The questioner's tone is usually incredulous: "You mean there are Palestinian Christians?"
I understand the confusion. Many view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as purely Muslims vs. Jews. And aren't Arabs all Muslims and Muslims all Arabs?
The reality is that some 15% of the world's Palestinians are Christians, a vibrant community that has experienced as much suffering as Palestinian Muslims. In the latest uprising for freedom, Palestinian Christians have been among those killed or maimed for life by Israeli bullets. Christians also have been among the Palestinians who have been unable to leave their towns, go to their jobs, seek medical care and attend schools.
Unfortunately, some are exploiting the general lack of knowledge about Palestinian Christians, either for political gain or for religions reasons — or both. Many evangelical Christians believe the Bible promised the Jews the entire Holy Land, including the occupied territory. And some evangelicals also believe the second coming of Christ is contingent upon the full return of Jews to Jerusalem.
Last month, conservative Christian activist Gary Bauer spearheaded a letter, signed by other evangelical leaders, that warned President Bush that "it would be morally reprehensible for the United States to be 'evenhanded' between democratic Israel, a reliable friend and ally that shares our values, and the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure." This week, the Jerusalem Post reported, the Rev. Pat Robertson, speaking on the Christian Broadcasting Network, said Bush's proposed road map to peace imperiled Israel and went "against the clear mandate of the Bible."
But the fact that Palestinian Christians are united with Palestinian Muslims in the goal of liberation shows that their struggle isn't so much religious as it is nationalistic and human.
I can understand, however, the public-relations value for Israelis in ignoring Palestinian Christians. After all, given the unfair vilification of Islam after 9/11, why let your Western supporters know that you are also battling Christians?
The evangelical leaders who warned Bush not to be "evenhanded" in peace negotiations may believe that they are speeding up Jesus' return, but it was Christ who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
Which is it?
Sherri Muzher, a Palestinian-American Christian, lives in Mason, Mich.