Monday, 28 May 2018

Where do Christian Palestinians fit in Christian Zionism?




Dreaming of Mount Gerizim, dying on Mount Ebal – a few thoughts on Palestinian Churches and Palestinian Christians


What is the role and purpose of the Palestinian Christian in God’s good plans concerning Israel? Where do the Palestinian churches and Christians fit in Christian Zionism?
Many Palestinian Christians strongly believe that Christian Zionism ignores them, or even wishes that they did not exist.

Isaac Munther; “Christian Zionism has ignored us Palestinian Christians at best.”
Johnathan Kuttab; “There is no room in Christian Zionism for Palestinian Christians”

A significant portion of Palestinian Christianity feels that ‘if modern Israel is the fulfilment of prophecy, then we are disinherited, have no right to be here. Our very existence and validity depend on Israel not being of God! Otherwise, we would be squatters, strangers on a land given to others. We need Israel to be illegitimate, because otherwise we are. We cannot co-exist.’

Palestinian Christians have too often felt ignored or viewed as an impediment to God’s will re Christian Zionism. The story of an American lady who told a Palestinian church “God wants you all to leave” has undoubtedly been weaponized, repeated to American audiences endlessly, but also contains a genuine perception, that Christian Zionists see Palestinian Christians as a spoke in God’s gear-box. This is horrific! As someone who has been a Christian Zionist for nearly 50 years, my emphasis has been on trying to convince an often-disinterested church about the blessings of God concerning the re-establishment of the Jewish state, that God is not done with Israel etc. Palestinian Christians have not been a priority in this, a message to the universal church about God’s continuing love for the Jewish people. I would like to rectify that.

This article will be looking at the story of the Palestinian church. What is their history, their future, what is their place in the big picture? Never forget also the remnant saved by grace! Palestinian pastor Hanna Massad said; “My father was a good man, and he prayed that there would be peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis I his lifetime. He died without seeing it.”

Dreaming of Mount Gerizim; the blessings and the important responsibilities Christian Zionism would see for the Palestinian Christians

Israel, a blessing

So, where do Christian Palestinians fit in Christian Zionism? Do Christian Zionists wish that the Palestinian Christian community did not exist? How does the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel affect the Palestinian Christians? What comfort can Christian Zionism offer to this community? What part might they have in God’s plans of salvation? The answer to this question lies in a specific application of the general, foundational principles of Christian Zionism.

1.      The Jewish people are brought back to be a universal blessing
2.      The Jewish people being brought back to be blessed and saved!
3.      The Jewish people are saved with the aid of Gentile Christians

God has brought the Jewish people back to the land for their blessing and for the blessing of the nations, he has brought them back for their salvation, and for the salvation of the nations! Like the prophets of old, we need to search intently and with greatest care concerning this salvation. We need to examine the time and the circumstances, prepare our minds for action and be self-controlled, as we all live as strangers here in reverent fear!
For Christian Zionists, the presence in that land of a pre-existing Christian community should always have been viewed as an act of grace.

“What we need is not so much a theology of the land as a theology of salvation!” Colin Barnes

As a Christian Zionists we need to move beyond a discussion of a theology of the Land, and focus rather on a theology of salvation. As we look at Romans 15, and its theological predecessor, Acts 15, we find something vital. God promises to restore the fallen tabernacle of David, to confirm the promises to the Patriarchs, why?? In both cases, so that the Gentiles might glorify God! So that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name,

Romans 15:8-11; "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs SO THAT the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. Likewise, in Acts 15:13-17 James declares that the Gentiles are included in the Gospel on the basis of a promise to restore Israel; “Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: " 'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, SO THAT the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things'

These verses are about the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles! The restoration of Israel is not irrelevant to Gentiles, rather they are its goal. Israel is restored so that Gentiles may be blessed! (God obviously loves the Jewish people also!!, but the thrust of these verses is clear.) As Evangelicals either we take the word of God seriously, or we do not. Both James and Paul declare that God will restore Israel SO THAT Gentiles might seek and glorify God. This was always central to God’s promises to Abraham – “And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.' (Acts 3:25 - a long time before Acts 15!) This is why Christian Zionism would hold that the regathered Jewish nation will be a blessing to all the world. It was never an end in itself! Micah 5:7 “The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on the grass.” Do we believe this is true for the Palestinians?? As the closest to the Jewish community, the Palestinian Christians could have been in a place of exceptional blessing! All they had to do was show love and mercy to the stranger, the refugee, their neighbour.

While they may have been ignored by Western evangelicals,

The Arab believers were never ignored or unwanted by God! 

Rather they could have been a first fruits of universal blessing! They could have found that God had given them special promises to help them through this difficult time; see Isaiah 14:1 “The LORD will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob.” And Isaiah 56:6-8 “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ The Sovereign LORD declares-- he who gathers the exiles of Israel: ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’"

The tragedy is that they largely chose to side rather with their ethnicity, with the Moslem community, rather than with the commands and promises of their God. This is their shame and this is their tragedy. 
Beyond survival and blessing, there remains a glorious calling

"I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding." (Deuteronomy 32: 21, quoted in Romans 10:19)

So, where do Christian Arabs appear in Christian Zionism? What is their role in all this? Put another way, what is the role of Gentiles in the salvation of Israel?

Romans 11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. Romans 11:31 “so they [the Jewish people] too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you [Gentiles].”

Christian Zionism seeks a role for Gentiles in the salvation of Jews; Romans 10:19 "I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;" Romans 11:13-15 “I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (Again, see Acts 3:19-21!)

Envy for the riches we have in Christ is how the Jewish remnant are saved. Is it also how “all Israel” are made aware of the only name given under heaven by which they might all be saved?? It is the children of Israel, desperate for the food of the Egyptians that go down and seek out Joseph, still unaware of who he is, knowing only that they will die without his help, and without the food the Egyptians under his rule have gathered. Jesus says you will not see me again until you say; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”
As the Christian community with the greatest exposure to the re-gathered Jewish community, might not God have a special role for the Palestinian Christians in provoking Israel to envy?

