Here’s a particularly galling thought for Christmas: Israel is much like the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge, as it once again does its best to spoil the festive season for Palestine’s indigenous Christians. Unlike these two fictional characters, however, Israel has no redeeming features; it is not going to come good at the end of the story.
The Israeli occupation authorities decreed this week that none of Gaza’s small Christian population will be allowed to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem or Bethlehem over the Christmas period. This is pure hypocrisy from the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East”, which is actually so undemocratic and so racist that while Jews and Christians from around the world are allowed to visit those same religious sites, native Palestinians are barred from doing so in their own country.
This is not the first time that Israel has imposed such arbitrary restrictions on Palestinian Christians by any means. Bans are often in place, not only at Christmas but also Easter. It is part of the wider Israeli policy of denying Palestinians freedom of movement and equal access to their religious sites. The same cruel collective punishments are also imposed on Palestinian Muslims during their religious festivals.
Anti-sectarian national unity has always been a key strength of the Palestinian liberation movement. From the Muslim-Christian associations of the 1920s, on through the strong involvement of Palestinians of Christian background in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, up until the resistance unity of the present day, the attempts of the Zionist movement to foment sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians in Palestine have been foiled consistently.
One of the most important popular Palestinian leaders today is Archbishop Atallah Hanna of Palestine’s Greek Orthodox Church. Hanna has always insisted on the unity of the Palestinian struggle, regardless of sect or religion. The Archbishop has also been rightly scathing of much of the Christian world when it has conveniently forgotten the fact that their religion originated in Palestine, and that Palestine is a living, breathing country where indigenous people still live and are currently suffering under a racist apartheid regime.
“I would like to remind all Christians all around the world that there is no point in celebrating Christmas if you do not pay attention to what is happening in Palestine as it is the birthplace of Christ and where Christianity originated,” Hanna told MEMO recently. He called “upon all the churches of the world, in the west and east, to urgently defend Palestine, the children of Palestine, and the Palestinian cause. Let our message this Christmas be to free Palestine and the Palestinian people.”
Archbishop Hanna’s message took on even more poignancy this week when he was hospitalised after “tear gas” was fired into his church by Israeli security forces. It is highly likely that this was actually the same kind of “toxic gas” used against Palestinians taking part in protests in the Gaza Strip.
As well as Muslims and Christians, Zionism’s violent sectarianism has, amazingly, also targeted Jews. In 1924, Jacob Israël de Haan, an anti-Zionist Orthodox Charedi Jewish activist, was murdered in cold blood by the Haganah, the main Zionist militia in Jerusalem. The man who ordered the murder was Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who went on to be the second President of Israel. In the 1980s, the killer said that he had “no regrets because he [de Haan] wanted to destroy our whole idea of Zionism.”
The protests of the Orthodox Charedi Jews of Jerusalem today are frequently attacked by Israeli police, as they demonstrate against conscription into the Israeli army. “Orthodox Jews will proudly go to jail rather than join the Zionist army,” they proclaim.
Zionist Israel has always set for itself the key goal of dividing the Palestinian people along sectarian lines. That’s why it imposes artificial divisions on its citizens, creating “nationalities” as part of its laws, such as “Druze”, “Jewish”, “Arab” and so forth. It is an important detail of these apartheid laws that there is no “Israeli” nationality in Israeli law. Instead, it refers to people as “Jewish”, “Arab” and dozens of other such “nationalities”. Israeli laws spell this out and the courts have repeatedly ruled out the existence of an “Israeli” nationality.
Why? Such a nationality would imply equal rights for all, but the whole rationale of Zionism is to impose the supremacy of a religious/ethnic minority upon the country. That is why the PLO for many years countered this sectarianism with the generous offer of a fully democratic state for all people between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, with the legitimate return of all Palestinian refugees.
A unitary, non-sectarian democracy for all in historic Palestine was foiled by the move of the PLO towards re-partition of the country along the arbitrary “Green (Armistice) Line” based on the ceasefire of 1949, known as the illusionary “two-state solution”.
Sooner or later, the basic requirements of justice in Palestine will require the political forces to move back towards a unitary democratic state in which the rights of all can be respected and realised. In the meantime, we are left to think about the fate of Palestinian Christians in the birthplace of Jesus at Christmas time. Israel’s war against the Palestinians targets them too.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.