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The History of Christian Zionism

The Christian Zionist Movement has grown in numbers and in impact in recent years. Today, thousands of Christians from all over the world are, more than ever, ready to declare their love and support for the nation of Israel. Each year they come in their multitudes to Jerusalem to join the International Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. But the roots of this movement go back throughout Christian history.

In a sense, Christian Zionism goes right back to the 1st century period, as there have always been men and women who have believed and taught its tenets. Many examples of this from history could be quoted, but an article of this nature does not allow us to do it. As a definite theology, however, Christian Zionism had its beginnings among the pietistic Protestants of the 16th century and the 17th century Puritans of England. In 1587 a man named Francis Kett was burned alive for expressing his belief that the Bible prophesied a return of the Jews to their land. Moreover, in 1607, Thomas Brightman published a book in Basel called “Revelation of the Revelation”. In this book he wrote: “What, shall they return to Jerusalem again? There is nothing more certain; the prophets do everywhere confirm it.” Others of the same period frequently expressed a similar belief. For instance, Isaac de la Peyrere (1594-1676), who served as the French Ambassador to Denmark, wrote a book wherein he argued for a restoration of the Jews to Israel without conversion to Christianity.

By the time of the 18th century, the Christian Zionist Movement, known then as the Restoration Movement, included many theologians, writers and politicians. Noteworthy was Thomas Newton, the Bishop of Bristol. He believed Jews would be restored to their native city and country and at the same time he condemned anti-Jewish prejudice. The movement grew with the onset of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.

In the 19th century the movement continued to gather momentum and one of the outstanding personalities in this regard was Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. He noted in his diaries that the signs were right for the return of the Jews to Palestine. A certain Charles Henry Churchill, a British resident of Damascus, also became a zealous propagator of the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. In 1841 he wrote a letter to the Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore in which he stated: “...I consider the object to be perfectly obtainable. But, two things are indispensably necessary. Firstly, that the Jews will themselves take up the matter unanimously. Secondly, that the European powers will aid them in their views...”

Another popular figure in the Restoration Movement was George Gawler (1796-1869). He wrote a book in 1845 and in it, concerning the Jewish people, he states that they were to replenish the deserted towns and fields of Palestine.

As the 19th century drew to a close, many prominent men were involved in Christian Zionism. Men like the British industrialist, Edward Cazalet (1827-1883), Lawrence Oliphant (1829-1888), a most active restorationist, and the American, William E. Blackstone. Blackstone was once dubbed the American Christian “Father of Zion¬ism”. The most interesting Christian Zionist of the period was, however, William H. Hechler (1845-1931). Hechler, Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna, worked very closely with Theodore Herzl, considered to be the founder and father of the Jewish State. In fact, Hechler dedicated 30 years of his life to the great task of realizing the Zionist goal; the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine. Unfortunately he died only seventeen years before this became a living reality. However, he was privileged to attend the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897, at which the foundation stone of the restored Jewish State was laid.

The 20th century saw the Zionist dream come true as a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic word. Sadly, some tragic events preceded this realization, the most terrible and evil of which was the Nazi Holocaust. Out of the ashes of six million Jews rose the restored Jewish State.

From the very beginning of the century, Christian Zionists were in the forefront of the struggle on behalf of the Jewish People. Their influence upon statesmen and men of power was great. It is no secret that this influence played a major role in producing the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which His Majesty’s Government viewed “with favor the establishment of a Jewish national home” in Palestine.

Time will not permit us to talk of famous Christian Zionists such as Charles Orde Wingate, John Hayes Holmes, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr and Corrie Ten Boom who, at great personal risk during the Second World War, rescued Jews from the hands of Nazism. All these believed that scripture promised the restoration of the Jewish State in Palestine. Most of them died in hope but some, like Corrie Ten Boom, lived to see the impossible come true.

