Ps Robert Bartholomeus and his wife Jenny participated in the National Council of churches leaders visit to Palestine and Israel in 2012 as the representative of the President of the Lutheran Church . This article was originally published in The Lutheran.
People in the West tend to view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a Muslim Jewish conflict, and unless they belong to either of these faiths, they often find it difficult to relate to the conflict and those who are affected by it.
However there is a significant population of Palestinians who are Christian. In 1948 the Christian Palestinian population numbered 18% of the population. Because they are suffering under the Israeli occupation, more and more Christians are leaving their homeland and so now the figure is 2.3%. A small yet significant remnant from the Arab Christians who have been living in Palestine for over 2000 years since the time Christ walked on this earth.
In March of 2012, Jenny and I were privileged to represent the Lutheran Church of Australia and President Mike Semmler on a NCCA heads of churches visit to the holy land. We heard first hand of the suffering of these Palestinian Christians. We saw first hand the grim realities of life under Israel’s military occupation for Christians and Muslims alike.
Land restrictions, water restrictions, confiscation of land, illegal Jewish settlement expansion into Palestinian land, access and involvement issues, residency rights. All human rights violations. The Christian Palestinians are not experiencing persecution from Muslims fundamentalists but the Israeli government and its representatives. The descendants of the very people who themselves were so badly persecuted in the holocaust.
The proclamation of a Jewish state in 1948 and the advances of the 6 day war in 1967 were received with gladness by many in the west. Little David had overcome the big Goliath, the hostile Arab world.
But we came to see there is another parallel story where in 1948, 750,000 Palestinian refugees fled for their lives. Between 1947 and 1949 over 500 Palestinian villages in Israel were destroyed to stop any of those refugees ever coming back. The six day war in 1967 has resulted in Israel’s military occupying a population of over 2.5 million people in the West Bank for over 45 years. And Israel continues to actively encourage forced displacement of Palestinians and encourage exclusive Israeli settlements in this occupied territory and this is all illegal by the standards of International Humanitarian Law and UN resolutions, and the international court of Justice (July 2004).
We saw the wall (the barrier), which is now 700 kilometres long. It divides those on the west from those on the East. It divides family members from other family members, it divides people from their places of work, it divides farmers from their farms. Sure you can get through a check point, but waiting times are long (up to two hours) and permission to be on the other side is always restricted to certain hours or times.
We went to Hebron where 700 Jewish settlers are being guarded by 2000 military, in the middle of a Palestinian city. Here we also saw examples of apartheid where local Palestinians are only able to walk on one side of certain streets.
All over the West Bank and in Israel itself we saw Palestinians living with water restrictions while in neighbouring Jewish settlements there were no similar restrictions on water.
We saw where house demolitions had taken place, because Palestinians could not get permits to build.
Why do we in the west condone this injustice. It can only be because we still feel guilt for the ghoulish persecution of the Jews down through time and during the years of the holocaust.
But overlooking an injustice because of our own guilt only complicates the situation. Christ Jesus has forgiven our guilt, so we can now act justly again in the present. And that action should be one of falling in alongside the people who are the powerless, the persecuted. Protesting against the one who is using their power to persecute the other.
So we are called to protest. But as we protest, it is not just about siding with the person who deserves justice. We are called as Christians to love the one who is causing the suffering, as well as the one who is experiencing suffering. It is not good when a person is being persecuted, but nor is it good for the person with power to be left to continue with his actions of persecution.
So we are called to serve the Palestinians and the Israelis as we protest.
From our trip we could see Israeli has become a well developed modern nation. But we came to see that if that nation persecutes and discriminates against those who are in that land, the discriminator will never find freedom.
Actions you can take:
Pray for Palestinians
Pray for Israelis.
Pray for peace in Israel and the West Bank.
Read up on what is happening. Two books I found life changing: “I am a Palestinian Christian” by Mitri Raheb (Mitri is the Pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem); “Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation” by Naim Stifan Ateek another Palestinian clergyman.
Take time to read the Kairos Document on line
Go on tour to the holy land and visit the Westbank, the Palestinian side of the wall, including Bethlehem. Stay overnight. It is safe. The policy of Palestinians in the west bank has been nonviolent resistance for the last five years. There have been no more suicide bombings in that time. Gaza is a different story.