By Fadi F Kattan
Coming from a Bethlehemite Christian family, my anger rises when I hear such colonialist analysis of my city from the mouth of a respectable church official, moreover the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Archbishop portrays Bethlehemite Christians as a “marginalized minority”, but may I ask, has he come to Bethlehem? Has he mixed within the Bethlehem Christian community, has he sensed the feelings of those people who are taught the fear of the “other” by Christian schools, or more precisely by their foreign clergy?
The history of the exodus of Christian families from Bethlehem is a long one, linked many times to the occupiers of Bethlehem and not to fellow Palestinians.
In the late 1800’s, Palestinian Christians went off around the world to look for better economic prospects, but also to escape from harsh conditions under the Ottoman occupation. Those Bethlehemite settled in far off places, from Khartoum to Kobe, from Santiago de Chile to San Francisco, and often built up successful economic careers in their host countries.
Then, under the British Mandate, this exodus continued, people all had family members that were already abroad and went on to join them, attracted by their success stories and the freedom in the promise of new lands.
When Jordan controlled the area, a Palestinian businessman was encouraged, sometimes even forced to establish his new business in Jordan and that period saw more and more Bethlehemite Christians leaving towards Jordan.
Finally and most importantly, since the Nakba in 1948, Bethlehemite Christians were forced to exile by Israeli governments. When in 1948 many Bethlehemite families saw their investments in land and property in Jerusalem, in Yaffa, in al-Ramla, in Haifa vanish under confiscation by the nascent State of Israel, as the world Christians sat by and watched, they lost hope and moved on to join their uncles, aunts and cousins to other countries.
Did the Archbishop of Canterbury not see what has happened on the ground since 1948? 1967? The Wall? The restrictions of movement? The restrictions of prayer? How come the Archbishop does not mention that a Palestinian Christian cannot freely access the sites of prayer that are in Tiberias? The ones that are in Jerusalem? All this while the Israeli government claims in the name of jewishness the takeover of a piece of Bethlehem, expelling people, confiscating land to preserve the exclusiveness of Jewish access to Rachel’s tomb?
The Christian Bethlehemites are not suffering of being a “marginalized minority”, nor can the Archbishop answer the question about ethnic cleansing by saying that “this is not ethnic cleansing exactly because it has been far less deliberate” but are really suffering from their situation as Palestinians within an enclave, surrounded by a wall. Their departure is facilitated by to the long history of family ties within the Diaspora.
In this interview, the Archbishop never mentions the situation of the Bethlehemites as Palestinian Christians, nor does he even use the word Palestine to talk about our country.
What we have here is a clear speech of certain foreign churches that like to look at themselves as protectors of the Christian presence in the Holy Land, but are not the local Christians the righteous guardians of this long established tradition in Palestine?
Should the Archbishop not learn from other courageous Christian dignitaries such as Monseigneur Sabbah, the previous Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem or the Archbishop of Sebastia, Atallah Hanna who have stood strong alongside their communities and fought alongside all the fellow-compatriot Palestinians against the injustices and deprivation excreted by the Israeli government against Palestinians?
Do we Palestinians forget Pope John Paul II saying: “No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades? Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long.”?
– Fadi F Kattan contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.