Last Sunday night I had the wonderful privilege of listening to a group of Christians in Nablus.  It was a profound conversation about what it is like to be a Christian in and under the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.  

The situation is pretty bleak.  The group I spoke with are pretty discouraged.  They feel abandoned by the wider world and the wider Christian community. 

They asked me to share their experiences, because they feel that “no one is telling our story.”

I was told they see no future for the Christian community beyond about 15 to 20 years. 

“The future is black…” they said.

It isn’t that they were all having a bad day.  They told me that they feel as if they are “the forgotten ones in the Occupation,” and that they are “paying the price for what some Europeans did in the Holocaust.”  (That the creation of the State of Israel was a response to the Holocaust.  It initially displaced Palestinians — Christians included — and it has further led to the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories with the wider world largely silent about the Occupation.)

Nablus is in the heart of the large northern lobe of the West Bank.  In the Biblical narrative, we know it as Shechem and Sychar — the very heart of Samaria. 

We are meeting in what was the cradle of Christianity.

Earlier in the evening, I had experienced worship with them in their Greek Catholic Melkite Church.  The sanctuary was comfortably filled.  It is a very, very beautiful and modest church.  The liturgy was in Arabic, with some lovely chanting and choral responses. 

After worship I sat with these 16 congregation members.  There was a variety of ages and occupations — male and female.  They are part of a larger Christian community in Nablus, which has shrunk from around 3,300 to just 600.  (They told me a similar decrease has happened in Gaza.)

I had initiated the conversation some weeks ago, as I was finding coffee after worship rather superficial, especially when we had little language in common.  Their priest, Father Yousef Sa’adah was very helpful in arranging the meeting for me.  He has become a very good colleague for me.

But with a good translator for me, the conversation was anything but superficial!  They were quite candid.  To say the least, they are disheartened on many levels.  It’s hard to find good jobs in the pre-dominantly Muslim city.  Many in the Christian community are unemployed or under-employed.  It is a small community in which young people have trouble looking for prospective husbands or wives who are Christian.

Their children are part of the Christian minority.  One family said their daughter is one of 16 Christians in a school of 500 students.  The Christian-run schools are too expensive given peoples income levels.

There were many threads of conversation as they shared the reali.ty of their lives:

They do not see the “Arab Spring” as having been good for Christians in the countries where it has resulted in a change of government.  They are perplexed that the United States — a so-called Christian nation — has backed these changes.

They fear that Palestine could become an Islamic state with disregard for Christians.  However, they are grateful that Yasser Arafat, enshrined in the school curruculum the study of Christianity for Christian students while the Muslim students study Islam.

It is further perplexing that Conservative Christians — largely in America — appear to back the Occupation and the Zionist expansion of Israel into the West Bank.

They are tired of being without basic human rights, having their dignity eroded, and being treated like animals in the military-security check-points.

They resent not being free to travel to Jerusalem to see the holy sites of the Christian faith.

They affirm that they are nurtured by their faith in Christ — and their faith in God. 

Their churches have nominal members who do not worship regularly, just as we do in North America. 

They asked me about life in the church in Canada.  We identified some similar challenges.

Afterwards, a dozen of us shared a mean together.  I am grateful that I had an opportunity to listen and to bless and encourage them.

They will continue to be on my mind and in my heart.  Especially when I celebrate World Wide Communion Sunday on October 7th.

Grace and peace,

Jim

I have been sent by the United Church of Canada to participate in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  Should you wish to re-post  or publicize any of this content, I welcome your direct request via the comments section in this blog.  Thank you!