Open Letter to Jerry Falwell

Dear Brother Falwell,

I am writing to you as a fellow American Christian minister seeking to build up the Church worldwide.

Five months ago, my wife and I came to a small Christian town called Zababdeh – one of the few Christian villages left in the Holy Land – convinced of a call to serve the Body of Christ in the land of His birth.  Little did we know what awaited us upon our recent arrival – the chaos and violence of the last few months has been traumatic. In the midst of this, we have been led to wonderful opportunities for ministry.  After all, the Lord we follow is the One who brought triumph out of tragedy.

I am writing today in response to your recent email missive “Arafat’s Terrorism Threatens Christians and Christian Sites … Not Just Israel,” where you address the plight of the Christians in Beit Jala.  I share your compassion and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the land where He once walked.  On our visits to Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Bethlehem, we have seen many of the homes, businesses, and church buildings destroyed or damaged by the Israeli military. We have seen the memorial for Dr. Harry Fischer, the Christian German doctor killed by Israeli fire as he attended to a wounded neighbor. We have seen the tents that people newly made homeless, are living in. Especially in Bethlehem, reeling from the absence of anticipated throngs to celebrate Christmas, we saw empty shops, empty restaurants, and empty hotels, with their economically devastated owners and employees.

But most importantly, we met with our fellow Christians in these towns, to listen to their grief and fear, and to hear their stories. Clearly, you have not done likewise. If you had, you would know that the Christians in Beit Jala (like Christians throughout the Occupied Territories) are just as Palestinian as their Muslim neighbors. They share equally the injustice, discrimination, hardships, and oppression imposed by Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Far from desiring to be “liberated” BY the Israelis, the people of Beit Jala – like Christian and Muslim Palestinians throughout the region, desperately desire to be liberated FROM Israel. They desire to live with autonomy, dignity, justice, and peace, things most people in America champion.  It breaks our hearts to see from your article that you have not only failed to hear the stories of our brothers and sisters in Beit Jala, but you misrepresented their condition and propagate lies about them to thousands of faithful people around the world.

Similarly, we have met with Jewish Israelis who are working actively for peace. These people believe fervently in a God of mercy and justice, and are deeply distressed by the actions and policies of their government, which consistently commits illegal, immoral sins against Palestinian people. While you say that you “know a lot” of Israelis, clearly you have not met with or listened to these faithful Jewish brothers and sisters.

Additionally, I wish to comment on your assertion that Arafat is deliberately attempting to remove what remains of the Christian presence in Palestine, and your implication that the Christian community yearns to be “liberated” under Israeli authority.  If this is true, please explain the following:

1) Christians such as Hanan Ashrawi and Afif Safieh participate fully, often disproportionately, in the Palestinian Authority government.

2) Christian leaders (including Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic) in the Holy Land send messages of hope to Palestinian Christians supporting efforts to end the injustices and brutalities of the Israeli occupation, and to bring justice and peace to the Palestinian people. These church leaders, too, suffer under the occupation. Last week, the Bishop of Nazareth (the hometown of our Savior!) was fired upon by Israeli soldiers near our village.  He was in a car clearly marked with Vatican license plates, and was conspicuously dressed as a representative of the church.  Please tell me how Arafat was able to orchestrate such an event.

3) Lutheran minister Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, spent two weeks working to get the necessary permits from the Israeli military authorities to travel to the United States in order to visit Christians and build bridges within the Body of Christ.  He received these permits, but once he arrived at the airport he was told that no Palestinian was allowed to travel – whether they had the proper permits or not.  This kind of humiliating, crippling discrimination happens to Palestinians thousands of times a day, and it is this, coupled with violent injustice and lack of liberty, that is prompting Christian and Muslim Palestinians to leave their homeland.  I hope you can tell me how Arafat planned this ludicrous Israeli travel policy.

4) Pilgrims to Bethlehem for Christmas, including myself, my wife and my mother-in-law, were denied access to the village of Christ’s birth.  The Israeli military declared Bethlehem a closed military zone, presumably for the protection of foreigners.  Yet many of us made the trek anyway, brought by brave taxi drivers, who knew ways around the closed checkpoints and destroyed roads. We arrived at the empty hotels and the vacant restaurants.  

For those of us who were there, not one singleincident against a Christian happened.  If Arafat were interested in targeting Christians, Bethlehem at Christmas time would be open season.  The only harassment of Christians was at the hands of the IDF – a deliberate (and successful) attempt to cripple the Palestinian Christian economy.

5) Among these pilgrims to Bethlehem was a group following the path of the Magi to mark the 2000th Anniversary of the birth of Christ.  They traveled more than three months through Arab countries, but their only trouble was with the authorities at the Allenby Bridge who refused to let two pass.  These faithful brothers (one from Zimbabwe and one from Sudan) had left work and spent tremendous amounts of personal savings on a Pilgrimage for Peace.  It took four days and an Israeli High Court ruling to let them pass.  Perhaps I am mistaken, but I though the Israelis controlled that bridge…

6) The village of Taybeh, the only 100% Arab Christian village in the area, has been subject to the same harassments and closures the rest of the Palestinian people have suffered.  And yet, they have not been victims of the kind of violent actions that have happened in and to Beit Jala.  It seems that this would be a prime location for Arafat to manipulate the Western media as you believe he has done.  I hope you can shed light on his glaring oversight in not bringing this village into the fray.

Finally, I have heard that you are currently in the area on a visit to boost Israeli tourism.  I hope that you take the opportunity to visit with the living Church in this land.  I also hope you take the chance to check your theories about the violence in Beit Jala with your brothers and sisters there – lay people and clergy alike.  Unfortunately, I fear that you will not.  Your personal history in this land speaks volumes, and your article indicates a theology prostrate before the altar of two false idols: the Republican Party, and the secular, modern State of Israel.  I pray for your conversion to the living, breathing faith of Christ at work among our brothers and sisters in Palestine.

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