Jerusalem’s Christians debunk attempts to deny their reality
The Israeli narrative of it being a benevolent, liberal democratic country that respects the rights of all people under its domain, including their right to worship, was debunked recently. Church leaders applauded the words of Jordan’s King Abdullah and rejected efforts by Christian Zionists to paint a false rosy picture of the situation for Christians in Jerusalem.
Joel Rosenberg, an American-Israeli dual citizen and a Christian Zionist leader, publicly attacked King Abdullah, saying that he was “mistaken” for saying at the UN General Assembly that Christians and Muslims are being targeted by Israel. Rosenberg, who boasted in his book “Enemies and Allies” of his friendship with the Jordanian king and other Arab leaders, publicly stabbed his supposed friend in the back, saying that he “was shocked by the king’s words” over his description of the situation of Christians in Jerusalem.
Rosenberg, a staunch right-wing Republican whose sons serve in the Israeli army, has also attacked the words (that are lacking in action) of Democratic President Joe Biden. In one of his recent articles, Rosenberg argued that “Biden is dead wrong for calling for a Palestinian state.”
Another article published late last month was entitled “Jordan’s king is mistaken — Christianity in Jerusalem is not ‘under fire’ and churches here are not ‘threatened.” In it, Rosenberg did little to back up his argument, except to say that the number of Christians in Jerusalem is dwindling. His argument failed to note that he referenced the illegally and unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem as part of Israel. Instead, he blamed the king for not detailing the accusations.
All the New York Times bestselling novelist had to do was Google the issue. If he did, among the many documented facts regarding Israel’s actions against Jerusalem’s Christians he would have found that the World Council of Churches, in its most recent meeting in Germany, stated that Christians and churches in East Jerusalem are facing “mounting intimidation, violations, limitation of access to places of worship, and attacks by radicals and authorities on the Christian presence and identity in Jerusalem… threatening the status quo and the multireligious and multicultural identity of the city.”
And if Rosenberg wanted to hear what the leader of 600 million evangelicals around the world had to say, he would have found a recent video interview I conducted with Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, the secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance. He expressed genuine empathy with the plight of Palestinian Christians, similar to that expressed by King Abdullah. When I asked him how he would feel if he had been born a Palestinian Christian, Schirrmacher replied that, if you see the West Bank barrier every day as a Palestinian Christian, “it is easy to feel like you are living in a big prison.”
Without the support and defense of Jordan’s King Abdullah, the city’s Christians and their churches are left to act alone.
The German evangelical bishop also criticized some of the American evangelical friends of Rosenberg. “This is a basic everyday reality and you cannot counter with some biblical theology of verses. I think the same Christians who are critical of Palestinian Christians would do the same thing if they lived here,” he said.
Ironically, Rosenberg, while arguing that friends sometimes disagree, admits to the existence of attacks on priests and lax Israeli police follow-ups to Jewish anti-Christian attackers. However, he fails to deal with the well-documented strategic efforts by right-wing Jewish extremists, with the direct or indirect acquiescence of the Israeli police, in regard to threats aimed at gradually replacing the Christian and Muslim residents of Jerusalem with Jewish zealots.
Rosenberg insists that the Jordanian king’s description is “not accurate.” However, King Abdullah and his family are the custodians of Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Both Christian leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are publicly and voluntarily in support of this important decades-old role.
Jordan’s Ministry of Awqaf runs Islam’s third-holiest site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. More than 1,000 guards and administrative staff are on the Jordanian government payroll as they protect and maintain this important Islamic site.
King Abdullah has also financially supported — from his own funds — the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and has been in regular coordination with Christian leaders and the community in Jerusalem.
While Rosenberg made his defense on behalf of the state of Israel, the Christian leaders in Jerusalem were quick to respond to his unwarranted and unfounded attack on the king’s words. In a Sept. 27 statement, the patriarchs and heads of the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches in Jerusalem thanked King Abdullah for “his true and honest description of the Christian reality in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.”
The statement went on to express gratitude to the Jordanian king for “spearheading efforts to ring the bells of warning over the deteriorating situation of Christian basic human rights.” The church leaders added that Abdullah’s statement sent “a strong message to the world regarding the clear and present dangers surrounding the Christian heritage and presence in Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land. We call on the international community as a whole, and all peace-loving people around the world, to act upon his majesty’s warnings.”
Without the support and defense of King Abdullah, Christians and their churches are left to act alone when defending themselves from the consecutive hawkish, right-wing and settler-influenced Israeli governments. Escalating discriminatory actions have led respected human rights organizations to document these cases and reach the conclusion that Israel is carrying out the war crime of apartheid through its racist laws and actions on the ground.
In the past, Israeli narratives were taken as truth. The time has come to debunk these myths and hear the facts from Christian leaders and the people in Jerusalem who are suffering as a result of Israeli policies and actions.
• Daoud Kuttab is a Christian Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.