Palestinian Christians have been rubbing shoulders with each other and with other religions for centuries. We want to do so for centuries more.

by Prof. Abe W. Ata:

Dear President Bush,

Re. Palestinian Christians: tormented, betrayed, stereotyped, persecuted, forcibly removed from their homes, abandoned and alone

The Palestinian Christian is an endangered species. When the modern state of Israel was established there were about 400,000 of us. Two years ago the number was down to 80,000. Now it?s down to 60,000. At that rate, in a few years there will be none of us left. When this happens non Christian groups will move into our churches and claim them for ever. I feat that when/if the last Palestinian Christian leaves, extreme groups will move instantly to our churches and schools and have a field day hatching world plots. It would be too late for President Bush (or Senator Kerry) to do anything about it.

Palestinian Christians within Israel fare little better. On the face of it, their number has grown by 20,000 since 1991. But this is misleading, for the census classification “Christian” includes some 20,000 recent non-Arab migrants from the former Soviet Union.

So why are Palestinian Christians abandoning their homeland?

We have lost hope, that’s why. We are treated as non-people. Few outside the Middle East even know we exist, and those who do, conveniently forget.

I refer, of course, to the American Religious Right. They see the modern Israel as a harbinger of the Second Coming, at which time Christians will go to Paradise, and all others (presumably including Jews) to Hell. To this end they lend military and moral support to Israel.

Even by the double-dealing standards of international diplomacy this is a breathtakingly cynical bargain. It is hard to know who is using whom more: the Christian Right for offering secular power in the expectation that the Jewish state will be destroyed by a greater spiritual one; or the Israeli Right for accepting their offer. What we do know is that both sides are abusing the Palestinians. Apparently we don’t enter into anyone’s calculations.

The views of the Israeli Right, and extremists affiliated with other religions, are well known: they want us gone.

Less well known are the views of the American Religious Right. Strangely, they find the liberation of Iraqis from a vile dictator just, but do not find it unjust for us to be under military occupation for 38 long years. Said Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma): “God Appeared to Abraham and said: ‘I am giving you this land, the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) was even more forthright: “I’m content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank. I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.”

There is a phrase for this. Ethnic cleansing.

So why do American Christians stand by while their leaders advocate the expulsion of fellow Christians? Could it be that they do not know that the Holy Land has been a home to Christians since, well, since Christ?

Do not think I am asking for special treatment for Christians. Ethnic cleansing is evil whoever does it and to whomever it is done. Palestinian Christians — Anglican, Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Armenians, Baptists, Copts and Assyrians — have been rubbing shoulders with each other and with other religions — Muslims, Jews, Druze and (most recently) Baha’is — for centuries. We want to do so for centuries more. But we can’t if we are driven out by despair.
We are equally frightened by those who commit suicide bombings. None of us Christians have condoned it or even contemplated the idea. Our commitment to Jesus’ teachings will never shake our resolve in this matter.

What we seek is support: material, moral, political and spiritual. As Palestinians we grieve for what we have lost, and few people (the Ashkenazi Jews are one) have lost more than us. But grief can be assuaged by the fellowship of friends.

(Signed Prof. Abe W. Ata, a 9th generation Christian Palestinian academic born in Bethlehem.)