Correcting The Misconceptions: Life As A Christian Palestinian

Elias Shakkour

At first, I was excited. My eyes had been instinctively drawn to the headline of the article in the September 24 issue of The Maroon-News: “AMS Student Studies Intifada’s Effects on Palestinian Christians.” The article was of interest to me as a Palestinian Christian myself, but I was especially eager to read it because I already had some knowledge about the subject matter of the article: junior John Drymon’s summer research in Israel. I knew that he had taken advantage of his Alumni Memorial Scholar (AMS) fellowship to explore Palestinian Christianity, a demographic so often understudied, ignored or simply unknown. Pleased that John’s project was being covered and anticipating the culmination of his research, I began reading the article. I continued reading, hoping I would reach the meat of the article: a satisfactory assessment of the state of Palestinian Christians today. Had that been the case, I would not be penning this article; however, the inaccuracies, misrepresentations and exaggerations in many of the conclusions that Drymon was reported to have arrived at not only surprised and irked me as a Palestinian Christian but also spurred in me an overpowering urge to be a responsible representative of my people and respond to the article by clearing up those errors. John is quoted as saying, “[The Al-Aqsa Intifada] has failed to garner the support of the 13 percent Christian minority.” I do not know where to begin in my opposition of this statement. First of all, I am quite certain the 13 percent figure is incorrect – although I am not certain what it refers to. Does it refer to Christians in the Occupied Territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), Israel proper, or both? This vagueness is reflected throughout the entire statement. What does it mean that the Intifada “failed to garner our support”? Is he referring to ideological support, physical support, both, or something entirely different? Allow me to present what I know, from personal experience, to be the case. If John is referring to physical support, then it is true that many Christians did not in fact actively participate in the struggles and bloodshed that resulted after Ariel Sharon’s invasion of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Palestinians’ retaliation to his provocative entry. This is the case for several reasons. For one, Sharon invaded a Moslem holy site; it is only logical for the Moslems to have reacted more fiercely and more actively to the invasion than the Christians. Secondly, because of the fact that Islam strongly emphasizes loyalty to one’s land as almost synonymous with loyalty to one’s religion, Moslems have historically been more active in their resistance against Israel than Christians. While Christianity does also encourage patriotism, Islam considers those that perish for their country martyrs – a title conferred in Christianity only on those who die for their beliefs. This is one explanation for the fact that none of the suicide bombers throughout the course of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been Christian. This, however, has nothing to do with ideological or political support – another possibility the statement could have been referring to. The fact that the majority of Christians have not supported the Intifada physically does not mean that we do not decry Sharon’s entry into the compound or that we do not understand the reasons behind the outbreak of the Intifada. On the contrary, I have heard nothing from Palestinian Christians but outrage at Sharon’s despicable act and sympathy for the many Moslem victims of the hostility that ensued. I was a junior in high school when the Intifada broke out. Not only did my school close for about two weeks after the Intifada, but many students were unable to get to school for weeks after that because of the closures that Israel had inflicted since the Intifada. By no means did any of the Christian students criticize the Intifada and blame its inceptors for the inconveniences that its aftermath caused; rather, we saw how it affected both our Moslem friends and our fellow Christian ones and together expressed bitterness at the act that had instigated the Intifada. My school is a Christian school, and that year the theme of our yearbook was the Intifada. I would hardly say that the Intifada “failed to garner our support.” In the paragraph immediately following this problematic sentence, the article says, ” … the Christian Palestinians now find themselves caught between two worlds.” I would like to point out the ridiculousness of the adverb now in this assertion. It is implying that it is only since the Intifada (because it supposedly resulted in an ideological drift between Christians and Moslems) that we have felt caught between the two worlds. The fact of the matter is that this phenomenon has always been present within the Palestinian Christian community, and is in no way related to the Intifada. On the one hand, we share our Palestinian identity – as well as our opposition of Israel – with the Palestinian Moslems. On the other hand, we are hugely outnumbered by them. Because there are many prejudiced Moslems – some to the extreme – there has been tension and conflict between Christians and Moslems within the Palestinian community. When I was growing up, my family was the only Christian one in our neighborhood. Our windows were constantly broken with stones, and our car was stolen. Add to that the fact that the Israeli Jews are not particularly fond of us either, and you have your formula for “being caught in the middle.” However, the tensions that exist between Christians and Moslems have very little to do with our feelings toward Israel. As I have mentioned and supported, Christians are just as disapproving of Israel’s actions as the Moslems. We are all Palestinians, united against an enemy that does not distinguish among us – and the tensions that exist are the result of a universal phenomenon common to any society in which an ethnic group is divided into two or more religious groups, especially when one of those groups is a minority. That is to say, if Palestinians Christians were Buddhists, the problem would be similar. The article, however, offers a ludicrous explanation: “many Muslim Palestinians see their Christian brothers and sisters as collaborators with the Israelis, and many Israelis see them as rebellious Palestinians.” I do not know of one Moslem – and I know many – who believes that Christians are collaborators with the Israelis. If anything, it is the Druze – not mentioned anywhere in the article – who tend to be seen as traitors. The Druze are another religious minority within the Palestinian community, and many of them serve in the Israeli army. Almost no Christians do – at least not any more than Moslems. I fail to imagine why Moslems would view us as collaborators. And the Israelis – they see us as “rebellious Palestinians”? I think it is safe to say they would provide a similar evaluation of Moslems, so that is a moot point. As I mentioned earlier, most Israelis do not differentiate between Moslems and Christians. Finally, the article quotes Drymon as “explaining the effects of the conundrum” by saying that “since the beginning of the Intifada, there has been a sharp increase in Arab Christian emigration to the West.” This is simply absurd. The reason many Christian Palestinians have left the country since the Intifada is the increased excruciation of the unbearable life that Israeli reaction to the Intifada has caused. Demolition of homes, tightly controlled checkpoints, haphazard and unexpected curfews and death are some of the terrors that the Israelis have inflicted to an unprecedented degree since the Intifada. Again, the exodus of Christian Palestinians does not indicate a lack of support of the Intifada. This is proved by the fact that many Moslems have also left the country. In my class that year, about ten students packed their bags, about half of whom were Moslem. If more Christians have left, this may be an indicator of better financial means – emigration is a costly endeavor – rather than political opposition. John says that in a few decades “the only Christians left … may be the foreign clergy … ” If this actually happens, that would be because there are already much fewer Christians than Moslems in the Holy Land. That is, even if the same number of Christians and Moslems left, the difference would be noticed more acutely in the Christian population, which would more quickly disappear than the Moslem population. It is a question of demographics and economics – not one of politics. In conclusion, I would like to emphasize one final time that the conflict in the Holy Land is not a religious one. It is not between Moslem and Jew; it is between Palestinian and Israeli. I sincerely hope that I have adequately shown how ridiculous it is to assert that the Intifada has created a religious split between the Palestinians. On the contrary: if anything, it has brought Christians and Moslems together in a united front against the attacks of a common enemy. I also hope that there was some type of mistake in the article, for I would hate to think that even an AMS project in the land of conflict itself would have resulted in such inaccurate conclusions.