior, he has courted evangelical opinion. LifeWay Research shows that 67 percent of American adults with evangelical beliefs have positive perceptions toward Israel, with 80 percent believing Abraham’s covenant is for all time.

But while analysts have panned Trump’s decisions as decidedly one-sided against the Palestinians, he has dangled his own deal-making reputation as—at times—a warning to the Israelis.

“Israel will have to pay a higher price,” he said after ordering the embassy’s relocation, for the Palestinians “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next.”

What does Trump expect? And will it cost him his carefully cultivated evangelical support?

Details of his plan have not been publicly released, but in February US officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt toured Arab capitals seeking support.

A month later Greenblatt, Trump’s chief legal officer and special representative for international negotiations, checked in with US evangelicals in a special meeting at the White House.

Axios reported that several “raised concerns.”

CT surveyed 11 evangelical leaders—7 from the US and 4 from the Middle East—to take their pulse on expectations and gauge their red lines.

“Don’t divide Jerusalem, It would disappoint me if that was President Trump’s decision,” said…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Related: The attempt to bring Judeo-Christian politics to Israel

Categories
Current Events

O Come, Ye Gazan Christians, to Bethlehem

Gaza Christians Bethlehem
Palestinian Christian couple from the Gaza Strip leaves through the Israeli Erez crossing, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 20.

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity has restored its sparkling mosaics and marble columns to their original glory for the first time in 600 years.

“It has become such a beautiful church,” Ziad al-Bandak, head of the local project committee of Christian leaders, told the AP. “Every Christian in the world would love to see it now.”

Palestinian Mayor Anton Salman expects 1.2 million tourists will make their way to Christ’s birthplace this year. Among them, following an Israeli reversal, will be those who most long to visit for Christmas—the Christians of the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, they talk about the West Bank as if it is heaven,” said Hanna Maher, Egyptian pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church. “People love to go for Christmas; there are so many churches.”

In Gaza, there are three. According to the 2017 census, 47,000 Christians live in the Palestinian territories (1% of the population), but only about 1,000 live in Gaza.

Last week the Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) reported that nearly all who applied to enter Israel to visit the West Bank for Christmas failed to receive permits, except for those older than 55.

Applicants younger than 16 were also approved, consistent with restrictions instituted last Christmas and maintained through Easter. A previous policy limited travel to those between ages 16 and 35.

The MEC report was confirmed by Maher, who stated that initially just 200 travel permits had been granted, and Christians, sharing stories of the delayed permit applications, began to assume those outside the age limit would not be allowed to travel.

But their prayers were answered this week…

Please click here to read the full story at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Under the Law: Israeli Christians Worry About Secondary Status in Jewish Nation-State

Israel Nation State
Judaism and Christianity symbols on the Jerusalem old city gate – MyHolyShop

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on July 31, 2018.

In a legislative act both obvious and inflammatory, this month Israel cemented its nature as a Jewish state.

By a narrow vote in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, the law entitled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” was adopted to serve alongside over a dozen other “basic laws” that serve as Israel’s de facto constitution.

A key clause states that national self-determination is “unique” to Jews. Other provisions formally establish the nation’s flag, emblem, and anthem. Jerusalem is confirmed as the complete and united capital. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are declared official days of rest.

But two other clauses have raised considerable concern. Jewish settlement is a “national value” to be promoted. And Arabic is downgraded from an official language to one with “special status.”

“This law outlines that Israel’s democratic values are secondary for non-Jews,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical living in Nazareth. “It sends a clear message that my language is not welcome and consequently, neither is my cultural and ethnic identity.”

Her fears are echoed by an Israeli lawyer.

“While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, former president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Christ at the Checkpoint in the Age of Trump

 

ALcheckpoint3
Checkpoint between Israel and Palestine; credit: Andrew Larson

This article was first published May 25 at Christianity Today.

Fares Abraham grew up in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour, where tradition says the angels sang “Peace on Earth” to the startled shepherds. But his clearest memory is of his mother shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as she shuffled him and the neighborhood kids into her house during the first intifada.

Now in his mid-30s, the Liberty University graduate created Levant Ministries five years ago to mobilize Arab youth to fulfill the Great Commission.

And when he comes back home, he is at peace with his upbringing.

“When I was young, I asked myself if I should join the resistance or be a bystander,” he said to the 500 attendees—including 150 local Palestinian Christians—gathered in Bethlehem from 24 countries at the fourth biennial Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in 2016.