Romans 11:30-36Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
First fruits

In the Song of Moses and elsewhere, we see a restored Israel being a blessing to the nations (“Rejoice, O nations, with his people”). All this occurs after the return of Jesus. At present, we see only a remnant of Jews saved by grace, and across the nations we see only the scattered children of God (John 11:51-52). And so we read, Deuteronomy 32:21 “I will make them envious by those who are not a people.”
Let us now look therefore, not at the denominational splendour of the Palestinian churches, but rather at the still, small voice of the remnant.
In his article; “the 21st century Palestinian church in Israel” [found in “Israel, the Church and the Middle East”] Tom Doyle writes of meeting with a small group of Palestinian Christians in Gaza in 2002. He speaks of their vibrant faith. They were led by Ali, a guitar-playing former Muslim from the West Bank. He also noted that the guitar had bullet holes through it. Ali explained that while he was entering through the crossing, he was speaking to a soldier, Aaron, whom he had gotten to know as he crossed back and forth. Aaron was concerned about his guitar case, as the week before, a terrorist had tried to smuggle a bomb through that way. He had the IDF robot put the bullets through it.
“Aaron was just doing his job. I didn’t get mad, and the Lord used it. I was able to tell this young Jewish soldier that I was no longer a Muslim. He asked if that was possible, and I said; “yes, I’m a Jesus follower now. … the Jewish messiah changed my life!” I then hugged him and told him he had a rough job and that I would be praying for him. Aaron was speechless. The Holy Spirit as dealing with him. How privileged I was to tell a young Jewish Israeli about Jesus. The bullet holes? Totally worth it!”

Another young Gazan, Sami, shortly after his conversion, was convicted by the Sermon on the Mount to pray that he would love his enemies. “I expected Jesus to forgive me for my hatred, and to change my heart in the process. He could do that, of course, but I thought I might merely tolerate Jews, and that would be the end of that. I was not prepared for the complete fulfilment of this prayer. Jesus not only took away my hatred for Israel and the Jews, but he replaced it with a love for them. This was unexpected. How could I love the Jewish people while living in the Gaza Strip?” When another young Palestinian Christian in Gaza was murdered by Islamic extremists, Palestinian churches and Messianic congregations came together to establish a trust for his wife and children.
Sami himself, along with the other young members of the Gazan Baptist Church, was relocated to the West Bank by Israel, for their own safety. “By the time I reached Jerusalem, I’d read through the Scriptures several times. How could I doubt that God loved the Jewish people? It was all over the Bible.” Today, Sami is passionate about reaching Jews. He is learning Hebrew and has a heart to reach out to Orthodox Jewish men. “Jesus has called Jews and Arabs in Christ to serve him together. This is deep within the heart of God. I used to hate Jews and run from them. Now I run to them. God has called me, a humble Palestinian to reach the lost sheep of Israel. I have trouble fathoming this at times. Recently, I shared with an Orthodox man on a bus. I told him I was from Gaza and used to hate him and all Jews. But then Jesus, the Jewish messiah came into my life and gave me a deep love and respect for Jewish people. I think he was in absolute shock. He finally asked me if I would come to his house that night and share my story with his family. I did come and was overwhelmed with the opportunity to share Jesus with an Orthodox family at their Sabbath meal. Me, a Palestinian from Gaza in an observant Jewish home in Israel and being invited to tell them about Jesus? Only God could have orchestrated this one.” Sami also speaks of a harvest among Muslims in Gaza. Speaking of witnessing to Jews, Sami stated that, rather than presenting the proofs for Jesus as Messiah, “I aim the Gospel at me, and tell them how Jesus changed me and took away my hatred for Jews and the State of Israel. … Can you imagine being Jewish and seeing how anti-Semitism is growing in Europe and soaring in the Middle East? Then to have someone confess their hatred to him or her from Gaza like us and ask for their forgiveness? The question I am always asked is ‘what caused your change of heart? Was it being in the West Bank and actually seeing Jews for the first time, other than just soldiers?’ Then I tell them that my change of heart happened when I lived in Gaza. The Jewish messiah set me free from my hatred of Jews and Israel. My wife and I have this deep burden for Jews to come to know Yeshua!”

Tom then asked him; “The team you serve with and lead in the West Bank has many former Muslims. Do they have the same heart you have to reach Muslims and Jews?” “Yes, one of the brothers named Mahmoud is also learning Hebrew like us. He has the Shema tattooed on his forearm in Hebrew. It is hard for Jewish people to fathom this on a former Muslim!” 

Hanna, again a Gazan Christian, said “I knew in my heart that God was not finished with the Jewish people because of what I read in the Scriptures. Then, at a meeting, a messianic believer stood up and prayed; “Lord, give me so much love for my Palestinian brother here that I would be willing to die for him.” A Palestinian brother then stood up as well and said; “Lord, give me so much love for my Jewish brother that I would be willing to die for him too.” That is the body of Christ in action. Every time I meet with my messianic brothers and sisters The presence of the Lord falls upon us when we are together and we are overwhelmed by the love of God.” This is the new man the apostle Paul talked about. “If the world can see Jews and Arabs come together in love peace and harmony in Israel because of our Jesus, how can they doubt that this is a work of God?”
God has always chosen the things which are not to shame the things which are (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). The poor and despised to reach the rest. Might He not now choose the tiny faithful remnant of the Palestinian church (“I will make them envious by those who are not a people”), along with the tiny Messianic community to proclaim his love and mercy to Israel? The Messianic community, Simeon, held captive (“I Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ”) by Joseph in an attempt to draw the sons of Jacob back to him?

Think of the blessing Palestinian Christians could be! To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile (God loves Muslims also!!!) Think too of the Palestinians killed at the fence in Gaza – how quick we are to say “80% were Hamas!” So its all OK. What might a Palestinian Christian say? “They are my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh – I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart because they are not saved!”  God desires all be saved – have we indeed ignored or dismissed the Palestinians in our love for Israel, or do we cry out to God for them? This does not mean we agree with or support Hamas!! Rather it means our God loves sinners! What an incredible blessing the Palestinian Christians could become!! Pray for them!!
Remember this light as we now plunge into darkness.

Dying on Mount Ebal; The past and present reality of the Churches of Palestine  – matters for confession and repentance  

Tearing away fig leaves.


