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Debunking Israel’s imagined ‘Christian awakening’

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A scene in Nazareth (Photo: Flickr/Adam Groffman)

A scene in Nazareth (Photo: Flickr/Adam Groffman)

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled “Israel’s Christians Awakening,” by Adi Schwartz, arguing that Palestinian Christians in Israel are undergoing a change, separating their identity from the Palestinian minority and enlisting in the Israeli army as a sign of close cooperation with the Israeli Jewish society.

This piece was published just a few days after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a special video message to Palestinian Christians citizens of Israel. His message served a twofold purpose: it was both another attempt to present Israel as the protector of Christian minorities (ostensibly in contrast to neighboring countries), and an opportunity to encourage Palestinian Christians citizens of Israel to serve in the Israeli military. The latter is a longstanding tactic that has been used to de-Arabize Palestinian communities, a continuation of Israel’s divide and rule strategy and a hallmark of Israel’s founding fathers.

Netanyahu’s message comes at a time of gathering momentum in the efforts to boycott Israeli institutions for their complicity in aiding and abetting Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. But the treatment of Palestinian Christians is particularly crucial to Israel’s image as a “Jewish and democratic state” and its relationship with the Western countries that continue to support it notwithstanding its abusive policies. It is this context that provides a clearer reading of Adi Schwartz’s comments in the WSJ.

I was raised in a Palestinian Catholic family in Nazareth in northern Israel. My parents’ lives revolved around family, work, and church. Although I have lived in the US for many years now, I visit my family every summer and am deeply connected with my roots. As part of this community, I can tell you that Palestinian Christians in Israel are aware of their belonging to the Palestinian people in every aspect of their lives. They live and function within a state that is defined for others, since it is by definition a Jewish state, and policymakers are wholly focused on serving those others. The voices reported in the WSJ’s article, then, are discordant with this reality, sounding like a cacophony prompted by the Israeli government.

Israel is defined as a Jewish State, which means Jews have exclusive and special rights that are not given to non-Jews. These rights include promotion of Zionist values and history, the disproportionate and beneficial allocation of resources to Jews, and other institutional privileges that have direct impact on social structures including immigration, land rights, and education. Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens and lack a sense of belonging. They acutely feel a need for protection at all times within the state of Israel, whether they are Christians or not. Cabinet ministers and political groups explicitly advocate the transfer of Palestinians citizens and even population swap in order to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority.

Discriminatory laws and initiatives are passed to prevent Palestinians from connecting to our history, culture, and religion. The infamous anti-Nakba law prohibits state funding to organizations that commemorate the dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from 1947-1949. Segregation is endorsed in approximately 700 agricultural and community towns in Israel on the basis of “social unsuitability,” preventing Christian and Muslim Palestinians from living among the Jewish populations. Arab communities in the Naqab and the Galilee are subject to Judaization plans, non-violent Arab demonstrations against these policies are routinely dispersed with egregious and unnecessary force.

These discriminatory practices extend to everyday routines. At this time of year, it is not permitted to display a Christmas tree in the Israeli Knesset, reportedly because such an act would be considered “offensive”. Legal action has even been taken to allow the display of Christmas trees in some public places, such as Haifa University. Access to higher education is made easier for Jewish students than Palestinians. Housing subsidies are extended to Jewish settlers who want to live in illegal West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements. These conditions often make Palestinians desperate to leave the country in search of equality, education, housing, and the freedom to celebrate the holidays associated with their religion.

Today, it may be true that there is some ‘Christian awakening’ in Nazareth, but this is not and could not be the awakening described in Schwartz’s article. It is an awakening regarding the Israeli government’s attempts to recruit Palestinian Christians to serve in the Israeli military as part of their divide and rule policy. The reported alignment of Palestinian Christians with the Israeli identity and their attempt to disconnect from the Palestinian minority is questionable, at best. Palestinian Christians are aware that serving in the Israeli army contradicts their national interests and even their Christian values and beliefs and would bring them no greater rights, privileges or protections. Members of the Arab Druze community have been serving in the military since the 1950s and yet have not achieved equality; even those serving as officers in the Israeli Air Force are subject to unusual screening, as seen during a security exercise at the nuclear reactor in Dimona.

