The Other Side of the Wall by Munther Isaac

Posted on May 16, 2020


by Munther Isaac, author of The Other Side of the Wall


“I am an Arab Palestinian Christian. For many, being a Christian and an Arab (let alone Palestinian) is an oxymoron! Many times in the past, when I introduced myself to a Western Christian, I would get the question “When did you convert?”—assuming that, as an Arab, I must have been Muslim. However, Arab Christianity is not the invention of yesterday. In fact, Arab Christianity predates Islam! The church in the East has a long and very rich history. There were Arab Christians in the very first ecumenical council of churches in Nicaea in 325 CE. In addition, there have been many profound Arab theologians and apologists throughout the centuries—though one is very unlikely to hear or read about them in Western seminaries and Bible schools.

“It is important here to distinguish between Arab and Palestinian and to make clear why I will use the terms Palestine and Palestinian to refer to my land and its people for the majority of this book. Being “Arab” has more to do with belonging to a particular culture, heritage, and language than it does with being the descendants of the ancient tribes of Arabia. Some who would be considered Arab are descendants of these ancient tribes; however, most are not. An Arab is “a person who speaks Arabic as a first language and self-identifies as Arab.” Arab identity is defined solely by culture rather than ethnicity or religion.

“A Palestinian is not an invention of recent history, though many contend (“convincingly”) with this fact. For them, the term Arab instead of Palestinian is used almost exclusively in political rhetoric surrounding Palestine/Israel to refer to previous inhabitants of the land (Palestinians). However, prominent Palestinian historian Nur Masalha describes the binary of Arab versus Jew in this context as terribly misleading considering that Palestine, until the arrival of European Zionism in the twentieth century, consisted of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and Arab Jews. He further elucidates that “the idea of a country is often conflated with the modern concept of ‘nation-state,’ but this was not always the case and countries existed long before nationalism or the creation of meta-narratives for the nation-state.” In short, the historical concept of Palestine existed prior to the modern-day understanding of a nation and has continued to shift and evolve throughout history.Furthermore, Masalha contends that Palestinians have always had a sense of identity that they have related to descent from the geopolitical region identified as Palestine for the last millennia. This was prior to, yet helped shape, the modern concept of a Palestinian nationality, which developed in the late nine-teenth and early twentieth century, as articulated by Masalha and others, most notably Rashid Khalidi. I use the terms Palestinian and Palestine in this book as both a cultural and geopolitical identity. This Palestinian national identity rooted in the land of Palestine (most of which is now considered Israel) developed in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century yet also has origins in historic notions of Palestine as a country/people.

“While I understand it is not conventional for most Christians to refer to this land as Palestine, I invite you to challenge yourself with the alternative perspective I present in this book. In referring to this land as Palestine, I am not confronting Israel in a negating way. And as I will argue at the conclusion of this book, it is my hope that Palestinians and Israelis will one day share this land. Simply put, I am articulating my existence as I have known it and as I and my people think of ourselves–we are Palestinians. I invite you to step into my shoes, and the shoes of countless Palestinian Christians, and seek to better under-stand my experience and my faith. I ask this of you, not because my experience needs to be at the forefront of any conversation regarding Christianity and the land, but because as siblings in Christ, our journeys and existences are inherently intertwined with one another.”

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