[continued from part 2]
Tuesday morning. I wake up and head to the conference center to hear the morning Bible study session led by Christopher Wright, my absolute favorite OT scholar to read. His session focuses on Psalm 2 as the Royal Coronation Song for the Davidic King, which is ultimately fulfilled fully in Jesus the Messiah. It’s good stuff…as is everything Wright teaches (I call him “OT Wright” to distinguish him from N.T. Wright, the famous New Testament scholar of the same last name!).
After that, Salim Munayer hosts a panel discussion focusing on the state of Christians in Palestine, including Gaza. The panel consists of Bader Mansour (Israeli Palestinian), Hanna Massad (Gazan) and Nashat Felemon (West Bank). Here are some of the points they mentioned that many people are unaware of:
- There are 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel
- There are 45,000 Christians in the West Bank
- Messianic and Arab Pastors have good fellowship despite theological and political disagreements at times
They also talked about the reasons Christians are leaving Palestine. Contrary to some Western Christian media reports, Christians are not motivated to leave Palestine due to persecution by radical Muslims. Instead, these are the biggest factors listed by actual Palestinian Christians who have left:
- Security concerns (due to the Occupation) – 32%
- Economy concerns – 26%
- Political frustration – 20%
- Education opportunities – 12%
- To be with family – 6%
- Religious troubles – >1%
Again, this goes directly against the common narrative regarding the plight of Palestinian Christians at the hands of radical Islam being the main reason for their departure of the Holy Land.
Other things mentioned by the panelists include:
- In the 70s there were 300 evangelical Palestinians in Israel. Now there are around 5,000.
- 60% of them are women and over 1,000 attended a recent revival service on Mother’s Day
- Gaza is only 30 miles long and 7 miles wide, yet over 1 million people live there making it the most densely populated region on earth
- 95% of the water in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for drinking
- Many families consider selling their children due to poverty
- Gaza Baptist Church and Bethlehem Bible College have a Library and school there which serve over 150 Christian families
- One of their Christian leaders, Rami Ayyad, was kidnapped and killed by militants last year. He was 29 years old with 3 children
- Rami’s widow continues to serve with the Palestinian Bible Society despite the loss of her husband
- On October 4th, 2013, they held a Bible Day celebration in Ramalah. 1,300 people from 7 denominations attended, including 5 Bishops.
- Currently Christians in Palestine are experiencing something of a ‘golden era.’ They have more freedom than any other Arab area and the Palestinian Authority is largely supportive of Christians. Churches and celebrations are allowed and they have good relationships with the Palestinian authorities.
- Unfortunately, Christian tour guides from the West often discourage people from visiting the West Bank, telling them that it is dangerous. But this is not at all the case and many Western Christians are shocked to learn of Palestinian Christians.
After the panel discussion, Salim gave a presentation on the importance of “Narratives” in the ongoing conflict between those who are Pro-Israeli and those who are Pro-Palestinian. He suggested that a Christian’s narrative should be Pro-Jesus’ Kingdom instead. Unlike “history”, which focuses on objective facts, written sources, etc., “narrative” focuses on storytelling and identity. This can be good if done accurately, but often narratives threaten others due to the selective use of sources, half-truths and a zero-sum mentality that resists new information.
The common Zionist narrative is one wherein:
- Israelis accepted the partition of 1948, but Arabs rushed to war
- Israeli leaders called for Palestinians to stay, but Arab leaders told them to flee and return for the spoils after the war
- The Israelis were the “David” (tiny, few in number) up against the Arab “Goliath” (many, vast power)
On the other hand, the common Palestinian narrative insists:
- Israelis protested the partition, but accepted it in order to gain a foothold in the land from which to expand to all of it
- Palestinians were forced to flee their land and their villages at gunpoint
- Palestinians were the “David” and Israel was, and still is, the “Goliath”
Salim then spoke of how to achieve reconciliation between peoples whose narratives are so different in a way that honors everyone and reflects the love of Jesus:
- Listen to each other! Actually LISTEN rather than becoming defensive or making excuses!
- Recognize the truth in the other’s narrative
- Identify the weaknesses in one’s own narrative
- Seek to remember the past rightly and redemptively
- Remember the land belongs to GOD, not US. GOD is the only “hero”, not “our” side.
- A victimization mindset can paralyze one’s ability to deal with neighbors.
- The Holocaust and the Nakba BOTH created real wounds to the respective peoples. Both need to be remembered and honored redemptively
- Without forgiveness, one will always be bound to the past.
As Salim was finishing his talk, I decided to duck out a few minutes early to take a quick nap during our lunch break. I was still a bit jetlagged and wanted to catch up on some sleep. However, as I was leaving the front door of the hotel, I saw a crowd of teenagers with their heads covered in keffiyehs running toward the military gate in the wall and throwing rocks. I found out from one of the people standing and watching that the day before, 3 Arabs had been killed by the IDF and the students of the town were protesting.
Rock-throwing is common in the West Bank and something of a rite of passage among young people growing up under the Occupation. Usually, a Palestinian friend told me, kids will throw rocks at the wall (there is a military outpost on the other side of it, but beyond that there is only olive groves and open Palestinian land) or light trash cans on fire or other forms of protest. If the soldiers don’t come out and respond, they get bored after a half hour or so and go home. But if the soldiers enter the area to respond with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets, it draws exponentially more kids to come and join in the protest. It becomes something of a sporting contest between two groups of teenagers, really. One side consists of angry teenagers throwing rocks at “the oppressor”, the other side consists of conscripted teenagers “serving their country” by putting down a “violent crowd”.
But the irony is that by such actions, both sides only generate more of the very thing they are seeking to avoid.
I was pretty fascinated watching the whole scene play out just a few yards away from me. I ducked back inside the hotel at the request of the manager (who wanted to make sure no tourist/international was injured on his watch, no doubt!) and stayed near the front window watching and taking pictures.
This was my first encounter with tear gas, stun grenades or rubber-coated bullets.
But it wouldn’t be my last.
[to be continued]