Christian Zionism has a long history. Today the movement has swelled to embrace thousands. All of them see their task as being far from over, since the same forces that sought the destruction of Israel in decades past are still at work today. The survival and preservation of Israel is dependent upon the same kind of help and support that made her existence a reality. Christian Zionists believe that in seeking her peace they are in the long run working for the world’s peace (Isaiah 2:1-4).

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.


©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

In Bethlehem of Judea

Most Christians who have answered the call to live and serve in Israel sorely miss our families back home during the Christmas season. But we certainly don’t miss the commercialization of the holidays. There are no incessant jingles about Santa’s soon arrival and the airwaves don’t bombard us with great ideas for stocking stuffers. Today, Christians are less than two percent of the population in the Holy Land, and the Jews and Muslims have their own festivals. So it’s rather a quiet time; but that actually allows us to concentrate more on the “reason for the season” here in this special land where the Nativity story really happened.

Still, it has been interesting to observe over the years how Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors approach the historic figure of Jesus and his lowly birth long ago in Bethlehem. Most Jews here are indifferent to the season, although there are some, drawn by curiosity and love for music, who venture into the handful of public caroling services held on Christmas Eve. Yet for various reasons, as a whole they have trouble claiming Jesus as one of their own. This is slowly changing, however, as some have begun re-capturing his Jewishness. The late Prof. David Flusser of Hebrew University, the leading Orthodox scholar on the second Temple era, even embraced the historic Jesus as “my favorite rabbi.”

The Palestinians are a different story. Many are proud that he was born in their “country” and even Muslim crowds flock to Manger Square in December. But the Jesus they identify with has been deliberately stripped of his Jewish heritage. He is a “Palestinian Jesus” and he serves an important role in building support for their nationalist cause.

Even though the local Arab Christian community is small, it has a highly symbolic value, and certain Arab clergymen have exploited that symbolism to bolster the Palestinian narrative. They claim to be descended from the ‘first Christians,” even though nearly all the earliest believers were Jewish. True, these ancient faith communities have lived in the Holy Land for many generations and they’ve paid a steep price to maintain a Christian presence and witness here over the centuries. But it is a gross distortion of history and the biblical accounts to deny the Hebraic roots of Jesus and the early Church.

Nonetheless, even the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat embraced the historic Jesus, calling him the “first Palestinian revolutionary” who had come to fight Roman oppression. This same Jesus is a role model for fighting the oppressors of today “the Israelis.” Even his disciples get co-opted; Arafat once greeted Pope John Paul II as the “successor of Peter, the first Palestinian pope.”

Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of this Palestinian Jesus is when its adherents both Muslims and Christians deliberately conjure up classic Christian anti-Semitic motifs by portraying the Palestinian people as the “Body of Christ” which is still being “crucified” by the Jews.

The Time and Season of Light

No, my friends, let there be no mistake! Jesus was a Jew and he cherished that heritage as well as his own people. My Bible says he was born “in Bethlehem in Judea.” (Matthew 2:1). It also says he was “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) We could fill volumes proving the case for a Jewish Jesus, and most of us know this well. But what would surprise many Christians is the way this Jewish identity is preserved when the historic Jesus is transformed into the risen and glorified Lord.

For instance, when the two disciples walked with the resurrected Jesus on the way to Emmaus, they finally recognized him in the way he broke bread. No doubt he had a special way within this ancient Jewish tradition of blessing bread and wine, and he followed it even after his death.

When he restored Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the risen Jesus tested him three times: “Peter, do you love me?” For such is the manner of the Jews, based on the story of Ruth, to test someone three times before allowing them to “convert” and follow.

Even at the end of Revelation, the glorified Jesus is still declaring: “I am the Root and Offspring of David.” (22:16)

Surely, he was born a Jew and a Jew he remains…

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

In Defense of Christian Zionism

Pushing through the “doors” opened by the so-called divestment campaign and other such efforts, proponents of Replacement Theology are working feverishly to discredit their fellow believers in Christ who view Israel’s modern- day restoration as evidence of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham 4,000 years ago.

