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PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS: CHALLENGES AND HOPES

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Post by Penyaran on Fri Jun 08, 2012 5:15 pm


PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS: CHALLENGES AND HOPES



Bernard Sabella



Associate professor of Sociology



Bethlehem University, Palestine



1- Who Are the Palestinian Christians?



Palestinian Christians have deep roots in the land. The great majority,
estimated at 400,000 worldwide or roughly 6.5 percent of all
Palestinians, are of indigenous stock, whose mother tongue is Arabic and
whose history takes them back, or at least some of them, to the early
church. At present, the 50,000 Christians in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip make up only 2.2 percent of the total population estimated in the
mid-nineties at 2,238,0001. Palestinian Arab Christians in Israel were
estimated, for the same year, at 125,000 or 14 percent of all Arabs in
Israel'. Christians in Palestine and Israel make up 175,000 or 2.3
percent of the entire Arab and Jewish population of the Holy Land.



A majority of fifty-six percent of Palestinian Christians are found
outside of their country. This situation of out-migration resulted from
the exodus of 726,000 Palestinian refugees in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
Fifty to sixty thousand Palestinian Christians, comprising 35 percent
of all Christians in pre1948 mandatory Palestine, were among the
refugees'. In 1996, these refugees and their descendants are spread over
the entire Middle East but primarily in the sixty refugee camps dotting
the topography of the West Bank (19 refugee camps); Gaza Strip (8
refugee camps); Jordan (10 refugee camps); Syria (10 refugee camps) and
Lebanon (13 refugee camps).



As for Palestinian Christians, refugees and non-refugees, they are found
mostly in urban areas of the Middle East but many have opted to leave
to far away lands such as the USA, Central and South America, Australia
and Canada. The dispersal of Palestinians since 1948 has spared no one
family or group. The demographics of Palestinian Christians is as much
shaped by the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as it is the
demographics of Palestinians in general.



Palestinian Christians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip belong to fifteen different denominations, the largest of which
are the Greek Orthodox (51 percent), and the Roman Catholics (32 per
cent.) Some smaller denominations, such as the Copts who are originally
from Egypt, do not number more than a score of families. Yet each
denomination or community maintains a rich tradition of rites and
rituals, beside educational and other institutions, that speaks of its
long presence and attachment to the land called holy.



Foreign Missionary Schools and Their Impact



A history of foreign - mostly by European - missionary sponsorship of
schools, which started around the midst of the nineteenth century and
originally intended to serve the local Christian population, has left
clear impact on the community and its outlook. The advantage that the
Palestinian Christians had in earlier access to education was to be
reflected later in the development of a socioeconomic, occupational and
employment profile that made them adopt rather earlier than other
Palestinians, the style of life associated with the middle class, its
preferences, and unfortunately, its limitations. It is argued that the
European educational institutions, by exposing Palestinian Christians to
foreign languages and cultures, accelerated among them the notion of
relative deprivation, which was felt first towards the turn of the
century when Christians from Bethlehem and Ramallah areas, comparing
their backwardness of the Ottoman Empire to the progress being made in
Europe and America, started on the process of emigration to North
Central and South America.



The Impact of the 1948 and 1967 Wars



But Europeans, missionaries and others, cannot be blamed for all the
ills of the Middle East even though some Europeans can be blamed for the
most of the ills that afflicted the Holy Land in the twentieth century.
Palestinian Christians, an integral part of their society, suffered the
consequences of the intensive Arab Jewish communal conflict in the
first half of the twentieth century When t communal conflict came to a
head in martial confrontation in 1948, Arab Palestinian society was
forced to re-organise. Many Palestinian refugees, including Christians,
established themselves in the newly emerging Amman capital of Jordan, as
traders, professionals and businessmen. Others opted leave to North
American and Arab Gulf destinations. Those who went to Arab Gulf
countries eventually came back to retire in their hometowns such as B
Sahour, the town best known for The Shepherds' Field. Others who opted
to North America and further destinations established themselves and the
families there and became diaspora communities with the usual sentiment
attachments to the homeland and its fading memories.



