Palestinian Christians make an Easter call for relief from war’s tightening grasp

An appeal to the world's Christians to pressure political leaders to find a way to peace.

Smoke and explosions rise inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, March 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

(RNS) — Palestinian Christians, a community that dates back to Jesus’ time, have long lived under the threat of extinction. This Easter, however, we bear witness to horrors never imagined. The church in the Holy Land, along with thousands of years of Palestinian culture and heritage, is disintegrating before our eyes. From Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Nablus, we watch the escalating attacks on our community in horror. 

A pastor in Bethlehem and founder of Dar al-Kalima University, the first and only Palestinian university with a focus on arts, culture and design, I have invested my life in my community, which has played an outsize role both in Palestinian culture and on the global stage. Palestinian Christians founded 40% of the aid organizations and other NGOs in the occupied territories. Our schools, hospitals and advocacy organizations serve all Palestinians and represent our third-largest private employer. Church-related organizations run a third of the health services in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Yet, like all Palestinians, we have suffered the indignity of Israeli occupation and the crime of apartheid. Since Israel’s independence in 1948, our villages have been razed, our people ethnically cleansed, our lives, lands and stories erased. We have persevered through decades of disenfranchisement, military occupation and injustice alongside our Muslim Palestinian brothers and sisters, witnessing and enduring what the International Court of Justice has found may be plausibly called a genocide. 

Since Oct. 7, our hope has been tested like never before. Early on, our Gaza campus was destroyed, taking the lives of extraordinary Palestinian artists such as Hiba Zaqout and students and volunteers such as Halima al-Kahlout and Muhammad Sami. Our Orthodox Christian sisters and brothers mourn the lives of those killed by Israeli bombs that hit the third-oldest living church in the world, St. Porphyrius, in Gaza.

During Israel’s genocidal assault, more than 3% of this dwindling Christian population has been killed in a greater proportion than the rest of the population of Gaza. In Jerusalem, violent extremist Israeli settlers are trying to force Christians out of their homes. Even before Oct. 7, our people and our churches have been firebombed, spat on and attacked with increasing frequency. Now, we see the mass killing of our people in Gaza. And we fear that, unless this horror is stopped now, we are next. 

Yet instead of seeing a groundswell of support among Christians, we are seeing the opposite, especially in the United States, whose government has the power to end this carnage. A decidedly Christian Zionist theology has long infected some strains of Christianity, some of which are now dominant in American politics and culture. We watch, horrified, as many Christians and respected Christian institutions not only turn a blind eye to these horrors but also justify and even sanctify genocide. Do they not forsake their faith?

As Indigenous residents in the birthplace of Jesus, we know that there can be no true peace for anyone here without peace for all. The current onslaught will not destroy hateful and extremist ideologies. It’s a historic injustice that is only fueling further injustice and destroying our ancient community in the process.

We cannot presume to know what comes after a cease-fire and the release of all captives, including both Palestinians and Israelis. But we know that without a cease-fire today, Palestinians (Muslim and Christian alike), Israelis, the region and the world will be pulled into a dark spiral of misery, reprisal and instability. We will continue to cry out: Stop. And we will continue to practice hope. 

In the West Bank, with major streets closed by the Israeli occupation, we are locked in our cities behind concrete walls that transformed our cities into “Bantustans.” We are entombed by a heavy stone. We keep asking: Who will roll away the stone? We have been living for more than seven decades, keeping a long Easter vigil. We keep asking if and when Sunday will come, when this oppression will end, when will we obtain our freedom to live in dignity and to reach our full potential.

We are waiting not for angels to roll away the stone, but rather people who hear the call for justice, for liberation, for peace. Imagine the impact we could make if from every corner of the world, our collective call for action — for a cease-fire, for the liberation of all captives — became impossible to ignore.

Today, we need our Christian brothers and sisters, and all of humanity, to amplify our calls, to pressure their supposed faith leaders and their political leaders. We hold out hope that those who profess to follow the ways of Jesus will truly embody his teachings of radical love, hope and compassion. 

May we receive during this Easter time the power to leave behind our fears and complicity to become agents of transformation. Let this Easter mark both a day of celebration and a day of mobilization — a day when we choose to be catalysts for hope in action and for a long-lasting and just peace.


(The Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, is the founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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