The Presbyterian Church-USA, for example, at the same General Assembly two years ago in which it voted to consider divesting from Israel, was also induced to pass a resolution committing the church to “actively oppose Christian Zionism,” citing works that branded such beliefs as “heretical.”

These are Christians who, without any biblical grounds, consider the Abrahamic Covenant abolished or reconstructed. They also generally tend to ignore the Islamic roots of the terrorism that has plagued Israel for nearly 60 years. Even when the late Yasser Arafat scoffed at the Oslo Accords in a Johannesburg mosque in 1994 - affirming that he was merely using Oslo as a means to destroy the Jewish state - these Christians had little to say.

Recent history has brought the real Palestinian agenda into the open, in that a terrorist government led by Hamas is the expression of the will of the people. This, after all, is the meaning of democracy - that the people are responsible for whom they put in office.

Sadly, these Christian adherents to Replacement Theology have few qualms about aligning with a radical Islamist agenda that espouses terrorism, and are calling upon the wider Christian Church to reject, ignore and even expel those Christians who hold a solid biblical view on Israel. Indeed, they want these Christians branded cultic and excommunicated!

To support their position they are making outlandish assertions about their brethren, claiming that we:

  • are constantly calling for conflict in the region as the means to achieve “Greater Israel”;
  • are dual-covenant, and therefore deny the essentials of our faith;
  • hate Arabs and desire the liquidation of the local Palestinian church;
  • are guilty of idolatry by worshiping state power in Israel and benefiting from its praise;
  • deceive Israel because our real agenda is an eschatological thirst for Armageddon;
  • constitute the greatest threat to world peace;
  • and that we are a new phenomenon without any tradition in the historical expression of Christianity.

EVERY ONE of the above charges is wrong! Christian Zionists are mainstream Evangelicals upholding all the vital and accepted tenets of biblical faith. We can easily trace our belief system to the early church and throughout church history. Our views are not strange, deviant or new. No, they were held by prominent Christians through the centuries, including the great Wesley brothers, the Anglican Evangelicals of the 19th century and many prominent Christian leaders of the 20th and 21st century.

As to the early church, even a casual reading of surviving documents from that period reveals that believers fully expected a restored Jewish state before the close of time. Nevertheless, the “new” proponents of Replacement Theology have decided to hatch a sinister plan that, as noted, would see the excommunication of their brethren. While determined to press on with the effort, one Replacement colleague said he suspects what holds back many denominations from using the word “heresy” and “unchurching” us is the simple fact that there are so many of us.

Of note is the fact that they never sit down with us and engage with us personally, as Scripture requires. Instead, because they have become so totally politicized, they exaggerate, misrepresent and flatly lie about Christian Zionist positions.

Their efforts have not gone un-noticed in the Palestinian camp. The Supreme [Islamic] Judicial Council, an official organ of the Palestinian Authority, recently published an article by council member Hamed al-Tamimi insisting that Christian Zionists have “adopted Satan as God” and that “this destructive movement, together with her Zionist Jewish ally, comprises the greatest danger to world truth, justice and peace.” Tamimi’s statement cited an Arab priest who maintained that Christian Zionists should be “expelled by the World Church.”

It really is a grim day when Christians end up supporting the agenda of militant Islam and people who, by public plebiscite, have voted for the destruction of Israel.

This all goes to remind us that nothing is new under the sun, and indeed it harks back to the same sinister plan “democratically” hatched in Germany in the 1930s. It was unpopular then to stand alongside the Jews, as it is now. The silence of the Church in the 1930s was largely driven by theological notions that God was totally finished with the Jews as a nation, and indeed that they, by virtue of being Christ-killers, were beyond redemption. Sixty years later the same misguided theological system has again taken root. Left unchecked, it may well bear the same evil fruit!

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

The Divinity of Jesus

ICEJ Executive Director, Rev. Malcolm Hedding tackles one of the most crucial issues at the core of the Christian faith; Jesus' unique claim to be both man and God, validated throughout scripture starting from the opening pages of Genesis chapter 1.

