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May 30, 2018

Some Real Self-Criticism at CATC

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Activists attending the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in the West Bank view anti-Trump graffiti on the security barrier near the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Speakers at the conference, which began on Monday, May 28, 2018 and will last until Friday, June 1, 2018, have lamented the role American Evangelicals played in putting Donald Trump into the White House. They have been less vocal about the lack of democratic institutions in Palestinian society. (Photo: Dexter Van Zile)

The central problem with Palestinian Christian witness about life in the Holy Land is that its criticism is almost invariably directed at Israel and its supporters in the West. Very little is said about the misdeeds of Palestinian elites even though the decisions they have made have contributed greatly to the continued existence of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The people who are most responsible for Palestinian suffering – Palestinian leaders – are not subjected to the type of prophetic criticism that Christians are called to provide.

This problem is clearly on display at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference taking place this week in Beit Jala. At this conference, organized by Bethlehem Bible College, there has been very little criticism of the misdeeds of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip at the ongoing Christ at the Checkpoint Conference organized by the Bethlehem Bible College.

There is, however, a huge amount of criticism of Evangelicals in the U.S. for helping President Donald Trump get elected to the White House in the 2016 election. Trump's election and his decision to move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is clearly a shock to CATC conference organizers and attendees. One conference organizer, Alex Awad (a Palestinian Christian who now lives in the United States) described Trump's election as a dark cloud brought about by White Evangelicals who put him into office.

“They helped elect a president who dashed our hopes as Palestinians,? Awad said the first night of the CATC conference which began on Monday. “He brought us a nightmare.? Awad went onto encourage Evangelicals in the audience to increase their efforts to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation and to change American foreign policy in the Middle East.

The irony is palpable. Christians who are not free to speak their mind in Palestinian society and haven't been able to vote in a presidential election since 2005 are effectively telling Christians in the U.S. how they should have voted in the 2016 election.

To a certain extent, the failure of Christians to speak truth to the powers that be in Palestinian society is understandable because neither the PA nor Hamas tolerate public criticism from anyone, Christian or Muslim, in the areas they control. To confirm just how dictatorial political life is in Palestinian society, in 2017 the PA just imposed laws regarding social media. These laws make criticizing the Palestinian Authority a criminal act.

One report indicates that these new laws “gives the public prosecutor's office unlimited powers to surveil Palestinian citizens, intercept their online communications, and arrest them for airing their opinions and political views online.? People who are convicted of using the internet to undermine “social harmony? can be sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

Such tyranny in Palestinian society is a huge obstacle to peace in the Holy Land because it allows both the PA and Hamas to put Palestinian young people into harm's way without being held accountable by their parents or by the young people themselves. Palestinian elites can effectively send young men into violent confrontations with the IDF without any real public debate over whether or not it's a good idea to do so – all because the people who hold power in Palestinian society will not tolerate the humiliation of being criticized in public.

Polling data indicates that many Palestinians support a two-state solution, but because democratic institutions are non-existent in the West Bank and Gaza, rank-and-file Palestinians have no mechanism to make it happen. All they can do is worry about who will replace the ailing Mahmoud Abbas and hope that the process to find his successor does not descend into civil war. These are not subjects being discussed at the current Christ at the Checkpoint conference even though they are the most crucial issues facing the Palestinian people.

Ironically enough, one institution in Palestinian society where leaders are willing to subject themselves to public criticism is its Evangelical community.

While most of the CATC conference has been devoted to condemning Israel and its Evangelical supporters in the U.S. one speaker did speak prophetically, calling on Palestinian and Israeli Evangelical churches to accord greater power and influence to women.

Shireen Awwad Helal, the dean of students and an instructor at the Bethlehem Bible College which organizes the CATC conference used the story of Hagar in Genesis to highlight the suffering of women in society. The story of Hagar, Helal said, showed God's concern for the welfare of women even when the people in their lives disdain them. She spoke of some of the anti-women sayings that permeate Palestinian society such as “Women are born with half a brain,? “A woman's anxiety over her daughter goes to the grave,? and “No matter what you do or where you go, you'll always end up in the kitchen.?

These anti-woman ideas affect the life of churches in Palestinian society, Helal reported. Palestinian Christian schools have it written in their employee contracts that women teachers will be dismissed if they become pregnant, Helal reported. To confront the problem, Helal declared, it's time for Christian churches and to bring women into leadership positions.

“You can enforce our inferior status or you can help us overcome it by insisting that women should be equally represented among the speakers, theologians, and figures you meet when you come here,? she told the audience, which gave her a standing ovation after she gave her speech on Wednesday night.

Helal's speech forcefully and courageously challenged the elites in the Palestinian Christian church, some of whom were in the audience in front of her. It was a gutsy act.

Hopefully, Helal's example of courageous public speech and tolerance for public criticism on the part of elites will someday become the norm in Palestinian society and then maybe peace will have a chance.

One can hope.

Posted by dvz at May 30, 2018 05:24 PM

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