Palestinian Christians are a minority in both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, compromising around 2% of the population. Moreover, the Palestinian Christian community has been decreasing rapidly since 1948, a phenomenon that contrasts with the Jewish and Muslim communities. Despite our small number, Palestinian Christians impact society greatly in several areas, including politics, education, economics, and religion. One may argue that some Palestinian Christians have embraced their Christian vocation of being a “useful member of and for society” as Emeritus Patriarch Michel Sabbah remarked.
Palestinian Christians also play an important role internationally. This stems from a couple of reasons; firstly, the Palestinian Christians are highly educated which enhances the ability to dialogue with academics abroad, especially in the West. Secondly, Palestinian Christians share the same faith with other Western Christians and are the custodians of the holy Christian sites in the land. Thus, Palestinian Christians function as a bridge between Christians and the rest of the Palestinian society.
This unique position therefore is of great interest for colonial powers. Consequently, Palestinian Christians have been subjected to exploitation and some have been used as tools to advocate for oppressive agendas that fragment Palestinian society. Unfortunately, some Palestinian Christians have failed to resist the seduction of power, wealth, status that colonial powers offer and have become colonial tools which compromises their Christian moral standards. Other Palestinian Christians have embraced the colonial ideologies and are implementing similar oppressive structures within their own internal community. However, a few Palestinian Christian initiatives and individuals have cultivated a prophetic voice, speaking against the injustices of the occupation, and attempted to implement justice and reconciliation in society.
This essay presents a challenge; are we going to nurture a prophetic voice that continues the spirit of the prophets of the Old Testament and ultimately fulfilled and revealed in Jesus Christ? Or are we going to be used as a colonial tool for oppression and domination? This challenge is directed to Palestinian Christians, but this is also relevant in other colonial contexts. Firstly, we will establish what we mean by a prophetic voice and then demonstrate how some Palestinian Christians have cultivated such a voice. Lastly, we will show how Palestinian Christians have been used as colonial tools by external forces and have cultivated an internal-colonial system themselves.
A Palestinian Christian Prophetic Voice
In the Churches we attend there are regular discussions and teachings about the prophets of the Bible, figures like Isiah, Amos, and John the Baptist are discussed. Yet, there is great scholarly debate revolving around questions: What is a prophet according to the Bible? What is the role of a prophet according to Christian theology? How should one interpret the prophets?
Scholars within the field of Biblical studies have suggested a variety of ways to understand the role of a prophet in the Old Testament and partially in the New Testament. Various theologians have employed different methods of interpreting tools regarding the prophetic books and subsequently, differing interpretations arose. Wilson notes: “At first glance, then, the current scholarly study of the prophetic books seems to be in disarray.” This illustrates the complicated literary style each prophetic book in the Old Testament holds.
For our purposes, we will focus on the ethical and theological aspect of the prophetic voice that has been exhibited by the prophets of the Old Testament and ultimately revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Greek word prophet (a predictor of the future) describes the general understanding of the role that a prophet should fulfil. Moreover, many of the prophets in the Bible speak in a futuristic and apocalyptic language. However, the prophets of the Bible are more than forecasters of the future; they are interpreters of the law and God’s will.
Therefore, the prophets are also ethicists and theologians that possess a voice for justice for the marginalised, the oppressed and a hope for the Kingdom of God. Thus, the prophets do not speak of the future events solely, but also to the injustices of their contemporary times. This interpretation developed from biblical scholars akin to Wellhausen who suggests that the prophets are “…not foretellers but forthtellers.” Bruggermann has a different approach to Wellhausen but nevertheless, agrees with the contention that a prophet responds to the historical challenges of their day, as he remarks: “While the prophets are in a way future-tellers, they are concerned with the future as it impinges upon the present.” In other words, the prophetic attention towards the future arrival of the Kingdom of God that was revealed in flesh through Jesus of Nazareth has serious moral, political, religious and social implications for their current time.
