Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is Israel At Fault for the Shrinking Palestinian Christian Population?

At the 2009 National Vineyard Leadership Conference in Galveston, Texas, Rich Nathan, Senior Pastor of  the Vineyard Church of Columbus in Ohio, gave a talk on Learning to Love Your Enemies in the Middle East.

Nathan, a Jewish follower of Jesus, has made a dramatic change in his life by rejecting his Zionist prophetic interpretation of the Bible in "pursuit of Jesus' kingdom ministry." What this means is that Nathan has embraced a theology that is hostile towards Israel in the name of advancing the kingdom of God.

During his seminar Rich invited Palestinian Christian Sami Awad, who is working with Palestinians and Israelis to bring healing to the Middle East conflict. Awad, raised under the violence connected to the disputed Palestinian territories, is now leading a movement that encourages Palestinians Christians to  love the Israelis soldiers in order to bring about reconciliation.

During the course of Nathan's interview, Sami strongly blamed the diminishing population of Palestinian Christians due to the Israeli presence ever since 1848. Awad shared that the biggest loss he has experienced while living under "Israeli occupation,"  is a hope for the future. His options are now limited due to the presence of the Israelis. The only option in occupation, says Awad, is to leave. Therefor, since the Palestinian Christians are living in a state controlled by Israelis, they have no other choices other than to leave the country. The Palestinian Christians are victims of the situation.

Is Awad telling the entire truth when he speaks to American evangelicals, the majority of whom have little knowledge of the history of the Israeli/Palestinians conflict?

Let me try to iron out some of the wrinkles in Awad's thinking and anti-Israel propaganda he's spoon- feeding to evangelicals.

Prior to 1948 before the War of Independence, the percentage of Palestinian Christians living in the Palestinian territories was 30% but now the percentage is less than 1.5%. Today 1.2 percent of the population in the Palestinian territories is Christian.

Nathan claims this diminishing of Palestinian Christians is due to Israeli policies mostly supported by the United States especially Christians. Nathan wrongly claimed, "We as Americans supporting Israel displaced an entire population of Christians."

I'm not trying to ignore the shrinking population of Christians in the territories, but Awad uses this fact as a means to make Israel appear intolerant of Christians. This is so typical of writers, speakers and others who have an anti-Israel stance. They are quick to point out Israel's alleged faults, but fail to mention the fact Christians are extremely unwelcome in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia. The practice of Christianity in Saudi Arabia is illegal!

Yes, Christians are a minority in Israel, but it is the only Middle Eastern country where the Christian population has grown in last 60 years!

In 1948 there were 34,000 Christians in Israel and now there are 145,000 followers of Christ in the Holy Land.  Could it be because Christians find more freedom to practice their faith in the Jewish state than in any other Islamic state?

If Sami Awad wants to bash Israel for the shrinking Christian population in the disputed Palestinian territories, then he should also acknowledge and applaud the growing population of Christian believers in the Israeli state. This is my biggest problem with Palestinian Christians. It's not what they state about Israel; it's what they leave out in their attempts to demonize Israel.

This week at church  I was handed a prayer list of  suggested prayers Christians should pray for Muslims during their Ramadan fast.  One of the prayers stated, "Pray that Muslims as well as Christians will show due respect for the 'holy places' of other religions." I thought it was an odd prayer since it assumed Christians and Jews are not showing respect for Muslim places of worship in the Middle East. Recent history tells us that Israelis and Christians have shown the most respect towards one another's sacred sites.

In the holy city of Jerusalem Christians churches have maintained custody of the Christian holy places ever since the Ottoman Empire. These rights known as the "status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem" still remain in tact today.
If my memory of history serves me well, it was the Palestinian terrorists during the Palestinian War 2000-2005 that took over Christian holy places as locations to launch their armed attacks against Israeli soldiers. One example took place when Palestinians fighters hijacked the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem causing a tense standoff.  These radical Islamics staged their attack on Israeli soldiers from one of the holiest locations for traditional Christians. Where was the outcry from evangelicals and mainline denominations back then?

Also, let it not be forgotten that it was during Jordan's control of the Old City from 1948 to 1967 that Christian rights were violated.  Israeli Christians were barred from visiting their holy places by the Jordanians. Jewish worshippers were also prevented from visiting the sacred Western Wall, the only remaining section of the Herod's temple in Jerusalem.

When the Israelis defeated the Jordanians and released their grip on Jerusalem's holy sites, both Christians and Jews had access to their respected places of worship. During the 1948-1967 period the Christian population declined from 25,000 to 12,646. Since 1967 the Christian population has grown exponentially thanks to the Israeli forces. I wonder why?

Critics of Israel will point to the security fence has hurt Christians living in East Jerusalem.  At the same time these critics fail to mention that the fence was constructed in order to protect Christians. When Palestinian terrorists attack, their bombs show no discrimination between Christians and Israelis. The security fence was never meant to be a tool to persecute Christians but to save their lives.

Sami Awad and supporters of the Holy Land Trust have a long way to go to prove Israel is responsible for the shrinking population of Palestinian Christians.  Tomorrow's blog asks, "How are Christian Living in the Palestinian Territories Treated?"

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