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Church Twinning Launch: Christian Palestinians

``When one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer.``

1 Corinthians 12:26

Palestinian Christians are often called the ‘living stones’ of Christianity as they can trace their history in this land to the birth of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.

Some families have lived in the Holy Land ever since; Palestinian Christians are indigenous to the Holy Land and are the oldest Christian population on earth, and yet there are many who do not even realise that Palestinian Christians exist. Worse still, their existence is sometimes denied, even by their Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

The Christian population of Palestine, once a major part of the community, has now dwindled to less than 2% and is still declining, and yet many hold respected roles in Palestinian society, in business, education and culture, and many Palestinian Christians hold influential positions within government. They bear witness to their faith in the Holy Land, and are faithful stewards of the holiest Christian sites.

Palestinian Christians and Muslims have lived together peacefully for generations, and today they suffer together under an occupation that is condemned by 77 UN Resolutions. Their daily lives are impacted by land confiscations, home demolitions, extra-judicial killings, imprisonment of children, legal and infrastructural discrimination, checkpoints, travel restrictions, and limitations on their freedom to worship. While pilgrims and international visitors can freely visit the Christian holy sites, some Palestinian Christians whose families have lived in the land for centuries have to apply for a permit to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, even at Easter.

The real tragedy is that the Christians of Palestine, who can teach us so much about grace, humility and forgiveness, feel that they are forgotten by the outside world and abandoned by their brothers and sisters in faith. Despite calling for help, alongside their Muslim neighbours, they continue to suffer and struggle for their freedom.

In 2009, the Patriarchs and Heads of the churches in Jerusalem produced the Kairos Document – described as a Moment of Truth and a “word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”. The document calls for “the international community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on. We ask our sister Churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?”

Now, ten years later, American and African Christian leaders who represent more than 50 million church members have issued a joint statement comparing the present situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation to that of black South Africans under Apartheid. The statement follows a “Pilgrimage Group Visit” to Israel-Palestine in February 2019 by a delegation of American and African church leaders, who describe witnessing a situation of injustice and abuse of Palestinians and calls for us to “work alongside the oppressed Palestinian people”. Their statement continues… “We recognize that many of us have been uninformed, and others of us been quite aware of the grim situation in this land, and we have been silent and turned a blind eye. We admit that silence in the face of injustice is complicity… we shall not and cannot be silent.”

Ten years ago Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the Palestinian Christians, saying, “Our God who neither slumbers nor sleeps will hear your cry and will be your Emmanuel.” A decade on, for the sake of justice and peace, the worldwide Christian community must wake from its slumber and act to defend and support its brothers and sisters in the land of Christ’s birth.

This year, the Palestine Community Foundation will respond to those calls for help. We are launching a new initiative to ‘twin’ churches in Palestine with churches in the UK, encouraging a relationship of understanding and support. Our hope is that this will lead to a commitment from church communities to pray for one another, visit one another, hear each other’s stories and share in each other’s lives. We believe that building relationships between churches in the UK and Palestine will be of mutual benefit and will enrich both faith communities, and at the same time, will increase awareness of the occupation and support for all who suffer its effects.

Laura is Programme Officer for Just Cycle.

If you would like to find out more about Laura’s Church Twinning programme, please contact her for further information.