[On March 9, Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, contributed an article entitled, "Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians," which was published in the Wall Street Journal. There have been several responses to that article from Palestinian Christians and others, including one on March 17, by Kairos Palestine. The following statement was issued on March 31.]
As Christian leaders in Palestine, we were appalled by the baseless allegations you published in the Wall Street Journal on March 9. Your attempt to blame the difficult reality that Palestinian Christians face on Palestinian Muslims is a shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community.
As has been stated in our Kairos document, we Palestinian Christians declare that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.”
The Israeli occupation is the primary reason why so many members of the oldest Christian communities in the world have left the holy land, Palestine.
Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights began in 1967, the Israeli government has confiscated thousands of acres of land owned by Christian Palestinians to build settlements Israel now calls “neighborhoods.” These settlements have divided Bethlehem and Jerusalem for the first time in the two millennia since Jesus walked between these holy cities.
Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem have been hardest hit by this land grab policy.
The Israeli government has demolished the homes of hundreds of Palestinians in the occupied city and revoked the residency rights of thousands more, while promoting foreign immigration to the ever-expanding illegal settlements throughout our occupied homeland.
Your claim, Mr Oren, that the Christian population in Israel has grown is disingenuous.
In fact, the percentage of Christians in the area began to decrease in 1948 when the creation of Israel caused a large portion of the Palestinian Christian population to become refugees.
The exaggerated growth of the Christian population in Israel that you claim is due primarily to the immigration of Russian Christians whom Israel was unable to distinguish from the Jewish immigrants pouring into the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is not due to any accommodation for the indigenous Palestinian Christian population, which is victim to an ongoing displacement policy implemented by your government.
It is also misleading to suggest that the occupation does not dramatically affect the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Palestinian use of airspace, telecommunications, and critical resources like water are all ultimately subject to Israeli control. We cannot move between our cities or travel abroad without crossing an Israeli checkpoint.
Israel’s matrix of control has cost our economy dearly and it dramatically limits the opportunities available to our youth. In 2010 alone, the cost of the occupation to the Palestinian economy was almost $7 billion, 85 percent of our GDP.
Our Holy Bible says, “‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). We seek a just and lasting peace. But to achieve peace, Mr Oren, your government must recognize the reality your occupation has created.
Our reality is one of occupation, oppression and loss. We endure your government’s assault on our natural and basic right to worship and its policy of exile and division between our communities.
Contrary to your erroneous claims, we assert that Palestinians are one people enduring Israel’s relentless occupation and suffering, together, from its oppressive practices.
We are united in our conviction that we deserve to enjoy the rights to which all people are entitled. Christian and Muslim Palestinians have struggled for freedom together for over 60 years. We intend to continue that tradition.
Ending Israeli occupation is the only way for Palestinians — Christians and Muslims — to enjoy a life of prosperity and progress. It is also the surest way to secure a continued Christian presence in this, our holy land.
