palestinian christians

Renewed Hope: Pope Francis' Prayer at Bethlehem Separation Wall

Pope Francis at the Separation Wall, Photo by Mohammad Al-Azza
Pope Francis at the Separation Wall, Photo by Mohammad Al-Azza

Recently I had the privilege of attending the Mass led by Pope Francis in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. I am not a Catholic – but like many who are not, I have been inspired and touched by Pope Francis. I do not know what is it exactly that draws me to him! Is it his humility? His compassion for the poor? His social justice concern? His true ecumenical spirit ? Maybe all of the above!

Back to Manger Square. It was truly a special day. There were Palestinian Christians from all over Palestine and Israel. There was a sense of euphoria in the air. I have never seen Bethlehem like this before. I have never in my life witnessed Palestinian Christians with so much joy and jubilation. People were excited. Nuns were dancing in the streets. There were hymns, flags, smiles. For few hours we forgot we were occupied.

However, the most iconic moment during the Pope’s visit to Bethlehem did not take place in the Manger Square, nor the Nativity Church. It took place next to the Separation Wall.

Palestinian Christians React to Israeli Ambassador’s Claims about Holy Land Churches

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler,
Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler,

Two weeks ago, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claimed in an article in The Wall Street Journal that the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza is the fault of Palestinian Muslims. The article was full of inaccuracies and even lies, and Palestinian Christians responded with anger and disgust. The Wall Street Journal then featured some of these responses.

This is a serious issue for Palestinian Christians. We are not saying that radical Islam is not a threat. We are not denying that there are some struggles that we face as a minority. We are not denying that there are some incidences in which Christians were attacked by radical Muslims, like in the death of Rami Ayyad in Gaza.

What we are saying, is that for us, the real issue and the core of our struggles is the Israeli occupation.

Getting Ready for the 'Palestinian Spring'

As a Palestinian Christian, I’m often asked in reference to the Arab Spring: “With all that is happening, where is the ‘Palestinian Spring’? Why hasn’t the revolution bug bit the Palestinian people yet?”

These questions are mostly asked by individuals who are not necessarily naïve of the situation or critical of the Palestinians, but are genuinely excited and inspired by what they see taking place in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia. They assume that if the Palestinians engage in a once-and-for-all popular, nonviolent revolution, then the Israeli occupation of Palestine will end and peace will prevail.

This anticipation of a quick “Palestinian Spring” comes in light of how the revolutions across the Middle East have come to be without expectation or prediction—as if they were a set of dominos placed one after the other. The main issue with the Palestinian resistance and independence movement is that, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, we are playing an entirely different game: not dominos, but more like chess. The problem with our particular chess match is that the pieces on both sides are different, and the way the game is played by the two parties is also different.

In traditional dictatorships, as exists in most Arab countries, ultimate power, and full control over all resources, lies in the hands of one person. The entire socio-political-economic system of the state hovers around the dictator, who holds the key to everything. When the population begins to break the barriers of fear and dependency on that one person—followed by the public sector, then the police and military—the entire system begins to collapse.

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Palestinian Nonviolence: Muslims, Not Christians, Are the Leaders

100216_090527-1503-palestineWhenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.