The 1967 War heralded drastic changes for the whole of Palestinian
society in the West Bank and Gaza. Economic, social, organisational and
politic changes took place amidst mounting tensions between the
Palestinians, on t one hand, and Israeli military authorities and Jewish
settlers, on the other. With these changes and with the precarious
population balance between Arabs and Jews, there was a growing
realisation among some Israelis and Palestinians of the need to work
towards a political solution that would end the occupation and secure
the basic rights of Palestinians. Christians, tending towards the
mainstream and secular political organisation, took part in the efforts
of their society to end occupation and to establish Palestinian national
rights. But Christians, with their middle class background and
occupational preferences, got increasingly sensitive to the instability
and uncertainty which accompanied long Israeli military rule.
Palestinian Christians, judging from the rate of emigration among them,
which was double the national rate between 1967 and 1993, were
especially susceptible to the practices of Israeli occupation
authorities as more than 12,000 of them left East Jerusalem, the West
Bank and Gaza Strip to go abroad.



The Intifada and the Oslo Accords



The intense political relationships between Israelis and Palestinians
came to a head-on clash with the outburst of the Intifada in December
1987.Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip actively participated in
it; some became martyrs, others were imprisoned and still others had to
hide from Israeli pursuit. Christian communities reacted collectively
as they pressed, like other Palestinians, for an end of occupation and
for a new relationship with the Israelis based on mutual respect and
recognition of rights. The Intifada itself, as perceived by Palestinians
and their leaders, was a call to make peace with Israel based on the
presence of two peoples on the land. Besides, the Intifada made
Palestinians proud that they could confront Israelis as equals.



The Intifada and its success were key factors that made possible the
negotiations leading to the Oslo accords. With these accords, the stage
was set for the political transformation and the natural excitement
which accompanied it. Palestinian Christians, like other Palestinians,
have shaped events and have been equally affected by them. The time of
transition and transformation now called for an optimistic stand and a
departure from the past and a break with it. But would the time of
transformation and transition be read alike by Palestinians in different
walks of life? And how would expectations of a new order and of the
future in general, be affected by various economic and social
indicators? Would Christians with their educational, occupational and
income profile react in much the same way as other Palestinians?



Excellent Christian-Moslem Relations



In order to better understand or contextualise the Palestinian Christian
response, there is need to reaffirm the traditionally excellent
relations between Christians and their Moslem neighbours. This tradition
of good Christian-Moslem relations has evolved through centuries of
coexistence and exchange in the cities of Jerusalem, Nazareth,
Bethlehem, Ramallah and in the rural areas such as Zababdeh, BirZeit and
other towns and villages where Moslems and Christians live side by side
and interact in their pursuit of daily pre-occupations and concerns. A
number of factors have historically contributed to this tradition of
excellent Moslem-Christian relations:4



First, the modem history of Palestine with the Arab-Israeli
conflict affecting the entire population equally, with the experience of
dispersal and loss of homeland.



Second, the contribution which Christian institutions, mostly
Western, have made since the 19th century to the education, health and
other needs of the population irrespective of religion.



Third, the presence of the Holy Places, and the recognition by
Islam of the centrality of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth to
Christianity. This recognition is best crystallised in Caliph 'Umar's
"al-Uhda al-'Umariyya" which was his guarantee of the safety of
Christians and their holy places in 638 when Islam entered the country.5



Fourth, the urban nature of the Christian population and its
living in religiously mixed Christian-Moslem neighbourhoods, thus
emphasising openness and neighbourly relations. In those instances where
Christians lived in villages and rural areas, relations were always
characterised by friendly co-operation and communal sharing.



Fifth, Christians take equal pride in their national and
religious roots. Being a good Christian has never detracted from being a
good Palestinian nationalist, and vice-versa.



Sixth, the Ottoman Miller system which recognised the autonomy of
the Christian communities to run their own internal affairs, especially
those related to religious and civil matters.



Socio-Economic Profile of Palestinian Christians



The socio-economic profile of Palestinian Christians can also provide
the context within which one can understand how they assess their
present situation and look to the future. Christians are an older
community with a median age of 32 years in contrast to that of the rest
of the population which stands at 16 years. The older age structure
among Christians is related to the emigration of younger members, older
age at marriage and to the fact that Christian fertility is lower than
the national average. Christian families have a lower number of children
than their Muslim counterparts. The sex ratio of males to every
one-hundred females is significantly lower in communities which have
suffered from emigration such as Jerusalem where the ratio stands at 83
males to every 100 females.



On educational attainment, Christians tend to be over-represented
particularly among those with a university degree. The distribution of
Christians in education shows that they are twice as likely to have a
university degree and twice less likely not to have had an education or
to have finished just elementary education.



