by Dr. Abe Ata, a senior fellow at Melbourne University.
Like other American, English and Australian religious magazines,
yours has tackled the Middle East from every viewpoint but one-that of the
Palestinian Christians. Their plight is practically never discussed. At
time, one in five of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine was Christian; now
it's about one in fifty. Once Bethlehem was 95% Christian; now Christians
are a mere 15%. Why? What brought about this catastrophic decline? On the
face of it, the answer is obvious. Christians are leaving Palestine for
same reason that any Palestinian leaves: they see no future. But this does
not explain why they are more inclined to leave than their Muslim
Part of the reason, it seems to us, is that Christian
Palestinians are treated by the West as a non-people. Few outside the
Middle East even know they exist. We are reminded of a story told about a
group of Western missionaries who travelled to the Levant in the late
nineteenth century. They were meeting the elders of a village. On being
told that the village was Christian, and not a little dismayed that some
other missionary must have got there first, they enquired who had
them. At this, the elders, clearly bewildered, began to debate earnestly
among themselves in Arabic. Finally the answer came back: "Jesus of
With variations, this little tableau is no doubt repeated daily
among the thousands of visitors and pilgrims who visit the Holy Land
It would be amusing if its consequences were not so tragic. More than
anything else, it reminds Palestinian Christians that they have been
forgotten. It's hard to maintain your spirits when you are treated with
indifference by the only people you can look to for support. Soon, there
will be no Christians left, and their churches will become tourist museums
So as Australians, we ask: Why aren't we doing anything? Why
isn't the Christian Palestinian community in Australia speaking up? Why
aren't Australian churches speaking up? Why don't other migrant churches
voice solidarity as they do with Black South Africans, East Timorese and
oppressed communities in the Balkans? The fact is, the morale of
Palestinian Christians is being eroded from all sides. In the West they
ignored. In the Arab world they are increasingly treated with suspicion.
And in their ancestral home they are subject to the indignities heaped
them as a subject population. No wonder they despair.
The fact is, the Levant has been home to many religions since
time immemorial. Mostly they have lived side by side in relative harmony.
The notion of the ethnically homogeneous nation state is a modern one. It
is especially alien to the Middle East, and in our view should remain so.
God is not some kind of cosmic real estate agent who grants title to first
this religion and then that, just so the new lot can go and evict the old.