Palestine Is the Homeland of Palestinian Arabs Of All Religions — Not the Homeland of Jews Worldwide
Today, there are more Palestinian Christians living behind the Green Line than in the rest of the territories of historic Palestine.
This unfortunate statistic is partly related to the high rate of emigration out of the West Bank by Palestinian Christians due to the stresses of Israel’s military occupation.
Bethlehem today has a population of more than 220,000 people, including more than 20,000 living in three refugee camps. There are 100,000 Israeli settlers surrounding the town, including within the Israeli-expanded and annexed “Jerusalem municipality.”
“[T]he separation wall …cuts family from each other. People get humiliated at checkpoints. People do not have many opportunities to improve their living standards. So, therefore, Christians who can afford to, are trying to leave this country.”
The article I cite above goes on fallaciously to remove the existence of the Jewish state in part of historic Palestine as the primary cause of the flight of Christian Palestinians from the occupied territory, making no distinction between Israel’s sovereignty inside the Green Line and its military occupation outside it.
It is important to note [bold type is not mine], first of all, that Jewish sovereignty does not, ipso facto, lead to Christian emigration. Inside Israel proper, the Christian population has been growing steadily for decades. Today, Christian Arabs are serving in the army and at various levels of the Israeli government.
That fact is, however, that Palestine’s Arab Christians constituted 21% of Israel’s Arab population in 1950 and have dwindled to just 9% of that group today. Overall, they now make up less than 2% of Arab Palestinians living in historic Palestine.
Despite Israel’s divide and rule policies, Palestinian Christian and other Arab citizens of Israel who serve in the IDF are a marginal group. As Hanin Zoabi says:
“This small marginalised group that serves in the Israeli army which serves Israel against its people knows they are crossing a patriotic red line …. Ninety per cent of the Arabs who serve in the Israeli army don’t have equality with Israelis. Israel does not need them to protect its security, it’s a political issue — first to divide and rule.”
But it is fair to add what this headline says — Christians luckier than Muslims:
While Israel’s 1.4m Muslim citizens vociferously champ for the right to return to the lands they fled in 1948, when Israel was created, the Christians, ten times fewer, have begun quietly tiptoeing back. In what was once the Galilee village of Maalul, Christians displaced to nearby Nazareth have carved a path through the forest of pine-trees that were planted to hide it, and have cleared the bracken to expose two churches, one Greek Orthodox, another Catholic, where they have begun celebrating festivals such as Easter.
A historical note: Because of the presence of 19th century missionary schools in Palestine, Christians were generally better educated than Muslim Palestinians. They learned European languages and were able to emigrate more easily, as they looked for economic opportunities elsewhere.
However, the missionary effort in Palestine was not sympathetic with Christian Arabs, nor was it sympathetic with the nationalist cause of Palestinian-Arabs (the nationalism that had swept Europe in the 19th century took root in Palestine early in the 20th century).
In the first instance, the Palestinian clergy of Christian Orthodox sects resisted the conversion efforts of Western Protestant missionaries, causing animosity between the two groups.
Additionally, Western Christian travelers were aesthetically repelled by the Byzantine opulence of Eastern Orthodox churches, lamenting the differences between descriptions of Palestine in the Bible and local images on the ground:
’gaudy and inappropriate ornaments’ that marked the points of Christ’s life in Palestine’. [Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine, 1999, p.21]
Never mind that Palestine’s Christian Arabs are the descendants of Jesus Christ’s followers, the assumption (plaguing Palestinian Arabs to this day) was that the real Palestine
lay somewhere beneath the surface, that the real Palestine was Christian or Jewish (or both) rather than Arab or Muslim”. [Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine, 1999, p.21]
But Palestine is the homeland of Palestinian Arabs of all religions — not the homeland of Jews worldwide.
In the second instance, history records that among the first efforts to generate support in the US for the settlement of Jews in Palestine, one was made by a Presbyterian minister from Chicago, William Blackstone, who visited Palestine in 1889. [Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine, 1999, p.23]
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.