One of our friends who is a Jewish Rabbi serving in Galilee surprised us when he asked one of our faculty members at Nazareth Evangelical College to speak about their faith in his Jewish Synagogue. We were amazed that the title of the pertinent topic is the birth and life of Jesus from a Christian perspective. The challenge was accepted, and it led to reflecting on Christian-Jewish relations from the perspective of love and respect in the Holy Land. Consequently, we would like to offer some of the lessons that we have learned from our dialogue with our Jewish neighbors.
First, dialogue between faith communities in Israel is a dialogue between neighbors. We have a common life. Many of us live in the same city, or very close to each other. We encounter each other regularly at supermarkets, sport clubs, universities, work, and many other places that provide services. Dialogue between neighbors is necessary for our daily activities and life.
Second, Christian-Dialogue in Israel is a discussion between fellow citizens. Israel has approximately 10 million people. More than 20% are Arabs. Arab Palestinian Christian citizens in Israel are about 2% of the total population. We are a Christian minority in a Jewish majority. No doubt we are not seeking an independent existence. Instead, we want to build a country for us as well as for our neighbors, a country for all its citizens. We want to build a better future for our children. We support our country and seek its best interest in every way that it is compatible to our faith. Our success in dialogue is a source of hope, prosperity, and peace for our country.
Third, our Christian-Jewish dialogue is situated in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We agree that antisemitism is important for Jews and Christians in general. It is also important to consider the political realities from the perspective of Palestinians, especially considering oppression, human right violations, and suffering. This includes the political realities of the Palestinian citizens of Israel not only as individuals but also as a group. A healthy relationship between Christians and Jews cannot ignore the suffering of Palestinians and its causes.
Forth, it is a discussion in a unique linguistic context. We speak three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English. Each language has its own psychology, semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics. The denotations and connotations of the lexemes in each language create different discussions. For example, the popular word for Jesus in Hebrew is yeshu which is probably connected to a curse. It arguably means “may his name and memory be obliterated”. Both Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians in Israel refuse this lexeme. Furthermore, the choice of language defines the target audience and creates a particular power structure. English in Israel is mainly for highly educated people. Consequently, dialogue becomes elitist, and limited to certain circles.
Fifth, it is a discussion in a different cultural context. Both Palestinians and Jewish Israeli citizens have developed several channels of cultural engagements and mutual enrichment. Both Hebrew and Palestinian Israeli Arabic have a myriad of loan words. Arabic words are used in Hebrew and Hebrew words are commonly heard in the dialect of Palestinians in Israel. The cultural interaction is not limited to language; it extends to include many other aspects such as food, music, and behavior. Employing similar cultural concepts and values facilitates a smoother engagement.
Finally, dialogue is an alternative to extremism. If dialogue is done properly, respectfully, and without compromising truth then it contributes to creating a multifaceted worldview. It paves the way for creating a better society for both Palestinian and Jews. On the other hand, the absence of dialogue is the way for the dominance of an ethnocentric monologue. It is a fertile land for extremism. In light of this reality, it is fitting to end this short essay with a long quote that we translated from one of the pastoral letters of Middle Eastern Catholic patriarchs.
No doubt that bigotry, in the name of God or religion or nationalism or denominationalism or land or ethnicity or language or in the name of civility or education or society, is the enemy par excellence of dialogue. There is an immense difference between the believer and the bigot. The believer is servant of God, but the bigot abuses the name of God. The believer worships God, but the bigot worship himself under the illusion that he or she is worshiping God. The believer heeds to the word of God, but the bigot distorts it. The believer pursues celestial love, but the bigot humiliates divine standards. The believers fear God, but the bigot threatens others continually. The believer honors God, but the bigot insults God. The believer obeys God’s will, but the bigot replaces God’s will with his or her will. The believer is a blessing to humanity, but the bigot is its curse. Bigotry is a form of denying both God and humanity. In the life of a bigot, the energy hat is found in faith and love, is transformed into destructive energy that is used for hatred and aggression.
Rev Azar Ajaj & Rev Yohanna Katanacho
For further details about Palestinians in Israel see Shourideh Molavi, Stateless Citizenship: The Palestinian-Arab Citizens of Israel (Leiden: Brill, 2013); Ben White, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy (London: Pluto Press, 2012).
For more details about Christians in Israel see Amnon Ramon, Christianity & Christians in the Jewish State (New York: Israel Academic Press, 2021).
For a useful discussion see Michael McGarry, Coexistence & Reconciliation in Israel: Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (New York: Paulist Press, 2015); For a minority engagement in a Middle Eastern society see S. Goldstein-Sabbah, and H. Murre-van den Berg, eds. Modernity, Minority, and the Public Sphere: Jews and Christians in the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2016).
For Further details see Yohanna Katanacho, “My Jewish Neighbor,” Christ at the Checkpoint (2016): Youtube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy6FX2brVCw.
For further details about Israel see the entry on Israel in Tom Lansford, ed. Political Handbook of the World 2020-2021 (Thousand Oaks: CQ Press, 2021).
For understanding the history of the conflict from a Palestinian perspective see Rashid Khalid, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine (London: Profile Books, 2020).
See for example Munther Isaac, The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020).
Lital levy provides a helpful in-depth study of the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic in the literature and culture of Israel/Palestine. See Lital Levy, Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).
Rafiq Khoury, Sdasyt Lazmnt Jdydt (سداسية لأزمنة جديدة; Jerusalem: Latin Patriarchate, 2008), 173. Arabic Book.