By Ray Hanania
According to Israeli propaganda, Israel cares about Christian Arabs more than the Muslim-dominated Arab world does. But the reality is in the true meaning of “cares.” Israel is more engaged in the interests of Christian Palestinians, but not in a positive way. Israel’s government has intensified a not-so-subtle campaign of confrontation, land annexation and homes demolition in Bethlehem that is fueling the continued flight of Christians from the Holy Land.
As a member of this slowly disappearing group of Arabs myself, my Christian Palestinian roots go deep, not only in Bethlehem, but in Jerusalem too. In fact, they are so deep that my last name, “Hanania,” is a Hebrew word that can be traced back to the Hebrews of biblical times.
Israelis may dispute the following fact because they are so offended by its implications, but many Hebrews and Jews who lived in ancient Israel and later Palestine converted to Christianity and even to Islam.
But let’s put that aside for now. Just in the past few weeks, writers in Palestine have documented many incidents in which Palestinians have been abducted by the Israeli military from their homes in Bethlehem, while Israel’s government has unveiled plans to expand the illegal Jewish-only settlements onto lands confiscated from the Christian and Muslim residents of Bethlehem.
The mainstream news media in the West, particularly the US, which is very pro-Israel, downplays many of these stories, reporting only when an Israeli is injured and rarely when Palestinians are the victims. To reinforce this discrimination, many media outlets never identify Palestinians by their religion, Christian and Muslim, in contrast to their constant depiction of Israeli Jews. In other words, religious discrimination only exists in the Western mainstream news media when the victim is Jewish, not when they are Christian or Muslim.
My own family lands, eight-and-a-half acres adjacent to Gilo, have been the target of anti-Christian policies by Israel’s government. Israelis destroyed the house on the property and the water well that serviced the 160-plus olive trees and an assortment of small fruit-bearing bushes. Because I am Christian, I am not allowed to visit that land or develop it. And it’s not just me. Israel bars other Christian families from embracing their family lands. It’s a policy that exposes the lie that Israel cares for the Christians — a claim that fuels the absurd and racist activism of the Christian Evangelical community in America, which has turned its back on its Christian roots for political profits.
In July and August alone, Israel’s government demolished 24 homes in the occupied West Bank, including several in and around the “Christian triangle” — the area that covers Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, where Palestinian Christians have found themselves squeezed by Israeli oppression.
Israel is constantly providing building permits to Jews while denying them to Christians and Muslims. This isn’t just inside Israel, where non-Jews experience horrific state-sponsored discrimination — there are 67 laws that discriminate against non-Jews in Israel — but also in the West Bank, where the racist settlement movement continues to grow at the expense of peace and the international rule of law.
Recent reports suggest that many American Jews, especially liberals who favor peace based on compromise, are concerned about the growing extremism of the Israeli government. But that isn’t the case for the Christian Evangelicals, who see modern-day Israel as a cornerstone of their religious beliefs. It is beyond me how someone who calls themselves a “Christian” can travel to Israel and the Occupied Territories but never engage in direct communication or commerce with the Christians who struggle to survive in that growing environment of hatred. Christian Evangelists travel using Israeli and Jewish-operated tour guides and never ask or wonder about the Christian tourism industry.
This disparity has impacted many Christian Palestinians like myself. We are estranged from our own religion and pushed into a political limbo in which Americans see Christian Arabs as being a Muslim world anomaly. That has impacted many Christian Palestinians, who, like myself, see themselves as Christian by religion but Muslim by culture.
I am proud of that distinction. It’s the Arab world that stands behind the rights of Christians from Palestine; Christians who have been forgotten by the Christian world. But the Arab world must be careful — it can’t take this issue lightly. It needs to refocus its support for Christian Arabs in a much more aggressive manner.
Christian Arabs are being rejected by the West because they are seen as being close to the Muslim world. But the Muslim world needs to do more to give Christian Arabs a stronger voice and more support.
Every event held in the Arab world should be required to include an aspect that reflects the close relations that Christians and Muslims enjoy. There should always be a prominent Christian component, whether it is a display, a narrative or an activity with significant Christian Arab participation.