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.
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.
Whenever 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.
Bethlehem, West Bank. Evangelicals have never been keen on political protests. Especially the sort that includes rifles and grenades -- in the hands of your opponents.
National Catholic Reporter has an important article about the Kairos Palestine Document endorsed last month by the leaders of 13 Chr