AFI Co-director Simon McIlwaine recently wrote the following article, which was published on the Times of Israel website.
Having had a school friend killed by Israeli soldiers in the cross fire in Bethlehem, it would have been all too easy for Christy-a young Palestinian Christian- to have gone through life feeling bitter towards Israel. Christy has been threatened with death by her uncle and disowned by her family because she has grown to understand Israel’s predicament, and for safety reasons, prefers not to be photographed or identified by her surname.
She is now on a speaking tour in the UK with Howard Stern, a Christian mediator who supports Israel but many, perhaps most, of whose friends live in the Palestinian territories. As such she is providing audiences with a rarely heard perspective.
As a Christian, I am painfully aware that Palestinian Christians are suffering on many fronts. It is disturbing for a child to be dragged out of bed by gun toting soldiers searching for gunmen even if, as Christy reflects, they were “not much older than me, 18 year old kids, scared”, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for a youngster who came home from school one day to find a security wall being built on three sides of her family home.
As a Christian, however, Christy has access to the Bible which teaches us of the special Covenant with the Jewish people, without whom there could have been no Christian religion.
As an educated young woman, she has the intellect and empathy that enable her and-increasingly-other young Palestinians to stand back a bit, question their accepted narrative and look at the bigger picture. Making the transition, however, to open discussion is much more perilous and exposes those who question the accepted Palestinian “line” to great personal danger or death.
Activists like Jeff Halper and ICHAD energetically campaign on the issue of alleged Israeli expropriation of Palestinian land; instead of testing their protégés claims in the courts, however, they prefer, curiously, to complain to Church groups overseas. Less well known is the massive theft of private Christian land by Muslims or PA officials in the territories, for which little redress seems to be available.
Unlike Israel, which has a robust legal system, jurisprudence in the territories governed by the Palestinian Authority is, to put it mildly, confused and arbitrary. As a law student, Christy explained the problems caused by overlapping and competing legal philosophies, with Sharia law, tribal custom, Jordanian law and Ottoman law being applied at various times by Palestinian tribunals with little regard for consistency or precedent. More often than not, tribal custom is allowed to prevail, leaving citizens, especially women and Christians, with little prospect of redress.
Although domestic violence is a terrible problem in all societies, under Sharia law, wives and daughters are considered the property of the males, and Christy’s account of honour killings-an almost entirely Islamic phenomenon-were clearly unsettling to two “youth workers in the West Bank” who attended one of Christy’s presentations. It was not long before there was the ostentatious head-shaking and placing of hands over the eyes that is so frequently observed when “blame Israel“activists are confronted with difficult truths.
Christy chronicled how terrorists-not Israelis-drew first blood and turned her street into a free fire zone. She grew to realize that the annoying, livelihood-disrupting security measures were only necessary because “16 year old Palestinian kids wanted to blow up young Israeli kids”.
What is very clear is that the “boycott Israel” movement is extremely uncomfortable with Palestinian Christians who do not “toe the line” completely. Ultimately, everything must be blamed on “the Occupation,” and, when confronted with evidence of persecution of Christians by radicalized Muslims, it was revealing to hear a pro-Palestinian activist interject:
“there is no clash of civilizations, the conflict is not at all about Islam, its about politics, its about the Occupation of Palestinian land”, and her colleague, quivering with self-righteous indignation, claim “there is absolute total equality of opportunity for Christians in the Palestinian job market”.
In front of an actual Palestinian Christian recounting horror stories of intimidation, murder and atrocities without recourse in the courts, it has to be said that this took a lot of gall.
This fiction rests on the idea that all cultures must be equal (except Christian and Jewish culture, I reflect, mischievously?) and that the phenomenon of radical Islam must be a Zionist or American invention, with followers of the Muslim faith selected for demonization, perhaps so their oil and/or land can be “stolen” or the arms industry made more profitable.
To talk of a clash of civilizations is not to blame all or most Arabs or all or most Muslims. In particular, Haj-Amin Al-Husseini must be more to blame than anyone else for subverting Arab society and poisoning it with such hate. Husseini’s thugs brutalized Arab Christians, as well as Jews, in order to silence them and ensure they paid a lethal price for sympathizing with the Jews.
Christy reminds us that Palestinian Christians know full well that terrorism and Islamist intolerance, as well as tribal “might is right” attitudes, provide the underlying dynamic without which their problems would be resolved and sometimes harsh security measures would be unnecessary.
Corruption in some of the established Churches-which has an unhappy pedigree in the Holy Land, all the way back to French monks beating up Jews in Jerusalem in the 19th century , through today’s bribery and embezzlement by some clerics, have left Palestinian Christians without moral leadership and with very few Christians willing to stand up and be counted.
Palestinian Christians are thus caught between the hammer and the anvil, despite the insinuation, increasingly overtly stated, that they are being pushed around by the Israelis because they are Christians rather than because the terrorists who would murder Israelis happen to be of the same ethnicity but often hard to distinguish from them.
A key part of Christy’s awakening was her first visit to Yad Vashem, the first time that she learned of the true magnitude of the horrors of the Holocaust, and an experience which left her and her sister distressed and tearful.
There is no real teaching of the lessons of the Shoah in Palestinian society, even in the Churches. Such as there is is cursory, superficial and tends to be of the “Hitler killed lots of Jews and now Israel is using it as an excuse to oppress us” kind-if it is taught at all.
This week, Jordanian teachers in UNRWA schools declared that they would refuse to teach the Holocaust at all, on the wicked basis that it “would deflect focus, from the main enemy, Israel”.
Radical Islamism and overt Jew-baiting are a tough sell to British churchgoers and European humanitarians, and we have, in a sense, allowed Israel’s most determined opponents to seize “ownership” of the issue of Palestinian Christian suffering in a way that, for example, was never the case with the Maronite Christians of Lebanon who really did have their country taken away from them.
In some ways, the Palestinian Christians are rather like the baby grabbed by the armed robber in the movies as a human shield so he can make his getaway, and most NGOS and Church organisations are only interested in their plight if it can be blamed on Israel. The truth is, of course more complex, and we have to recognise indeed, that some of their suffering has been at Israeli hands. However, most of it assuredly is not, and the key to defusing the BDS movement in the Churches must be found in a practical concern for our suffering brothers and sisters in the territories. Zionists have traditionally sought alliances with other minority groups in the Middle East-Circassians, Druze, Maronites, Kurds, and Armenians.
Christy’s courage and testimony remind us that the challenge is for us to be effective champions for the West Bank Christians, and strengthen bridges between Christians and Jews in the Holy Land.