Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What does Israel have against Palestinian Christians?

Some ideas to ponder:

The presence of Palestinian Christians reminds us that the supposed "clash of civilizations" in the Holy Land is not really a war of religions but a clash of nationalisms, between the natives and European colonial settlers.

Inside Israel, for example, Christians have been the backbone of the Communist party, the only non-Zionist party Israel allowed for several decades. Many of the Palestinian artists and intellectuals who are most critical of Israel are Christians, including the late novelist Emile Habibi; the writer Anton Shammas and film-makers Elia Suleiman and Hany Abu Assad (all now living in exile); and the journalist Antoine Shalhat (who, for reasons unknown, has been placed under a loose house arrest, unable to leave Israel).

The most notorious Palestinian nationalist politician inside Israel is Azmi Bishara, yet another Christian, who has been put on trial and is regularly abused by his colleagues in the Knesset.

Similarly, Christians have been at the core of the wider secular Palestinian national movement, helping to define its struggle. They range from exiled professors such as the late Edward Said to human rights activists in the occupied territories such as Raja Shehadeh. The founders of the most militant wings of the national movement, the Democratic and Popular Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine, were Nayif Hawatmeh and George Habash, both Christians.

This intimate involvement of Palestinian Christians in the Palestinian national struggle is one of the reasons why Israel has been so keen to find ways to encourage their departure – and then blame it on intimidation by, and violence from, Muslims.

Among the Zionists, these folks are simply stated a bunch of troublemakers. So, what to do? Make life as uncomfortable for them as possible both in the occupied territories and within Israel proper in the hopes that those with the means to do so will high-tail it out of there. So far, it's working.

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