However, the gap which existed earlier on in educational achievement, is
no longer there. The spread of education and the enrolment of
Palestinian women in schools and universities has practically erased the
difference that once existed. Presently, all of the Christian private
schools in the greater Jerusalem Bethlehem-Ramallah area have an
overwhelming majority of Muslim students.



As to the distribution of Christians by occupation, they are definitely
not farmers nor construction workers. Few are skilled mechanics but even
fewer are unskilled workers. Christians are found in the white collar
professions: civil service and teaching, beside self-employment, trade
and commerce. There are fewer unemployed among Christians than among
Muslims. Sixty percent of Christians are found in the various tertiary
service sectors, which gives a clear indication about the occupational
profile of the community.



The educational and occupational profile of Christians gets reflected in
better income, on average. Christians are over-represented by over
twice as much as Muslims in the highest income bracket and
under-represented by as much as three times in the lowest income
bracket. Forty-six percent however, fall in the same income brackets as
sixty percent of the general population.



The better income enjoyed by Christians is paralleled by a high
correlation on their placement on a property index. Palestinian
Christians, accordingly, can be categorised as a well-educated community
engaged in white collar professional employment with above average
income and property.



Christians are an overly urban community as ninety-seven percent of them
live in the urban localities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Only
three percent report living in villages and refugee camps. While
historically Christians have lived in urban areas, the accelerating rate
of urbanisation among them is due to the fact that the villages that
were once populated by Christians, especially in the Ramallah and Jenin
area, can no longer economically support their inhabitants from work on
land and related activities. Migration to the cities was a natural
consequence, especially after 1967, as Israeli economic policies made
many Palestinian villages into dormitory communities, with most of their
labour force commuting daily to work in Israel. As a result, many
Palestinian Christians from villages have elected to migrate to
Jerusalem and other West Bank cities and join the communities already
established there.



A Tradition of Emigration



Palestinian Christians have experienced a relatively long tradition of
emigration since late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Early
emigration was motivated by worsening political and economic conditions
in the Ottoman Empire. A feeling of uneasiness with the atmosphere of
backwardness in all spheres of life was strengthened by the fear of
conscription of young men to the Ottoman army. Families pulled in their
resources to enable younger male members to travel to Central, South and
North America in order to make a new living. Once these were
established in their new localities, they invited other members of their
families to join them.7



The factors that affected emigration trends at the turn of the century
among Middle Eastern Christians, including Christians of the Holy Land,
can be grouped under three interconnected sets:



First, there were the prevailing bad socio-economic and political
conditions which acted as constraints on the prospects of advancement
for communities, families and individuals.



Second, there were the educational and vocational characteristics
of Christian Arabs which were in the process of formation as a result
of missionary educational activity in the region. These characteristics,
blended with an entrepreneurial spirit of Christian villagers such as
those in Bethlehem and Beit Jala, reinforced the tendency to leave.



Third, the pull of distant "Christian" lands was too strong to
resist given that in those lands fortunes could be made and, at the same
time, the community could be preserved through the translocation of
indigenous churches in the diaspora. Emigration was thus made a viable
alternative to a stagnant and backward society which offered no hope for
a better future.8



 Palestinian Christians in a Migrant Community



At the end of the twentieth century and given the political and economic
conditions prevailing under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Christian community fits well the
definition of a migrant community: "A community with high educational
achievement and a relatively good standard of living but with no real
prospects for economic security or advancement will most probably become
a migrant community".9 An emigration survey, undertaken by the author
in 1993 on 964 Palestinian households, Christian and Moslem alike, in
the central area of the West Bank, upholds the relationship between high
levels of education and standards of living and intention to emigrate.
Among the 239 Christian households interviewed, intention to emigrate
was double that exhibited by the Moslem households.10



The Christian sample in the 1993 survey had slightly more years of
education and better income, on average, than the rest of the
population. In addition, it was clear that almost all of those intending
to leave, among Christians, have immediate members of their families
abroad. The bad economic and political situation were primary reasons
for wanting to leave: 88 percent of those wanting to leave specified the
bad economic situation while 61 percent blamed the bad political
situation.



Conditions that will help stop or discourage
emigration are primarily the improvement of the political situation,
mentioned by 47 percent of all respondents and the improvement of the
economic situation mentioned by 40 percent.




