Kairos Palestine responds to Amb. Michael Oren

Kairos Palestine responds to Amb. Michael Oren

Kairos contributes to the debate over Amb. Michael Oren’s Wall Street Journal article

[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.  The following response was issued on March 17, by Kairos Palestine.]

Kairos Palestine, a group of Palestinian Christians who co-authored the documentA Moment of Truth,denounces Michael Orens recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal (9 March 2012). In this inaccurate and manipulative text, Oren, Israels ambassador to the US, blames the plight of Palestinian Christians on oppression at the hands of Palestinian Muslims rather than at the hands of the illegal Israeli occupation itself, as is our reality.

We add our voices to several other recently published responses that have emphasized this reality and the ways in which Orens op-ed attempts to mask it. Indeed, contrary to his assertions, Christian persecution is caused mainly by the occupation that systematically degrades all Palestinians, restricts our movement, confiscates our land, devastates our economy, and violates our rights including the very basic right to a decent life.

We are particularly troubled by Orens attribution of migration within the Palestinian Christian community to ill-treatment by Palestinian Muslims. This damaging analysis wilfully ignores the underlying political oppression that afflicts Christians and Muslims alike. In the case of Bethlehem, for instance, it is in fact the rampant construction of Israeli settlements, the chokehold imposed by the separation wall, and the Israeli governments confiscation of Palestinian land largely Christian-owned land in the Bethlehem area that has driven many Christians to leave. At present, a mere 13% of Bethlehem-area land is left to its Palestinian inhabitants. 

Orens article also reveals a disturbing conception of democracy itself, especially as he insists on emphasizing Israels democratic character. In attempting to highlight ways in which Israel supposedly seeks to protect the survival and encourage the prosperity of the Christian community, Oren implies the Israeli states lack of interest in ensuring the same for Muslims. Democracy is not selective. Any democratic state that bothered to implement its own ideals and, moreover, any ambassador to such a state would be ashamed of such an evidently distorted attitude toward its inhabitants and their rights.

We are equally amazed by Orens ludicrous boast that Israel,in spite of its need to safeguard its borders from terrorists, allows holiday access to Jerusalems churches to Christians.Indeed, one of occupations chief outrages is the fact that anyone would need a permit to visit the city to begin with: restricted freedom of movement is among the fundamental injustices constricting our lives. Furthermore, permits are not granted to everyone (including on religious holidays); even when granted, the Israeli military may void them at any time.  

We also question the timing of Orens article and its dogged attempt to portray the state of Israel as tolerant of Christians an assertion whose fallaciousness we experience on a daily basis. Oren begins his text with a description of Hamas graffiti on the walls of a Bethlehem church in 1994. But he certainly doesnt mention the Hebrew graffiti (death to Christians,” “Jesus is dead,” and “price tag,”*) sprayed on the walls of churches in Jerusalem just a few days ago, and again last month. The writing, so to speak, is on the wall, and it will take much more than Orens whitewashing to mask the hostility to which Palestinian Christians and all Palestinians are subjected in the contemporary reality of occupation.

At every level, Orens finger-pointing must be analyzed with an eye to the root causes he refuses to expose. For one thing, when he mentions the Church of the Nativity being inhabited and looted by gunmen, he neglects to mention the Israeli tanks shooting at the church from the outside. For another, while he goes on about present-day religious tension, he neglects to say that Christians and Muslims lived together for the past 1500 years without major problems and that, upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, we lost more than 100,000 Christians virtually overnight. And the strongest, deepest roots of all the roots of empire and colonialism? These, too, go unacknowledged. The US invasion of Iraq, for instance, has done graver damage to Christian-Muslim relations across the world than anything that appears in Orens article. 

As Kairos Palestine, we refuse to be marginalized in the way Oren defines our marginalization; we refuse to be pitted against our Palestinian Muslim neighbours and friends; and we refuse to let our collective oppression be manipulated in a way that fragments us, obscures us, or masks the oppressions true cause, which is the Israeli occupation.

(*The phrase price tag refers both to acts of violence committed by extremist Israeli settlers as revenge for measures taken against the settlement enterprise and to the settler group itself that performs such acts. Over 90 percent of Israeli police investigations into racist violence enacted by settlers against non-Jews, both Christians and Muslims, are ultimately closed without prosecution.)