Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Our Forgotten allies - Part 2: Christian Arabs struggle for Palestine

In a previous posting I presented my opinion that the Islamization of the Palestinian cause was harmful to Palestinians on one hand, and to all Arabs and Muslims on the other. I strongly believe that it was a short-sighted measure, tactically and strategically.

The major beneficiary of that mistake was Israel and its Arab- and Muslim-hating supporters who found a great comfort in presenting it to the Western world as a fight between progressive, liberal, egalitarian, and democratic ‘tiny’ Jewish state, and a ‘repressive fundamentalist Islamic ideology’ that controls fifty some states and over a billion Muslims who are ready to launch Holy War on Israel and its Western supporters.

To a much lesser extend, Muslim fundamentalists also benefited from using the Palestinian slogan as a convenient rallying call to which they give lip service, then turn around to carry on their other agendas (Remember Osama Bin Laden and AlQaeda, invoking the Palestinian issue in speeches, then going on killing Muslim Afghani and Iraqi civilians?).

Judging from the state of affairs of the world today, it is not difficult to see who actually benefited more from the Islamization paradigm.

Forgotten in the midst of all the screaming was the Christian Palestinian (as well as Christian Arabs). If you were not from Egypt, Palestine or Lebanon, you probably would not remember that Palestine was nearly 30% Christian in 1948 (1400 years after it came under Arab Muslim control), and is no more than 5% Christian now after 60 years only of Israeli control. You would probably not be aware of the significant contributions many Palestinian Christians and other Arab Christians provided for the Palestinian cause in effort, blood and money.

Another totally forgotten (and frequently intentionally ignored) aspect of the Christian Palestinian struggle, it the on-going Political involvement of Christian Arabs in the Israeli Palestinian issue. I will highlight here two only of the many examples .

The first is really an amazing example from Egypt. Since the early 80’s the Camp David Accords have paved the way to some sort of luke warm peace between Egypt and Israel. The people of Egypt in general still find the Israeli presence awkward, and very few have taken the chance to visit Israel. The issue is more complicated for Egyptian Christians, with their holy sited under Israeli control. And since the peace agreements were signed, the Egyptian Church (Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria) under the leadership of Pope Shnouda III has consistently refused to permit Egyptian Christians to visit the Christian Holy sites in occupied Palestine.

In the first week of this May, the Pope of Alexandria church in a his Cairo weekly sermon re-stated the long-held opinion of the church barring Copts from visiting Israel.
قال البابا: إن في مصر الكثير من الأماكن المقدسة التي يمكن التبرك بها، أما القدس المحتلة فيجب ألا نندفع عاطفيا نحو زيارتها دون النظر إلى البعد الوطني والسياسي، موضحا أن السلام غائب في تلك المناطق وما زال شعبها الفلسطيني يعاني من ويلات الاحتلال الإسرائيلي وقهره وأشار البابا إلى أنه من الصعب التراجع عن قرار الحظر في المرحلة الراهنة ما لم يتم التوصل إلى السلام الشامل والعادل، لأن السماح للأقباط سيدفع بمئات الآلاف منهم إلى زيارة الأراضي المقدسة خاصة في عيد القيامة، ما يروج للاقتصاد الإسرائيلي ويؤدي إلى إساءة للعلاقات بين الأقباط والأشقاء العرب والفلسطينيين

Pope Shnouda III said: “There is many [Christian] Holy places in Egypt that can be visited to be blessed with. As for occupied Jerusalem; we should not in an emotional way rush to visit it without considering the political and patriotic dimension”. He elaborated that “peace is absent from those territories, and its Palestinian people are still suffering from the horror of the Israeli occupation and its oppression”.
The Pope pointed out that "it is very difficult to retract the prohibition [against visiting the holy places in Palestine] at this time unless comprehensive and just peace is achieved. This is because retracting prohibition will lead to hundreds of thousands of Egyptian Christian Copts to visit the holy land, especially for Easter thus supporting Israeli Economy, and leading to harming the relationship between Copts and the Arab and Palestinian brothers."
For the Pope, boycotting the Holy sites while they are still under Israeli control is an act of resistance. He refuses to provide Israel with the economic benefit and the moral recognition of its authority over occupied holy sites that Israel is so eager to get. for him, the pain of keeping his followers away from their beloved Holy sites is a small price to pay in order to help liberate Palestinians from the evils of Israeli occupation.

And closer to the heart of the battle field, Palestine, Palestinian Christians are not silent either. Take for example the recent political document "Moment of Truth" released by Kairos Palestine. The document is modeled along an earlier document from Kairos South Africa that aimed at accelerating the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The parallels here are not so subtle. This is a big16-page documents, but it is worth reading. Here are some excerpts:

A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering
“This document is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine. It is written at this time when we wanted to see the Glory of the grace of God in this land and in the sufferings of its people. In this spirit the document requests 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.”
As Palestinian Christians we hope that this document will provide the turning point to focus the efforts of all peace-loving peoples in the world, especially our Christian sisters and brothers. We hope also that it will be welcomed positively and will receive strong support, as was the South Africa Kairos document launched in 1985, which, at that time proved to be a tool in the struggle against oppression and occupation.
The Moment of Truth document about realities on the ground:
The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.

Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.

Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.
It has a message to Muslims and to the Christian world, defending Muslims:
Our message to the Muslims is a message of love and of living together and a call to reject fanaticism and extremism. It is also a message to the world that Muslims are neither to be stereotyped as the enemy nor caricatured as terrorists but rather to be lived with in peace and engaged with in dialogue.
And it concludes with this very strong message to churches and Christians of the world, praising some, and asking others to repent for what they did to Palestinians:
6.1 Our word to the Churches of the world is firstly a word of gratitude for the solidarity you have shown toward us in word, deed and presence among us. It is a word of praise for the many Churches and Christians who support the right of the Palestinian people for self determination. It is a message of solidarity with those Christians and Churches who have suffered because of their advocacy for law and justice.

However, it is also a call to repentance; to revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people. It is a call to stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than to turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed. The word of God is a word of love for all His creation. God is not the ally of one against the other, nor the opponent of one in the face of the other. God is the Lord of all and loves all, demanding justice from all and issuing to all of us the same commandments.

We ask our sister Churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?
What I am trying to bring up in this posting is not that there are good Christians, because to question that is ignorant and immoral. I am trying to show how silly it is to present the Israeli Palestinian conflict as an Islamic issue only. Our Christian Arabs are not only as harmed by the on-going conflict as Muslims are but also they are a tremendous and resourceful ally. Their involvement can extend the reach of Palestinian pleas for support and justice to most of the world Christians with a more resounding impact than Muslim could do on their own.

We need to remember that Israel did not grow to be what it is today relying only on its own people and resources. Israel managed to play the religion and anti-Muslim card very well and capitalized on it in the media and in all its public relations campaigns over the years. Without Israel getting the undeserved sympathy of the Western world Christians, the playing field could have been more balanced for all Palestinians; Muslims and Christians.

It is about time to realize that in this fight for justice we need all the allies we can get. Arab Christians have been much of a victim in this conflict as Arab Muslims have been. And they are an asset that Muslims should acknowledge and cherish.


Coming next:
The Forgotten Allies - Part 3: Arab Christians produce the best ‘Art of Return’.

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