This ethical and theological voice is shown prophetically though the critique of social structures that exploit and oppress the vulnerable in society and their call for reconciliation. Hence, the prophets often speak about restoring justice to the orphan and widow who symbolise the most oppressed and marginalised segment of society. This is illustrated with the prophet Isaiah: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17). Moreover, the prophetic voice in the Bible seeks to restore broken relationships between the human community, as Jesus remarked “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5: 23,24).
Even though Palestinian Christians are a small minority within the Palestinian and Israeli society, some have defended the oppressed, took up the case of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow and called for reconciliation, showcasing a prophetic voice. There are many individuals, organisations, and initiatives that are worth mentioning but due to the size of this paper we will show just a few examples who have embodied the prophetic voice. Christ At the Checkpoint conference (CATC), Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, Kairos Palestine, Musalaha and the Al-Basma Rehabilitation Centre.
CATC, Sabeel and Kairos Palestine have been influential advocates for justice in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a platform for dialogue. CATC hosts an array of local and international thinkers who discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, give voice to Palestinian Christians and challenge theologies that oppress Palestinians. Likewise, Sabeel also function similarly to CATC, striving to inspire Palestinian Christians by the life and teaching of Jesus to stand for the oppressed and work for justice.
Kairos Palestine has produced a document which calls for justice and peace in the Holy Land from the standpoint of their Christian faith. This document has been signed by Palestinian Christian clergy and theologians. The Kairos document has been translated into 21 languages and Kairos Palestine has evolved to a global network. Sabeel, CATC and Kairo Palestine hold significant influence on international audiences regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, representing a prophetic voice that calls for justice. Moreover, these initiatives have inspired other Palestinian Christians to recall their own prophetic voice.
Musalaha is an organisation that facilitates, trains, and teaches reconciliation in Palestine-Israel and more recently has implemented its expertise internationally . Musalaha has two separate approaches to reconciliation work. The first promotes a faith-based process of reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian followers of Jesus. The other approach is a reconciliation process based on the Abrahamic moral values between Palestinians and Israelis from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds. Whilst there are many reconciliation or peace initiatives in the Holy Land, few address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a fair, equal, and honest dialogue like Musalaha. Musalaha’s vision and mission of reconciliation demonstrates the prophetic voice calling enemies and neighbours to reconcile.
Lastly, The Al-Basma centre led by Basma Giacaman (a Palestinian Christian from the West Bank) was founded to serve the developmentally disabled in the Bethlehem area and in the surrounding refugee camps. The families of the disabled people rely on the Al-Basma centre’s programmes to cater for their needs. Their programmes vary from producing handicraft material through recycling material, generating renewable energies, and retreats for their clients.
Al-Basma empowers their clients to improve their quality of life, provides employability skills, provides some income to their beneficiaries, and strives to overcome obstacles that separate the handicapped and non-handicapped people in Palestine. The Al-Basma Centre is a powerful prophetic voice for several reasons: Firstly, it empowers disabled Palestinians who are not only ostracised by their community but live under occupation. Secondly, it strives to make our environment ‘greener’, fulfilling our role as stewards of God’s creation. Lastly, Basma breaks oppressive stereotypes regarding women and serves as inspiration for other Palestinian women.
Despite being a minority in a context of conflict, displacement, occupation, and colonial manipulation; Palestinian Christians can have a significant impact. The initiatives showcase that when Palestinian Christians participate in the spirt of justice and reconciliation in the way that the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus have exhibited; its impact is powerful both internationally and locally. Sadly, some Palestinian Christians have failed to follow their example and have subsequently embraced the behaviour of colonial manipulation.
Palestinian Christians as a Colonial Tool
Palestinian Christians function as colonial tools in two main areas:
A. External Colonialism: Exploitation by states and alleged partners that use resources to further colonial interests.
B. Internal Colonialism: Palestinians who maintain the colonial power structure.
For point A, one can see Palestinian Christians being exploited by a state power: Israel. Pappe describes the colonial methodology of the Zionist movement, claiming: “It seems that Zionist settlers were motivated by national impulse but acted as pure colonialists”.