Peace and its Importance to Stop Emigration



Another indicator of the importance of the political situation is the
response received on a question of whether respondents intent on
emigration will still leave if peace were to take place. Forty-nine
percent of those intending to leave would not, if peace were to take
place. Among Moslems, 38 percent said they would not leave while among
Christians the percentage of those who would not leave with peace came
close to two-thirds and stood at 65 percent. This is further proof that
the political situation is an important push factor and that if this
situation improves, emigration among Palestinians will be drastically
reduced. Based on this and other findings, it becomes clear that the
political factor plays an important role in encouraging Palestinians to
emigrate or to stay put in their country.



But Why Do Christians Leave?



But why do Christians leave at a higher rate than the rest of the
population? The answer is not simple as it involves interrelated factors
and their mutual effects on one another. First, the socio-economic
characteristics of the Christians which make them more likely candidates
for emigration. Second, the fact that emigration is not a new
phenomenon for the Christians and that there has been a relatively long
tradition of emigration, particularly to distant "Christian" lands.
Third, Christians are more sensitive than the general population, to bad
economic and political conditions, particularly if they perceive that
the prospects for advancement are not forthcoming. Regardless of how one
explains this sensitivity, it has to do with the Christian demographic,
economic, educational and occupational profile.



Some conclusions from the 1993 survey throw light on factors which
render Palestinian Christians more prone than the rest of the
population, to take the difficult decision of leaving.



There is clearly a relationship between the higher rates of departures
and the overall bad or worsening economic and political situation during
particular years.



The process of emigration for whole families starts when one of the
children goes abroad to study, marry and/or work and eventually pulls
the whole family to him/her.



Those religious communities with higher percentage of household members
abroad are more likely to have their members exhibit intention to
emigrate than those communities with lower percentages. A closer look at
the religious communities with high a percentage of immediate family
members abroad reveals the following percentages in descending order:
Armenian Orthodox 61%; Syriac Orthodox 50%; Greek Orthodox 32%; Latins
28%; Moslems 23%; Greek Catholics 15%; and Protestants 8%.



When intention to emigrate is examined, the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and
Syriac Orthodox exhibit the highest percentage of those wanting to
leave. The Protestants have the lowest percentage while the Latins and
Greek Catholics are placed in the middle. One can therefore, argue that
in principle, the smaller the religious community the more it is likely
that members of this community will choose to leave. It is appropriate
hence to provide some demographic data and indicators on the size and
distribution of the various denominations in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip.



Size and Distribution of Palestinian Christians Palestinian Christians
are found in over fifteen different localities with concentration in the
urban centres of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah. Following is the
distribution of Palestinian Christians by denomination in the various
localities of the West Bank and Gaza:



Denomination-----Aboud-----Bethlehem-----Beit-Jala-----Beit-Sahour



Greek Orthodox------536 ------------2133 ------------4733 --------------5749



Latins--------------------443-------------2934-------------1116 ---------------919



Greek Catholics------10---------------480--------------134-------------------528



Syriacs-------------------------------------902--------------120------------------44



Protestants--------------28--------------110---------------240----------------- 95



Total----------------------1017------------6559------------6343---------------7335



Denomination----- BirZeit----- EinArik----- Gaza----- Jenin



Greek Orthodox---- 918----------- 211-------- 2207------- 169



Latins-------------------1104--------- 117----------210----------327



Greek Catholics-----39----------------------------22----------- 41



Syriacs-----------------17



Protestants---------- 80------------- 40



Total------------------ 2158---------- 328--------- 2479--------- 537



Denomination----- Jericho----- Jerusalem----- Jifna----- Nablus



Greek Orthodox------ 256--------- 3500------------- 272-------- 436



Latins-------------------- 164---------- 3900------------- 369--------- 291



Greek Catholics------ 81----------- 500--------------- 8------------- 64



Syriacs------------------- 22----------- 250



Protestants------------12------------- 850-----------------------------250



Armenians* ---------------------------- 1500 - -



Copts* ------------------------------------------------------ 250 - -



Ethiopians* ------------------------------- 60 - -



Maronites* ------------------------------- 100 - -



Total-------------------- 535------------- 10,910--------- 649---------- 1041



(*The figures are inclusive of the West Bank, but the major concentration is in Jerusalem.)



