Appearing in the March 9 issue of the Wall Street Journal, the article is obviously tailored to American Christians, with the apparent goal of reinforcing Israel’s propaganda objectives. Nowhere in it does Oren mention that Christian communities in Syria have enjoyed complete protection of their government—a subject I covered in a recent post. These of course are the same Christian communities that will be endangered should Bashar Assad be overthrown—one of the current foreign policy objectives of both the US and Israel.
The Oren article can be read in full here. Below is a response to it penned by a Palestinian Muslim and an American Christian. The response mentions the groundbreaking 2009 Kairos Palestine document, but does not provide a link, so here’s a link to the full document, as well as a separate link to an article I posted on the subject a few months ago.
AMP and FOSNA join together to refute Islamophobic article by Michael Oren
As directors of Christian and Muslim organizations in North America, we are appalled at Mr. Oren’s reckless comments and Islamophobia. We urge readers to listen instead to the voices of Palestinian Christians who testify to the reality of life under Israeli control and their relations with Muslim neighbors.
In December of 2009 the heads of mainline churches in Bethlehem issued the Kairos Palestine Document, the result of a full year of deliberations. Palestinians, they wrote, live under increasingly “cruel circumstances,” but it is not their Muslim neighbors who are to blame. It is Israel and its brutal occupation.
“We declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity,” the document states, “because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.” It cites the infamous separation wall built on Palestinian territory, Israeli settlements that “ravage our land,” the “daily humiliation” at military checkpoints, the separation of families, the thousands of prisoners “languishing in Israeli prisons,” and the denial of access to holy sites.
This denial undermines Mr. Oren’s claim that Israel “allows holiday access to Jerusalem’s Christians from both the West Bank and Gaza.” In fact, virtually no Christians from Gaza are allowed to enter Jerusalem and 90 percent of those in the West Bank are denied entry.
Far from fearing their Muslim neighbors, Palestinian Christians engage in dialogue with them and join them in non-violent resistance to the continuing theft of their land and water. The Kairos Palestine Document states openly that “Muslims are neither to be stereotyped as the enemy nor caricatured as terrorists.”
In Hamas-run Gaza, Mr. Oren writes, Christians live under death threats and suppression of their religious rights. But Fr. Manuel Musallam, a Catholic priest who spent 14 years in Gaza, tells a different story. “Christians are not suffering any persecution,” Fr. Manuel told a group of Americans last year. “Christians are well-respected by Hamas as well as by others.”
Fr. Manuel, who left Gaza after Israel’s deadly attacks in 2008-9, described the strip as “a piece of hell floating on the ground.” In saying this, he was not blaming Hamas. He knew many Hamas officials well because some of them sent children to his school. No, he said, Gaza is hell because of Israel, which has turned it into an open-air prison with 1.5 million people sentenced to collective punishment.
It is not only the mainline churches that are speaking out about Israeli oppression. A group of evangelicals recently held a conference in Bethlehem, attracting 600 participants. The event was titled “Christ at the Checkpoint,” and it produced a manifesto that states, “For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.” The organizers called for Christians “to stand against the injustice of the occupation.”
Surveys by Bethlehem University and Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization, have consistently found that Palestinian Christians are leaving because of the brutality of the occupation, rising unemployment, barriers to education, and economic blight.
Economic costs to the Palestinians are staggering. A 2012 UN report stated the cost of Israel’s occupation to the Palestinian economy was about $7 billion in 2010, almost 85 percent of the gross domestic product. Another report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency stated the economy was faltering in the West Bank where rising unemployment and inflation caused a 2.6 percent decline in purchasing power in 2010, when unemployment was 25 percent. The situation is even more dire in Gaza because of “impoverishment and de-development,” the reports state.
Israel’s policies are deliberately strangling Palestinian aspirations, for Christians and Muslims alike, and in his book “Palestine Peace not Apartheid,” former President Jimmy Carter explains why: “The Palestinian ghettos that exist today serve a dual purpose: to exert severe economic and social pressure on the Palestinian population in order to force them to leave; and to allow complete control of the Palestinian population who remain in order to facilitate expansion of the Jewish settlements onto their confiscated land.”
The relentless pressure of the occupation has brought Palestinians of both faiths together, according to Fr. Faysal Hijazeen, a Catholic priest in Ramallah. Palestinian Christians have never suffered persecution from Muslims, he wrote in an open letter to Mr. Oren. And now, he said, they are growing even closer under the weight of shared suffering: “It is these imposed Israeli obstacles which strengthen the ties between [us] … The bullets fired against Palestinians do not differentiate between Christians and Muslims.”
Dr. Hatem Bazian
Chairman, American Muslims for Palestine
Dr. Don Wagner
Director, Friends of Sabeel North America
Filed under: Jewish Propaganda