We invite you to spend a different Christmas. We invite you to be in the “house” of four Palestinian Christians. They live in the West Bank, Gaza, Usa and in a refugee camp in Lebanon. They are forced to fight against the siege, against the religious discrimination or they just experienced a tough path looking for their identity. We dedicate our Christmas to them, to them that remind us that Christ’s message is, first of all, a message of redemption and humanity.
Nicola Huja – Bethlehem
When you talk about Christians, don’t forget that the Palestinian Christians are the native people of the Holy Land. From here the story of Christianity began, call it Israel or occupied Palestine. Nowadays Christians are a minority in Palestine; we suffered a lot, many of us were killed and many others just moved abroad. We are now less than 2% of the Palestinian population (although this is the most “holy” land for Christians of the entire world). Israel took away our freedom, our right of living in safety, our right of free movement; we suffer because of the wall surrounding us and because of the Israeli check-points that do not let us be free to enter Jerusalem and the occupied Palestine. Living under a continuous state of war is not safe at all, but for me as a Palestinian Christian it’s an honour to share the same birthplace with Jesus. In order to build the peace we need to look at the neighbour as a human, rather than a christian or a muslim. Many dear friends of mine are muslim – actually my best friend is a muslim, too – but it is safe that there are good and bad muslim people, as well. That’s the same old story in every community. When we deal with someone we should not judge according to the religious belief. We are all palestinians and we don’t need any further division or internal discrimination.
Rami Sh. – Gaza
In the Gaza Strip there are from 1500 to 3000 Christians – mostly Catholics and greek-orthodox. Christmas time in Gaza is not as the one in the rest of the world, because the siege imposed by the Israeli occupation makes it impossible to perceive the feast atmosphere. On Christmas morning, however, in addition to the usual church service and to the traditional visit to relatives, you can see groups of Orthodox Scouts (Arabs, of course) that distribute various gifts to children, bringing a nice atmosphere of joy and serenity. The movement of people is limited by the siege, even in this period: from 2008 you can not leave the Hamas-controlled Strip to go to the West Bank; you can visit the city of Bethlehem, however, only if you are over 35 years old. Who is not that old would just stay here; there’s a whole generation now which is destined to be closed like in a can of sardines in the Gaza Strip. And here, of course, we can not celebrate the holiday like the others, because we are the minority. In the Gaza Strip, Muslims and Christians live together as one big family and – made some exceptions (the sufferings and problems can be found in every place) – there is a great religious tolerance among the population. The greatest proof of this is the existence of the Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius right next to a mosque and the fact that the two religious buildings share the same tower, used both as minaret and as a bell tower. Apart from a few minor incidents, you can feel love, friendship and religious tolerance.
Elias Khoury – `Alma Ash Sha`B, Lebanon
Life for Palestinian Christians in Lebanon is too complicated. Our situation is different from that of other refugees. We feel that we don’t belong to any group in Lebanon; most refugees here are muslims and we feel we don’t fully belong to them. Neither we do to the Lebanese Christian community – even though we are christians, too – because of the tension we carry on since the 1975 civil war. Some people in Lebanon don’t even know that we – the Palestinian Christians – exist! Once I was in a taxi and the driver was just surprised when he learned that I was Palestinian and Christian at the same time! I was like Jesus himself, who was born in Palestine. So how come you think that there are no Palestinian Christians? The Lebanese government treats us as the rest of the Palestinian refugee population in the Country. No rights for us, we can’t own a home, we are banned to run certain kind of jobs (such as bankers and lawyers) and we face racism. Most of us don’t see a bright future in Lebanon, so many people just prefer to move to any western country. Even though my mother is Lebanese and since my birth I lived here, I dream to go back to the land of my ancestors (as any refugee would do) and live and stay there forever. I now live in my mom’s town, close to the border. My original Palestinian occupied village is exactly on the other side of the border, 7 minutes far away from the place I live in now, and I can’t even see it! But, despite all oppositions, we keep the faith and we believe that we are going, sometime and somehow, to have the equal and right life we deserve, like every other people does.
Hazem Farraj – United States of America
I have come such a long way from being that rejected, insecure Arab kid who wanted to change his name to hide his identity! Sounds absurd, but its true. The trauma of life’s difficulties and the confusion of converting made me want to run from everything Palestinian. I left home at 17 and counted the months to be legally able to change my name to “Adam.” Evidently, names are important to God. I remember it was an man by the name of Pat Schatzline who was speaking. What he was communicating is not something I remember but what I do remember was his life changing words to me. Pat, who I had never known or met before this moment, came off the platform put his hands on my shoulders and bowed his head. He said these exact words: “Son, the Lord says to you: STOP RUNNING FROM YOUR CULTURE.” It was as if a ton of bricks hit me and somehow years of shame, and embarrassment disappeared-instantly! I still don’t know how to describe what happened. . but there was a connection in my mind and my heart that made this young man embrace his identity. As I like to describe it, that night Adam embraced Hazem.
From that moment on my love for the Palestinian/ Arab people has grown. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been one of the most trending topics in my life. Somehow people think that just because I am proud of my Palestinian identity, that I SOMEHOW AUTOMATICALLY HAVE TO BE ANTI ISRAEL. This is not true. I now speak on behalf of the majority of Palestinians. We are not all terrorist. We are not all haters of democracy. We are not all anti American. We are not all anti Christian. We are, however, your fellow brothers and sisters. We, the Palestinian Christians, exist. It is because every human has innate dignity and self worth and when that is taken away, be it in the name of religious eschatology, politics or whatever the case may be, a persons moral compass begins to get distorted. This is the main reason many people think of us in a negative light. This is not an excuse for the vicious cycle which is happening there but it is reality and whether its a homemade missile over the border into Israel or high tech state of the art missiles over the border into Gaza and the West Bank- killing and war is wrong and somewhere in the middle, caught between all of this is my Palestinian Christian family of believers.
Yet, if ever I was a proud member of a group of people, I am a proud member of the Palestinian Church body. We survived so many obstacles and the community of Christians within the land have kept the faith. Despite the political and religious nutcases running rampant on both sides, the Palestinian believers have survived against all odds. The main reason for this is God’s unwavering faithfulness to establish his Church. You see, anyone interested may experience the life of the Church within the Palestinian community in Jerusalem. You can see that scattered throughout are native faithfuls. Many whom Jesus himself witnessed to. Beyond the prejudices of Jerusalem’s divided quarters you can still find God because her stones tell a rich story. Her palaces speak of its history and her towers proclaim the truth. So today, I want to acknowledge that these heroic people are worth recognizing. They are due their honor. They are my people and I claim the Palestinian Church who has remained faithful throughout our troubled times. It is they who give merit to those amazing words of Jesus and deepen our faith. ” Upon this revelation I WILL build my Church! ” – Jesus.