The Divinity of Jesus Part I

The Divinity of Jesus Part II

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Islamic Persecution of Christians

Islam dominates the Middle East, subjecting minorities, women and children to widespread oppression. Christians and Jews are especially targeted, reduced to a state of subservience or dhimmitude

Islam Dominates the Middle East

Palestinian Christians

Under siege and without protection, the Christian population under Palestinian rule has dwindled with each passing year suffering from a consistent pattern of Islamic intimidation and aggression ...
Read more

Sudanese father and child in Jerusalem's Old City (ICEJ)

Sudanese Christians

In recent years thousands of African refugees have crossed into Israel, fleeing Muslim warlords in Sudan and persecution in Egypt. The stories of the atrocities experienced by these Sudanese refugees are horrific but that's not the end of the story... Learn more »

Recommended Books:

The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude
by Bat Ye'or

The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam
by Bat Ye'or

Useful Links:

The Coalition for Responsible Peace in the Middle East »
Committed to educating the public, the media, and elected officials about the discrimination, intimidation, forced conversion, and violence that Christians face throughout the Middle East, especially under the Palestinian Authority.

The Voice of the Martyrs »
Aids Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission, and educating the world about the ongoing persecution of Christians

International Christian Concern »
A Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC delivers humanitarian aid, trains and supports persecuted pastors, raises awareness in the US regarding the problem of persecution, and is an advocate for the persecuted on Capitol Hill and the State Department.

A Biblical Stand On Zionism II

Two Sides, One Coin

The biblical doctrine of the land is a twofold one, with each principle representing one side of the same coin. The two principles are:

a) The land belongs to the Jewish people without a doubt. God expresses this throughout the scripture through many promises, confirmed through a covenant.

b) The right of domicile on the land and the right to enjoy the blessings of that land are based on Israel’s spiritual condition.

We have to look at both sides in order to keep us from taking an unbalanced and extremist view. If we neglect the first principle and focus purely on the required righteousness (which is not yet achieved by large parts of Israel) we are in danger of slipping on the path of replacement theology, and possibly anti-Semitism.

If on the other hand we neglect the second principle and focus solely on the land issue, we are tempted to embrace a right-wing nationalist agenda and our cause of Zionism is not biblical but political.

Historical Verification

These two principles are verified within the whole course of Israel’s history. Whenever Israel followed their God and had God-fearing kings, the borders of Israel enlarged quickly and with ease, as the writer of Chronicles puts it: “… and the LORD brought the fear of him [David] upon all nations.” The neighbouring people subdued themselves under the rulership of Israel and paid tributes.

Yet as soon as Israel and its kings left their God, it was God himself who raised the neighbouring countries against them stirring up resistance from within and even adjusting the borders of Israel’s territory. “In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel; and Hazael conquered them in all the territory of Israel.” Often the adversaries of Israel were rendered powerless as soon as Israel humbled herself under the hand of God. But as their tragic history tells us, the enemies of Israel were allowed to uproot the chosen people from the Holy Land twice.

In short: Israel in her entire history never had a conflict over borders or land issues, but Israel found herself in a constant conflict with her God! Out of that, political and military troubles arose which threatened the security and very existence of the nation. But as soon as Israel sought the Lord, He himself became a fiery wall around his people.


The modern restoration of the state of Israel is without doubt the greatest miracle of modern history. Be it the return of the Jews from more than 100 nations, the replanting of the land or the reconstruction of the cities of Israel, they all carry the clear watermark of fulfilled biblical promises.

However Israel returns today to their land largely as a secular people, which barely differs hardly from any other nation. It is only a small minority in Israel which sees the hand of God in its restoration. It is mostly the pioneering spirit of the founding fathers, the supremacy of the IDF or other human achievements which are named as the creating source of modern Israel. High abortion rates, entanglement in eastern religions and open moral decline characterize the Israel of today.

God will therefore use corrective measures in order to gain the attention of His chosen people. Like a loving father disciplines his children, so also God will judge His people in order to correct them and draw them finally to Himself. This can mean that for a limited time God might adjust the borders of the land and that the pressure on God’s people will even increase.

