Until recently, a large proportion of Christians in the West were unaware that Christian Palestinians even existed. While there may now be an increased awareness of the body of Christ in Palestine, when not being ignored (unintentionally or otherwise) by the majority, our Palestinian brothers and sisters are often either co-opted for anti-Islam propaganda or looked on as a community to be pitied.
Christian Palestinians undoubtedly need our support and solidarity. From the shattering of their society with the expulsions of 1948 to the land theft and occupation-induced economic collapse in the West Bank today, many believers have despaired of finding freedom in their homeland and chosen emigration.
The vulnerable witness that remains cries out for our aid, encouragement and advocacy, but it is rare that these living stones are seen as having something to teach us, the Church in the West. Yet, in the midst of the conflict in Palestine/Israel, the Christian Palestinians are living out a ‘third way’.
It is important to note that this is not the same as saying that they are ’stuck in the middle’ between warring Jews and Muslims. Christians in Palestine are subjected to the same colonial oppression as their Muslim counterparts, and do not stand apart from their people’s struggle for self-determination.
What this ‘third way’ actually represents is both a resistance to Israeli occupation and an alternative to an Islamist-shaped violent resistance. In the last 20 years, groups such as Hamas have come to the forefront of Palestinian resistance, a process that reached a crescendo during the militarised Second Intifada.
The pressure has been great for Christian Palestinians to add their voices to the calls for bloody vengeance that go out from among their people. But faced with the example of Jesus’ non-violent resistance to Roman imperial occupation and his command for us to ‘love our enemies’, they negotiate their way between the pitfalls of complicity or collaboration and violent retaliation.
This alternative path of principled resistance means that not only do the Christian Palestinians have a vital role to play in their own community, but they also offer a model for the Western Church in the ‘war on terror’. For Christians in the US and UK, Palestinian believers show that there is a way of peace that stands up to empire and challenges those who respond to the empire with dehumanising violence.
In Britain and the US, many in the Church have been seduced by imperial power and cowered by calls for patriotic unity. In response to criminal attacks at home, churchgoers have blessed wars of aggression abroad. The counter-cultural costly grace of Christ has been drowned out by national anthems and battle cries.
We would do well to hear and dwell on the prophetic voice of the Christian Palestinian community, as they hold on to the awesome simplicity of the Gospel message of peace while enduring a military occupation that most of us can barely imagine. This Christmas, as we hear how the Church in the Holy Land needs our help, let us remember the way in which the Church in the West needs theirs.
Published by Fulcrum.