IS PEACE POSSIBLE?
Christian Palestinians Speak
by the Justice and Peace Commission
155 pp. Latin Patriarchate Press $5.00
The Peace and Justice Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land has written a brief but incredibly important book for all who are concerned about Christian Palestinians and justice in Palestine and Israel, especially in the light of President Trump’s peace initiative. “Is Peace Possible: Christian Palestinians Speak” is for beginners and a resource for specialists alike. Although the Commission is part of the Latin Patriarchate and no authors are identified, the document is broadly representative of Christian Palestinians, few in number but with disproportionately powerful influence. This growing ecumenism of Christian Palestinians reflects a unified self-understanding that they are the descendants of the first Christians and that the Jerusalem Church is their church altogether, the Mother Church of all Christians. Christian Palestinians feel a real responsibility to be “the custodians of the Holy Places” for all Christians.
The first half of the book identifies and distinguishes the experiences of Christian Palestinians in Palestine and Israel as these two states are delineated by the United Nations along the 1967 borders. From various demographic studies, the Commission concludes that approximately 310,000 Christians live in Israel (120,000 Palestinian Christian; 40,000 Russian Christians; and 150,000 Christian asylees, migrant workers, and long-term international church workers) and 50,000 Christians live in Palestine (10,000 in East Jerusalem; 39,000 in the West Bank; and 1000 in Gaza) for a total of 360,000 Christians in Israel and Palestine.
Due to racially discriminatory laws within Israel, as well as different martial laws and permit regimes imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora, the Commission devotes discrete sections of the book to the Christian Palestinians in each geo-political region. For example, Christian Jerusalemites—especially in the Old City—must endure unique pressure to maintain their residency status and are hard pressed to find affordable housing. West Bank Christian Palestinians, however, have greater problems than Jerusalemites with healthcare, education, under-employment, low income, access to water, and freedom of movement. And while the Christian Palestinian citizens of Israel are, on average, more affluent than their Gazan and West Bank relatives, they are among the poorest Israeli citizens and they suffer daily indignities of racially discriminatory laws, under-resourced schools, neglected municipalities, and inadequate public services such as fire and police protection.
Part I of the book also addresses Christian-Jewish relations, Christian-Muslim relations, the pressures on Christian Palestinians to emigrate (it is not Islamic terrorism but discrimination in Israel and Israeli military law in the occupied Palestinian territory), and the churches’ efforts to stem the tide. This section concludes with seven “primary needs of the present” the last of which is both a frank confession and an implicit call to the world to awaken to its responsibility:
“The future of Christians in Israel-Palestine depends on many external factors that are far beyond their own capacities and control, but to a great extent, they also hold their future in their own hands. It is a question of commitment, faith, and hope. As disciples of Christ they are called to be living witnesses to the message of equality, liberty, universal fraternity, reconciliation, and love for all, and this witness demands to be translated into concrete actions of service, solidarity and constructive collaboration, beyond all barriers of religion, language, nationality, and culture.”
Part II of “Is Peace Possible “contains seventeen statements of the Justice and Peace Commission from 2014-2019 which are essential resources for everyone who is working for justice in Israel and Palestine. Reading these statements one after another, and in light of the 2009 Kairos Palestine statement, one cannot help but be profoundly affected by Christian Palestinians—their faith, hope, and solidarity in the presence of relentless sufferings, and their commitment to the inclusive, peaceable message of Jesus.
The Commission’s initial statement on “The Present Conflict” serves as an introduction to the Church’s position and Christian Palestinians’ conviction that “a solution is possible” which ensures “justice for all the people in the Holy Land, equality for all citizens, freedom for all individuals including complete religious freedom, mutual respect, and respect for international law.” The following sixteen statements address, for example, the oneness of Muslim and Christian Palestinians, Israel’s attempts to lure Christian Palestinian citizens of Israel into its military, Israel’s national elections, prisoners’ hunger strikes, and Israel’s new Nation-State Law.
One of the two most important statements is “The Question of Normalization.” Since Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel continue to endure legal discrimination, and since the state of Israel militarily occupies the state of Palestine, the situation is anything but normal. “Normalization” is defined as “the establishment of relations with the state of Israel, its organizations, or citizens ‘as if’ the current situation is a normal state of affairs,” and is to be avoided by all justice-minded locals and internationals alike. Of the 360,000 Christians in Israel and Palestine, the Commission writes:
“They have the right and the moral obligation to use all available legal and non-violent means to promote full rights and complete equality for all citizens. Ignoring or marginalizing this duty is ‘normalization,’ collaboration with structures of discrimination.… Within this context, the Church is obligated to ensure the smooth running of parishes, schools, other institutions…. This, however, must never obscure the Church’s commitment to justice.”
The Commission’s statement on May 20, 2019, “Righteousness and Peace Will Kiss,” was signed by all members of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine which signifies unique importance. It is not entirely new, but it is the clearest and most powerful call for a particular political solution, yet without the concrete political details that must be left to the state. (77) In this brief, two-page statement, the commissioners repeatedly call for inclusive equality using the word or a cognate term or phrase fifteen times. The Commission concludes: “This is our vision for Jerusalem and the whole land, called Israel and Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.” For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Catholic Church in the Holy Land is calling for one, secular, democratic state that encompasses both Israel and Palestine.