International Support For Palestinian Christians In Short Supply – OpEd


Not enough is being done to support Christians in the Arab world, particularly those who are under siege by Israel.

This topic only comes up a few times each year, during the Orthodox religious holidays, which fall on different dates from other “mainstream” Christian churches because of their differing calendars. Although most Christians celebrated Easter on March 31, for example, Orthodox Christians will celebrate it this Sunday.

Labels do not really mean much, of course, except in Israel, where people are segregated based on their religion. If you are Jewish and recognized as such, Israel’s government gives you more benefits and rights than it does to non-Jews who have Israeli citizenship.

In Israel, the proportion of the population made up of Christians has dropped from 2.9 percent to 1.9 percent over the past 75 years in the face of the inherent discrimination that exists against them and Muslims alike. Although the total number of Christians in Israel continues to increase slightly each year, that is not because Israel’s discrimination has eased up.

For example, Israel has locked my family’s land — 38 dunums adjacent to the illegal settlement of Gilo between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Israeli officials have told me directly that I will never be able to secure that land, no matter what legal documents I acquire, because I am not Jewish.

The intensity of the discrimination against non-Jews varies, depending on whether or not you accept Israel’s policies and stay quiet or if you protest too loudly. Those who protest often find themselves apprehended and held in so-called administrative detention, which means they can be imprisoned indefinitely without charge.

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reports that there were 1,310 Palestinian civilians being held in administrative detention just before the Hamas attack in October last year. There are now more than 3,600. Most of them are Muslim, but there are many Christian Palestinians too. There may be far more detainees than reported because, in 2020, the Israeli Prison Service stopped providing the data to B’Tselem, knowing that it exposed a dark, sinister and illegal side of Israel’s government.

Essentially, the imprisoned Palestinians are political hostages who are denied their legal rights. They are held for periods of up to six months, which are easily renewable. Their situation is no different than that of the Israelis who were taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7.

So, why does the world seem to care about the Jewish hostages but not the Palestinian ones? The same reason there is no concern about the violence and abuses committed against Christians among Western governments that represent overwhelmingly Christian populations and that should be concerned for them.

Most people in the West fail to even recognize the existence of Arab Christians; instead, they view all Arabs as Muslim and the plight of Christians gets pushed under the rug. Christian activist groups like the evangelists in America, for example, support Israel even over their own brethren because of that blurring of Christian identity.

I am an Orthodox Christian raised as Lutheran in the US. But most people I encounter believe I am Muslim because I champion the rights of all Arabs and because the Arab world is overwhelmingly Muslim. Although I am Christian, I tell them I am proud to be mistaken for a Muslim because I am “Muslim by culture” and because most of the people who see through Israel’s propaganda lies are Muslim.

During the ongoing Israeli violence in Gaza, several Christian churches have been damaged or destroyed. Of the approximately 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, about 1,000 are Christian. They have been suffering along with the Muslims under Israel’s decades-long oppressive occupation and siege.

It is very difficult to get information on the status of the Christian community and their churches in Gaza. Israel does not permit independent media into Gaza to cover the conflict. It only allows embedded, usually pro-Israel, journalists to accompany the army on very few select missions.

But some stories are slipping through Israel’s tight censorship. On Oct. 19, Israeli forces attacked the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, the third-oldest church in the world, killing 16 of its parishioners and injuring dozens more. Also during Israel’s war on Gaza, the Gaza Baptist Church, which was established by Southern Baptists in Gaza City in 1954, was heavily damaged and two parishioners at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, a mother and her daughter, were shot dead by Israeli snipers.

Very few stories about the catastrophe facing Christians in Gaza, amid the massacres of Muslims, have made it to the front pages of mainstream American newspapers. That might explain why no major Christian organizations have spoken out against the Israeli attacks.

This Orthodox Easter, I will pray for the safety not only of Christian Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, where settler violence has spiked and continues to escalate, but for all of the Palestinians in Gaza. I wonder how many other American so-called Christians will do the same.

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist. Email him at [email protected].

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