Bethlehem, 17 March 2012
Kairos Palestine, a group of Palestinian Christians who co-authored the document "A Moment of Truth," denounces Michael Oren's recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal (9 March 2012). In this inaccurate and manipulative text, Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US, blames the plight of Palestinian Christians on oppression at the hands of Palestinian Muslims - rather than at the hands of the illegal Israeli occupation itself, as is our reality.
We add our voices to several other recently published responses that have emphasized this reality and the ways in which Oren's op-ed attempts to mask it. Indeed, contrary to his assertions, Christian persecution is caused mainly by the occupation that systematically degrades all Palestinians, restricts our movement, confiscates our land, devastates our economy, and violates our rights - including the very basic right to a decent life.
We are particularly troubled by Oren's attribution of migration within the Palestinian Christian community to ill-treatment by Palestinian Muslims. This damaging analysis wilfully ignores the underlying political oppression that afflicts Christians and Muslims alike. In the case of Bethlehem, for instance, it is in fact the rampant construction of Israeli settlements, the chokehold imposed by the separation wall, and the Israeli government's confiscation of Palestinian land -- largely Christian-owned land in the Bethlehem area - that has driven many Christians to leave. At present, a mere 13% of Bethlehem-area land is left to its Palestinian inhabitants.
Oren's article also reveals a disturbing conception of democracy itself, especially as he insists on emphasizing Israel's democratic character. In attempting to highlight ways in which Israel supposedly seeks to protect the survival and encourage the prosperity of the Christian community, Oren implies the Israeli state's lack of interest in ensuring the same for Muslims. Democracy is not selective. Any democratic state that bothered to implement its own ideals -- and, moreover, any ambassador to such a state -- would be ashamed of such an evidently distorted attitude toward its inhabitants and their rights.
We are equally amazed by Oren's ludicrous boast that Israel, "in spite of its need to safeguard its borders from terrorists, allows holiday access to Jerusalem's churches to Christians." Indeed, one of occupation's chief outrages is the fact that anyone would need a permit to visit the city to begin with: restricted freedom of movement is among the fundamental injustices constricting our lives. Furthermore, permits are not granted to everyone (including on religious holidays); even when granted, the Israeli military may void them at any time.
We also question the timing of Oren's article and its dogged attempt to portray the state of Israel as tolerant of Christians -- an assertion whose fallaciousness we experience on a daily basis. Oren begins his text with a description of Hamas graffiti on the walls of a Bethlehem church in 1994. But he certainly doesn't mention the Hebrew graffiti ("death to Christians," "Jesus is dead," and "price tag," ) sprayed on the walls of churches in Jerusalem just a few days ago, and again last month. The writing, so to speak, is on the wall, and it will take much more than Oren's whitewashing to mask the hostility to which Palestinian Christians -- and all Palestinians -- are subjected in the contemporary reality of occupation.
At every level, Oren's finger-pointing must be analyzed with an eye to the root causes he refuses to expose. For one thing, when he mentions the Church of the Nativity being inhabited and looted by gunmen, he neglects to mention the Israeli tanks shooting at the church from the outside. For another, while he goes on about present-day religious tension, he neglects to say that Christians and Muslims lived together for the past 1500 years without major problems - and that, upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, we lost more than 100,000 Christians virtually overnight. And the strongest, deepest roots of all - the roots of empire and colonialism? These, too, go unacknowledged. The US invasion of Iraq, for instance, has done graver damage to Christian-Muslim relations across the world than anything that appears in Oren's article.
As Kairos Palestine, we refuse to be marginalized in the way Oren defines our marginalization; we refuse to be pitted against our Palestinian Muslim neighbours and friends; and we refuse to let our collective oppression be manipulated in a way that fragments us, obscures us, or masks the oppression's true cause, which is the Israeli occupation.