“But now I can go up to a checkpoint, look a soldier in the eye, and say, ‘I forgive you and love you in the name of Jesus.’”

Working also with global partners, Abraham believes the younger generations are pro-peace, becoming increasingly pro-justice the more their lives are transformed by the gospel.

It is a message communicated at CATC, though its anti-Christian Zionism is often criticized as anti-Israel…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today. 

CATC audience
Audience at CATC opening in 2016; credit: Andrew Larson

 

Categories
Current Events

In Shadow of Death, Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Relapse on Reconciling

 

Embassy Gaza
AP, via Japan Times

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 21.

Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.

But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.

A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.

Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.

Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.

“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”

Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.

Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.

And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Friends of Zion’s Christians?

Friends of Zion's Christians
Christian pilgrims carry palm branches during the Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. UPI/Debbie Hill

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 15, 2017.

American evangelicals rediscovered their brethren in the Middle East in recent years. The promise of the Arab Spring, followed by the threat of ISIS. Beheadings and other martyrdoms, followed by forgiveness.

Many decided we must become better friends, and work harder for the persecuted church’s flourishing in the land of its birth.

However, President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is putting that new friendship to the test, as Middle East Christian leaders have almost unanimously rallied against the decision.

Trump’s decision would “increase hatred, conflict, violence and suffering,” said the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in a statement in advance of his anticipated announcement.

The Coptic Orthodox Church warned of “dangerous consequences.” The head of Egypt’s Protestant community said it was “against justice” and “not helpful.”

But the strongest testimony may have come from Jordan, where the national evangelical council pleaded against “uncalculated risks” that “may well expose Christians in this region to uncontrollable dangers.

Despite these dire cries, many conservative US evangelicals rejoiced in Trump’s announcement…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

 

Categories
Current Events

The Piece of Jerusalem: Middle East Christians Explain Trump’s Embassy Gambit

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 5.

Israel Embassy Jerusalem
The United States embassy currently located in Tel Aviv may be moved to Jerusalem. (Image: Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images, via the LA Times.)

President Donald Trump is expected tomorrow to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Doing so would fulfill a campaign promise. It would upend decades of American foreign policy.

And it would simultaneously encourage and unnerve the Christians of the Middle East.

“I am obviously pleased, as an Israeli,” said David Friedman, a professor at the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute and former dean of King of Kings College in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, de facto, concretely. Our government sits there. So why should President Trump continue ignoring reality?”

But 65 miles north in Arab-majority Nazareth, another Christian educator has a dramatically different response.

“It is a bad idea,” said Botrus Mansour, a Baptist elder and co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. “It will increase resentment and possibly spark unnecessary violence, making peace harder to obtain.

“America will lose any remaining legitimacy it had as a fair broker.”

Israel occupied Arab East Jerusalem in 1967, and passed a law in 1980 declaring the city its eternal, united, and undivided capital. The United Nations declared the act null and void, by a unanimous resolution in which the United States abstained.

Palestine also desires Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. So American policy has been…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Palestine, Parliament

Flag Cross Quran

God,

To make peace, to make law – men must meet together.

Egypt has played a primary role in fostering unity between Fatah and Hamas. There can be little progress in just peace with Israel when Palestinians are feuding.

And now Egypt’s parliament opens a new session. The first word: Do not defame the body. There can be little progress in stabilizing society in a house divided.

God, keep the unity of spirit through the bond of peace.

There is much bad blood in Palestine, with different visions and different pressures. It will not be easy to make amends, let alone to engage Israel.

And there is much bad blood in parliament, with accusations of subservience and sabotage. It will not be easy to check and balance, let alone to achieve consensus.

God, when men meet together not all is peace. Perhaps it must be so to get there. Give space for all grievance. Give patience with all charity.

Set the Holy Land straight, God. Make Egypt merciful.

May their peoples achieve peace, domestic and foreign, inside and out.

May they argue as necessary but meet together, and love.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Corruption, Resolution

Flag Cross Quran

God,

As Egypt made one statement, it deferred on another. May wisdom couple with pragmatism, but only where is right.

An official at one of the nation’s highest courts was exposed for taking bribes. As his case was paraded in the media, the extent of corruption is not yet clear.

But the president took occasion to renew the call to clean the system, asking that all be held accountable.