Adv. Nabil Mushahwar, Chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association
Fr. Faysal Hijazeen, Director-general of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and parish priest of Ramallah
Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Fr. Farah Bader, Assistant priest, Ramallah Roman Catholic Church
Fr. Johnny Abu Khalil, Roman Catholic priest of Nablus
Fr. Firas Aredah, Roman Catholic priest of Jifna
Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, Roman Catholic Parish Priest of Beit Jala
Rev. Saliba Rishmawi, Lutheran Church, Ramallah
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee
Fayez Saqqa, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Bethlehem
Fouad Kokali, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Beit Sahour
Hind Khoury, Ambassador, Jerusalem. Former PLO representative in Paris
Bassem Khoury, Architect, Jerusalem
Dr. Charlie Abu Saada, Director of Juthoruna Forum
Yusef Daher, Inter Church Center, Jerusalem
Lucy Thalgieh, Project coordinator, Wi’am Center, Bethlehem
George Saliba Rishmawi, Coordinator, Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies
Professor Gabi Baramki, Former President of Bir Zeit University, Ramallah
Issa Kassasieh, Deputy Head – PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, Jerusalem
Dr. Elias Iseed, Secretariat of the Orthodox organizations in Palestine, Beit Sahour
Khader Abu Abara, President of the Beit Jala Orthodox Club, Beit Jala
Marwan Toubasi, Governor of Tubas, Chairman of the Orthodox organizations in Palestine, Ramallah
Fr. Jamal Khader, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Bethlehem University
Salim Hodali, Head of the Diaspora Unit, Bank of Palestine
Nader Abuamsha, Beit Sahour YMCA
Dr. Jad Isaac, Head of the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem
Yousef Hallaq, Electrical Engineer, Jerusalem
Dr. Varsen Aghabekian, Management Consultant, Ramallah
Rania Elias, Director, Yabous Cultural Center, occupied Jerusalem
Wassef Daher, President of YMCA
Nader Muaddi, Palestinian Christian activist, occupied Jerusalem
Raji Zeidan, Mayor of Beit Jala
Dr. Bernard Sabella, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, occupied Jerusalem
Peter Abu Shanab, Chairperson of Holylanders, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Kholoud Daibes, Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism and Antiquities
Rif’at Kassis, General Coordinator of Kairos – Palestine
Andre Batarseh, YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Rami Saleh, Treasurer of the Palestinian Counseling Center, and Deputy Director of Jerusalem Legal Aid Center
Dr. Manuel Hassassian, Ambassador, PLO representative in London
Shawki Armali, Ambassador, PLO representative to the Holy See
Dr. Linda Tabar, Professor, Bir Zeit University
Rateb Rabie, President of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Anthony Habash, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Bethlehem
Ibrahim Mourad, Fashion Designer
Maggie Mourad, Former instructor, Bethlehem University
Maha Saca, Director – Palestinian Heritage Center, Bethlehem
Elham Salameh, Director, social and cultural department – YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Ibrahim Matar, President, National Christian Association, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Nabeel Kassis, Former president, Bir Zeit University
Ziad Bandak, Minister, Presidential Adviser for Christian Affairs
Hanna Amira, Member of the PLO Executive Committee
Janet Michael, Mayor of Ramallah
Dr. Rita Giacaman, Director of the Institute of Community and Public Health, Bir Zeit University
Mary Sabella, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Jacqueline Sfeir, Director of MaDad, Bethlehem
Eileen Kuttab, Director Women Studies Institute, Bir Zeit University
Zahi Khoury, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Palestinian National Beverage Company, Coca-Cola
Rev. Mitri Raheb, Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, president of Diyar Consortium
Dr. Nuha Khoury, Dean of Dar al-Kalima College, Bethlehem
Khalil Nijim, Consultant, secretary of Diyar Board, Bethlehem
Rev. Imad Haddad, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Beit Sahour
Layla Sayeh, Director of PenMedia
Michael Asfour, YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Afif Safieh, Ambassador, former PLO representative to the Hague, London, Washington, Moscow and the Holy See
Nora Kort, President Arab Orthodox Society, Jerusalem
Anton Salman, President Anthonian Charitable Society, Bethlehem
George Saade, Bethlehem Deputy Mayor, on behalf of the Bethlehem Municipal Council
Hani Hayek, Mayor of Beit Sahour
Maher Sahlieh, Head of the Arab Orthodox Scouts, occupied Jerusalem
Fr. Hanna Salem, Latin Seminary priest, Beit Jala
Dr. Muna Mushahwar, Arab Orthodox Club, occupied Jerusalem
Fr. Raed Abusahlia, Roman Catholic parish priest of Taybeh
Fr. Aziz Halawa, Roman Catholic parish priest of Beit Sahour
Omar Harami, Palestinian Christian activist, occupied Jerusalem
Elie Shehadeh, Palestinian National Initiative, Beit Jala
Iyad Aburdeneh, Environmental expert, Bethlehem
Claudette Habash , Palestinian Christian refugee, occupied Jerusalem
Yacoub Al Yousef, Arab Orthodox Club, occupied Jerusalem
Usama Salman, Director, San Vincent Association, occupied Jerusalem
Rami Zeidan, General manager, Traveller Experience Tours, occupied Jerusalem