'U.S. Credibility Hangs on Whether It Can Do Justice for the Palestinians'

A Palestinian Christian and former PCUSA moderator talks about his faith and critiques Bush's road map to peace in the Middle East

When Palestinian Christian Fahed Abu-Akel was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in June 2002, he became the first Arab American to head a major U.S. denomination. His one-year term ended last month, but as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, he continues to speak frequently on the need for American Christians to recognize and listen to the Palestinian church.

Abu-Akel was raised in Kuffer-Yassif, a Palestinian village 25 miles northwest of Nazareth. His earliest memory is leaving his village—and his mother—in 1948, when war broke out between Arab nations and the newly born Israel.

Todd Hertz, assistant editor of Christianity Today, talked with Abu-Akel about his childhood, terrorist actions that fuel the Middle East conflict, and President Bush's road map to peace.

What was your childhood like?

The key spiritual nurturing for my life was my parent's love for the Word. They were both Palestinian Arab farmers. Their faith in Jesus Christ was very strong. Before we went to sleep each night my mother would recite [from memory] the Psalms, the Gospels, and other Scripture.

The first thing I remember was the displacement of the Palestinian people. As a 4 year old, I left our home with my father, five sisters, and two brothers. At that age, you are closer to your mother than anyone. So I was searching for her as we left. I finally saw her standing on top of our home's roof waving her hand. We left her there and went to a neighboring village called Yrka. There we were put in a makeshift Palestinian refugee camp.

Four Palestinian villages next to mine were destroyed. In fact, 400 Palestinian villages—Christian and Muslim—were destroyed by the Israeli military when Israel became a state in 1948. More than ...

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