May it be so, God. Establish the systems necessary to create the fear of stepping out of line. And in conjunction, develop the integrity necessary that it might not be considered.

In process, move anti-corruption efforts from the spectacular to the mundane. Equip a cadre to ferret out irregularity. Expand their influence to change a culture.

And protect them, God. From without, from any enemies created. From within, from the enemy of the soul. How easily they themselves could be corrupted. How easily their work might manipulate in turn.

So as Egypt reaches out to assist those troubled by the economy, may it reach the needy at every level.

Support has been extended not only to the poor, but to struggling tourism facilities in need of renovation and to import-dependent businesses in fear of bankruptcy.

Meanwhile internationally, it is Egypt who stands in need of support. Keep her honorable in the pursuit thereof.

After raising a resolution at the UN against Israeli settlements, Egypt withdrew it in deference to Trump. She later voted in favor of a multi-national resolution she did not join in sponsoring.

Some say she buckled in support of the more needy Palestinians. Others say she brokered favor with the strong while not abandoning a principle.

God, decipher motivation and judge accordingly. But help Egypt to be true, and support her if she is.

For Egypt has also taken complicating positions toward Syria and Yemen. She dances with Saudi as the disputed Red Sea islands remain in court. She must resolve tourism issues with Russia and Britain. America gives millions in military aid; Israel is essential in border control.

God, give Egypt resolution. Free her from corruption.

Help her to wade through troubled waters with her head held high, with the confidence that comes only from uprightness.

Wisdom, God. Pragmatism, too. Peace, justice, prosperity. May they come in their fullness, and soon.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Assassination, Funeral

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Egypt witnessed a frightful return, disturbing a relative quiet. The pattern subsided but not that long ago was a viable threat. May it not be a portent of things to come.

A car bomb detonated in an upper class neighborhood, injuring one bystander but missing the deputy prosecutor-general. Fifteen months ago, his positional superior was assassinated by similar means.

God, thank you for the escape. But the signs that such men continue to nurse their grudges through violence is a disturbing development. After a year of many targeted killings, Egypt outside of Sinai has successfully enforced an extended period of calm.

May the culprits be caught, God. May those behind them be exposed and disabled. May any legitimate grievances find peaceful solution, and may justice be extended to all.

For grievances are also finding expression in the funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Egypt’s foreign minister will attend as a representative of the state. But others are critical of paying homage to a man they deemed oppressive of Palestinians.

God, give both peace and justice to the peoples of this world. In Egypt in particular, help leaders and citizens alike to find the proper balance. It is right to honor the dead. It is right to review a legacy.

May truth prevail among hearts unhardened to humbly receive and boldly respond. May they rightly impact others too possessed by the pain of past grudges, justly held or otherwise.

May the victims of all conflicts rest in peace. May the living rest the same. Heal Egypt and the region, and save her from further harm.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

Pilgrims’ Process: Why Christians Closest to the Holy Land Visit the Least

Via_dolorosa_Jerusalem

This article was first published at Christianity Today in the June print edition.

Walking down the Via Dolorosa, Nabil placed his hand on the wall where Jesus reportedly stumbled on his way to being crucified.

I am a lucky man, thought the 58-year-old. I can feel the Holy Spirit in my body.

This wasn’t how the Coptic Orthodox pilgrim had expected to feel in Jerusalem’s Old City. “Most Egyptian Christians want to visit as part of their faith,” he said, noting that he saw many elderly women dressed in black, weeping at each station of the cross. “Not me. I’m retired, I have nothing else to do, and I like to travel.”

Touring the Holy Land has been a transformational experience for Christians worldwide. In 2014, more than half of the 3.3 million tourists who visited Israel were Christians, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of these, one out of four was Protestant.

But among these tourism figures, the Arab Christian community is nearly a no-show. In 2014, Jordan sent only 17,400 tourists (which were not differentiated by religion). Egypt, only 5,200—all Copts. Lebanon forbids travel to Israel entirely.

So Close Yet So Far

There are many reasons Arab Christians don’t tour Israel. The ancient sites are right in their backyard, so familiarity breeds complacency. And economic and political conditions hamper travel.

