By Fida Jiryis
Amb. Michael Oren’s article, ‘Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians,’ presents Israel as a tolerant, dove-like, and peaceful democracy. This is belied by the facts.
I am one of those Palestinian Christians living inside Israel to whom Oren refers. At no time in my life have I ever felt the ‘respect and appreciation’ by the Jewish state, which Oren so glowingly references. Israel’s Christian minority is marginalized in much the same manner as its Muslim one or, at best, quietly tolerated. We suffer the same discrimination when we try to find a job, when we go to hospitals, when we apply for bank loans, and when we get on the bus – in the same way as Palestinian Muslims.
Israel’s fundamental basis is as a racist state built for Jews only, and the majority of the Jewish population doesn’t really care what religion we are if we’re not Jewish. In my daily dealings with the State, all I have felt is rudeness and overt contempt.
Oren’s statement that ‘The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude’ is outright shocking to anyone familiar with even the basic history of how Israel was founded. I would like to remind him and others that this founding expelled thousands of Palestinian Christians from their homes in 1948 and displaced them, either forcing them to flee across the border or making them internal refugees. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that comprised the founding of Israel is, too, an injustice of historic magnitude. A man living in a glass home – or a home stolen from Palestinians – should think very carefully before tossing stones.
My cousin’s husband, Maher, is from Iqrith, a village a few miles from mine in the Galilee. His family, and all of Iqrith’s inhabitants, were expelled from their village in 1948 and Iqrith was razed to the ground by Israeli forces on Christmas eve, 1950, in a special ‘Christmas gift’ to its people. The timing of this destruction leaves one to wonder at the intended message. Maher was born years after his family took shelter in Rama, a village nearby in the Galilee. Today, he struggles with finding a place to build a house to live in with his wife and children. Israeli policies that severely restrict the building zones in Arab towns and villages result in land shortages impeding the population’s natural expansion. Limiting land to residents of the same town or village means that internal Palestinian refugees face severe housing discrimination.
The return of people like Maher has been made impossible by Israel, which refuses to negotiate on the right of refugees to return to their homeland. If Oren is so concerned for Palestinian Christians, would he kindly give the green light for the return of Christian refugees from Iqrith, Bir’im, Tarshiha, Suhmata, Haifa, Jaffa, and tens of other Palestinian towns and villages that they were expelled from in 1948? The answer, I assure you, is no. Many of these refugees are living in refugee camps in nearby countries, where Israel and Oren are happy to leave them.
The terrorists referred to in Oren’s statement that ‘Israel, in spite of its need to safeguard its borders from terrorists, allows holiday access to Jerusalem’s churches to Christians from both the West Bank and Gaza,’ are in fact Palestinian Christians living on the land that Israel has occupied – in flagrant opposition to all human rights charters – and from which it is refusing to withdraw its soldiers and illegal settlers. To applaud Israel for giving people permits to travel across what by law is their own country is the height of hubris.
His claim that ‘In Jerusalem, the number of Arabs—among them Christians—has tripled since the city’s reunification by Israel in 1967’ fails to mention Israel’s relentless policies of cracking down on Jerusalem: building unending settlements; building a Separation Wall that slices right through the city, severing its families, neighborhoods and businesses and hitting hard at its Arab economy; seizing Arab lands and expelling families that have lived on them for generations; and revoking the citizenship of any Palestinian resident who travels abroad for too long. Imagine the outcry if an American citizen traveled abroad for two years and upon return discovered that his citizenship was revoked and that he had lost his American ID and passport.
Israeli officials don’t care whether the Palestinians they discriminate against are Christian or Muslim. It is true that inter-religious strife is on the rise in a region long tormented by poor living conditions, for which the West bears significant responsibility having aided the region’s many dictators.
Oren’s faux tolerance and crocodile tears over the plight of Christians fool no one. Were he serious, I would urge him to have a close look at Israel’s policies of occupation and racial discrimination.
As Jesus said, ‘Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3)
– Fida Jiryis is a Palestinian writer from the Arab village of Fassuta in the Galilee. She is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘My Return to Galilee,’ which chronicles her return from the Diaspora to Israel. She can be reached at [email protected].