Conversations with Palestinian Christians*
By Matt Adcock, Head of Communications at Embrace the Middle East
*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog
I had the great privilege to hear the first of the Embrace the Middle East and Churches for Middle East Peace “Conversations with Middle East Christians” webinars, where Rev. Colin Chapman spoke with Christian leaders from Israel-Palestine. The two speakers shared powerful accounts of their experiences at the intersection between political situations and the outworking of their personal faith.
First was Jack Munayer, coordinator of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Jack describes himself as ‘a half British and half Palestinian Christian with Israeli Citizenship’.
When asked ‘After the recent violence in Jenin, what does it feel like to be a Christian in the land today?’ Jack replied: ‘I think that we are reaching now the point that we have been warning and expecting and dreading for decades… Since COVID the human rights violations, the violence, the challenges that specifically Palestinian Christians are facing, are reaching a turning point. I think that Jenin was a part of a new phase that we are about to enter where the levels of violence, displacement of people and carnage, in many cases, is what we are expecting to see in this next time to come.’
‘In EAPPI, we have triple the amount of human rights violations – that we have documented – in less than a year. So both on the level of State violence, as we have seen in Jenin, but also settler violence. We are seeing Palestinian families who are being removed from their homes and specifically, for Christians, we have seen more attacks, harassment, vandalism of church property and pressure on Christians over the past year, more than we have seen perhaps in the last 10 years combined.’
Colin and Jack discussed how hard it is for people in positions of power like Congressmen to really grasp the reality of what is going on because it is only through speaking with people at the grassroots that things come to light. The implication being that they rarely meet those people. And any deviation from the mainstream messaging back home would be negative for the leaders in terms of losing political support or even their seats etc.
Jack continued: ‘We are seeing a lot of “lip service” but not a lot of change on the ground. The biggest threat we face as a community is Palestinian Christians leaving Palestine and Israel because of the conditions. So, while the conversation has progressed there is little support and action on the ground to make a difference.’
‘Young Christians in particular are leaving because they do not see an environment where they can survive and prosper in the land. However, those of us who are staying, are embracing a very prophetic role that we see in providing a service to our communities and to our neighbours. We believe that we need to be a source of blessing – so if our theology is not a source of blessing to our neighbours then there is something wrong with our theology and our actions.’
‘So there are many Christians in Israel-Palestine who have taken it upon themselves to provide humanitarian services and support for people in need. Including human rights and reminding the world and each other that we have all signed up to human rights principles.’
‘In many cases Palestinian Christians act as ‘the bridge’ between the international community and the local Palestinian population. The situation we face under occupation is meant to isolate people – it isolates Palestinians from Palestinians, Palestinians from Israelis, and Palestinians from the international community. We see advocacy and human rights engagement as a way to resist this unjust system… There are many other initiatives that are trying to bring some light into a very dark place at the moment.’
The conversation then moved on to Israeli society. Colin asked if many Jewish Israelis understand what Jack and the EAPPI are trying to do.
Jack said: ‘The vast majority of Israeli Jewish society is not aware of the human rights violations and the living conditions and situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This is intentional, and by design – so when I speak with them they are shocked by what I share.’
‘Israeli Jewish society is going through huge turmoil at the moment. There are protests across all the land, trying to decide and debate the nature and the identity of the State of Israel moving forward.’
Asked if he saw any signs of hope Jack said no, not at the moment – due to the amount of injustice being seen. As a Christian he knew there was hope, it’s just that, to be honest, he couldn’t see it. But as someone who believes that we are called to respond prophetically to this situation, ‘hope has to be part of the package.’
Coin asked: ‘How can we best support and help you?’
Jack said: ‘This is a difficult question to answer – but what I can say is that when our friends and allies, people who have a genuine interest for a peaceful and just solution turn their attention away, it is to the detriment of our situation. This so-called conflict is not between two peoples, it is not between Israelis and Palestinians but also the international community, which in many cases has been complicit in many of the things that happen here. So, when attention is turned away from Israel Palestine, we suffer and especially the Palestinian Christian community feels more isolated and alone.
‘So please engage wherever you are – in your church, within your circles of influence at work, I believe that advocacy is one of the most important things we can do Please build connections with us.’
We then got to hear from Rev’d Sally Azar – a Lutheran Pastor in Jerusalem.
Sally began by telling us about her situation: ‘A lot of my Palestinian community here are leaving, and I cannot blame them. I live in Jerusalem, was born and raised there, my journey between work [Bethlehem] and home through the checkpoints is frustrating and difficult. People know that it is not right to have to go through checkpoints, but they just accept and ignore it.
‘There are so many new limits being put in place. And Israel being a Jewish State means that Christians do not know where they belong in it, where are we and what will happen.’
Colin and Sally discussed the proposed reforms of the Israeli Courts and the increase in settlements. Sally said: ‘people are losing the hope of having a land again and personally I don’t even see it as possible right now. But more important is the fact that our human rights are missing.’
We then moved on to Christians trying to respond to the situation.
Sally said: ‘It depends which Christians you mean. The Christians in Jerusalem, or the Christians in the West Bank; because there is a difference. It is not easy to speak up in Jerusalem because there is so much at stake. The joint church voice doesn’t seem to be working anymore. There is so much to consider before ever speaking up.’
‘There are so many attacks on churches, so it is just a matter of time as to when our church [in Jerusalem] will also be vandalised. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ we get attacked, it’s a matter of ‘when’. This is a huge issue because we as Christians are small in number, even though we have connections worldwide. We do not know how connected we are and who is there to support us.
‘It is not until people come here that they actually understand what we are going through. It is so hard to be able to relate to borders, walls and IDs if you don’t experience them.’
Sally runs a children’s camp in Jericho which is looking at the story of Joseph and his brothers. They couldn’t easily hold the camp elsewhere as even under 16 year olds now have to get permits to move between the territories.
Sally signs off by saying, ‘It’s not just about knowing our situation, but speaking about it is not enough. You should come and visit, you will find out so much. People think I am an Israeli Christian but I explain I am a Palestinian Christian. Please pray for us, speak to us too.’
We close today with the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
*Piece originally published on Embrace the Middle East’s Blog
The above post is a condensed version of the first session of our summer series, “Conversations with Middle East Christians”, from July 2023. Watch the full session above.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).