On April 22, “60 Minutes” ran an in-depth piece on the plight of Palestinian Christians, pointing out that Christians have been leaving Palestine in startling numbers. Israel has consistently said that this is because of Islamic radicalism. The Palestinian Christians in the piece told a bit of a different story. They told the world they were leaving for the same reason as any other Palestinian: the brutality of the Israeli occupation. A very famous Palestinian once said, “That which you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.” It makes Israel very uncomfortable to know we still feel the same way today.
Every Palestinian Christian interviewed in the piece pointed out that their suffering is the suffering of every Palestinian. Settlements, checkpoints, and racist policies strike Palestinian Christians in precisely the same manner as they do every Palestinian. Every Palestinian Christian family has the same stories of imprisonment, arrest, and loss. Every Palestinian Christian feels the same devastation when he sees a new settlement raised on his olive groves. Every Palestinian Christian experiences the same revulsion when Israeli cookbooks contain recipes for stuffed grape leaves, baklava, and hummus. Every Palestinian Christian bears the same humiliation when he tries to move freely in his own land. If I thought being Christian would get me through a checkpoint any quicker, I’d wear the biggest cross I could find. I’m gonna sing Christmas carols next time I arrive in Tel Aviv. I don’t know if it will help, but I’m willing to try anything at this point.
In modern Palestinian history, Palestinian Christians have been at the forefront of our struggle. Edward Said, our collective voice for almost 40 years until his death in 2003, was a Christian. The Palestinian National Conservatory of Music is named after him. Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian Christian citizen of Israel, was a member of the Israeli Knesset until 2007 when he resigned amid accusations that he was aiding and abetting Hizbollah. The Israeli government passed a special law stripping him of his pension. He now lives in exile. The mayor of Ramallah, Palestine’s de facto capital and center of political activity, is a Palestinian Christian woman, Janet Mikhail. Hanan Ashrawi, another Palestinian Christian woman, has been a leading activist and politician in Palestine for her whole life, standing at times in opposition to the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat. She still lives and works tirelessly in Palestine. Alex Odeh was a Palestinian Christian who spoke out for Palestinians right here in America. In 1985, he was killed in California by a bomb set by members of the Jewish Defense League. His killers were identified by the FBI and now live freely in Israel. On the day of his murder, he was scheduled to speak at a synagogue.
And, of course, there’s that one Palestinian Christian who started it all. Like us, he walked the streets of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, in constant persecution. He said it 2000 years ago, and we say it again today: Beware of our Truth.