Thousands of Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike, are struggling daily against oppression and are determined to seek unconditional full rights for all Israeli citizens. Against this backdrop, it is foolhardy to claim an “awakening” based on reports of only around 150 Christian Palestinian recruits. Make no mistake: Palestinian Christians know that joining the Israeli military or enrolling in the newly offered alternative national service will not end discrimination, but will only lead to further alienation and fragmentation. Those few Palestinian Christians choosing to join the army only highlight the tough choices faced by Palestinians in Israel in order to survive in the face of institutionalized discrimination. Do they join an occupying military to fight against fellow Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in order to later be eligible for state benefits, or do they reject such bribes, demand unconditional full equality for themselves, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli occupation who are seeking freedom? Overwhelmingly, Palestinian citizens of Israel – both Christian and Muslim – are choosing Palestinian freedom and equality.

Today, my father, like many other Palestinian citizens, struggles within Israel to secure equal rights from the state that, following the Nakba of 1948, forced him into an orphanage as a child (and his mother and brother into Lebanon as refugees). I live with my father’s personal suffering and loss, with the hope that the common future for us all, Palestinians and Israelis, regardless of religious belonging, will be based on values of equality, justice, and mutual respect and not on a spurious call to arms.

(Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed was originally sent to the Wall Street Journal who declined to publish it.)

Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar

Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar is an Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Adelphi University, Long Island, New York. She is an Arab citizen of Israel who was born and raised in Nazareth.

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18 Responses

  1. Walid on January 2, 2014, 1:28 pm

    Great article, Reem, you said it all. The WSJ article was a PR stunt.

    • seafoid on January 2, 2014, 4:16 pm

      Hasbara these days is hopeless. I bet the number of Christians signing up for the colonial army is even less than the number of French secular jews making aliyah. Israel sucks.

  2. JeffB on January 2, 2014, 1:34 pm

    With Pan-Arabism fading and Pan-Islamic movements gaining it makes sense for Israel to reach out to Christians. You are absolutely right it is part of “divide and rule”. Israel’s goal is to disassemble Palestinians identity. The Palestinians movement’s goal (assuming they are aiming for a human solution and not genocide) is to aim to disassemble Israeli/Zionist identity via. a “state for all its citizens”. That’s the game. If Christians are joining with Israel in terms of identity then they or their descendants aren’t Palestinians anymore but ethnically Palestinian Israelis, i.e. Israeli Arabs. After intermarriage hopefully just undifferentiated Israelis. So Palestinian Christians identity wise don’t become the descendants of the victims of the Nabka but symbolically the descendants of the perpetrators. That’s the point.

    I identify with American history my family wasn’t present for like the American Revolutionary War. I don’t identify with Ukrainian history my family was present for like the Khmelnytsky Uprising. The goal is that the same thing happens to Palestinians eventually.

    I don’t know whether Israel will ultimately be successful but if you want equality that’s how states achieve it. States aim to build a nation that is compatible with the state. Israel can never give unconditional full equality to large numbers of hostiles. The hostility to Israel is not just a result of the oppression but also a primary cause. What you are asking from Israel is national suicide and that’s just not in the cards. It is too much to ask.

    • Talkback on January 3, 2014, 9:14 am

      JeffB: The Palestinians movement’s goal … is to aim to disassemble Israeli/Zionist identity via. a “state for all its citizens”.

      Oh, I never knew that Israel is so racist and fascist and the Palestinian movements are so humane and just.

      Israel can never give unconditional full equality to large numbers of hostiles. The hostility to Israel is not just a result of the oppression but also a primary cause.

      ROFL. The hostility is the result of the primary cause that this antigentile entity doesn’t give Gentiles unconditional full equality simply because of the fact that they are Gentiles. It wouldn’t be different, if Gentiles were angels sent from heaven to free imbecile Zionist Jews from the dark path they have chosen for themselves and their pitiful offsprings who are tought to hate Gentiles even more which you can not only witness on streets who are named after facists or terrorists like Jebotinsky or Begin.

      What you are asking from Israel is national suicide and that’s just not in the cards. It is too much to ask.

      True, nobody asked Germany or Southafrica to commit the ‘national suicide’ of their regimes, too. That would be like Einstein trying to ask monkeys.

  3. Marlene P. Newesri on January 2, 2014, 2:11 pm

    I know a few Palestinian Christians who have “served” in Israel’s army, but it was always quite obvious to me that they did it because they thought they would be treated as equal citizens. The bottom line is that regardles of what they do, they are still perceived as the “enemy” and do not have equal rights. It disturbs me a lot to see this. Israel wants Palestinian Christians to “serve” not only for the divide and rule tactic, but also because it serves them politically in their image to the world. In this way, they can misrepresent to the world that everything is a “Muslim” issue which in reality has nothing to do with justice, the rule of law, equality, or anything that could remotely be considered humane.