In recent times, Israel has attempted to exploit Palestinian Christians by recruiting them into the Israeli military. This strategy achieves three things: The ‘divide and conquer’ of Palestinians (as was done historically with the Druze) , the distancing of Christians from their Palestinian identity and exploitation for the use of advocacy.
In Africa, colonial powers recruited local mercenaries called Askari who would fight the wars for the colonial powers, be an intermediary with the locals and help form the colonial states. These collaborators were key to maintaining the colonial dominance and directly influencing the locals. The Askari were motivated by status, masculinity and predominantly the receiving of benefits (which is identical for Palestinian Christians who enlist).
These empires also needed to create a positive narrative of their conquests for their communities and used the collaborators for this purpose. For example, in the German failed campaign in East Africa, Askari were paraded before Europeans and African audiences in order to construct the myth of modernization and loyal subjects. Additionally, Germany attempted to paint itself as a model colonizer by initiating the propaganda strategy of Kolonialschuldlüge (colonial-guilt-lie), which presented images of loyal Askari soldiers eagerly awaiting the return of Germany to Africa. They were used to mask the violence of colonialism and the abuse of power of their collaborators.
Israel emulated the same strategies as it managed to establish its dominance in the land through the use of Arab collaborators. Regarding advocacy, once can point to the creation of the Zionist cult figure of the Greek Orthodox priest Naddaf, who was at the forefront of the public eye when it came to the enlistment of Palestinian Christians into the Israeli military.
In this contemporary example, there is no longer a need for mercenaries and administrative intermediates, but there is a need for international advocacy. Naddaf was endorsed by Zionist media and even Prime Minister Netanyahu. He pushed a Zionist and anti-Muslim agenda and targeted (along with Christian Zionist) in particular Evangelical Palestinian Christians that spoke out against the injustices of the Occupation.
Naddaf and his colleague Shadi Khalul had also endorsed the erasing of the Palestinian (and Arab) Christian identity in favour of the “new” Aramaic identity. This “new” Israeli Christian soldiers leads us to conclude that in essence the Palestinian Christian Askari was created.
There are also many non-state entities (NGOs, churches, individuals, etc.) that contribute towards the colonial quagmire of the Palestinian Christians. The history of church and missionary colonialism is well documented as an extension of European colonialism and was even described as a “peaceful crusade”. Evangelicals also entered the colonial scene with strong Christian Zionist views which they instructed Palestinian Evangelicals with.
The traditional colonialists realized that the Palestinian Christians were not going to disappear and therefore attempted to exploit them. Evangelical Christian Zionists face a similar problem, as Palestinian Christians contradict the narrative they are propagating and their attempts to fuel unquestionable support for Israel and American foreign policy in the Middle East. Therefore, efforts to subdue and recruit Evangelical Palestinians in order to maintain this myth.
A Pentecostal conference took place in 2016 called The Gathering, where Palestinian Christians were paraded with Messianic Jews in front of an international audience under the theme of “reconciliation” between Isaac and Ishmael. Here one can see the same language that colonialists used with indigenous populations. A Jewish leader of the conference stated:
“Until now we have seen them [The Arab Christians] as an obstacle, but now I realise they are not going to be the obstacle, they are the ones that are going to come and lift us up to fulfil that destiny.”
The Palestinians came on stage to make covenants of submission to the Messianic Jews; declaring themselves as “servants…as a wife in a marriage relationship” and making vows that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jews. This completely robs the Palestinians of their integrity and is a façade pretending to be reconciliation.
The examples used thus far have been more obvious and overt. However, these colonial structures have infiltrated almost every aspect of Palestinian Christian thinking and action. The danger here is that we are developing a form of internal colonialism.
