Friday, October 01, 2004

Christians turning other cheek on Israeli violence 10-01-04

Christians turning other cheek on Israeli violence
By Ray Hanania

Many Americans mistakenly view the Arab-Israeli conflict as one between Jews and Muslims. That perception has been reinforced in the wake of Sept. 11th following the cowardly terrorist attacks in by 19 Islamists on Sept. 11.

Often ignored over the years is the toll that Israel's oppressive policies have taken on the Christians who are a minority not only in the Arab World but in the Holy Land where their religious movement began.

During many trips to Palestine over the years, I hear a constant chorus from Christian leaders appalled at how naïve and callous Christian brethren in America are to Israel's brutality and viciousness.

While the pro-Israel story is widely spread in America through a sophisticated lobby and media presence, the story of Christian Palestinians has been rarely examined. Orphaned, the tragedy of Palestinian Christians is forgotten making it easy for Israel to confiscate their lands in such historic Christian cities as Bethlehem, where my mother is from.

Also threatened by Israel's land policies are Bethlehem's sister cities of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala and the nearby lands of an equally important Christian region, Shepherd's Field.

Much of the land taken around Jerusalem to choke off the Christian and Muslim population belongs to Christian families who pray everyday at the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born. The city of Bethlehem has been devastated by Israeli policies which allows Jewish settlers to roam freely and expand their settlements on confiscated Christian and Muslims lands, while Palestinians are locked into ghettos.

But all hope is not lost. In recent years, Christians voices are finding moral courage.

Earlier this year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a policy to divest investments from Israel and all companies doing business with Israel.

The Presbyterians are morally outraged at the excessive and vicious policies Israel's military occupation has taken against innocent Palestinian civilians. Every week, scores of innocent Palestinian civilians are being killed and the Presbyterian vote came after officials of the church completed a first-hand tour of the embattled Holy Land.

But the Presbyterians are not the only ones to stand up for their Christian brothers and to demand a peace that is based on fair compromise and justice.

Recently, leader of the Anglican Church (which includes the Episcopal Church in this country) have recommended divestiture, too, after seeing the devastation firsthand during a recent trip. And Christians around the world are now openly taking about doing even more.

Israel continues to have the support of the more extremist Christian Evangelists who believe that Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple will herald the return of Jesus. Yet these Evangelists always end their sermons before explaining to Israelis that their prophetic beliefs also portend that Jews who fail to "accept Jesus" will suffer the same fate as other "non-believers."

It's the dirty little secret of the Evangelist movement that most moderate Christians like the Presbyterians, Anglicans and Episcopalians reject.

The timing couldn't be better as we enter another Christmas season where Palestinian Christians continue to suffer. Many American Christian Arabs already protest by unplugging their Christmas tree lights.

The greatest Christmas gift American Christians can give to their suffering cousins in the Holy Land is to find the courage to demand an evenhanded policy that not only condemns terrorism against Israel, but that also condemns the daily terrorism by Israel's government against Palestinians, too.

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