Denomination-----Ramallah-----Taybeh----- Zababdeh



Greek Orthodox----- 4000------------ 72------------- 631



Latins---------------------1100---------- 872------------ 1302



Greek Catholics-------- 650--------- 166------------- 125



Syriacs--------------------- 100-----------------------------43



Protestants---------------- 600---------------------------150



Total------------------------- 6450------ 1110------------ 2251



The total number of Palestinian Christians is 49,702 distributed among the various denominations as follows:



Greek Orthodox---- 25,835------------ 52.0%



Latins------------------- 15,168------------ 30.5%



Greek Catholics---- 2848--------------- 5.7%



Protestants---------- 2443---------------- 4.9%



Syriacs--------------- 1498----------------- 3.0%



Armenians---------- 1500----------------- 3.0%



Copts----------------- 250------------------- 0.5%



Ethiopians---------- 60--------------------- 0.1%



Maronites----------- 100-------------------- 0.2%



(Source: Christians in the Holy Land, Edited by
Michael Prior and William Taylor, the World of Islam Festival Trust,
London, 1994.)




The Decline of Jerusalem's Christians:A Sad Example of Dwindling



Numbers Jerusalem, the city where the "Mother Church" originated,
provides a dramatic example of the effects of the dwindling numbers of
its Christians. While Jerusalem's Christians are blessed with probably
the highest "church per capita" in the world with one church for every
177 Christians, the decline in the number of Jerusalem Christians
continues. Emigration is responsible for this decline as the political
conditions, especially since 1967, have pushed many Palestinians out of
their country. The extent of the Christian decline is best understood by
the fact that in 1944 there were 29,350 Christians living in the city;
today, Jerusalem's Christian population is only 35.5% of what it used to
be 50 years ago." There is concern by some, both Church officials and
experts, that if preventative and curative steps are not undertaken,
then the dwindling of Christian numbers will continue unabated
eventually causing the disappearance of community life in some of
Jerusalem's churches.



Rites, Rituals and Celebrations:



The Community Reaffirmed Perpetually The rites, rituals and traditions
of Palestinian Christians are factors which still pull the community
together and reinforce its raison desire. They are also a strong signal
of identification with Palestinian society; its ordeals and
expectations. In spite of the sombre shadows with which politics in the
Holy Land sends on Xmas, Palestinian Christian parents still endeavour
to celebrate Xmas with a semblance of joy within the family. Trees are
decorated a couple of days before Xmas and they are kept standing, in
most homes, through the Greek Orthodox Xmas on 7th January and the
Armenian Xmas on 19th January. Families, especially children, take great
pride in the replication of the nativity scene under the Xmas tree and,
as elsewhere, await Santa's visit with impatience.



But Christmas remains the hallmark of Bethlehem as Easter Week is that
of Jerusalem. The Easter season begins with the carnival weekend when
those intent on fasting have the last chance, until Easter Sunday, to
satisfy their culinary buds with rich dishes and sweets. Lent is kept by
most families including children who abstain from eating meat on
Wednesdays and Fridays and undertake to perform small "sacrifices" here
and there.



With the arrival of the first Easter Pilgrims, especially those from
Cyprus and in years past, from Egypt and other neighbouring countries,
the atmosphere of Easter starts to assert itself. Stands that sell
souvenir items are found on every street corner and in front of souvenir
shops in the Christian Quarter and in alleys leading to the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre. Candles of all sizes and designs are offered for
sale and local children, on Easter vacation from school, employ their
freshly learned foreign words and phrases to entice pilgrims to buy
souvenir items.



Easter Week: Palm Sunday



Easter Week starts with Palm Sunday. Some families in Jerusalem's
Christian Quarter specialise in preparing palm branches in tree-like
designs with pockets to hold flowers. These are sought by local
families, especially those blessed with small children, and they are
decorated with flowers and coloured ribbons in preparation for Palm
Sunday service, which is truly a community event. At the end of the
service, olive branches are distributed to parishioners as an omen for
peace.



In the afternoon of Palm Sunday the community
takes part in the traditional procession from Bethphage, a village on
the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, to the Church of St. Anne
just inside St. Stephen's Gate in the Old City. Palm Branches,
symbolising victory, are carried by all. At the termination of the
procession, the branches are shaken as the Latin Patriarch, who headed
the procession, enters the church. The sound produced is reminiscent of
that of tree leaves shaken by the crowd which gathered around Jesus as
he entered Jerusalem. After the procession, another of those events
which testify to the good Moslem-Christian relations takes place.
Christian and Moslem boy scout troops, which on Palm Sunday 1995
numbered 32 different troops from all parts of Palestine and which
helped keep order in the procession, circle the walls of the Old City in
their colourful uniforms and their flags as they play band music of
popular nationalistic tunes.