We all like to think there is something about us that sets us a little bit apart, that makes us special, something in us which God values. Palestinian Christians are no different, and we will start by tearing away some of their most treasured pretentions. This is never pleasant, but it is necessary if we are to be useful to God. 

From the very beginning, fallen humans have wanted to appear before God wrapped in their own fig leaves. We are not totally naked and useless, we have some accomplishments, some points of worth, we can do some stuff for ourselves. As much as we prize them, fig leaves do not look good on us. On my first time to Israel, 21 and straight out of college, I thought I was basically unstoppable. The very next morning I woke up seriously ill. I remember looking up and smiling and saying thank you God, I needed that. And its not just me and Palestinian Christians. Jewish Christians can easily be deceived into thinking they are somehow better, more spiritual, closer to God than other Christians. 

Psalm 51:17 a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

The Pharisee who told God how devout he was did not receive his commendation, rather the tax collector who cried out have mercy on me, the sinner. Fig leaves are poison! They hinder or even prevent God from blessing us. We need God to shed blood and clothe us with his righteousness. Anything which obscures our need for that covering works to our destruction. We need to build on the rock, not the sand. Boasting in your flesh is a bad idea!

Philippians 3:4-11 If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: … But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

The story of the Palestinian church could equally describe the lives of John Wesley, William Carey and a host of other believers who started out trusting in their flesh, suffered grief as a result, and through the process, came to base their lives on the more sure foundation of the blood of Jesus. Once that was achieved, they went on to tell others about Jesus. The children of Israel likewise, Paul tells us, tried to establish a righteousness based in their flesh, failed, and we now long for their true redemption, the salvation of all Israel, which occurs when they look on him whom they have pierced, when the deliver comes from Zion. That is, the failures of the Palestinian churches are neither unique nor necessarily fatal, but rather, when met with grace and faith, may yet prove to have been a necessary preparation for ministry.

So, knowing that we can place no confidence in our own flesh either, and aware of our own failures and shame, and how the undeserved mercy of Jesus met us and forgave us and gave us a hope and a future, let us look today with compassion and hope at the story of the church in Palestine.

Jerusalem – ground zero for replacement theology!

The Christian Church in Jerusalem has a long and important history. As we understand that history further, we can see that it is a touch-stone for the whole body of Christ. Now, the earliest church, the church of Acts 2 in Jerusalem, has become the subject of modern claims. To quote from Wikipedia; “Most Palestinian Christians nowadays see themselves as culturally and linguistically Arab Christians with ancestors dating back to the first followers of Christ.” 

Likewise, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, Jerusalem, has stated: “The Palestinian Christians of today are the descendants of [the] early Christians... They and their ancestors have maintained a living witness to Jesus and his Resurrection from the beginning of the Church.”

Hannan Ashrawi, 1991; “Jesus as the first Palestinian martyr” “I am a Palestinian Christian, and I know what Christianity is. I am a descendant of the first Christians in the world, and Jesus Christ was born in my country, in my land. Bethlehem is a Palestinian town. So I will not accept this one-upmanship on Christianity.”

Dr. Mitri Raheb; “In fact, most probably we are the descendants of the first Christian community that believed in Jesus as their Messiah.”

Father Elias Chacour; “We are convinced that we are the remnant of the first Christians! You remember in the Acts of the Apostles those were in the upper room and received the Spirit of God? … They were the first Christians. These were my forefathers – my own sisters and brothers.”

And finally, from an article in Christianity Today; “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.”

Concerning those claims, however, it needs to be stressed that;

Those claims are false! 

The church in Jerusalem did not just continue on historically in an unbroken line. Not only was that line, that succession cut, it was done so in the most violent way. The initial break came as part of the wider catastrophe which followed the failure of Bar Kochbar’s revolt (136 AD). We read in Eusebius;

“And thus, when the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered the total destruction of its ancient inhabitants, it was colonized by a different race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name and was called Aelia, in honor of the emperor Aelius Adrian. And as the church there was now composed of gentiles, the first one to assume the government of it after the bishops of the circumcision was Marcus.” The Church History Of Eusebius, 4, 6, 4.

So, the Jewish population, including those who believed in Jesus, were driven out by the Romans, forbidden to return on pain of death, and then the Romans brought in a replacement population of a different race. Augustine likewise wrote of Jerusalem about 250 years later, “no one of the Jews is permitted to come hither now: where they were able to cry against the Lord, there by the Lord they are not permitted to dwell.” This is a total break and replacement. This new Gentile population included some Gentile Christians (at a time when Christianist was still a minority, suspect religion), and Marcus was the first leader of this new, Gentile church. At the very most, it is from this replacement population of Gentile Christians which today’s Palestinian church in Jerusalem can claim lineage. They are therefore not the oldest church in the world (Antioch quite possibly would have that distinction).

How did this replacement population feel about Jews? In general, there had been three wars against Jews in their part of the world in the previous 70 years. In particular, they were now benefiting from the destruction and removal of the Jewish population of Jerusalem – living in their houses, owning and farming their land etc. It would seem probable that this population in general were not pro-Jewish. But what of those within that population who were Christians? Who read the Jewish scriptures, worshiped the Jewish God. Did they share in the presumed general anti-Jewish sentiment of the wider population?

Three specific incidents, spread over the history of this community, from its beginning until it itself was conquered and dominated by Islam, provide strong indications of their sentiments regarding Jews.
1. The Gentile church which had replaced the Jewish church changed the date for Easter from the Jewish date for Passover. JB Lightfoot says the change was made in Jerusalem to avoid “even the semblance of Judaism,” in order to separate themselves from Judaism in the popular mind. They wished to distance themselves both from the Jewish faith in general, and from the Jewish church in particular. It was this decision which ignited the wider Quartodeciman controversy. Epiphanius stated that the controversy; “arose after the time of the exodus [from Jerusalem] of the bishops of the circumcision.” Further to this, when, 60 years later (around 200 AD), Jewish Christians (but not Jews in general) were permitted to return to Jerusalem, the bishop of the Gentile church in Jerusalem, Narcissus, appealed to Clement of Alexandria for help against “opposition from the Quartodecimans [Jewish Christians].” Here we see that the Gentile church in Jerusalem not only opposed Jewish customs in general, they also opposed the return of Jewish Christians to the city. This is replacement theology incarnate. “The ancient heights are our, and you are not welcome!”
2. In 438 the Empress Eudocia removed the ban on Jews entering the city. As a result, thousands of Jews made pilgrimage that year for Sukkot. This in turn enraged the Christian monks in the city, who stoned these Jews, killing several. The following trial found that they had died of natural causes, and the ban was re-instituted. 

