As Another Christmas Approaches, American Evangelicals Seem Oblivious to Israel’s Erosion of Palestinian Christians

Posted on Nov 20, 2019

By John Mason,/Arab America Contributing Writer

Despite themselves, American evangelicals, in siding with U.S. government and Israeli policies, have undermined the very Christians in Palestine who are the guardians of the birthplace of Christianity. Blinded by ideological-religious politics, these evangelicals have ignored the precarious situation of the remaining Christian population in the homeland of Christianity.

Swept up in U. S. Politics, American Evangelicals have forgotten the true Guardians of Christianity’s Major Shrines: Palestine’s Christians

We noted previously in these posts that American evangelicals have been captivated by the Trump administration. This has happened, based on two critical points: first, evangelical pro-life sympathies and, second, their adherence to a pro-Israeli stance in opposition to Palestinian interests. Unfortunately, this anti-Palestinian stance has dampened American evangelical sympathy towards the very descendants of Christianity’s founders, the Palestinian guardians of Christianity’s holiest shrines.

Image: President Trump caters to Pro-Israel American Evangelicals–who comprise 25% of his voter base (photo, greanvillepost.com)

President Trump caters to Pro-Israel American Evangelicals–who comprise 25% of his voter base (photo, greanvillepost.com)

The combined interest of Trump and American evangelicals has allowed Israel more and more control over occupied Palestine. This is not only contrary to previous agreements, which support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem, namely the provision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has resulted in disempowering Palestinians of both Christian and Islamic faiths. A viable Christian population on the occupied West Bank depends on a healthy community of both Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

With President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—thus recognizing the latter as the capital of Israel— and Pompeo’s recent announcement that Israel’s settlements are not illegal, the fate of evangelicals has become united with Trump’s political agenda of drawing white Christians into his re-election orbit. Since Jerusalem is also beloved by Arab Muslims as critical to their Islamic beliefs, they have felt cheated by this one-sided decision by the U.S. Complicating this American marriage of religion and politics is that evangelicals have bought hook-line-and-sinker into the Trump paradigm of Islamophobia. This marriage builds on the illusion that Islam and terrorism are forever linked.

A Charge of “Ethnic Cleansing” of Palestinian Christians that few talk about

Whether it’s “ethnic cleansing” as some have stated or simply the steady decline in the Christian population of the West Bank is a judgment call. The cause of this demographic event is perhaps not so debatable: Israel. A recent Palestine Chronicle editorial states that “…the number of Christian inhabitants of Palestine has dropped by nearly ten-fold in the last 70 years.” While 98% of Palestinian Christians or 47,000 live in the occupied West Bank, mainly in the centers of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, only 1,100 live in the Gaza. As Christians leave, the proportion of Muslims, of course, increases.

Image: American evangelicals need to rethink Christmas celebrations like this in Bethlehem as the numbers of Palestinian Christians living in that holy city rapidly diminish (photo, CBS News)

American evangelicals need to rethink Christmas celebrations like this in Bethlehem as the numbers of Palestinian Christians living in that holy city rapidly diminish (photo, CBS News)

Following the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, the residence of Christians has shifted. In time, Israel has constructed illegal settlements and a separating wall that cuts off Bethlehem from Jerusalem. The wall was also intended to isolate Bethlehem from the rest of the West Bank, meaning that only 13% of that district is open to Palestinian use. As of 2016, according to the Chronicle, this holy city has lost significant numbers of Christians, down to only 12% of its population or only 11,000. Even optimistically, estimates of the number of Palestinian Christians residing in the West Bank are less than 2%. This means the majority of inhabitants are comprised of Muslim Palestinians and increasing numbers of Jewish settlers.

A survey of 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank, half Muslim, half Christian, on reasons for the decreasing Christian population, reported by the Chronicle, revealed the following: “the pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians.” Furthermore, the survey indicated for Palestinian Christians, “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves”.

Image: Palestinian Christians and Muslims have lived side-by-side for centuries and will continue to do so unless the Christian diaspora slows (photo, BBC News)

Palestinian Christians and Muslims have lived side-by-side for centuries and will continue to do so unless the Christian diaspora slows (photo, BBC News)

Included in the array of Palestinian Christian complaints is that Israeli walls and checkpoints have cut them off from their own kinsmen and business opportunities in communities and cities on the West Bank, but more especially from their holy sites, even including Easter services in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. On one recent Easter, the Israelis granted only 200 permits to Christians to visit Bethlehem, and only to those who were 55 years or older. No visits, per the Chronicle report, were permitted to Jerusalem. In effect, many Palestinian Christians believe it is Israel’s intention to drive them out so that Israel can define itself, according to the Palestine Chronicle, “as a beleaguered Jewish state amid a massive Muslim population in the Middle East. The continued existence of Palestinian Christians does not factor nicely into this Israeli agenda.”

American Evangelicals side with the State of Israel rather than Palestinian Christians

A poignant statement from the Christian Post perfectly captures for American evangelicals the dilemma of Palestinian Christians: “When Americans sing carols about the ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ this Christmas, they should keep in mind who lives there.” Reinforcing this point is found in another quote from Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Baboun: “Bethlehem is the city that gave the message of peace to the whole world…But today, Bethlehem does not live the peace that it gave to the whole world.”

At issue in this story is the fact that many evangelical Christians are conservative, aligning with a view that puts Israel’s security above all other priorities. This support blinds them to the issues confronting Palestinian Christians. The Christian Post writes about American evangelicals, suggesting that in “missing the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are missing an opportunity to live out the message of peace that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, gave to the world.”

Under the Trump administration, Palestinian Christians are going to fare no better than Palestinian Muslims. In this sense, U.S. policy is an equal opportunity for human rights abuses, since the Christians and Muslims on the West Bank suffer equally under American-Israeli policy. That American evangelicals should support this policy is both wrongheaded and undoubtedly un-Christian.

References:

“The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Christians that nobody is talking about,” Ramzy Baroud, The Palestine Chronicle, 10/20/2019

“The Suppressed Plight of Palestinian Christians,” Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, 06/17/2019

“Evangelicals side with Israel–that’s hurting Palestinian Christians,” Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Christian Post, 12/23/2016

John Mason, who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi and the American University in Cairo, served on the United Nations staff in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively with USAID and the World Bank worldwide.