Can't We All Just Get Along?

What I Saw In The Holy Land, Part 3: In Which She Calls For A Peaceful Crusade

So then, after everything said in the previous post, do Arab Christians hate the Jews? Emphatically not. I made a point of grilling every guide, driver, waiter and vendor I came across regarding relations among Christians, Muslims & Jews. Easily more than a dozen people "interviewed" at length, and to a man they all say the same thing. They would infinitely rather deal with Jews than with Muslims.
  • One guide --the one who feels like salad in a sandwich-- a young married father of two sons, said he works as a guide because he considers it his mission as a Christian in the Holy Land to give witness to the risen Christ, but thanks to the rise of Hamas, he and his wife have one bag packed --prepared to flee on a moment's notice, leaving their possessions behind. He said the Christians of the Holy Land at this point feel a tremendous bond with one another because they're so few (persecution is apparently ecumenism's best weapon).

  • He added that in spite of all he'd said, even in spite of the fact that his two young sons often get caught at checkpoints and held for hours unpredictably either coming from or going to school, he has no problems whatsoever with Jews, because they are "open-minded." Showing me the crucifix he wears at all times, he said "I want to give witness." Then, his face falling somewhat in shame, he admitted, "but sometimes when I go for a walk, I just want to go for a walk without being harassed. And then I hide this under my shirt to avoid problems with Muslims. Even though it is against my principles."
  • George, a Greek Catholic, said, "With all my heart I infinitely prefer to live among the Israelis." He said it's long been the practice of Christians in the Holy Land to have notably Christian names (like George). But that the younger generation increasingly gives its kids Muslim-sounding names (there are a few names Muslims & Christians have in common) just to protect their kids from being singled out as Christians from the moment they introduce themselves.

I asked these men what Christians in the West could do to help them, and they notably all say the same things --the same program, incidentally, that the Vatican is urging. Our group met with the Bishop Coadjutor of Jerusalem (meaning, the guy who will be the Patriarch of Jerusalem when the current Patriarch retires or goes to glory), and the man is serious but sincerely hopeful. He sees --and it's the feeling I got as a pilgrim, too --that the situation for Christians in the Holy Land is urgent, but not so dire that it's hopeless. We're at a point where decisive action can make a big difference. But there is also a need to make the rest of the Christian world aware how close we are to having no Christians in the Holy Land --and to losing the holiest sites of Christendom in the process. This would be a religious and cultural catastrophe if allowed to happen --and it needn't.

So what's the program? I thought it was interesting that no one I talked to asked for a handout. (In fact, they pretty much warn you not to try to distribute money to the needy on your own, but to work through parish priests or through the Franciscans, who will be able to distinguish the truly needy from opportunists.)

  • "Pray for us." These people truly believe in the power of prayer and it's the first thing they ask for.

  • "Send pilgrims." Of course this has the practical purpose of helping Christians to earn a living, but many of the guides also testified that pilgrims are a sign to the Christian community that they aren't forgotten and alone; they're a shot in the arm for the local Church.

  • Additionally, Christians --and the Vatican-- see the decline in the Christian presence in the Holy Land as a factor in the Hamas victory. The people I talked to don't believe the majority of their Muslim neighbors are all that interested in running Israel into the sea (it would be an agreeable side benefit); but they are interested in --dependent upon-- taking advantage of the extensive welfare programs that Hamas provides. People vote for the folks who get them fed. The Church would like to see the Christian economy grow so that it could offer more charitable programs to compete with Hamas for people's affections. And in the meanwhile more pilgrims mean more jobs so Christians can feed their families, and a greater Christian presence at the Holy Sites.

  • I heard this over and over again, too. "Tell the Western press to get over its political correctness and tell the truth about the religious source of violent outbreaks in the Middle East." Every group has its fanatics in Jerusalem. There are Orthodox priests who make life difficult for other Christians; there is a certain sect of Jews that comes to the Via Dolorosa just to spit on Christians making the way of the cross. But these people don't threaten, beat or kill anyone. That kind of violence has one source, and it isn't racial hatred between Jews & Arabs. It's the incitement of the militant imams.

  • Notre Dame de Jerusalem is directly across from the New Gate --about a 6-block walk to the Holy Sepulchre-- and I went there every day for Mass. Nothing could be more telling than the fact that the Old City is peaceful --tense, thanks to the Danish cartoon situation-- but peaceful, every day of the week. Except Friday. On the Muslim sabbath, since everyone knows that their safety depends entirely on what the imams say during services that day, several thousand armed Israeli police and militia surround the walls of the Old City to keep the peace. The U.S. State Dept. actually forbids any of its personnel to be within the Old City between 11 and 2 on Fridays. The militia is not necessary the following day for the Jewish sabbath, nor the following day for the Christian sabbath. It speaks volumes. And while you're there, it's both chilling and reassuring to see all those guards.