3. Lastly, in 630, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius travelled to Jerusalem. There were Jewish forces at that time in Tiberias and Nazareth. These had been allied with the Sassanians in 610, helped them carry out massacres in Jerusalem, and then been abandoned by them in 617. Under the leadership of Benjamin of Tiberias, these Jewish forces surrendered to the emperor and asked for his protection. Benjamin obtained a general pardon for himself and the Jews, and then accompanied Heraclius to Jerusalem. He was persuaded to convert and was baptized on route in Nablus. However once Heraclius reached Jerusalem he was persuaded to go back on his promise to Benjamin of Tiberias. According to Eutychius of Alexandria (887-940), the Christians population and monks of Jerusalem convinced the Emperor to break his word. To break his oath of peace to the Jews. To smooth out any problems this oath-breaking might cause with God, the monks promised that they and all Christians in all countries would fast for him for a whole week every year to the end of the ages. Heraclius accepted their offer and broke his oath. A general massacre of the Jewish population resulted. The massacre devastated the Jewish communities of the Galilee and Jerusalem. Only those Jews who could flee to the mountains or Egypt are said to have been spared.  

The patriarchs and the bishops wrote to all the countries declaring that week of fast to be the first week of fasting before the Holy Forty days. Pope Andronicus the 37th Patriarch of Alexandria acknowledged this request and so the week of Heraclius or the preparation week was instituted and observed by the Copts to this day.

Luke 11:48 So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.

So, the Gentile church which replaced the Jewish church in Jerusalem was no continuation of that original church but rather a complete break with it. This new church was different ethnically, opposed Jewish customs within the church, and opposed the return of Jewish Christians to Jerusalem. In the following centuries, these new Gentile Christians broke Byzantine law to murder other Jews returning to Jerusalem in 438, and finally, in 630 (just seven years before the city was conquered by Muslims), this Gentile church persuaded the Byzantine emperor to break his oath, so that Jews could be massacred and driven from both Jerusalem and the Galilee.

The claim made by the descendants of this Gentile church that they are in fact the descendants of the original Jewish church in Acts 2 is false. Rather, they are a geographic, physical expression of replacement theology.

Put another way, the traditional churches in Palestine are proud of their own history. They like to boast in their flesh! (Titus 3:9 avoid foolish controversies and genealogies. Philippians 3:3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh). For them to have welcomed or supported Jewish settlement in Jerusalem and beyond would have required them to renounce and repent of a core component of that very history. Tragically, this has indeed proved to be totally beyond them.

Recent Palestinian Christian history

We will now look very briefly at more recent Palestinian Christian history.
Luke 19:44 “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Luke 13:34 “Look, your house is left to you desolate.”  

Ottoman days

Traditionally the Christians were a protected but discriminated against minority. They comprised about 11% of the population. They were a distinct subset of the Palestinian population, with little interaction or political agreement with the majority Muslim community. The Muslim community, or umma, was totally dominant. Christians could not hold the highest administrative posts, had to pay a special tax. Disputes with Muslims came under the jurisdiction of the Muslim courts, where Christians were not allowed to give evidence. Christians might also be barred from riding horses or wearing colourful clothing, be forced to provide food and lodging if a Muslim official demanded it, or even be forced off the road to give Muslims right of way.

See also the seventh step in Hebron for the Jewish experience of this. Note also that the Jewish community existed at an even lower level and could also be discriminated against by the Christian community. Even during the Mandate, Christians still forbade Jews from entering the Holy Sepulchre and the street leading to it. Mary Eliza Rogers, the sister of the British vice-Consul, noted during her stay in Palestine in the mid- nineteenth century that Muslim and Christian children rarely played with one another, and would "only unite to persecute the poor little Jews."

All this changed, at least theoretically, in 1836. The Ottoman Tanzimat reforms established full equality for all citizens. This caused a massive change. Suddenly the Christian community was upwardly mobile (due to the impact of western mission schools), urbanizing and generally doing rather well. “By the end of the nineteenth century, the situation of Christians had markedly improved.”

This offended the Muslim majority deeply – in their mind, the reforms opposed the natural, historical and religious order of things. This contributed to massacres of the Armenian Christians, the Maronite Christians in Lebanese and the Christian communities in Damascus. Even closer to home, “the establishment of European consulates in Jerusalem in the middle of the nineteenth century was greatly resented by local Muslims.”

The American Protestant missionary, Henry H. Jessup, wrote; "the new liberties granted to the Christian sects, their growth in wealth, the appointment of their prominent men to foreign consular offices... all these and other causes had kindled [among the Muslims] fires of fanatical hatred." Disturbances in Aleppo in 1850 targeting Christians and Mosul in 1854, targeting Christians and Jews, were an attempt by the traditional Muslim community to restore their old position. In general, Muslims were unwilling to accept Christians in positions of authority. For example, James Finn, the British consul (in Jerusalem, 1846-63), noted that the body-guards employed by consulates needed to be Muslims, as these might "safely strike or lay hands on an unruly Moslem, or arrest him if a thief, which a Christian could not [do] without provoking a riot if not worse." In 1855, in Nablus riots a Greek church, protestant missionary house and school were all attacked. In 1858, a Greek Orthodox construction and renovation was destroyed in Gaza.

“most Muslims were having difficulties coming to terms with the idea of non-Muslims as political equals.” 

That is not to say friendly relations were absent, or areas of commonality did not exist, but the relations between the two communities remained difficult, as both tried to adapt to the changing situations. Small village inter-faith relations were paradoxically more personal and more traditional.

