60 Minutes ran an informative and timely story about the Christian exodus from the Holy Land earlier in the week: “Christians of the Holy Land.”
You may also wish to watch the “overtime” addition: “The last Christian village in the Holy Land.”
On George Michalopulos’ site, there has been a lively discussion about the program, with links to Christians United for Israel and to a letter in the Wall Street Journal, “Israel Really Isn’t All That Friendly to Its Christians.” Having much interest in the issue, I shared the following comments:
Thank you for the link. The segment was certainly not a “hit piece,” and Fr. John’s criticism is not “anti-semitic.” I thought that the news segment was balanced and that it interviewed very insightful people. The Palestinian problem is a classic lose-lose, everyone-is-screwed microcosm of the human condition. Our melodramatic media overuse the term, but here it is quite appropriate — the situation is a tragedy.
Most Israelis want to live in peace, but they are surrounded by a much larger hostile population.
Most Palestinians want to live in peace, but the occupied status of the West Bank leaves them in a perpetual political limbo.
Palestinian Christians leave principally for economic reasons, yes, but the occupation is the main cause of poor economic conditions. Trade is difficult through walls and across militarized borders.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Christians suffer Mohammedan persecution. In the West Bank, this doesn’t seem to be a major problem. Perhaps the kinship between Palestinian Mohammedans and Christians minimizes that hostility, or perhaps they have gotten along because they see the Israelis as a larger threat. An outside force makes friendship easy — from Sparta and Athens to Mao and Chiang Kai-shek — just as all human beings would lay aside our squabbles instantly if hostile aliens ever visited our planet.
When I visited the West Bank last year, I only experienced anti-Christian sentiment once. As I was leaving the monastery on the Mount of Temptation with my mother and three Russian ladies, some teenagers threw rocks at us from above. The steward explained that local youths often hurl stones at pilgrims. Besides that, people were extraordinarily cordial (I cannot exaggerate how welcoming) in Jericho. We also visited Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Hebron. Everywhere we went, the locals were happy to see us, knowing that we were Christians and Americans. On several occasions, folks told us, non-sequitur, that Palestinians are not terrorists and that Moslems don’t hate Americans, even though that is what we (Americans) hear on our television. That was awkward, but interesting.
Similarly, we were treated well by Israeli Arabs and Jews in Israel proper. Even in the middle of the mess, most folks are decent and hospitable to strangers. Maybe the divisions in Israeli society lead them to be so welcoming to outsiders. It was clear that everyone wanted to “represent” well in front of us as Americans. Indeed, the only rude Mohammedans whom we met were the pushy cleric in the Hebron mosque and the patriarch’s shriner-looking henchman in the Church of the Resurrection.
My favorite political graffiti from the separation wall was a slogan that I saw in Ramallah: “One Wall, Two Prisons.” It captures the truth well.
What to do about it?
People criticize the Israelis for being like Afrikaaner run South Africa, but I wish that they would follow a road not taken by the South Africans. First, there should be a joint call for repentance and forgiveness. Then, I think that a one state solution would be best — make the occupied territories part of Israel and make the Palestinians Israeli citizens. The Palestinians were conquered. That’s history. Now, let’s move on. If a Palestinian does not want Israeli citizenship, then he may sell his property and emigrate to Jordan or wherever. Only such a solution would allow the Israelis to maintain order while also allowing for human cultural and economic flourishing in the West Bank — without walls.
Both the Jews and the Palestinians would have to give up their dream of their own exclusive ethnostates. More power would have to devolve to localities. On the national level is where the proposed but not implemented South African model comes in. Israel would remain a Jewish hegemony . . . a Jewish homeland was and will always be Israel’s main purpose. The principle of one man, one vote threatens that identity, and it is the main reason that Israelis oppose the true annexation of the occupied territories. If we chucked dogmatic liberalism, though, a stable multiethnic, religiously diverse state that respected Jewish hegemony would become possible. There could be a constitutional order that represented all groups in various ways. For instance, a certain percentage of the Knesset could be reserved for Jews and another for Arabs. Maybe, minority ethnic and religious groups like Christians, Druze, Bedouins, and others could have some special representation. The president and prime minister would have to be Jews.