  4. jon s on January 2, 2014, 3:13 pm

    The incident in which Druze IDF soldiers were excluded from the training exercise at the Dimona reactor was roundly condemned. Even Defense Minister Yaalon said it was outrageous , and, supposedly , it won’t be repeated. On the other hand , a Druze officer is at present in command of the Golani Brigade:,7340,L-4445216,00.html

  5. ivri on January 2, 2014, 3:27 pm

    The massive plight of Christians in Arab countries, among Moslems, cannot be separated from what goes on in Christian regards in Israel, since, practically, it makes Israel the only place in the region where Christian live in the main in safety.

    • Marlene P. Newesri on January 3, 2014, 6:20 am

      To make an analogy like that is almost like saying that African Americans in the United States had it far better than Black South Africans during the apartheid regime. I don’t know of any country in the Middle East that continuously represents itself as a unique democracy, other than Israel, and since I myself have lived in Israel, then I attest to the fact that Palestinian Christians are treated as the enemy just as all Palestinian Arabs. To live in any society where you are defined as a “demographic threat” in and of itself is enough to put one in grave danger, if not now, then surely at some point in the future.

      Have some of you not learned anything from history or do you just go on making excuses for it with the ultimate outcome of only repeating history.

    • talknic on January 3, 2014, 7:16 am

      @ivri “The massive plight of Christians in Arab countries, among Moslems, cannot be separated from what goes on in Christian regards in Israel, since, practically, it makes Israel the only place in the region where Christian live in the main in safety”

      Is that why Jewish forces dispossess Christian Palestinians 1947-present

  6. just on January 2, 2014, 10:07 pm

    My heartfelt thanks to you Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar.

    You’ve authored an article that should be read far and wide, unlike the WSJ. You’ve debunked their entire hasbara.

    A Palestinian is, and will always be a Palestinian– no matter their citizenry or their chosen religion. I believe that none of them “will never forget” how cruelly and barbarically they have been treated in the day- to-day violence perpetrated upon them or that wrought upon their forebears.

    • seafoid on January 3, 2014, 1:39 am

      In the Israeli ideology they aren’t even granted the dignity of identification as Palestinians. The house became available after the war of independence and the Jews moved in and they found some Israeli Arabs in a shed in the garden. None of the elders knew where they had come from. It wasn’t until the late 50s that the word “Palestinian” was heard in the house.

  7. Shmuel on January 3, 2014, 4:53 am

    If Palestinian Christians were under any illusions, Netanyahu set them straight in the very same Christmas message that was supposed to win them over:

    We will enforce the full power of the law against any entity that tries to prevent you from enlisting in the army and contributing to the Jewi… to our state and our society.

    Granted, accidents happen, but why didn’t Netanyahu re-record? Either he actually wanted to keep it that way (could it have been intentional?) or he didn’t care enough about the Christian community he was pretending to care about to bother. In any case, the message came through loud and clear.

    • Walid on January 3, 2014, 5:45 am

      He invites them to become full citizens while stealing their Christmas; not very convincing. One has to wonder how much the priest is getting paid to collaborate on influencing young minds.

  8. kayq on January 3, 2014, 9:42 am

    Great article, thank you.

    As a Muslim Palestinian, may religion not divide us. We are all one people. :)

  9. ramzijaber on January 3, 2014, 10:06 am

    Reem, thank you for a great article and for firmly stating to the world that Palestinians in the pre-1948 zionist state are just like any Palestinian anywhere in the world. We are all united as Palestinians fighting for our rights.

    What you have so forcefully debunked is one of two recently re-introduced thread of discourse by the zionists in order to play their usual game of divide-and-conquer.

    Every now and then over the years of occupation of Palestine by zionists, the zionists and their hasbara machine puts out two diversionary and illusionary narratives:

    1) Palestinian Christians are really with Israel. They prefer to live in Israel but are afraid to say it in public for fear of being attacked by Moslems. Their affinity with Jews is much greater due to the Judeo-Christian religion bonds. They are different than Palestinian Moslems.