Foreign factors

Larger patterns imposed themselves upon this local scene. With the decline of Ottoman fortunes, western nations had ‘appointed’ themselves as the protectors of different Christian communities within the Ottoman empire. There was some genuine cause for concern on the part of Muslims. Christian majority provinces were able to secede from the Ottomans empire with western support. Prime examples, Greece in 1830 with Russian, French and British aid, and Bulgaria 1878 with Russian help. Indeed, the Tanzimat reforms themselves were often seen as a concession to the Christian European powers, privileging Christians and promoting Christian separatism. “Tensions between Muslims and Christians became particularly acute during the Balkan Wars and the war against Italy. Both were represented as a religious war of Muslims against Christians, and many Muslims identified local Christians with the Empire's enemies.”

Local Christians were also therefore viewed as being disloyal, and as being a serious weak link, which aggressive foreign powers could exploit for their own advantage. This in turn provoked further attacks on the local Christians. For example, following sectarian violence in Lebanon in 1860, where large numbers of Christians (predominantly Maronites) were killed, the French sent in troops and forced the Ottoman Sultan to grant the Maronites self-autonomy. This led to 10,000 Christians in Damascus being massacred. Often, the Muslim and Christian communities differed over politics and foreign affairs. A British report from 1904 stated; "the Christians with very few exceptions [were] fervently praying for the success of Russia. … by contrast, the sympathies of most Muslims, were with Japan.” In 1911, Christians of Haifa were accused of disloyalty re Italian occupation of Tripoli. Muslims and Christians were not the same, and their relationships prior to Zionism were not perfect.

Note that in 1840, it was members of the Christian community, trying to avoid a Muslim backlash against their recently improved status, who started the 1840 Blood Libel against the Jewish community in Damascus. That is, it was Catholics under the protection of France who introduced this European anti-Semitic charge into the Muslim world. Jews as scapegoats, and Jew-hatred as a means of creating a common cause with opponents was used by European Catholics in both the 1870s and 1930s. It will also be used by some Christians in Palestine. 

World War 1

The period immediately prior to the First World War saw a worsening of the situation of Christians in the Ottoman Empire. There was an intensification of Islamic sentiment, much of it in reaction to the loss of the greater part of the Empire's European (that is, Christian) territories. Consequently, Muslims were also increasingly sceptical as to where the loyalty of the Empire's Christians truly lay. An article appearing in the Greek Orthodox Filastin in Jaffa accused Muslims of religious fanaticism and of behaving in a hostile manner towards non-Muslims, an attitude stemming in large part apparently from a belief that Christians were not loyal Ottoman citizens. In Palestine overall, relations between the two communities were tense. One visiting European wrote that in mixed towns, Muslim and Christian children rarely befriended each other, and it was not uncommon to hear Muslim children singing disparagingly of the Christian faith.

All this exploded during the actual war. The Ottoman government officially described it as a jihad (returning to their core constituency). Across the empire, Christians were increasingly attacked. Armenians (1.5 million murdered), Syrian Orthodox in Anatolia, Nestorian Christians, Jacobites and Chaldaeans were all targeted. Lebanon’s Christian population also suffered greatly. The Christians in Palestine could not but be aware of these terrible events, and fearful for their own safety.

A New Identity – Arab nationalism

The British therefore took over a society which was profoundly disunited. Sir Mark Sykes Arab Latin Catholic advisor, Yiisuf Albina (himself a resident of Jerusalem), described the situation in Palestine at the beginning of the British military administration as "a pot-pourri of sects and heterogeneous elements bearing an innate hatred against each other and in perpetual conflict against themselves."

The Christian community itself was prospering, but also feeling nervous. With a new, Christian imperial power in charge, concerns of disloyalty were heightened, but so was their practical value as a go-between. Christian Arabs had already comprised almost half of the delegates to the Arab Congress, Paris 1913. They want to prove their loyalty to the Arab/Muslim majority, who view them with suspicion, but who are also coming to appreciate their utility as advocates of the Arab position to the Christian British government (as they see it), and also to the wider Christian British community.

“Arab Christians joined the emerging Palestinian National movement in the hope of breaking the yoke of their marginality in a Muslim society.”

So, after the Ottoman empire, rather than just returning to being disparate religious communities (we are Muslim, or Christian or Jewish”) for the Christian community, secular nationalism (“We are ALL Arabs!”) was a way of protecting their new-found freedoms/equality/prosperity as experienced under the Tanzimat. Secular Arab nationalism was also the solution being offered by the Western, Christian powers that they were close to. For the Christians, nationalism is the means of securing their place in the wider society. The push for Arab nationalism came initially from the Greek Orthodox, supported by the Melkites. They put much effort into trying to craft a broader Arab identity which would encompass and unify the various Christian and Muslim components. “The Arab Christians wholly identified themselves with their Muslim countrymen.” Greek Orthodox community leader Khalil al-Sakakini frequently met with the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini. “this religious unity would prove to be an essential goal of Palestinian Christians throughout the mid-20th century.” Al-Sakakini was an “ardent anti-Zionist and Palestinian nationalist.” 

For very different reasons, Muslim Arabs were also attracted to nationalism. Many Muslims saw Arab nationalism as a means to restoring Islamic government (as opposed to the secularism of the Young Turks). This was particularly evident in the emphasis given the idea of resurrecting an Arab caliphate. Pan-Arabism was attractive, but with Islam as its core. At the same time, many Muslim Arab nationalists were sceptical of Christian intentions.  'Arif al-'Arif, a prominent Muslim nationalist, stated that in his view, the so-called unity with Christians had had no practical foundation; moreover, that the Christians had preferred to cooperate with the British, who are Christian like them. Many in the Muslim majority still viewed Christians as uppity and disloyal, a pro-western 5th column. Clearly, these negative views would be exacerbated during the Mandate.

So, both Muslims and Christians came to support Arab nationalism, but for very different reasons. Their unity on the topic was essentially a profoundly temporary marriage of convenience. So, why have a marriage at all?

Enter the Zionists. Zionism not only gives them a common enemy, it greatly increases the Christians value re soliciting outside, Western Christian help. Their faith gives them access that the Muslim community simply did not have. A common threat forcing them both together. "the Christian editors of Falistin would call on all Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, to unite against Zionism on grounds of local patriotism." They both provide a means of showing their loyalty to the Arab nation, and also, due to British support of the Zionists, increase their value due to the sharply increased need to influence both British government and public opinion. Zionism (or anti-Zionism) is great for Palestinian Christians! Indeed, at a time when Christian Arabs were having their loyalty questioned, their identity as Arabs doubted, and their ties to the West mistrusted, this was great!

