Likely the vast majority of Americans are unaware that such creatures exist. Certainly among that subset of American Christians who are rabidly loyal to the Israeli right, I doubt whether any of them give a moment’s thought to their Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine. When otherwise decent and thoughtful Christians, like Mike Huckabee, ally with the most fanatical right-wingers in Israel and advocate deportation of the Palestinians in Israel and the territory it occupies, I have to wonder whether they even realize that many of those who they dehumanize are fellow Christians. At a Christian summer camp my kids attended several years ago, in the closing program the director unveiled a large poster depicting a set of scales. On one side of the scales was the star of David, and on the other was the Palestinian flag. She then announced that as Christians we have to make a choice daily between Israel and Palestine, and that God blesses those who bless Israel, and curses those who curse Israel. We must pray every day, she concluded, for God to bless Israel and curse Palestine.
Of course it shouldn’t matter whether there are Palestinian Christians or not. What is just and fair doesn’t depend upon the religion or ethnicity of the people in issue. I emphasize this only because so many American Christians advocate and support Israeli policies that harm Palestinians, believing their Christian faith requires it. Certainly among the fundamentalists I know and interact with, support of Israel is seen as a sacred duty. Christianity in Palestine isn’t even an issue.
There have been Christian communities in Palestine for 2,000 years. Today approximately 15% of Palestinians are Christian, although many of them have been forced to flee Palestine. Though it is difficult to measure accurately, most estimates are that about 5% of Palestinians living in Palestine itself are Christian.
In 1948, when the nation of Israel was created, 25% of the Palestinians inside the borders of Israel were Christian. Today that number is down to 10%. There are substantial Christian communities in Bethlehem (whose mayor is Christian), old Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied territories. In old Jerusalem, Christian services in ancient churches are conducted in Arabic. Last year I witnessed a funeral procession in old Jerusalem. The deceased was being carried through the narrow streets in a open casket, as is the Palestian tradition. Leading the procession were two young men, one carrying a large cross and the other a Palestinian flag.
There are approximately 3,000 Palestinian Christians in Gaza. I wonder whether any American congregations have prayed for them during the Israeli invasion.
As we all pray earnestly for the Peace of Jerusalem, and the safety of the Israeli people, let us also remember to also pray for peace, safety and God’s blessings on the people of Palestine.
As a bumper sticker I saw recently put it, “God Bless Everyone. No Exceptions.”