Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Forgotten Faithful

After reading my last post, those interested in what's really behind the emigration of Palestinian Christians from their homeland should read my 25/12/09 post, A Not So Merry Palestinian Christmas. Don Belt's The Forgotten Faithful (National Geographic, June 2009) is also worth a read. Some (abridged) excerpts:

"Easter in Jerusalem is not for the faint of heart. The Old City, livid and chaotic in the calmest of times, seems to come completely unhinged in the days leading up to the holiday. By the tens of thousands, Christians from all over the world pour in like a conquering horde, surging down the Via Dolorosa's narrow streets and ancient alleyways... Every face on Earth seems to float through the streets during Easter, every possible combination of eye and hair and skin color, every costume and style of dress, from blue-black African Christians in eye-popping dashikis to pale Finnish Christians dressed as Jesus with a bloody crown of thorns to American Christians in sneakers and 'I [heart] Israel' caps, clearly stoked for the battle of Armageddon."

"In a small apartment on the outskirts of the city, a young Palestinian Christian couple I will call Lisa and Mark [and their two children, 18-month old Nadia and 3-year old Nate] are preparing to enter the fray... This is the first Easter, ever, that Mark has been allowed to spend with the family in Jerusalem. He is from Bethlehem, in the West Bank, so his ID papers are from the Palestinian Authority; he needs a permit from Israel to visit. Lisa, whose family lives in the Old City, holds an Israeli ID. So although they've been married for 5 years and rent this apartment in the Jerusalem suburbs, under Israeli law they can't reside under the same roof. Mark lives with his parents in Bethlehem, which is 6 miles away but might as well be a hundred, lying on the far side of an Israeli checkpoint and the 24-foot-high concrete barrier known as the Wall.

"Mark finds it depressing that '80% of the Christian guys I grew up with have left for another country to find work'. Yet he understands why. A trained social worker with a degree in sociology, Mark has been looking for a job, any job, for almost 2 years. 'You're surrounded by this giant wall, and there are no jobs', he says. 'It's like a science experiment. If you keep rats in an enclosed space and make it smaller and smaller every day and introduce new obstacles and constantly change the rules, after a while the rats go crazy and start eating each other. It's like that'.

"For anyone living in Israel or the Palestinian territories, stress is the norm. But the 196,500 Palestinian and Israeli Arab Christians, who dropped from 13% of the population in 1894 to less than 2% today, occupy a uniquely oxygen-starved space between traumatized Israeli Jews [! I know whose trauma I'd rather have: MERC] and traumatized Palestinian Muslims, whose militancy is tied to regional Islamist movements that sometimes target Arab Christians. In the past decade, 'the situation for Arab Christians has gone rapidly downhill', says Razek Siriani... who works for the Middle East Council of Churches in Aleppo, Syria. 'We're completely outnumbered and surrounded by angry voices', he says. Western Christians have made matters worse, he argues, echoing a sentiment expressed by many Arab Christians. 'It's because of what Christians in the West, led by the US, have been doing in the Middle East', he says, ticking off the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for Israel, and the threats of 'regime change' by the Bush administration. 'To many Muslims, especially the fanatics, , this looks like the Crusades all over again, a war against Islam waged by Christianity. Because we're Christians, they see us as the enemy too. It's guilt by association'."

"On Easter morning, Mark and Lisa make a handsome couple in their Sunday clothes, leading Nate and Nadia by the hand up the sidewalk to the family car... it's a proud moment, their first Easter together in the Holy Land, and Lisa, noticing the thick coat of dust on the car, asks Mark to give it a rinse. He fetches a hose and connects it to a faucet they share with their neighbors... In an animated voice, Lisa explains to the kids that Daddy's giving the car a bath for Easter. Right on cue, with a playful flourish, Mark squeezes the nozzle on the hose. Nothing comes out. He checks the faucet, squeezes again. Still nothing. So there he stands, empty hose in hand, in front of his kids, his neighbors, and a visitor from overseas. 'I guess they've opened the pipes to the settlements', he says, gesturing to the hundreds of new Israeli housing units climbing up the hills nearby. 'No more [water] for us'. Lisa is still trying to explain this to the kids as the car pulls away from the curb.

"'I hate the Israelis', Lisa says one day, out of the blue. 'I really hate them. We all hate them. I think even Nate's starting to hate them'."

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