The Common Good

Palestinian Christians Still Waiting for Peace

When I lived in Jerusalem during the fall of 2000, after the failure of Camp David and as the second intifada erupted, I found myself angry with everything around me - the crushing might of Israel's military against weaker Palestinians; the terrible power of Palestinians willing to take their own lives and the lives of Israeli civilians; the profound crisis in leadership among both peoples, unwilling or unable to rein in the opponents of peace within their own societies.

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There were few people who helped make sense of the events around me and who didn't respond to the palpable fury in kind. My Palestinian Christian professor was a notable exception.

I spent that semester at Jerusalem University College with mostly Bible and archaeology students, the majority of whom perceived Israel as David fighting Goliath and made little effort to meet both Israelis and Palestinians or venture into the West Bank. Dr. Bernard Sabella, a Roman Catholic sociologist, taught a class I took on Palestinian society and politics. As the daughter of a Jewish Israeli convert to Christianity, I went to Jerusalem with a tangled identity full of idealistic aspirations for peace as well as stereotypes and misconceptions about Palestinians. In Dr. Sabella, I was struck by the heavy burden that seemed to overwhelm, but not contort him, as the intifada raged. I wondered how he would view me given my Israeli family. But where I nervously expected some sign of hostility and mistrust, I experienced nothing but openness and kindness.

Palestinian Christians, particularly Dr. Sabella, have provided me with a special window into the Palestinian experience and the search for Holy Land peace. A small, forgotten community enmeshed in what is often viewed as a Jewish-Muslim conflict, Palestinian Christians play a critical role in maintaining a pluralistic Palestinian society and in contributing to Palestinian peacemaking efforts. However, Christians are leaving the Holy Land at an alarming rate, caught in the violence, political upheaval, economic hardship, religious extremism and social decay that are the bitter mill of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Senators Kit Bond (R-MO) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said in a Christmas letter to President Bush a year ago, "If this trend does not change, the sacred sites of Christianity will soon be reduced to museums for visiting tourists - and Jerusalem, with its universal and sacred importance, will cease to be the home of three living faith communities."

On Capitol Hill, Dr. Sabella is sometimes greeted with skepticism, but more often he is welcomed for bringing little-heard insights and experiences. Most in Washington are rightly sympathetic toward Israel for the terror attacks its people have suffered and continue to fear - as I know well from seeing my grandmother in Tel Aviv carefully avoid bustling markets and coffee shops. However, many policymakers are unaware of the impact Israel's encroaching settlements and stifling occupation have on Christian as well as Muslim Palestinians. On trips to the Holy Land, they may never see the large concrete slabs that separate Bethlehem, the place of Christ's birth, from Jerusalem, the culmination of his earthly mission.

When I returned to Jerusalem in 2006, I found that while the separation barrier was unfinished, the psychological walls between Israelis and Palestinians seemed close to being complete. As Dr. Sabella wrote recently, "In the Holy Land there are many walls and of all kinds .

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