Both Muslims and Christians opposed the Balfour Declaration and the Zionist movement and viewed them as a threat. A British official in 1919 wrote; “In brief, practically all Moslems and Christians of any importance in Palestine are anti-Zionist, and bitterly so.” For some observers, the mere fact of Muslim-Christian unity was a measure of just how serious a danger both considered Zionism. As one visiting European commented, "[t]he fact that Moslems and Christians were working together for a common cause was a sign that the nation was roused by what was felt to be a common danger, and that there were men ready to sink all differences of outlook in the effort to win through.” Muslims and Christian converged over their opposition to Zionism (Herod and Pilate). Christians like Najib Nassar, George Antonius and Emil Habibi spearheaded the anti-Zionist movement in the first decades of the 20th century, both as political activists and publishers of Arab newspaper in Palestine. According to Haiduc-Dale, Christians “were unified only in their opposition to Zionism.” He also speaks of the “consistent Christian opposition to Zionism.”


Reasons for Christian nervousness, and continuing motivation to promote the Arab cause will not be in short supply during the Mandate period, as sporadic massacres of Christian across the former Ottoman empire continue. With the pull-out of the British in Iraq in 1930, for example, anti-Christian sentiment swept the country. Attacks on the Assyrian Christians in the north culminated in the machine-gun massacre of hundreds of Assyrian men, women and children by the Iraqi army at Simayl in 1933. The Nestorians were forced to flee into French Syria. In 1937, a massacre of Christians in 'Amuda would lead to a strong movement for local autonomy and even independence, led by the Syrian Catholic Patriarch. The Christians in Palestine watched, and drew their own lessons.

Many Christians indicated a preference for indefinite British rule. Once it became clear that British rule also entailed Zionism, Christian support for an independent Palestine became much greater. The Muslim threat was no less, but they preferred Muslim Arabs to Jews. [With the collapse of their numbers, their influence has shrivelled, there is no organic reason to grant them any rights, their only value remains as a means of soliciting Western support for the Arab cause. Without that, they are nothing.] 

To jump ahead, Particularly during the latter part of the British Mandate, the nationalist movement underwent a process of Islamisation, something which first became overtly manifest with the Wailing Wall riots of August 1929, the immediate cause of which was, without doubt, religious. All of the Arabs who took part in the riots were Muslims. The emphasis given Islam during the Great Revolt of 1936- 1939 saw Christian Arabs almost completely marginalized; very few took an active part in the Revolt, and it was not uncommon that they were accused of being disloyal to the nationalist cause. By the end of the Mandate, Christians were still active in the nationalist movement, though in many respects, largely only by sufferance.

First in their opposition to Zionism

We will now look in more detail at the responses of the Palestinian Christians to the early Zionist movement;

During the late Ottoman period, Christians were more vehement than Muslims in their opposition to Zionism; early on in fact, many Zionists were convinced that opposition to Zionism was limited almost entirely to Christian Arabs. One of the earliest organised efforts against Zionism was initiated by Christians in 1891, an official protest against Jewish immigration directed at the Ottoman Government. Christians would remain at the forefront in the struggle against Zionism well into the twentieth century. Prior to the war, the campaign against the sale of land to the Jews was initiated by Christians in the north. Feelings against Zionism were further fuelled by anti-Semitism. Arguably, Muslims and Christians had a shared aversion towards Jews from an early point.

Greek Orthodox Najib Nassar began his campaign against Zionism in 1905. He published articles on the subject in newspapers in Cairo and Beirut. “Christians were among the first to raise the alarm.” In 1908, he founded the Haifa paper al-Karmil. This printed the first articles on Zionism in Syrian and Palestinian newspapers. In the spring of 1911, he wrote a series of articles against Zionism in al-Karmil and later the same year he published them as a book (Zionism: Its History, Aims and Significance). They were an abridged translation of the article on Zionism from the Jewish Encyclopedia, accompanied by his commentary. Also in 1911, Orthodox Christian ‘Isa al-‘Isa founded Filastin in Jaffa, “primarily as a tool to attack Zionism.” These two papers led the calls against Zionism.

Isaac Nahon, who managed the Alliance school in Haifa, remarked in the summer of 1911 that al-Karmil’s accusations had spread among the Muslim population. In January 1912, Shimon Moyal noted that “a spirit of enmity had begun ‘to gain a foothold among the masses because of the influence of the antagonistic press.” In a June 1911 report, Albert Antébi, a prominent representative of the Sephardic community, noted that “In all eyes the Jew is becoming the anti-patriot, the traitor prepared to plunder his neighbor to take possession of his goods. The Christian excels in these accusations, but the Muslim follows on his heels.

In November 1923, Frederick Kisch, head of the Palestine Zionist Executive, wrote to the High Commissioner that Christians were; “intensely hostile”, and decrying their “undue influence over administrative machinery.” Another Zionist in 1925 noteded; “Christians are, from first to last, our deadly enemies … Catholic or Greek Orthodox or Protestant, they have one thing in common: a fanatical religious hatred of the Jews. … Muslims generally do not hate the Jew to the extent to which the Christians hate him … whereas it would be hard to find a case of real friendship between a Christian and a Jew, sincere friendship between a Moslem and a Jew is far from being a rare thing.” Other Jews thought there might be some hope; in 1922 a member of the Zionist Executive wrote that “we should try to bring the Protestant and Orthodox Arabs to our side, as anti-Semitism in Christian circles was mainly originating from Rome.”

1922, Arab Christians called for an economic boycott of the Jews, but this was not adopted by the Arab Executive Committee, which believed it to be unrealistic.

Biblical Issues

George Habash; “When my land was occupied, I had no time to think about religion.”

The problem with defining yourself primarily by your flesh, as Palestinian, and only secondarily as Christian, has created many problems. This priority means that many Palestinian Christians are prepared to use their faith to further Palestinian national claims. To make the child of promise serve the child of the slave. God however refuses to take second place! Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.” God’s word itself suffers violence when we do this. How else can you ignore his promises?