On Good Friday, Christians of Jerusalem as well
as thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, show expressions of
mourning and grief as they walk through the Via Dolorosa. The procession
through the fourteen stations of the cross is terminated at Calvary and
is accompanied throughout by the Franciscannun community choir and the
parish boy scout troop which keeps order.



Sabt an-Nour: Saturday of Holy Fire Saturday is
the Saturday of Light, "Sabt an-Nour". This is the day when the
resurrection of Christ is commemorated in the ceremony of "Holy Fire"
which takes place in the Sepulchre holding Christ's tomb. Hundreds of
pilgrims, mostly Cypriots, Greeks and Copts, sleep overnight by the
Sepulchre to be among the first to receive the holy fire. Locals start
joining them in the early morning as the church, its square and roofs,
become packed with crowds. All carry bundles of candles and glass
lanterns.



Around noontime, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and his entourage proceeds
from his residence to the Holy Sepulchre, through a staircase leading
from the roof to inside the church. Meanwhile, Christian youths gather
in one of the squares of the Christian Quarter and proceed through the
narrow alleys to the church. On their way, they alternately carry one of
them on their shoulders as he leads them in shouting slogans. Among
these, one can hear: "Repeat loudly after me - Oh Virgin (Mary) peace be
unto you - from Christians and Moslems alike," and "We Christians and
the candles in our hands - for St Geries (St. George), AI-Khader, we
pray." As the youths enter the church, they circle the Holy Sepulchre
repeating: "This is the tomb of Our Lord - Our Lord is Jesus
Christ-Christ has bought us-With his precious blood he has redeemed us
we are today happy." After circling the sepulchre three times, they
await the official procession led by the Patriarch and for the
participation of members of old Arab Orthodox families who, as a
tradition, carry embroidered banners and flags.



The procession finds its way from the Catholicon Church, east of the
Sepulchre, around the cupola of the Holy Sepulchre. At the end of the
procession, the Patriarch is led into the chapel of the tomb and the
crowd, which heretofore has shown excitement, falls silent in
anticipation of the appearance of Holy Light. The Patriarch stays for an
hour or so in prayer and meditation and then around 1.30pm, the "Light"
appears and is quickly passed from one bundle of candles to another.
Glass lanterns are lit as well and the more faithful go over the blaze
of the candles with their hands and then cross themselves in
benediction. The Light spreads instantly to the environs of the church
and the whole place, inside and out is ablaze. Joyful ululations are
heard, bells start ringing and holy fire is already on its way to more
distant places in the country and elsewhere.



The Greek Orthodox and other boy scout troops, including Moslems, who
await the Light on the roof of the church, start playing their bands as
they proceed all together through the narrow alleys of the Christian
Quarter. They are met by the group of youngsters now carrying lit
candles and lanterns, as they again shout slogans which intermingle with
the band music. The atmosphere is one of public joy and celebration and
local Christians start greeting one another with the traditional Easter
greeting: "Christ has arisen" and its response: "He has really arisen."



Christians, Political Developments and the Future of Jerusalem



Where do Palestinian Christians stand with respect to
the political developments taking place in the region? What do they
expect specifically for the future of Jerusalem, given their history,
communal identification and excellent relationships with their Moslem
compatriots?




Palestinians Christians support the political developments now taking
place in the region. These developments provide hope that an era of
peace and prosperity is finally beginning to take shape in our troubled
land and region. The peace process is particularly important for
Christians since there are indications that with the coming of peace,
lower numbers of Christians will think of emigration. The disappointment
felt by Palestinians on the election and performance of the Likud
right-wing Israeli government and the inability of Mr. Neganyahou, the
Prime Minister, to really lead his people to peace is a great letdown to
all Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians.



The Issue of Jerusalem: The Christian Community and its Leaders But if
Palestinian Christians are generally for a just and comprehensive peace,
where do they stand on the issue of Jerusalem and its future? We can
detect two overall responses from the Christian community and its
leaders on this issue: on the one hand, the Christians of Jerusalem are
concerned over daily preoccupations and constraints which the present
political environment places on them. On the other, the Church
leadership, while sensitive to the preoccupations and constraints felt
by its faithful, is conscious of the need to highlight the Christian
presence in the Holy City irrespective of the restraints and pretensions
of temporal governing arrangements. But this highlighting, as will be
illustrated later, is done with due respect to other religions and their
faithful who equally view Jerusalem as their Holy City.