“I grew up minutes from Mary’s Well in Nazareth, and walked to school daily past the Church of the Annunciation,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical. “It’s where I met friends for coffee.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Current Events

To be a Muslim’s Eyes

Blind Muslim
(via http://abilitykhabarnama.blogspot.com/2013/08/blind-muslims-observe-ramadan-with.html)

From al-Monitor, a unique account of a Palestinian Christian in Gaza who daily accompanies his blind Muslim friend to the mosque:

“Growing up, Hatem would always perform prayers at the mosque, but after the incident five years ago, he was no longer able to do so because there was no one available to guide him there. I saw how he would shed tears whenever the call to prayer would come from the mosque. That is why I decided to take him to the mosque to pray as he did in the past.

“The first day I helped him get to the mosque, four years ago, he was so happy. So I told him I would be taking him every day to perform all the prayers. He was thrilled to hear my decision. It was as if he had found something he had lost for a long time.”

Hatem has been friends with Abu Elias for over fifteen years, who also helps him go to market and reads him the daily news. Both explain the service in reference to friendship and national solidarity over and above any particular religious devotion.

But allow also their example to be an inspiration to Americans. No matter how different the context, kindness trumps ideology.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Current Events

Jewish Settler: I am a Passionate Defender of Palestinian Rights

This article first published at Lapido Media.

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger
‘Zionism is a big tent’: Settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger

Palestinian Christian jaws dropped in shock.

Gathered to promote their narrative to international evangelicals largely supportive of Israel, a bespectacled, long-bearded, Yarmulke-wearing Jewish settler appeared on screen.

He spoke, and their surprise deepened.

‘I am a passionate defender of Palestinian rights,’ Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger told the audience. ‘Zionism is a big tent, and there are many I disagree with.’

A New York City native, Schlesinger immigrated to Israel in 1977. He lives in the settlement of Gush Etzion, between Bethlehem and Hebron.

Many Palestinians consider Jewish settlers to be the source of all evil, he admitted. Not until two years ago had he spoken to a Palestinian as an equal.

Serving in the army, he had arrested them. For general housework, he had employed them. But after a US-based pastor encouraged him to listen to them, he had worked to be reconciled ever since.

CATC Logo
Many attended the Bethlehem conference last week from UK. Photo: CATC

In this capacity Schlesinger was invited to the fourth biennial Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference, held 7-10 March in Bethlehem. Operating at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, these conferences provoke much controversy.

Provoke

This year, they chose to provoke themselves.

Fifty UK citizens joined roughly five hundred people from 24 countries to attend the conference, including 150 Palestinian Christians from Israel and the West Bank.

Interviewed on screen, Schlesinger also expressed great appreciation for those the conference aimed to challenge: Christian Zionists who prioritize Jewish Israel.

‘The Christian nation is turning over a new leaf, it is a miracle,’ he said. ‘Christian Zionism defends Israel against its many enemies, so we need all the friends we can get.’

Afterwards he mingled in the crowd. Some even approached to shake his hand.

‘It was hard for many here to see Rabbi Hanan in our audience, let alone on the screen,’ said Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust, and a conference organiser.

‘But some came to me and said, you are challenging us in our faith.’

Like many Palestinians, Awad, who has conducted nonviolent trainings for Hamas, had found it difficult to befriend those with whom he had deep political disagreements.

Additional screened interviews with his friends in Hamas also challenged the conference towards a similar transformation.

Awad told Lapido that Jews have a basic need to live and worship in the land of their ancestors.

The fear that kept Jews, Muslim, and Christians apart, he said, came less from ‘the other’ than from those one considers on one’s own side.

Sami Awad
‘Make uncomfortable’: Awad. Photo: University of Bristol

‘People are not afraid of Rabbi Hanan, they know he will not come here and hurt us,’ he said. ‘But we are afraid of being labeled a traitor by our own community.’

Awad and Schlesinger jointly host a study to discuss their holy texts. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all suffer generational trauma, Awad says. So the Holy Land Trust sponsors ‘healing hatred’ groups to help them overcome it together.

Transform

Likewise, Schlesinger has co-founded ‘Roots’, a Palestinian-Israeli initiative for understanding, non-violence, and transformation.

Of three thousand local Israelis and Palestinians attending his training, around two-thirds have been Jews. Of these up to forty percent have been settlers, and up to 15 percent have been soldiers sent by the army.

Ninety-nine percent of all participants, he said, are meeting ‘the other’ for the first time.

‘Something is wrong,’ Rabbi Schlesinger told Lapido Media. ‘We are living out our truth in a way that causes injustice to other people.

‘I don’t know if the land is occupied, but the people are occupied.’

