Palestinian Christians: Strangers in a Familiar Land
At the height of the conflict with Iraq this spring, Riah Abu Al-Assal, an Anglican bishop in Jerusalem spoke ominously about the future of Christians in the Holy Land. "Speaking of Islam and Muslims as a bunch of terrorists," he said, "will cause the greatest harm to the Christian presence in the birthplace of our faith. I fear for what remains in this land of the Holy One."
The bishop spoke for many Arab Christians dreading Muslims might interpret the Anglo-American invasion as one more Christian attack on the Islamic world. Statistics in Israel/Palestine seem to bear out the bishop's fears—according to Betty Jane & J. Martin Bailey's Who Are the Christians in the Middle East?, Palestinian Christians are leaving their homeland in droves. At least 250,000 now live outside the country, more than 60 percent of all Palestinian Christians worldwide.
Many western Christians still aren't aware of the Christian presence in Israel/Palestine. I wasn't until my freshman year at Wheaton College, when I asked for a missionary kid as a roommate and the college matched me up with a Palestinian Christian. My new friend soon informed me that Palestinian Christians had lived in the Holy Land since the time of Jesus, and that Christians in the West needed to know that Israel was discriminating against fellow believers, depriving them of their land and opportunity. Years later, I traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank to visit the Christian orphanage his father ran. My former roommate's descriptions matched the mood I felt there—hopelessness over a dwindling Christian population and deteriorating economic conditions.
I left Ramallah with many questions. How did the Palestinian Christians ...