Palestinian Christians are on their last breath in the Holy Land. This was the overwhelming conclusion of more than 300 international religious leaders and scholars recently at an impressive conference in Cleveland. The conference was co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council for Peace in the Middle East and Sabeel, a voice for Palestinian Christians.
How would the 1 billion world Christians feel about the systematic removal of their brothers and sisters from the Holy Land? Would it matter to them that the holy cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are becoming primarily Jewish cities? And would it be acceptable to reduce Christianity in the Holy Land to basically a caretaker function for empty churches, museums and holy shrines?
As chairman of Palestinians for Peace and Democracy, I had the privilege to participate in this conference and screen our San Antonio-produced film “The Iron Wall,” which documents the illegal Jewish settlements and the wall’s deep encroachment into the West Bank. Former President Jimmy Carter endorsed this award-winning film in his recent book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who opened the sold-out conference via video, eloquently set forth the analogy between the Palestinian struggle for justice and his experience with the South African apartheid. Then speaker after speaker, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, electrified the participants by telling them about the Palestinians’ grave and inhumane suffering under Israel’s 40 years of colonial occupation.
Today, Palestine-Israel, the land that gave birth to Christ and Christianity, is less than 2 percent Christians. Speakers emphasized that during the British Mandate, Palestine was officially considered a Christian country, with 50 percent of the population in Jerusalem and 90 percent in Bethlehem. However, with the creation of Israel in 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their ancestral land, and in the 1967 war an additional 350,000 were driven from their homes.
According to Ma’an, an online Palestinian news agency, the Palestinian National Information Center reports that since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, the uprising since September 2000, the Israeli military has “killed 5,050 Palestinians, mostly civilian men, women and children, wounding 49,760 and increasing to a total of 10,400 prisoners.” In addition, in one way or another, Israel is occupying and controlling the entire land and suppressing the daily lives of the Palestinian population.
Professor of anthropology Jeff Halper, an Israeli American peace activist, 2006 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in Palestine, insisted “the Jewish state of Israel is not a democracy as it is perceived in the U.S. but an ethnocracy and, as the occupier and oppressor, is directly responsible for the conflict” in the Holy Land.
Not surprisingly, an investigation of Israel’s military occupation and brutal policy reveals that it continues to violate the Palestinians’ human rights, the United States’ official policy, the United Nations’ many resolutions and the International Court of Justice.
Further, Israel has refused to accept or live up to the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the international Quartet road map for peace and the 2002 peace proposal by the 23 Arab nations, which are all based on a complete withdrawal from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.
The United States must not continue to finance and legitimize Israel’s illegal colonization, which does not serve our best interests. This one-sided policy has become a liability and an embarrassment to Americans and has created enemies throughout the world. To change this, the U.S. must genuinely support the Palestinians’ right of self-determination and become an honest broker for justice and lasting peace.
Since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in the 1967 war in six days, it can evacuate in six days, so it can rest on the seventh. Then we can begin to live together in peace.
Jacob Nammar of San Antonio is an international business executive.