As the Christian population continues to fall below 2% of the three million Palestinians that live in the West Bank, Gaza and inside Israel we are probably looking at a future that might not include Christians living in the land of Christ’s birth.
As the Christian population continues to fall below 2% of the three million Palestinians that live in the West Bank, Gaza and inside Israel we are probably looking at a future that might not include Christians living in the land of Christ’s birth. How sad for such a sacred land where Jews, Muslims and Christians should practice co-existing instead of slaughtering each other. Actually living in the Holy Land the last seven years, I see the Jews and the Muslims killing each other and the Christians just disappearing to other countries. The fight is not just physical but also an entire economic occupation and strangulation of the Palestinian territories due to checkpoints, closures and complete siege on towns and villages under Israeli military control in the West Bank. Palestinians are prisoners in open areas blocked by cement blocks and walls the Israelis are constantly putting up for security. I don’t see how the Apartheid walls will ever bring security to Israel. It is so frustrating and aggravating getting around these walls to go to work and school daily. As Christians we turn the other cheek and try to survive within the madness. Before 1948 the Christian population in Jerusalem was almost 50% now it is barely 2% due to the terrible wars, violence and discriminatory policies practiced by the Israeli government.
As a Greek-American of Orthodox Christian faith living in the middle of Judea on top of one of the highest mountain ranges in Palestine surrounded by hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements, I overlook Jerusalem from my living room window and grateful to be alive each and every day the Lord grants me in the middle of the bloodshed. My husband’s village of Taybeh is one of the only all Christian villages left in Palestine. As members of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh we want to work very hard to maintain this Christian presence that has been here since the time of Christ. At least we want to keep the 1300 residents that live in the village because today there are more people from Taybeh that live in Detroit, Michigan than this little Christian village itself. We have five churches and one small chapel in Taybeh. The first Greek Orthodox Church of St. George was built in the fourth century and now remains as ruins and a place of worship. Our current church was built in 1931 after the original Orthodox church was destroyed twice since the early centuries. My husband’s grandfather who was the village priest at that time collected money abroad and helped build the church we pray in today. The other two churches are the Greek Catholic (Melkite) and Roman Catholic Churches and one small chapel with retreat facilities built by a French monk. Taybeh is the modern name for the Biblical village of Efraim. It is best known for the time Christ came to Taybeh to escape and rest with his disciples before his crucifixion. (John 11:54).
I began to volunteer my time at St. George Greek Orthodox Church to help fundraise for a critical housing project to help minimize the Christian immigration to other countries; to help young married couples have their own home at a reduced cost; to help create temporary jobs due to economic hardship from the siege and closures and to help maintain an Orthodox Christian population and encourage local residents to stay with the Orthodox Church instead of converting for housing opportunities.
In l998, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch allocated land to the Taybeh Church in order to help thirty families build their homes by providing the land without cost. A committee was formed to search for funds and manage the housing project licensed under the Orthodox Youth Club of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church registered with the Palestinian Authority for permission to build. The funds are managed by the six member housing committee approved by the late Patriarch Diodoros I of Jerusalem and include Fr. Daoud P.Khoury (Jerusalem Patriarchate Representative); Dr. Grace C. Muaddi (Administration); Mr. Naseem Fqier (Treasurer).
Sub Deacon Nicholas and Nancy Tentzeras are helping us construct a website for the church and bring awareness to the housing project and the fact that there are Palestinian Orthodox Christians living in the Holy Land that trace their roots back two thousand years.
The housing project hopes to help thirty families, all members of St. George Greek Orthodox Church acquire their own homes at a low cost if they meet a strict financial need requirement. Each family must agree that they will not sell their unit except to another needy Orthodox family or leave it to their own children. In addition, each family must contribute monthly to a building fund toward the total cost of the project. Our initial fundraising hopes to cover building the skeleton structure of the thirty housing units and is estimated at over one million dollars. The first phase will be to build twelve houses as soon as at least $350,000 are raised. All funds currently raised will help only the first twelve families. Fundraised money will equally be shared among the twelve families and homes can not be sold for profit only what individuals put out of pocket. However, due to the tragic situation in the Holy Land, we have more than 60% of the people currently without work. None of the members have made payments in two years.
We are seeking twelve churches, organizations or private donors that would like to help the first twelve Orthodox Christian families build their first home sponsored by the housing project for St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh. Raising money has been difficult. We have only fundraised $13,000. If we could find 12 parishes or private donors that would sponsor the twelve families at $50,000 each home it is the only alternative to continue this project. If you know of anyone that wishes to support Christians by helping them build their first home, we would be so grateful if any church communities or organizations that you know consider us for a special collection or sponsorship. The church would have one year to conduct fundraising through bake sales, Sunday School projects, car washes, philotopchos activities, youth activities, etc and can express their solidarity by collecting funds by Christmas 2003.
Contributions will be managed by the housing committee in Taybeh and held in an account at the Arab Bank-Ramallah, Al Balad Branch. Your help is greatly needed. Donations may be sent by check to Taybeh O.C. Housing Project, P.O. Box 867, Taybeh, Ramallah, Palestine VIA ISRAEL. Or by electronic transfer to Arab Bank-Ramallah, Swift code ARABPS 22090, Al Balad Branch Account # 9090-662656/4/510 Taybeh Orthodox Club Housing Project, Via the Arab Bank New York, swift code US33. Please notify by email if there is a check in the mail/money transfer for better tracking: Khourymaria@hotmail.com
Don’t forget about the sacred land of Christ’s birth and get your church involved with this important housing project to express your solidarity and support to Orthodox Christians of Taybeh. One day you may have the gift of visiting the Holy sites and it would be rewarding to meet the living stones, the local Palestinian Christians, who have maintained the Mother Church for over two thousands years.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Maria C. Khoury is the author of five Orthodox Christian children’s books including the latest Christina’s Favorite Saints. She is a graduate of Hellenic College, Harvard University and Boston University. She lives in the Occupied Palestinian territories with her husband David C. Khoury, also a Hellenic College graduate and founder of Taybeh Beer the only microbrewery in the Middle East and the only Palestinian Beer established in l994 after the Oslo Peace Agreement.