Israel should also actively welcome Arab Christians from the West and from Arab states where they suffer persecution to settle as a buffer population. If the Israelis got rid of liberal electoral principles, such immigration would not be a demographic threat. The Christians’ arrival would also lessen resentment toward Jewish immigrants (“settlers”) who are reclaiming the desert.
Finally, the secular Israelis need to face religious reality. The future of their state is a religious one; the atheistic socialists will die out. There should be some formal state sanctioned meeting of Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan religious leaders wherein they promote peace and justice in Israel in the name of God rather than war, strife, and hatred.
Later, Mr. Michalopulos suggested that we should have left the Ottomans in control, a historical road not taken to which I replied:
I am shocked! Have you been belittling your tribe for so long that you overlook the best scenario — the resurrection of the Christian Empire? Now that the Omogenia is having such a difficult time, we could give them all cushy bureaucratic jobs paid for by the Levant’s black gold. This fantasy would solve so many problems:
* Defection of Orthodox states from the godless E.U.
* Return of the Greek Orthodox Church to Constantinople so the E.P. would be a real Church, again.
* Guaranteed religious freedom (within reason, of course) and holy sites access throughout the Middle East for Christians, rabbinical Jews, and Mohammedans.
* Forced peace between Jews and Arabs.
* End of Christian persecution and emigration.
* Aggressive campaign for Christian Arabs, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Armenians, and such to return from the West, where their families quickly assimilate into the hedonistic lifestyle and their daughters dress like tacky whores. Possible slogan: “Move back; keep Anastasia, Sophia, and Eftihia from becoming sluts.”
* Return of economic vitality to the cradle of civilization, fueled by natural resources (rather than having them wasted by silver car driving despots and their Gucci wearing harems).
* Killing the millet mentality and seeing the end of ethnocentric ecclesial politics in our Churches in the area (Greeks will get their power trips in the bureaucracy, leaving the Church for real churchmen).
* Finally getting some important conciliar work done.
* Freeing Antioch from their dhimmi Stockholm Syndrome.
* Rebuilding the Nea in grand fashion. The Church of the Resurrection would be restored to its former glory.
* Finally, the Temple Mount would be open to all Abrahamic faiths for use on a shared basis. If the Church of the Resurrection can be shared, so can the Dome of the Rock. If the Mohammedans behave themselves, they may keep Al-Aqsa. If not, why not bring back an ecumenical version of the Templars . . .
Of course, it is far fetched. So would have the Paschal celebrations in Christ the Savior Cathedral seemed just forty years ago. History is a quirky and surprising thing.
If I had the emperor’s ear, I would suggest more controversial measures, as well:
* I would demand that the Latin and Armenian patriarchs pack their bags or agree to demote themselves to vicariate bishops with responsibilities for the Latin and Armenian populaces. Of course, we are not in communion, but we can take steps . . .
* The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre would be given chief use of the Church of the Resurrection and other jointly administered sites in the Holy Land with the understanding that they are to share them with Rome and the non-Chalcedonians.
* I would sponsor the development of a “Mosaic rite” for Christian Jews who want to retain their Hebraic identity and practices. Imagine Messianic Judaism without Protestant heresy. They would get a nice temple in the Jewish Quarter—maybe the rebuilt Nea. They would be the primary instrument to show the rabbinical Jews that Christians do not aim for their destruction. See “Ann and the Jews” for some additional thoughts about rabbinical antipathy toward the gospel.
If missionary activity were allowed, not to mention encouraged, in the Middle East, I imagine that many Mohammedans would convert to Christianity. Lack of exposure to the gospel and fear of death for apostasy keep them in the dark. How the Crescent will peacefully fall in the Holy Land when competition with the Cross is allowed. Consider negroid Africa as a precedent (well, perhaps not peacefully . . .) So, too, would the desert go—and return to Christendom after a very long night.