Dr Nain Ateek, has stated "how can the Old Testament be the Word of God in the light of Palestinian Christians' experience with its use to support Zionism?" His solution? A "Palestinian" way of reading the Bible whereby "the Word of God incarnate in Jesus the Christ interprets for us the Word of God in the Bible." ('Justice and only Justice') In 1989, the Catholic director of Al-Liqa in Jerusalem, Geries Khoury (who excommunicated Christian Zionists) stated in his book; The Intifada of Heaven and Earth that one of the important tasks of the "intifada" was "to write a Palestinian theology [that is] also an uprising against the exploitation of the Holy Bible to justify the [Jewish] settlement policy... Any believer who tries to justify through his theology the religious rights of Israel in Palestine is an infidel who denies God and Christ." Christian Aid writer, Janet Morley apparently agreed, stating; "There has been much abuse of the Bible to legitimate modern policies. Palestinian Christians have found the issue so sensitive that many have ceased to use in their liturgies those parts of the Old Testament that speak of 'Israel'."

Ateek has also written that some Old Testament texts are “not morally edifying” and consequently should not be read in public. He adds; “they do not contain a word from God to us. Rather, they reflect primitive human understanding as well as the prejudice, bigotry, and racism of tribal societies . . . In no way do they constitute a word of God for us. They must be rejected. They have no spiritual or moral value or authority for any person.” Ateek concludes that “we can no longer say simply that the Bible is the word of God.”

This stands in direct opposition to Jesus (John 10:35 the Scripture cannot be broken) and Paul! (2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.)

The 2006 Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism reflected the almost unanimous voice of the mainstream Palestinian Churches. It was signed by; His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch, Jerusalem, Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem,  Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

"With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building. … We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation. … We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.”
As seen, Hanna Massad, a pastor in a small Baptist church in Gaza, had a very different take; “I knew in my heart that God was not finished with the Jewish people because of what I had read in the Scriptures.”

It again needs to be stressed that not all the Arab Christian community in Israel hold this view!! See George Deek! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8m6ux-IeNo4. A recent survey conducted in 2006 found that approximately 70% of Palestinian Christians wanted to live peacefully alongside Israelis.

Missed Alternative, What might have been

Early Zionism
OK, When the Jewish people started to return to the land of Israel in the 1890s, what other responses might the Palestinian Christians have made? Well, we could have hoped that the local Christian churches would welcome and aid them. Because we should love our neighbour, the stranger and help those fleeing persecution (the Russian pogroms etc). And because they read their Bibles and knew God’s promises!

Across the wider Arab world, what an impact Arab Christians could have had! Imagine if when the Jews first started to return, they had stood up and said “this is of God!, you cannot oppose Him, you will not succeed.” They would have been mocked and hated, some killed  but when Israel became a nation in 48, and survived the ensuing war, and then again, in 67 and 73, - the Arab world was rocked to the core – as religious people, they sensed the finger of God, that something spiritual had happened, but had no framework to place it in. They needed the voices of those local Christians, proclaiming God’s faithfulness, but they never heard them. Like the crowd waiting outside the Temple when Zechariah met the angel Gabriel – his lack of faith meant they never heard the words they so desperately needed.

As seen, the return of the Jews to Israel was first opposed by the Christian Palestinians. Before the vast majority of the Jewish community were aware of it, or the Muslims appreciated it as a potential threat, the local Christians were aware and opposing it. Asking for soldiers to be set to guard over the grave.

They had the Scriptures! Were they always dimly aware that the children of Israel might return and claim their inheritance? Was it that they lived on Jewish land and feared God’s promises to them? Instead of knowing God’s blessings and trusting in him.

Basically, in the beginning, they had three Choices;

The Pharaoh option; Genesis 47:5-6 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you, 6 and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land.
To show welcome and aid their return.
The Gamaliel option; Acts 5:38-39 in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
Do nothing – you know the Scriptures, this might be of God.
The Chief Priests/tenants option; John 11:48-50 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." 49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
Luke 20:14 "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'
Actively oppose them.

Palestinian Christians overwhelmingly chose the third option.

The Arab Revolt of 1936
Again, by 1936, when these Jews were fleeing clear Nazi persecution, we could have hoped that the local Christians would have given them refuge and helped and welcomed them, as the teachings of Jesus would require. To do so, however, would have required a renunciation of their own history from its very beginning. It would also have placed many of them in direct conflict with their wider denominational policies. Tragically, it did indeed prove to be beyond them. Their false theology, itself based in selfishness and venal self-interest, meant they stood with their ancestors who had stoned Jews trying to return to Jerusalem, and persuade a ruler to break his oath so that Jews might be murdered or expelled from Jerusalem. This is the grief and the tragedy of the Arab church in Jerusalem.

In 1938, an American writer wrote: “What is to be done with these people, with the millions who are clawing like frantic beasts at the dark walls of the suffocating chambers where they are imprisoned? The Christian world (not just Palestinians!) has practically abandoned them and sits by with hardly an observable twinge of conscience in the midst of this terrible catastrophe.”

After the War
Again, in 1945, the Christian Arab community could have said to the Jewish refugees; “In 1936 we ignored your cries for help, we shut our doors in your faces, and now we know that you died there in your millions. Please forgive us, come, take the best of the land (Genesis 45:18), come, your survivors will always have a home with us.” Had the Palestinian Christians shown mercy and generosity to the struggling Jewish refugees, what a blessing might have resulted! What unbreakable bonds of friendship and love might have been forged! They would always have had an honoured place within the land of Israel. See the endless mutual generosity, mutual blessing in the economy of God! Jews are blessed through Gentiles, Gentiles are blessed through Jews, all together praising God! God indeed has no favourites (Romans 2:11), rather we are in an endless cycle of love and affirmation!

