“Jesus was born under occupation, lived under occupation, and was killed by occupying forces,” said Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, Director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. Sabeel services the Christian churches and Muslims in Palestine. Palestinian Christians represent 1-2% of the Palestinian population and suffer under the same occupation as Palestinian Muslims. It’s racism. More than one representative we met with calls it apartheid. This became clear when we walked through a checkpoint, something Palestinians in the occupied territories must do daily to get to work or school or a doctor. We walked through long, narrow metal grates, had to pass two by two through a turnstile, put our bags, belts and watches on a belt to be scanned, walk through a scanner ourselves, show our passports, wait, and finally, we were able to proceed. Taxis wait on each side of the checkpoint because the drivers don’t have the right license plates, so they can only go as far as the checkpoint and then they leave their passenger, who must walk through and find another taxi on the other side. Some Palestinians begin lining up at checkpoints at midnight so that they can be first in line at 5 a.m. in order to make it to work on time in Jerusalem. If they are late they can lose their jobs.
Yesterday we visited a refugee camp with Dr. Mira Rizek, General Secretary of the YWCA-Palestine. We walked through streets filled with dusty rubble. Some Palestinians have known no other life than life in these camps. The YWCA serves women and children of the community and tries to meet their needs on many levels: education, health, vocation. Some women produce crafts in their homes that are sold through the YWCA. Several Palestinian women were taking a class while we were meeting with Mira. After our meeting, we began to speak with them. They were eager to talk, warm, and friendly. One of them showed us how she ties her head scarf. Soon we were laughing together.
That is a scene you won’t find on the evening news in the U.S., not on Fox news or probably any other major news network. You won’t know that Christian and Muslim Palestinians live and work together peacefully in these territories. That doesn’t serve the narrative that Palestinians are terrorists and that they hate people of other religions, narratives that are used to continue this apartheid. Nor will you hear in many American churches that Jesus was born under occupation in this land, and that this narrative is closer to what the Palestinians are living through than what the churches are teaching.