“Being with God brings glory. Living in Palestine is another story.”
“Palestinian Christians came to exist from the moment the angels gave the good news of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ in Beit Sahour the Shepherd's Fields. We did not come to Christ through any kind of missionaries no American or European missionaries”
— Rev. Danny Awad
I am an Ecumenical Accompanier through the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), an initiative of the World Council of Churches, which was created in response to a request from local heads of churches for international protective presence. At first, I was overwhelmed with what I saw and heard, and I welcomed the opportunity to attend a church service at Baraka Presbyterian Church. After a wonderful, warm greeting, I took my seat. The first hymn was “How Great Thou Art” sung in both Arabic and English at the same time, and I was moved to tears.
I began to think: What does it mean to be a Palestinian Christian in an occupied territory? I asked this question to Rev. Danny Awad, the minister of Baraka Presbyterian Church. He responded: “Being with God brings glory. Living in Palestine is another story.”
In 1922 approximately 84 percent of the population of Bethlehem was Christian, today it is less than one percent. Why has there been such a decline in the Palestinian Christian community?
The occupation restricts the freedom of movement, worship, livelihood, and education for every Palestinian, including Palestinian Christians. Under the occupation, international laws are either ignored or the interpretation twisted in order to support the position of the occupier—the State of Israel—leaving Palestinians with little or no human rights. The occupation carries out land confiscations, home demolitions, water and electricity restrictions, midnight raids to interrogate and arrest children as young as 12 years old, detains Palestinians in prison without charges (administrative detention), all under the umbrella of national security.
Palestinians are not permitted to enter Israel unless they have an ID permit, even if they were born inside Israel. They are subject to humiliating checkpoints, manned by armed soldiers and private security guards, in order to travel into Israel-proper for work, to see family members, to attend holy places of worship, or to go to Jerusalem. International travel must be arranged through Jordan, as Palestine is not permitted to have an airport. A university student told me “Getting into the U.S. is easier than getting into Israel.” Even if a Palestinian has an ID permit, they can still be denied access or be subjected to an illegal search (sometimes in public) for no reason other than the whim of the soldier.
Bethlehem has an 80 percent unemployment rate. Well-educated young Palestinians emigrate to other countries to find jobs that are not available to them under the occupation. Palestinians who stay can work in Israel if they have both an ID permit and a work permit. The permits are approved by and issued by the State. The Palestinians who find employment in Israel often work in substandard conditions, for poor wages, building illegal settlements on land the State has confiscated from Palestine, in order to try and support their families.
Children are subjected to military monitoring during their arrival and departure from school. This includes elementary schools! On September 29, 2022, seven-year-old Rayan Suleiman was chased home from school by two soldiers. The soldiers allege he was among other children throwing stones. When Rayan arrived at his home, the soldiers continued banging on the door. Rayan was so traumatized, he collapsed. Doctors told his parents the second-grader died of a heart attack. The principal at Tuqu’ Sr. Boys school was advised that the Israeli military would “shoot to kill” if a boy picked up a stone and threw it.
When completed, the wall that separates Israel from Palestine, Palestinians from Palestinians, and Palestinians from their land, will be over 700 km long, consisting of concrete walls, fences, an electric monitoring system, and military towers and checkpoints. It is twice the length of the Green Line, which means a significant portion of the wall is built on Palestinian land. (The Green Line is the demarcation line set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between the armies of Israel and those of its neighbors after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.) One of the many consequences of the wall is that it cuts through Palestinian agricultural land. Palestinian farmers must have special permits (which the State of Israel may or may not issue) to access their farmland. Land is confiscated by the Israeli State if it is not regularly attended to by the owner. The special permit policy implemented by Israel is what denies farmers access to their land, thereby making it impossible for them as owners to attend to their land, and leaving it vulnerable to confiscation.
Israel claims the Separation Wall was built to protect Israeli citizens from suicide attacks. Large sections of the wall are not built on the Green Line but wind deep into Palestinian territory. Its routing illegally confiscates Palestinian land on which illegal settlements are built (85 percent of settlers live on this confiscated land), and there are many cases of settlers under the protection of the Israeli military violently attacking and harassing Palestinians. Water and electricity are limited or in some cases totally cut off from the Palestinians to service the needs of the Illegal settlements.
The wall has towers where armed Israeli soldiers can oversee the daily activities of Palestinians. The wall also includes solid gates that open to provide access for large military vehicles to enter Palestine at will. These doors provided the means for the Israeli military to invade Palestine during the 2002 Intifada.
International Support for the Occupation
“Zionism (including Christian Zionism) focuses exclusively on certain aspects of the biblical story even though they so grossly contradict the rest of the story,” says Right Rev. Dr. Munib Younan. “The Bible is not a one-act play; it is a dynamic, complex narrative that shows God's intent to transform the world and its people into a new community of shalom/salaam/peace.” International support for the occupation is not only military, political, and economic but Christian Zionists also send significant funds and support to Israel that perpetuates the occupation. These funds also oppress Palestinian Christians.
During the Second Intifada (the uprising against the occupation), the Baraka Presbyterian Church was among many churches that were attacked by the Israeli military—a direct violation of international law —yet funds keep flowing and Palestinian Christians continue to suffer under the occupation. Palestinian Christians say they feel betrayed by their Christian siblings.
Regavim is an Israeli pro-settler organization that advocates a Zionist vision, solicits donations online, and supports the destruction of Palestinian homes, schools, and communities, including inside the Green Line. The Canadian government provides tax receipts for donations to Regavim, despite the fact that its purpose violates both Canada’s policy and international law.
If you're wondering what you can do, please consider writing your MP and ask why Canada provides tax deductible receipts to an organization that provides significant financial support for the illegal occupation of Palestine.
—by EA Susan, an Ecumenical Accompanier with the The World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. EAPPI is an initiative under the WCC’s Ecumenical Campaign to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East. Its mission is to accompany churches in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in their non-violent actions and concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation and support a just peace in the Middle East. Participants of the programme monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and, in general, stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation.
More information on the EAPPI and regular updates from the Ecumenical Accompaniers are available on their website.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.