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
If you do not stand by faith … do not be conformed to this world … go beyond the city walls … narrow is the path

Franklin Littell wrote concerning the Christians during the Holocaust; “Those Jews who suffered and died in Hitler’s Europe perished for what the Christians would have suffered for had they remained Christians: the truth that the initiative, the direction and the judgment of history lies in the hands of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jew was recognized by the Adversary, the enemy of humanity, even when he did not (personally) understand himself, as a sign of the Holy One of Israel. The Christian, who had been grafted into that history by virtue of his baptism, could take on again the protective coloration of heathen ethnicity, could betray his baptism and retreat into non-history, could become an apostate and betrayer. And millions did so, leaving the Jews of the first covenant and a few faithful Christians of the second covenant exposed to the wrath and destruction of the demonic power in whose countenance confessors like Barth and Bonhoeffer recognized the outlines of the Anti-Christ ... For the Christian, the agony of the religious crisis is the inescapable record that while the church ran away in the hour of her visitation, the Jewish people bore the burden of being witnesses in the flesh to the Truth which both peoples professed with their lips. And now the voice of our brother’s blood cries out to God from the ground.”

The Palestinian Christians likewise found themselves in a profoundly difficult situation. They (especially their leaders) had recourse to their faith, to their understandings of God and history, yet they chose to respond as Arabs, rather than as Christians, and their leaders encouraged this! That the mainline church denominations in Europe and America now support them in this is a doubling down on their own complicity in the Holocaust.

History

We can see the Christian community in Palestine behaving as a minority community, stressing commonalities and hoping to avoid violence. Bishop Munib Younan at the 2018 Christ at the Checkpoint stated that Christians should not witness to Muslims or Jews. (Arab Anglicans refusal to share their faith goes back to the 1900s).

What we do not see is any of the Christian communities responding (morally or theologically) as Christians! Palestinian Christians (rightly?) complain that they have been largely invisible to Christian Zionists, but as far as their faith is concerned, Palestinian Christians have all too often, by their own deeds, chosen to be invisible. As already seen, there could be enormous significance and blessings for them if they can now place Christ, and not their own ethnicity, first. Equally we need to acknowledge that the Western churches likewise failed in this area, and under far less stress than that faced by the Palestinian Christians. This is a Christian problem, not just a Palestinian Christian one!

Failure

In general, the local Christian communities in the Land of Israel did not show compassion and welcome to refugees fleeing certain death, did not then show love to their Jewish neighbours, and are presently waging a campaign of spiritual and political opposition to the Jewish state. Their official support for the BDS also means in practical terms that they desire their people to neither buy from nor sell to their Jewish neighbours. Rather than encouraging social contacts, sports meetings etc, in a hope of overcoming hatred, they have chosen to support the opposite.

They did not deviate from their earlier, supersessionist founding and history. Nor were they encouraged to do so by their expatriate governing religious bodies. Theirs was an almost inevitable failure, as, like the majority of their co-religionists in Europe, they betrayed their baptism and retreated into the protective colouration of their ethnicity.

This is the story of the Palestinian churches. Rather than seeking council in the words of their God, they chose to be like the nations. False pride in their flesh, (“we are the original church”) a false defining themselves by their ethnicity (“we are Arabs”), not their faith (“their mind is on earthly things”), disobeying the commands God’s re witnessing, and re hospitality, a refusal to acknowledge the promises of God to Israel.

Conclusion

Some Palestinian Christians believe that within Christian Zionism, God either wants them gone, or ignores them – nothing could be further from the truth! They are in fact in a place of enormous blessing and responsibility! But by acting in selfishness and out of fear of men, many have squandered the promises God had waiting for them! Christian Zionism believes that no fight between Jews and Palestinians was ever necessary – that the return of the Jewish people could have been (and for many Christian Israeli Arabs, has been) a blessing for both peoples. It is only as Palestinians opposed the Jewish return that Christian Zionism finds reason to grieve. Christian Palestinians need to reject the narrative that says this conflict is inevitable – they could then live this out, by showing love and welcome to the Jewish communities within the West Bank, rejecting BDS, and gladly trade with their Jewish neighbours.

They ask; “where are we?” in Christian Zionism. To be honest, they (and we!!) had 1800 years to ask this question! “Are you Israel’s teacher and do not understand these things?” Some of the British Anglicans in Jerusalem were Christian Zionists – did no one ever ask; “where do the local Arab Christians fit in?” Ask in faith, not doubt, reading Romans 11 etc?? “I’d read through the Scriptures several times. How could I doubt that God loved the Jewish people? It was all over the Bible.”I was not prepared for the complete fulfilment of this prayer. Jesus not only took away my hatred for Israel and the Jews, but he replaced it with a love for them. This was unexpected.” They had the Bible, they had prayer! They were the first to sense the finger of God, and they were the first to oppose it. “then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." Did they fear Muslim violence should they support the return, that God was not able to guard them and accomplish his will?

In terms of their overall representation within the wider Palestinian community, their numbers have shrunk from around 11% total (27% in Jerusalem) to now about 1.5%. Pastor Salman in 2018 estimated a mere 1200 Evangelical Christians among the 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank. They have indeed been reduced to a stump in the land. Isaiah 6:13, 11:1. As the Lord told Ahaz; “If you do not stand by faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9. Indeed, by seeking their own safety, (“it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.") they have lost what they surrendered their faith to keep.

Haggai 1:5-9 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." 7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. 9 "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.”

Remnant

In 1 Kings 19, after the failure of King Ahab to respond to the miracle on Mt Carmel, God appoints three destroyers (the wind, earthquake and fire, representing Hazael, Jehu and Elisha), condemns the nation and commissions the righteous remnant (the still, small voice, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Have we seen a similar pattern in the churches? Apostate Christendom judged, the traditional churches decimated, and at the same time, the beauty of the righteous remnant, through whom God’s righteous purposes will now be accomplished?

Hope!

Revelation 3:2-3 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Christian Zionism would see the Palestinian Christians as having been placed in a place of great blessing and great importance. As the Christian community most intimately affected by the restoration of the Jewish people to their land, they could have been a first fruits of the universal blessing that this return will produce. Likewise, God has chosen that it is through the Gentile believers that the Jewish people should be roused to envy of the riches we have in Jesus, and so saved. Tragically, they did not recognise the day of their visitation, and at a time of existential crisis, they chose to deny their baptism and to retreat into their ethnicity. They chose to act as Arabs rather than as Christians, they chose friendship with this world rather than to follow Jesus beyond the city gates. 

At present, confession and repentance are required. Beyond that, the very truths they have resisted hold out the promises they need. The restoration of Israel shows that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable! If they are able to repent, then our God is able to restore and bless them likewise.




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