An Open letter to Rev. Falwell
Received January 17, 2001

From: (Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders)
To: (Elizabeth and Marthame Sanders)
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

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 single
incident 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

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 reinforces the fact that your theology lies 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.

In Christ's Name,
Rev. Marthame Sanders
Zababdeh, Palestine

For more about the Christian-Zionists and Falwell, please visit and our answers to them, click here