The shining exception of 'Palestine'

Palestinian Christian figures claim Israel occupation forces them from territory.

Michael Oren pose 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Michael Oren pose 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Dr. Michael Oren, stirred a tempest recently with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal comparing the dire plight of Christian minorities throughout the Middle East with the much better conditions enjoyed by Arab Christians in Israel.
No doubt the column was prompted by his well-placed concerns for the worsening situation of indigenous Christians in Egypt, Iraq and other regional states. Yet Oren has been met with a wave of angry responses from Palestinian Christian leaders in a coordinated campaign to silence his voice.
Israel has become the only safe haven for Christians in the Middle East, Oren claimed, adding that radical Muslim elements are trying to drive out native Arab Christians from the region, just like they did Jews in the early 1950s.
“In contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged, Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to ‘ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion,’” Oren wrote.
He added that Arab Christians serve in Israeli government posts and as Supreme Court justices, and are “on average more affluent than Israeli Jews and better-educated, even scoring higher on their SATs.”
Oren then presented the situation in the Palestinian territories as drastically different, noting that while Christians once made up 15 percent of the West Bank’s population, today that number is as low as 2%. Meantime, half the Christian population in the Gaza Strip has fled since the Hamas takeover in 2006. Oren further charged the Palestinian Authority with failing to protect its Christians, leading to their flight from the territories.
It was this latter point which seems to have touched a raw nerve, as numerous Palestinian Christian figures have assailed Oren for distorting a reality only they can know about. They adamantly deny that Muslim extremism is driving them out, insisting instead that the “Israeli occupation” is the primary source of Palestinian Christian flight, and that its evil, discriminatory nature extends even to Arab Christians in Israel.
They can no longer dispute the constant bleeding and uprooting of fellow Christians in neighboring Arab lands due to Islamic militancy, but they would have us believe that the lone, shining exception to this dark phenomenon is “Palestine.” Here and here alone, Muslims and Christians would co-exist in perfect harmony, if not for the Jews.
That, sadly, is a living portrait of a people in denial. More precisely, it is an ancient survival mechanism exercised for centuries by nearly all Arab Christian minorities under Muslim dominance. For their own self preservation, they have observed a code of silence which dictates that they never say anything bad in public about Islam, since it could cost them dearly.
In modern times, many Palestinian Christian leaders have taken it a step further by patriotically waving the flag of Palestinian nationalism higher than even their Muslim neighbors, in the hope such loyalty to the cause will safeguard their flocks.
Yet it has not worked! And for every Palestinian Christian who has signed a protest letter against Oren, I can find you an honest Palestinian Christian who knows he spoke the truth.
The Arab Christian population in Israel is indeed the only Arab Christian community in the entire region that has experienced real positive growth over the past six decades, and they enjoy civil rights and living standards unmatched by fellow Arabs in any surrounding countries.
Further, the Christian exodus from Palestinian areas did not start with the “occupation” in 1967 but predates it by several decades. The rate of Christian flight from the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation was just as bad if not worse.
This exodus continues in large part because Muslim elements, many of them armed gangs, have extorted Christian businesses, torched their shops, invaded their homes and stolen their lands. Yet appeals to Palestinian authorities for protection and redress go unanswered or, even worse, spark clan retaliation.
For Palestinian Christians, their deepest fear is that the Islamic hostility now directed primarily against Jews might one day be more fully turned against them. So instead, many join in assailing Israel for all their troubles.
The wrtier is a media director for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.