This theme was echoed by another prominent Jewish critic of Israeli policy invited to CATC, Arik Ascherman, president and senior rabbi of Rabbis for Human Rights. His remarks were introduced by a video from October 2015 showing him resisting a knife-wielding Jewish settler.

‘The creation of the state of Israel—and we know it is a catastrophe for Palestinians—was the beginning of our redemption, and we want it to be a blessing shared by all,’ he said.

‘But it may be that in God’s eyes, the very things we do to hold on to the entire land make us unworthy to keep all of it.’

Criticism

CATC has been subject to much criticism, some of it theological, some of it political.

‘Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians enjoy religious liberty,’ Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, told Lapido. Last year they raised over £872 million to support Israel.

‘Even as I decry the anti-Israel rhetoric that has taken place [at CATC], I give thanks for the many, many Christians who truly know Israel and continue to support the land and her people in prayer.’

But for Awad, though resistance to the occupation is crucial, so is the befriending of an enemy.

‘I cannot be a voice to the other side in nearly the same way one of their own can,’ he said.

‘We are communal beings who only trust our own kind, so we need to make our own communities uncomfortable.’

Categories
Current Events

First Peace Studies Programme in the Arab World Gets Off to Tentative Start

A man whose young brother has just been slain by an Israeli soldier is restrained by friends. Photo: ‘William’, Peace Parcels
A man whose young brother has just been slain by an Israeli soldier is restrained by friends. Photo: ‘William’, Peace Parcels

The Israeli government appears to be shunning a Palestinian peace studies course – even as a third intifada escalates.

The Arab world’s first Master’s degree in Peace Studies – developed by a Bethlehem college – is getting the brush-off from a government whose commitment to peace is already being questioned from within the Jewish world.*

Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) aims to train Muslim, Christian, and Jewish peacemakers to build bridges instead of walls.

But 24-year-old ‘William’, a Canadian, and one of five international students in the inaugural class, cannot obtain a student visa.

Instead he must come and go every three months as a tourist. Afraid of deportation, he shields his identity online and makes no mention of his studies to the authorities.

‘My fear is maybe they would become aware of what I’m doing and reject any subsequent tourist visas,’ William, using a pseudonym, told Lapido.

‘It has been a step of faith, but I figured I would just take the risk and do it.’

BBC was established in 1979 to offer theological education to Palestinian Christian leaders. William is motivated to help Christians in the West shift away from theological positions that are biased towards Israel.

Accredited by the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education, BBC has a long history of opposition to the Israeli occupation. It was founded by Bishara Awad, brother of Mubarak Awad, who in 1983 created the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence.

Often called the Gandhi of Palestine, Awad was deported by Israel in 1988. He returned to teach the first MA module, but like William and the team of international professors, he also had to come as a tourist.

According to the 2012 European Commission report, Higher Education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, international students are able to enrol in Palestinian universities.

In practice, however, it is ‘very rare’ due to the difficulty of obtaining Israeli permission to enter the country.

Education

William was advised by the BBC not even to try. But this has not stopped him from full immersion in Palestinian society, gaining a first-hand education that peace studies students in other universities can only read about.

On 5 October he witnessed an angry crowd of hundreds passing by campus. They chanted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and threw stones at security after 13-year-old Abdel Rahman Abdullah was shot in the chest by Israeli security.

He describes witnessing the agony of Abdullah’s brother [pictured above in blue hat]. ‘It was heart wrenching,’ he says.

‘He was weeping and flailing, his anguish was so horrible to see. I’m tearing up just thinking about it right now.’

Hashlamoun: ‘I choose nonviolence’. Photo: Watan Centre
Hashlamoun: ‘I choose nonviolence’. Photo: Watan Centre

For Nayef Hashlamoun, a veteran Muslim activist from Hebron and one of two Muslim students in the programme, witnessing such anguish has become commonplace.

‘My life is for my homeland, but I cannot kill,’ he said. ‘I choose the way of nonviolence, I choose instead to carry a camera.’

Hashlamoun worked for twenty years with Reuters as a photojournalist, and founded the Watan conflict resolution centre in 1985.

He has pursued peace studies at American University and the School for International Training in Vermont, but events in Palestine always brought him back.

Over time he became friends with the Awads, who invited him to BBC. Mubarak Awad went on to found Nonviolence International, which has translated much of the literature on peace studies into Arabic.