One thing, however, is for sure: God is not going to uproot his people. God did not restore Israel in order to exile her again, but rather to reconcile her to Himself. All biblical accounts on the end-time restoration of Israel end with a picture painted by Paul: “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”


Consequently the question of the boundaries of the land of Israel cannot be understood outside the context of Israel’s spiritual condition. As the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem we therefore take the following position:

  1. We wish to affirm that the land of Canaan is the everlasting possession of the Jewish people. No other people have a biblical right to this land. It belongs to the Jewish people by divine covenant. Nevertheless Israel’s right of domicile is dependent on her reconciled relationship with her God. According to Ezekiel 36:24-28, only a nation anointed by the spirit of God affords her the right to dwell in the land. This day is coming, albeit through a process of affliction.
  2. Given that the Jewish people have returned to Israel a secular people, correction and judgment are to be expected. Remember, domicile is conditional upon Israel’s reconciled relationship with her God. It is naïve for Christians to stand on God’s Word concerning all the land bequeathed to her when she remains largely unfaithful to God. Land shrinkage is God’s doing since He is determined to correct and save her.
  3. However, since God in His Word has only promised two exiles and two returns and since these have already taken place, He is now determined to save her through affliction. She will not be exiled again!
  4. If Israel is therefore going to lose land, do not be amazed at this. Rather embrace your responsibility to pray for her righteousness and salvation, knowing these alone will secure her domicile upon all of the land bequeathed to her. God has promised to save her.
  5. God’s process of dealing with Israel does not legitimize those like the PLO, Hamas, etc. who are actively working for Israel’s destruction. We speak out against this evil and we must stand against all forms of anti-Semitism. We must warn our nations not to be part of any scheme to divide the land!
  6. Judgment and correction are a divine prerogative. We must stand with Zion, help her, defend her and speak out on her behalf.
  7. If God should allow that further parts of the land of Israel be relinquished, we fully understand the sorrow it will bring for many settlers who will be uprooted. We pray for them and do our utmost to comfort, support them and give them hope.
  8. We must recognize that a great visitation of God is also coming to the Arab world. The Word of God promises a great revival among the neighbouring countries of Israel.

Rev. Malcolm Hedding

Executive Director, Emeritus
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Dr. Jürgen Bühler

Executive Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

A Biblical Stand On Zionism I

The current events in Israel have left many Christian Zionists puzzled and confused. Often we hear the question: Why does God not intervene? The Israeli Knesset decided to disengage from Gaza within this year, territory that according to the Bible belongs to Israel’s Promised Land. A few years ago Christian supporters of Israel were confronted with the same question when Israel withdrew its troops from Jericho and later on from large parts of Judea and Samaria.

Israel’s withdrawal from the biblical land and a possible Palestinian state on what the Bible calls “Eretz Israel” is a reality which does not correspond to the biblical understanding of many Christian Zionists.

In the following, we will address two key aspects of biblical doctrine relating to the “land question” which can help us to understand the current events in Israel.

An Unshakable Promise

Israel’s right to possess the land of Canaan is founded upon divine promises. Not just once, but time and time again God assured Abraham that he would give him and his descendants a land of promise.

He said to lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are – northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land, which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. (Genesis 13:14)

The same divine promises are given to the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob. They were confirmed to Moses, repeated in the Psalms and can be found throughout the prophetic writings. They are biblical promises, which cannot be surpassed in strength and commitment.

In Genesis 15 we find that God defined the borders of the Promised Land and corroborates this promise by making a covenant with Abraham.

On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates. (Genesis 15:18)

It was customary in biblical times, that the establishment of a covenant was accompanied by the slaughtering of an animal. It was divided in two halves with each half placed opposite each other. Both covenant partners would together pass through the halves, confirming their intention of commitment (see also Jeremiah 34:18).

