Nobody Speaks for Palestinian Christians except Palestinian Christians

As a Palestinian-American, I’ve sadly gotten used to reading about our own experiences and history from voices other than Palestinians themselves. So it came as little surprise to read that Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) want to introduce a bill about the “persecution” of Palestinian Christians by the Palestinian Authority. . . without the input of any Palestinian Christians.

Interestingly, their legislative aides did consult Benjamin Netanyahu’s former advisor Dore Gold and Israeli academic Justus Weiner. Setting aside that Netanyahu and anyone associated with his administration have zero credibility among Palestinians; Weiner spent a considerable amount of time trying to destroy one of the greatest Palestinian heroes –” the late Columbia professor Edward Said, a Christian.

A few examples of the poorly-researched and polemic clauses include:

CLAUSE: Whereas the Palestinian Authority Constitution adopts the principles of Islamic law resulting in a judicial system that puts Christians at a disadvantage;

CORRECTION: The PA has never adopted Islamic law, also known as the Shar’ia.

CLAUSE: Whereas Yasser Arafat gerrymandered the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem to include additional Muslim neighborhoods in order to influence the outcome of local elections through the creation of a Muslim majority;

CORRECTION: Yasser Arafat, whose wife was Christian, placed many Christians in powerful positions. He was a secular nationalist, not an Islamist.

Really, one could take apart every clause but this one got the attention of Leila Sansour, Chief Executive of Open Bethlehem:

CLAUSE: Whereas in 1994 Bethlehem was the most populous Christian town in Israel and the entire region;

CORRECTION: As Sansour wrote to Congressman McCaul, “Between the years 2000 and 2004, 357 Christian families (10% of the Christian population) emigrated from Bethlehem alone. Indeed, this massive emigration threatens the existence of the indigenous Christian community, which has been safeguarding sacred Christian traditions since the time of Jesus. This flight is primarily a result of the fear generated by repeated Israeli military incursions, and has been exacerbated by the economic devastation of Bethlehem due to the Israeli closure imposed on the city.”

The obsession with demonizing Palestinian Muslims throughout this resolution, coupled with intentionally not seeking out Palestinian Christians’ input, makes it painfully clear that there’s an attempt to drive a wedge between Palestinians.

But what the offices of McCaul and Crowley are aware of by now after all the angry reactions they’ve received is this: Palestinian Christians are fiercely loyal and protective of their Palestinian Arab identities. In fact, many have served in key PLO positions, with numerous being assassinated by Israel throughout the 1970s and 80s.

To his credit, McCaul has now tabled the issue, but only for now. An aide to Congressman Crowley told me that McCaul’s office wants to talk to other groups and then it’s up to him what happens.

“Yes, but will that office talk to Palestinian Christians about this?!” I asked.

“Congressman’s McCaul’s office will decide.”

I rolled my eyes and hung up. It’s not exactly rocket science to consult Palestinian Christians about a bill that concerns them. And when a press release headline on a religious website declares, “Bethlehem Christians disown US Congress Palestine resolution,” it’s pretty clear that the premise of this resolution is garbage.

I suppose if there’s anything positive that’s come out of this whole episode, it’s the unexpected window that’s opened up to discuss why the Christian population in Palestine has been going extinct. Referred to as “the living stones” of Christianity for being direct descendants of the witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection, Palestinian Christians began fleeing or were forced to flee the Holy Land during the 1948 War establishing Israel. The same has occurred for Palestinian Muslims, and this mutual suffering will forever bond them to each other. Are their occasional frictions between them? Sure, but no more serious than the frictions between Sephardi (MidEastern) and Ashkenazi (European) Jews in Israel.

I’d like to end with a personal anecdote:

My parents’ permanent move to the US followed the Six Day War and subsequent Israeli Occupation in 1967. They knew if they wanted a better, hopeful life for their future children, there was no solution but to move. And they did, like so many others. The flights sadly continue today for the same reasoning: better economic opportunities and freedom from an Occupation marked by humiliation and distress.

To paint it otherwise is to tell the narrative of a people other than the Palestinians.