‘They are Christians and I am Muslim, but I will be proud to have a degree from BBC as our relations are as brothers,’ he said. ‘And now I can pursue my education at home.’

Nonviolence

The three-semester MA is taught in English and requires 39 credit hours, including a practicum or thesis.

It features distinguished professors from around the world including Nancy Erbe, Fulbright Specialist in Peace and Conflict Resolution, Mohamed Abu Nimer, Director of the Peacebuilding and Development Institute at American University, and Edward Kaufman, formerly of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University.

Jews are welcome at the centre, but none has so far enrolled. Two of the twelve students identify as nonreligious, and four local Palestinians are auditing.

Kuttab: ‘Violence has not promoted our rights’. Photo: World Can’t Wait
Kuttab: ‘Violence has not promoted our rights’. Photo: World Can’t Wait

Jonathan Kuttab, chairman of the BBC board and a human rights lawyer in Israel and Palestine, hopes officials from Fatah and Hamas will also join.

‘Nonviolence is far more effective than violence, which certainly has not helped us in working for our rights,’ he told Lapido. ‘For me, this is an easy sell.’

In the current context Kuttab is critical of Benjamin Netanyahu for provoking violence from Palestinians. But he also criticises Mahmoud Abbas for policing his own people on Israel’s behalf at the expense of nonviolent resistance.

‘There is a lot of acceptance of nonviolence in the Palestinian community,’ he said, ‘but the Palestinian Authority has been so weak in pursuing our rights that it has given peace a bad name.’

Education is limited in its direct impact, said Kuttab. But he is hopeful that beyond increased international attention in peace studies circles, the programme will deepen local commitment to nonviolence through strong engagement with the academic literature.

‘We have to revive what real peace and real nonviolence mean,’ he said.

‘Bethlehem is the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, where else should we have this programme?’

No spokesman was available from the Israeli government as this story went to press.

*War Against the People: Israel, The Palestinians and Global Pacification by Jeff Halper, published by Pluto Press. 2015.

This article was first published at Lapido Media.

Categories
Current Events

An Israeli Solution to the US Racial Crisis?

Lieberman Race Protests

With America gripped by conflicting rhetoric over the nature of race relations and police performance, has anyone yet suggested this solution: Just get the African-Americans to go back to Africa?

If so, surely it would be from the political fringe. If anyone knows of a more mainstream source among right-of-center bulwarks like Fox News or Rush Limbaugh-type radio programs, please comment below.

But essentially, this is a talking point on racial issues in Israel. And it is not a marginal viewpoint, but from the center of current government.

A little over a week ago, according to Reuters:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed on Friday that Arab citizens of Israel be offered financial incentives to leave the country and relocate to a future Palestinian state.

“Those (Israeli Arabs) who decide that their identity is Palestinian will be able to forfeit their Israeli citizenship and move and become citizens of the future Palestinian state,” he wrote in the manifesto, entitled Swimming Against the Stream, published on his Facebook page and his party’s website.

“Israel should even encourage them to do so with a system of economic incentives,” he said.

Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home), captured 11 of 120 parliament seats in the most recent elections, as part of the winning coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Encouraging Arabs to leave is not official government policy, but apparently leading Israeli politicians believe it is good rhetoric to rally their base, at the least.

America did have a moment in history when such views were put forward. Certainly the context in Israel today is different than America, both then and now.

But America, despite its faults and residual, often unconscious biases, has forged a society establishing full racial equality in law and in the mindset of most its citizens. The protests today are demanding improvement of an already present good.

The sometime (perhaps often?) poor administration of this good speaks to the widespread triumph of the ideal. Comparing it to other contexts reminds about how fleeting an ideal can be, and how easily it can be threatened.

Israel seeks to navigate two principles not easily combined given its demographic makeup. It wishes to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. As I wrote in an earlier post summarizing the critique of Stephen Sizer, especially as concerns the Occupied Territories, one of these principles seemingly must slide.

Perhaps not. But fortunately America can sidestep the question. It is not a nation for whites, blacks, Jews, Arabs, or anyone in particular. It is a nation for citizens.

Cultural questions still seek definition by many, or perhaps, there should be no definition, for many others. This debate is warranted, within the scope of the Bill of Rights.

But Lieberman’s debate is not. Certainly not in America; morally not, I and many Jews would argue, in Israel.

Or should those who disagree be sent to exile instead?