However it is important to note that when God made this covenant with Abraham, He alone in the form of a fiery furnace and a burning torch passed through the animals while Abraham was sleeping (Genesis 15:12). The covenant God made was thus a one-sided covenant through which God expressed: “No matter what you and your descendants will do, today I make a covenant with you Abraham, to give you and your descendants this land as inheritance.”

It is this divine covenant and a multitude of promises on which biblical Zionism is founded. It is the faith in a covenant keeping God, which is the bedrock of our support of the Jewish people and the land of Israel. “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.” (Psalm 89:34)

An Unshakable Condition

The Bible, however, not only teaches about the right to possess but also about the right to inhabit the land. The book Deuteronomy, which records the last message of Moses before Israel conquered Canaan, stipulates more than any other book that there are firm conditions to living in the land of Canaan. Like a red thread these conditions are found through the whole book of Deuteronomy.

Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants. (Deuteronomy 11:8)

If Israel wants to enter the Land and dwell there for an extended period of time, they need to live there as a holy people. That means: the right of possession is clearly anchored in the word and promise of God. The land is forever hers. But the right of domicile is based on the spiritual condition of the Jewish people.

Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of “blessings and curses” sums this up in a rather dramatic way: If Israel walks in the ways of their God “He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (V.8) but if she consistently refuses to walk according to his word and follows other gods, the ultimate consequence will be: “You shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.” (V.63)

In the book of Joshua we find this powerfully illustrated: When Joshua was about to conquer Jericho he went out into the desert to seek the face of God before this first and decisive battle. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Joshua asked what at first seemed to be a purely rhetorical question: “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” Of course God must have been with Israel! But the answer of God’s messenger must have been rather sobering for Joshua. “Neither, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come. […] Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” In other words: I am not necessarily with you. But if you want me to be on your side, take your shoes of, because this is Holy Ground. God in his sovereignty chose this piece of land between Jordan and the Mediterranean for his redemptive purposes. For that reason he expects the people living on it to be holy and obedient to his kingship.

If Israel wants to live on this land today, she needs to take her shoes off.

Rev. Malcolm Hedding

Former Executive Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Dr. Jürgen Bühler

Executive Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition

The Christian Edition

Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, September 2006For more than 75 years The Jerusalem Post has been the most widely recognized and trusted source for news on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world.

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Putting the Pieces Together

Jerusalem Post Christian Edition: Putting the Pieces TogetherPacked full of biblical insight, political analysis and unreported news from the Holy Land, The Christian Edition is a must read for Christians who care about Israel. Each monthly issue draws on the journalistic talents of the full-time Jerusalem Post editorial staff with exclusive commentary and feature content tailored for Christian readers worldwide. Annual subscription is approx. $60 for delivery in the US.*

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Our Battered Brethren

By David Parsons
January 2006

It has the ring of a spy novel “the Bethlehem dossier.”

The author, Samir Qumsieh, an Arab Orthodox parishioner from Beit Sahour, came forward in August with a list he had compiled of 93 incidents of abuses committed against Bethlehem’s Christians by local “Islamic mafia” and 140 cases of land theft against the dwindling Christian community over the past five years. Accompanied by a petition signed by scores of traditional Christians, the Bethlehem dossier was quietly delivered to leading bishops and clerics in Jerusalem, as well as to the Papal Nuncio, Ambassador Pietro Sambi, and the head of the Franciscan Custos in the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

Like Luther nailing his 95 points to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, the dossier sent ripples through the corridors of Jerusalem’s historic churches. Here was a catalog of grievances compiled by grassroots parishioners documenting what the holy city’s pro-Palestinian bishops and patriarchs had been denying for decades.

Armed Muslim gangs have invaded our homes, extorted our businesses, torched our shops, raped our daughters, and stolen our lands, the dossier charged. Our appeals for protection and redress to Palestinian authorities go unanswered or even worse spark clan retaliation against us for filing complaints in the first place. Thousands of our family members have fled abroad. And the whole time, you shepherds remain silent!

Silent Shepherds

THE SHEPHERDS indeed have not been just silent, but actively deceptive concerning the Muslim oppression of local Christians, adamantly insisting that all is well between Palestine’s Islamic majority and its tiny Christian remnant.