For Jerusalem Christians, Jerusalem is
"Al-Quds," the holy, and the presence of their community in the city is
confirmation of the continuity of Christ's new beginning. This is the
"mother of all Churches" and there are links, claimed or real, that link
Palestinian Christian communities to the early church. As Palestinians,
they see that the fairest political solution for Jerusalem lies in its
becoming the capital of two states. Municipal arrangements should be
made in order for the different populations to govern themselves and
administer their affairs without interference of the other side on the
one hand, and yet maintaining the oneness of Jerusalem on the other.
Thus Palestinian Christians in the city are no different in their
overall orientation for the future of the city than their Palestinian
compatriots.



A majority of Christians do not envision a real peace without finding a
compromise solution on Jerusalem whereby the two national groups,
Palestinians and Israelis, and the three religious groups, Jews, Moslems
and Christians, will all feel comfortable and at ease in the city. This
comfort and ease cannot transpire without a solution that will satisfy
both the national and religious aspirations of each and every community
in the city. It is only then that the city will truly become a city of
peace.



Other Challenges to Palestinian Christians



In spite of properties, buildings and real estate which the various
churches have in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Christian communities have
not been able to become self-sufficient. Dependency on partner churches
elsewhere is a characteristic that is almost universal among the Holy
Land churches. If this partnership weakens, there is doubt that local
churches can make it on their own. This is difficult to say because the
church is a community that is supposed to be self-sufficient. In one
sense, the church is a microcosm of society and as such, should be
self-dependent. Emigration, on the one hand, weakens the church and
therefore there is need to address this issue and to find remedies and
preventive cures. Emigration, however, is a reflection of political and
economic factors on which the church, given the circumstances, does not
have power or influence. The churches, it must be admitted, have
continuously witnessed the Palestinian society through education,
health, social and other institutions, and activities and enterprises.
Some churches are doing the best they can, considering their limited
resources. Other churches however, have yet to come to grips with the
difficult realities of their community and with the need to revitalise
it.



Obligation of Palestinian Christians We, as Palestinian Christians, also
have an important role to play and, I am afraid, we have not done so to
date. We need to be faithful to Christ's teachings especially at times
when tensions and pressures seem to be impossible to overcome.
Unfortunately, we are only human and with mounting pressures, we often
choose the easy way out: USA, Canada, Australia ... In the final
analysis, however, it is really not the easy way out but the most
difficult and the most costly to the integrity of our community and our
church in the Holy Land. We have an obligation to ourselves and to our
children to stay put and to overcome, together with all the inhabitants
of this land. We are today still in the midst of political conflict but
we can see some concrete signs of change towards peacemaking. We are
called upon to be witnesses to these changes and to take an active part
in them.



In spite of all our shortcomings, as churches and as faithful, we are a
proud and hard working group of people. We recognise that the political
situation and the long history of Israeli occupation since 1967 have
left their marks on our communities and their dwindling numbers. At the
same time, the instability of our region is an important fact which
encourages emigration. The challenge is clearly to be able to live in a
secure and comfortable environment. The sense of communion with Churches
all over the world reinforces our determination to accept the challenge
and to overcome the difficulties. It also helps us to witness our own
society and its transformation towards a national state.



A Message of Hope



A Memorandum issued by twelve heads of different churches and Christian
communities in the Holy Land in November of 1994 has called on all
parties involved "..to go beyond all exclusivist visions or actions, and
without discrimination, to consider the religious and national
aspirations of others, in order to give back to Jerusalem its true
universal character and to make of the city a holy place of
reconciliation for humankind."12



Christians, according to the memorandum, "believe the Jerusalem of the
Prophets to be the foreseen place of the salvation, in and through Jesus
Christ." As to the continuing presence of a Christian community, the
heads of churches emphasise that "Jerusalem is the place of roots, ever
living and nourishing," and that "the local church with its faithful has
always been actively present in Jerusalem and witness to the life and
preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ upon the same Holy
Places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters
in the faith, as pilgrims, resident or in transit, inviting them to be
reimmersed into the refreshing, ever-living ecclesiastical sources."



It is this spirit, applicable not simply to Jerusalem but to the entire
Holy Land, that should motivate all of us to work for the peace of
Jerusalem and for that of the Holy Land in its entirety.



Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, have paid a heavy price for
the creation of Israel. We still suffer from the wounds of the
century-old conflict. Some of us are not ready yet to explore
reconciliation, others have taken the first steps, still others have
gone further.



