National Catholic Reporter, November 22, 2002

Palestinian Christians face ethnic cleansing


The Palestinian Christian is an endangered species. When the modern state of
Israel was established there were about 400,000 of us. Two years ago the
number was down to 80,000. Now it's down to 60,000. At that rate, in a few
years there will be none of us left. Palestinian Christians within Israel
fare little better. On the face of it, their number has grown by 20,000
since 1991. But this is misleading, for the census classification
"Christian" includes some 20,000 recent non-Arab migrants from the former
Soviet Union. So why are Palestinian Christians abandoning their homeland?
We have lost hope, that's why. We are treated as non-people. Few outside the
Middle East even know we exist, and those who do, conveniently forget.

I refer, of course, to the American religious right. They see the modern
Israel as a harbinger of the Second Coming, at which time Christians will go
to paradise, and all others (presumably including Jews) to hell. To this end
they lend military and moral support to Israel. Even by the double-dealing
standards of international diplomacy, this is a breathtakingly cynical
bargain. It is hard to know who is using whom more: the Christian right for
offering secular power in the expectation that the Jewish state will be
destroyed by a greater spiritual one, or the Israeli right for accepting
their offer. What we do know is that both sides are abusing the
Palestinians. Apparently we don't enter into anyone's calculations.

The views of the Israeli right are well known: They want us gone. Less well
known are the views of the American religious right. Senator James Inhofe,
R-Okla., said: "God appeared to Abraham and said: 'I am giving you this
land,' the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest
over whether or not the word of God is true." House Majority Leader Dick
Armey, R-Texas, was even more forthright: "I'm content to have Israel grab
the entire West Bank. ... I happen to believe that the Palestinians should

There is a phrase for this: ethnic cleansing. Why do American Christians
stand by while their leaders advocate the expulsion of fellow Christians?
Could it be that they do not know that the Holy Land has been a home to
Christians since, well ... since Christ? Do not think I am asking for
special treatment for Christians. Ethnic cleansing is evil whoever does it
and to whomever it is done. Palestinian Christians -- Maronite Catholics,
Orthodox, Lutherans, Armenians, Baptists, Copts and Assyrians -- have been
rubbing shoulders with each other and with other religions -- Muslims, Jews,
Druze and most recently Baha'is -- for centuries. We want to do so for
centuries more. But we can't if we are driven out by despair.

What we seek is support: material, moral, political and spiritual. As
Palestinians, we grieve for what we have lost, and few people (the Ashkenazi
Jews are one) have lost more than us. But grief can be assuaged by the
fellowship of friends.

Abe Ata is a ninth-generation Christian Palestinian born in Bethlehem. He is
a visiting Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia and
author of 11 books, including Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims.

National Catholic Reporter, November 22, 2002