In but one example, prominent Arab clerics totally dismissed substantiated reports early in the second intifada of Muslim militiamen shooting at Gilo from Christian homes in Beit Jalla in a deliberate effort to draw IDF return fire.

“The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims,” Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Riah Abu ‘Assal told the Washington Times at the time.

“The Arab Christian community in the Palestinian territories is an integral part of the Palestinian people. It suffers with it, rejoices with it, and shares with it the same hopes and aspirations,” concurred the Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate, Father Raed Awad Abusahlia. “Therefore, the recent Israeli rumors about getting the town of Beit Jalla involved in the recent clashes is not a coincidence, but aim to ‘divide and rule’ among the one Palestinian people.”

“Refuse... the propaganda that wants to prove that there were any studied or willed persecution from our Muslim brothers and sisters of the Christians. We consider it as mere propaganda against Islam, a cold war against our Muslim brothers that only benefits the Zionists of Israel,” added Father Labib Kobtl, another representative of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah.

Sabbah himself assured Newsweek at Christmas 2002 that, “[i]n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians.”

Even now, leading Palestinian clergymen affiliated with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in east Jerusalem are being hosted in Protestant churches across North America, spreading the ruse that the salvation of Christians in the Holy Land lies in divesting from Israel and dismantling the security fence. Follow the Sabeel ‘road show’ this fall and you will not hear one word about the “dossier” of appalling cruelties by the Islamic mafia in Bethlehem.

Blaming Israel

THE BETHLEHEM dossier directly challenges these tired blame-it-all-on-Israel refrains instead sending up a desperate, genuine cry from the pews to the church hierarchy in Jerusalem to end their long silence regarding Muslim persecution and finally speak out in defense of their embattled flocks.

The source of the dossier was also startling Samir Qumsieh happens to be no friend of Israel. Exiled for a number of years for his activism in Fatah, he returned to Bethlehem under Oslo to open a local TV station named Al Madeh (“Nativity” in Arabic). But when Muslims recently claimed a plot of his land that he had set aside for expanding the station, Qumsieh had enough.

According to an article in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera in September, he was counseled by the Vatican representative not to go public with his compilation of grievances. “You could be killed”, warned Sambi.

“We have to complain, we have been silent long enough,” responded Qumsieh.

Father Pizzaballa of the Custos was finally ready to speak out as well, telling the Italian daily:

“Almost every day, I repeat, every day, our congregation is being attacked by Muslim extremists in the territories. And if it’s not Hamas or Jihad members attacking us, we run against a wall of ignorance in the Palestinian Authority, who does very little, if anything at all, to punish the culprits. In the past it even happened that these [attacks] were perpetrated by Mahmoud Abbas policemen or militant members of Fatah, by those who are actually supposed to protect us. I am so exhausted to hear the same complaints again and again that I sometimes don’t even check some of them.”

State of Fear

THE HISTORIC explanation for the silence of Arab church leaders in the face of Muslim persecution is well known by now. It stems from their long, sad status as second-class citizens steeped in dhimmitude a survivalist mentality passed down through the generations that conditions them to never say anything bad about their Muslim neighbors since it could prove deadly.

No doubt, Palestinian Christians have a deeply engrained fear that the Islamic religious hostility now directed primarily against Jews might one day be more fully turned against them.

Scholars monitoring the plight of Palestinians Christians are increasingly employing the analogy of the battered spouse syndrome, in which the wife of an abusive husband becomes conditioned to defend and identify with their tormentor even as the abuse worsens.

It helps to have a more precise clinical diagnosis of the problem, but what is much more needed now is an effective and compassionate prognosis for lifting the Muslim siege and preserving these ancient, fragile Christian communities. What is also sorely needed is for the shepherds to stop standing in the way of relief for their beleaguered flocks.

David Parsons serves as ICEJ Media Director in Jerusalem and a Contributing Editor of 'The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition' in which this article was first published.


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