Thursday, April 26, 2012

Christian Palestinians

CBS recently aired a segment on their news show, 60 Minutes, about the plight of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Jerusalem. You can view it below. An interesting part of the story was Michael Oren’s--the Israeli ambassador to the US--attempt to prevent the report in some capacity from airing.

Fortunately, the piece counters Mr. Oren's suggestion that Palestinian Christians are fleeing the West Bank because of Muslim extremism. This is frankly not true, and the piece points this out. However, throughout the story, there is an underlying tone that Palestinian Christians identify differently from "the Muslim majority" in the West Bank, and that they are effectively being "squeezed out" by the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians Muslims. This is also inaccurate, as Palestinians of all faiths identify commonly as Palestinian. As Omar Rahman notes, "Christians are a seamless part of the Palestinian population", and this is something that I have witnessed in my work in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Christian Palestinians are no different from other Palestinians; they face all of the hardships of Israeli occupation: forced displacement, restriction of movement, separation from family, and violence from Israeli settlers. These are the real reasons that people are leaving the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In an effort to support CBS's coverage of Palestine, I wrote the following letter to the correspondent, Bob Simon, thanking him for the piece, and encouraging more stories on the plight of Palestinians.

Dear Mr. Simon,

Thank you for your segment about Palestinian Christians. This is indeed a controversial topic, and I appreciate that 60 Minutes is tackling it. I am an American researcher working with families in the West Bank and Jerusalem (both Muslim and Christian). I disagree wholeheartedly with Ambassador Oren; Palestinian Christians are not leaving the West Bank because of Muslim extremism, but rather because of the inhumanity related to the Israeli occupation. In fact, I have witnessed Palestinians of all faiths joined together in the common struggle against the occupation. I have never heard any ill-will between these people, as they commonly define themselves as "Palestinian". Furthermore, for Mr. Oren to call a document that calls for non-violence in the West Bank "anti-semitic" is irresponsible and inaccurate. But this is not surprising, since Israel historically tends to call anyone who disagrees with their policies anti-semitic. I am also not surprised that Mr. Oren contacted the head of CBS in order to intimidate you from airing the piece. I am glad that you included this in your segment.

I wish that the segment would have emphasized the situation in the West Bank more: restrictions of movement, arrest and detention of children, separation of families because of the wall, extreme settler violence towards Palestinians and internationals. But I glad that this story aired at all. Drawing attention to the situation in the West Bank, for Palestinians of all faiths, is essential so that Americans learn more about what is happening there and the implications of the support of Israel. It is very important that people learn more about the Israeli occupation through important programs such as yours.

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