Internal colonialism here refers to the oppressive systems local people use against their own nation as a result of being colonized themselves. This is most often the case once the colonizing power has stopped its direct control over the land. The locals that come into positions of power will increase the internal inequalities and expose the internal hierarchies of that society. One could argue that this is a pyramid with layers of oppression, where each layer oppresses the one below it.
The psychological characteristics of internal colonialism is documented extensively in Fanon’s The wretched of the Earth. Here, he claims that the “colonized” will embrace many features of the colonizer and develop oppressive behaviour themselves. Examples include they firstly turn against their own people (for their own benefit), preach compromise, embrace (Western)individualism, and maintain financial unethical practices.
Our argument is that the very same behaviour exists for Evangelical Palestinians as well. While our colonizer still controls the land, we still see Palestinian Evangelicals embracing this attitude within our small “bubble” and stalling prophetic calls for justice. Those who attempt to have dialogue about this are labelled “trouble-makers” and are blamed for causing disunity. The internal-colonial system in its essence is disunity and calls for complete submission. We are at danger of becoming the colonial tool that is manipulated and manipulates at the same time.
Palestinian internal colonialists will often be used by NGO donors, which can be argued is the modern form colonial missionaries. Here, funding, and public platforms will be used to lure Palestinians away from autonomous action and into prophetic passivity. The language of reconciliation, peace and justice are used by these organizations to mask their colonial endeavours. Unfortunately, the Palestinian proponents of internal colonialism will embrace this.
Some Palestinians will transform their work to appease their colonial counterpart instead of the needs of the community (women and youth in particular) and creating a hollow marketing exterior of “glittery websites” and empowering the next generation. Women and youth are marginalized or forced to compete for positions and become the ‘fig-leaf’ of these decision makers, further exacerbating the hierarchy. They may even embrace the individualistic approach and cause the same conflict and division within their own group.
As Palestinian Christians, we must not assume that liberation from the Occupation and Christian Zionist manipulation will free us from these oppressive frameworks. We must also liberate ourselves from the internal-colonial attitudes and embrace a Kingdom-focused prophetic voice.
In conclusion, this chapter has attempted to show how a small community of Palestinian Christians have the immense potential to positively impact the society around them and internationally by embracing a biblical prophetic voice. When we embrace a prophetic role in our words and with our actions; it changes the very reality around us.
As we meet in our different spiritual fellowships, we must reflect on how our prophetic voices have been most effective when we call out injustice, fight for reconciliation and challenge the social and power structures that oppress the most vulnerable. We can be the bridge that brings people together and brings forth blessings. We believe that more should be done to embrace this role within our own community.
When we knowingly or unknowingly fail to embrace this role and become the tools of colonialism; we become complicit in oppression. External forces enjoy nothing more than our prophetic passivity as they use their wealth and power to push forward an agenda that meets their needs and not our own.
These external pressures, which have been used throughout history, are not to be underestimated as they have worked effectively in dividing our community, and today Palestinian Evangelical Christians are prime targets. Unfortunately, we are seeing the creation of our own version of the Palestinian Christian Askari. Therefore, we believe that the Palestinian Christian community needs to unite and find creative ways to resist this manipulation and develop a clear prophetic voice.
Having said that, even if we wanted to shake off the manipulation and damage of external colonialism; we first must address the log in our own eye. We must address the internal colonialism that has infiltrated our way of thinking, our relationships with one another and our structures of power.
If we are unable to reject the colonial attitudes of compromise, individualism, and unethical domination; there is little point in attempting to deal with the external manipulation. Lastly, in order to fully embrace the prophetic role, we believe that is urgent that we study the subject of internal-colonialism and purge it from our own community.
* The article was included in a new book under the title " Towards a Renewed Mind" published in November 2021 by . Bethlehem Bible College, Nazareth Evangelical College and Come and See web site. It was presented to Dr. Salim Munayer upon his retirment from Bethlehem Bible College
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