    Reem did an excellent job addressing the first point. I would only add that, growing up under zionist colonialism, it was clear that the zionist regime was constantly attempting to create divisions and fissures among Palestinian Christians and Moslems by deliberately treating Palestinian Christian “better” than Moslems. It did not work.

    2) Palestine is really Jordan and Palestinians are Jordanians. After all, Jordan was “occupying” Palestine from 1948 to 1967 and the Palestinians were happy to live as Jordanians.

    This is a narrative that the zionists regime also pushed on and off for years. Their thinking is to re-settle all Palestinians in Jordan and the illegal zionist entity will then have control over all of historic Palestine extending fro the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It didn’t work and will certainly not work in the future. To understand why, we need to walk through the history of this idea from a demographic perspective.

    Contrary to what many might think, Palestinians are not totally homogenous in experience since we “grew up” through various paths following the Nakba:
    – 1948 Palestinians who were born in Palestine stayed under zionist rule in pre-1948 Palestine
    – 1948 Palestinians who became refugees outside Palestine
    – 1948 Palestinians who became refugees inside Palestine (escaped to the so-called “West Bank”)
    – 1967 Palestinians who where born in Palestine before 1948 but saw and understood as adults what happened to 1948 Palestine and to 1967 Palestine
    – 1967 Palestinians who were born before 1967 in the “West Bank” and grew up as “Jordanians” then fell under zionist colonialist regime
    – 1967 Palestinians who were born in Palestine after the 1967 zionist colonialism of the “West bank”
    – 1967 Palestinians who were forced to become refugees outside Palestine due the zionist war against us in 1967
    – 1948 and 1967 Palestinians who had their next generations born outside Palestine in refugee camps
    – 1948 and 1967 Palestinians who had their next generations born outside Palestine but not in refugee camps

    Through this multi-chotomy of Palestinian experiences, there was a very brief period in time (between 1967 and 1969) just after the 1967 war of aggression by the zionists where the Palestinian generation that grew up under Jordan may have been open to being considered as Jordanian due to their unique experiences between 1948 and 1967, and due to the fatigue of war and conflict. However, even during that period, a very large number of Palestinians who did not share that experience may or may not have been open to that idea. No one really knows as this was never tested or explored at the time. King Hussein, with his acts of treason against Palestinians in collusion with Israel (also during the days of his grandfather I might add), was not only open to this idea but actively advocated for it hoping to keep the land he lost so cowardly. It didn’t work thanks to President Arafat and to the opposition of many Palestinians.

    So the zionists, entrenched in their genocidal and racist thinking, always on the look-out for ideas to divide-and-conquer, latched onto that idea back then and are still attached to an idea that is as outdated as the debunked and immoral idea of zionism.

    As we enter 2014, I venture to say that there is ABSOLUTELY not a single Palestinian who agrees the idea that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan. Furthermore, with about 80% of “Jordanians” being Palestinian refugees (1948 and 1967) or descendants of Palestinians, the last think the king wants now is to amplify that idea and lose his rule. Last, but by no means least, Palestinian identity has been growing exponentially since 1948 and has clearly accelerated increasingly since then.

    There is no going back. Palestine is Palestine. Jordan is Jordan. Palestinians are Palestinians at the core – whether Christians or Moslems; we are all ferociously Palestinians and Palestinians first. And if Kerry does not succeed in his peace mission, and succeed in a fair and just manner, then the path forward is very clear: the intensification of zionist apartheid followed by 1S1P1V on all of historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

    • Walid on January 3, 2014, 10:43 am

      “… King Hussein, with his acts of treason against Palestinians in collusion with Israel (also during the days of his grandfather I might add)…”

      It’s worth recalling that King Hussein’s grandfather, King Abdullah was assassinated in 1951 in Jerusalem during Friday prayers by a Palestinian from the Husseini clan because of his dealings with the Zionists. King Abdullah was at al Aqsa to deliver the eulogy for the assassinated former Prime Minister of Lebanon killed 4 days earlier in Amman also suspected of working towards a deal with the Zionists.

  10. annie on January 3, 2014, 10:52 am

    thank you very much Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar. not sure if you’re reading the comments but i wanted to share a recent post i wrote here regarding the recen hasbara push by the state regarding palestinians christians. it contains some links to past articles we’ve covered.
    Danny Ayalon fabricates Christian fears in Islamophobic hasbara video

  11. W.Jones on January 4, 2014, 1:07 pm

    Thanks for the article.

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