The future, however, cannot be moulded without the hope which emanates
from religious traditions that believe in the One God. These traditions
should become a mainstay that would encourage all of us, in this Holy
Land, to search for answers to very difficult questions such as the
future of Jerusalem, holy for the three monotheistic religions and
claimed politically by Israelis and Palestinians. Hope, based on
religious heritages, should also help us find ways to accept each other
with justice, compassion and willingness to reconcile, regardless of how
long and hard the process.



Some may think that speaking of hope is simple pontification that would
lead us nowhere. But of hope we should continue to speak, not simply
because it is in the essence of Christian witness, but because the
alternative to hope is utter despair. Despair spells continuation of
conflict, war and disruption of the lives of generations to come. We, as
Palestinian Christians and as an integral part of our people, its
history, present ordeals and future expectations, should particularly be
speaking of hope because with it we can stop emigration, strengthen our
communities and contribute to a different future of this Holy Land.
With hope we can be at peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and
with our own religious heritage as Christians.



Dr Bernard Sabella



He is Associate Professor of Sociology - Bethlehem University



FOOTNOTES



1. Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, Current Status Report, Series No.
1, Demography of the Palestinian Population in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, December 1994. 2. These estimates are base on figures for Israel
found in The Statistical Year Bok of Jerusalem, No. 12 - 1993,
Jerusalem. 3. Kossaibi, George, "Demographic Characteristics of the Arab
Palestine People," In Khalil Nakhleh and Elia Zureik, The Sociology of
the Palestinians, Croom Helm, @ndon 1980, p.18. 4. Sabella, Bemard
"Socio-Economic Characteristics and the Challenges to Palestinian
Christians in the Holy Land," in Christians in the Holy Land edited by
Michael Prior and William Taylor, The World of Islam Festival Trust,
London, 1994, pp.34-35. 5. For the text and an in-depth analysis and
discussion of al-'Uhda al'Umariyya or Firman d'Omar see Anton Issa's,
Les Minorites Chretiennes de Palestine a Travers les Siceles, Franciscan
Printing Press, Jerusalern, 1976, pp.110-124. 6. Sabella, Bemard, The
Diocese of the Latin Patriarchate, Introductory Study of the Social,
Political, Economical and Religious Situation (West Bank and Gaza Strip,
Jordan, Israel and Cyprus), Patriarchatus Latinus, Jerusalem, April
1990, p.7. 7. For explanation of early emigration wave of Christians
from the Middle East, see Albert Hourani's "Introduction," in The
Ubanese in the World: A Century of Emigration, edited by Albert Hourani
and Nadim Shehadi, The Center for Lebanese Studies in Association with
I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd, Publishers, London, 1992, pp.5-6. 8. Sabella,
Bernard, "The Emigration of Christian Arabs: T'he Dimensions and Causes
of the Phenomenon," Paper delivered at the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation
Seminar on The Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: Identity,
Current Dynamics and Future Prospects, Torino, May 8-10,1995, p.6. 9.
Danilov, Stavro, "Dilemmas of Jerusalem's Christians," in Middle East
Review, Volume XIII, No. 3-4, 1981. 10. For all figures and information
concerning the Emigration Survey of 1993 see: Sabella, Bemard, "Summary
Results and Discussion: Emigration Survey 1993." Unpublished. 11.
Tsimhoni, Daphne, Christian Communities in Jerusalem and the West Bank
since 1948: An Historical, Social and Political Study, Praeger,
Westport, Connecticut and London, 1993, pp.22-23. 12. The full text of
the Memorandum can be found in Jerusalem - lie Diocesan Bulletin of the
Latin Patiiambate, Volume 1, Year 1, January-February 1995, pp.20-25.



Bernard Sabella



Associate professor of Sociology



Bethlehem University, Palestine




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warning ;;;;;
pake basa enodesah dung....sayah kan gak bisa basa enggresh.....

@momod/mimin....apa perlu di deleted?gak nasionalis.


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@abu hanan wrote:warning ;;;;;
pake basa enodesah dung....sayah kan gak bisa basa enggresh.....

@momod/mimin....apa perlu di deleted?gak nasionalis.

ini subforum ENGLISH PAGE bung
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@Penyaran wrote:
@abu hanan wrote:warning ;;;;;
pake basa enodesah dung....sayah kan gak bisa basa enggresh.....

@momod/mimin....apa perlu di deleted?gak nasionalis.

ini subforum ENGLISH PAGE bung
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ketiwi piss walah sworry,sworry..wokeh dilanjut....


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