Drawing on Faith

I was 13 when the Nakba began. Afterwards, some of the Palestinian Christians we knew were relocated by boat to the border of Lebanon. The churches looked after those of us who were internally displaced.

My family fled at gunpoint from Haifa to Nazareth. The military thought they’d control the Christians better if we relocated in only one or two places. When we arrived, we needed shelter so the Christian churches took us in, brought us food and gave us second hand clothing from Belgium. I still remember the song of thanksgiving we sang, thanking God for the good people of Belgium.

The British missionaries distributed Bibles to people in their home Bible studies. Before then we were never encouraged to read the Word for ourselves. Living during the time of the creation of the state of Israel, the way I was brought up in the faith often clashed with the reality of my life. My initial impression was informed by my Christian theology. I was told that the influx of Jewish immigrants to my homeland was “God’s plan fulfilled”. 

This in-gathering of the exiles began with the Balfour Declaration, and initially my community rejoiced that those who had been cast out in 70 AD by the Romans were returning. What I didn’t immediately realize was that bringing the Jews back home made others – my people – homeless. I learned that colonialism often overlooked the collateral damage suffered by locals, it felt to me at the time that the people of the land didn’t matter.

But back then, the church did not pay any attention to our faith questions. We were taught that the Jews had to come home, this had to happen for the second coming of Jesus. We never before connected it to real life, and we were not ready for the grief. Mother coped as best she could by telling us “this is God’s plan, we should not object, God must have a purpose, it’s in the Bible.”

Muslims say “It is written”, which means, one should make the best of a bad situation and not rise against it. They believe that God has a purpose and a plan. Many submissive Christians also took what was happening to us that way. But my Father and I did not accept this. We kept asking, “Why is it God’s will? What did we do wrong? Why does God choose one people over others?” It took us many years to understand that the roots of this conflict can be found in theology, and theology can be more lethal than weapons.

For two thousand years the Jews had lived as a minority, an oppressed people. They were called Christ Killers, they were marginalized. And of course, they should never have been treated this way. This treatment happened at the hand of Christians and it culminated in the Holocaust.

Their sense of security came from their tragic history, and it led the Israeli people to prefer a militaristic state for their own protection. But I believe that this never should have happened at the expense of other people. Even their Hebrew Bible has precedent for God’s inclusivity, for example – the story of the Prophet Jonah. If they only realized this, and tried to live with us in peace, they would be liberated too.

Our group, Sabeel, began when Father Naim Ateek called six other people of faith to join him in reading the Bible with Palestinian eyes. We were young and old, male and female, lay and ordained. Our first conference was held in 1990, called “Faith and the Intifada”.  Sabeel helps us stay focused on faith, to see how justice works in the Bible. To find comfort and challenge from liberation theology. 

Now we are exporting our theology. The way we read the Bible is extremely important to our cause, we draw upon our faith to work for justice and peace. Jesus Christ lived under occupation. Realizing this saved my faith, which has been shaken – not shattered. I’ve learned to never give up on the God of Justice.

But now Sabeel has become feared and hated by many Israeli’s, they charge us with being anti-Semitic. The noose is tightening on us as we are pointing out that it’s no longer just survival that runs the military machine, it’s greed.

In the Israeli Declaration of Independence it is clear that the state of Israel is “for the Jewish people” and we could never be a part of it as Christians. We are only considered residents. Palestinians in the West Bank are ruled by military law, which does not grant the same privileges and rights as an Israeli citizen. 

We are discriminated against in having the right to vote, in owning land, getting an education, movement and travel, having equal access to water and electricity and equal funding for our municipalities – although we pay equal taxes and many discriminatory fines. If Israel wrote a constitution it would have to grant equal rights under the law to be a true democracy. As Arabs and Christians, we are tolerated but not equal.

Religious settlers make it so difficult. They (Israeli’s) say ‘God chose us’ and the world goes along. Israel is now withholding water in order to force us to recognize the illegal settlements. Of course, we recognize the settlements, we just do not condone the theft of our land. 

Unfortunately, the Nakba has only grown. Israelis ask, “What’s the alternative?” Because of their bitter history, they choose security over morality. They violate the international human rights charters and even their own Judaic theology with how we are treated. 

What Palestinians need is a minimum measure of justice. Give us the West Bank. We are a people, we have the right to live in dignity and freedom. We understand where the Jews are coming from. Israel should implement the two-state solution without the encroachment of settlements.  

The injustice of the occupation was brought about by the Christian and Jewish Zionists, the United Nations, and Balfour. Yet, we Palestinians are a resilient people, and we learned to live under military rule. Israel is never going to give up the independence of their majority status. Now they have a country. The Centrist political party leader is on record for saying that he “doesn’t care about Palestinians”; we should be allowed to have our own state.

The occupation is not sustainable, for practical reasons someone will come up with an answer. There are 160,000 Palestinians in annexed East Jerusalem that do not know what to do. I am convinced that terror will subside once a fair share is given.

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Cedar Duaybis was born in 1935 in the city of Haifa to a Palestinian Christian family. As a child, she was educated by the Franciscan Sisters in Haifa. Her brothers attended St. Luke’s School. Although she left high school behind at 15, she matriculated with a London certificate a year earlier than most students. She went on to teach English to 63 male students who were older than her, as there were no secondary schools for girls in Nazareth. After two years of teaching, she attended formal teacher training.

Eventually, Cedar married and became the spouse of an Anglican priest, and needed to move because of church assignments from time to time. She remembers that the worst period of her life were their years living in the city of Nablus, where the occupation was “hell on earth”. Her family lost their ID’s and health insurance for 16 years; and had to fight to recover it. Her youngest son suffered the most.

Cedar's Christian faith taught her to be on the side of the joyful Jewish people during the creation of the state of Israel, but she suddenly found that her people were suffering and this caused a crisis of faith. Her family was among the 70,000-people expelled from the city of Haifa at gunpoint during the 1948 Nakba. Ten years later they returned to find three Jewish immigrant families from Eastern Europe living in their former home. Her family was never compensated for the loss of their home, furniture, personal or pantry items.

At one time, Palestinian Christians were 10% of the population. In the 1840’s British missionaries came to convert Muslims and Jews, and they greatly helped the people by opening many schools and hospitals. In a way, the missionaries also paved the way for colonialism by minimizing Palestinian culture. School curriculum taught Arabic only as a second language, geography class focused on England, history was about the royal family line, and literature was centered on the British Isles. Many thought they were receiving a good education, but it was incomplete. 

Ms. Cedar Duaybis is one of the seven founding members of Sabeel, an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians based in East Jerusalem. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, to promote unity among them and lead them to act for justice and peace. (www.sabeel.org).

 

I served on the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC. Please do not forward or use any part of this communication without permission. Thank you.


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