By Olivia S. Brown
Though Christians may be the minority in Palestine, making up 1.1 to 2.4% of the population, those that stand firm in their faith are a force to be reckoned with.
This includes young Palestinian girls Phoebe and Christine Awad who took to the streets of Palestine on May 18, 2021 to protest against the recent Israeli attacks on Palestine.
The protests don’t often last long but that clearly did not make them any less worth participating in. “What would happen is we go forward and then they start throwing tear gas, so we’d go back. We’d go up front and we’d chant and we’d hold up our signs and then they would throw tear gas and we’d go back,” says Christine.
The series of recent Israeli aggressions that led Palestine to protest began with threats to displace six Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Sheik Jarrah. When Palestinians initially took to the streets in response to this injustice, the Israeli government responded by threatening Palestinian access to their sacred place of worship Al-Aqsa.
On May 15, 2021 these Israeli aggressions culminated with an unrelated attack on a high rise building in Gaza that housed the Associated Press and other media, as well as residential apartments. This is when cousins Christine and Phoebe decided to be a part of this moment of resistance along with Christine’s younger sister Grace.
“There’s this saying that says, ‘My grandfather lived through the Al-Nakba [catastrophe], my father lived through the Al-Naksa [relapse] and I’m living to see liberated Palestine,” says Christine.
The Al-Nakba, or the catastrophe, refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that happened in 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes to make place for a Jewish-majority state. Though this was granted, the nakba has still technically not ended today. As a matter of fact, Christine’s father and Phoebe’s uncle Reverend Danny Awad of Baraka Presbyterian Church describes it as the worst time in history.
“Israel, the propaganda that they want the world to believe is that it is not about the land. That it is a religious war between Jews and Islam,” says Reverend Danny. “A Jewish rabbai said that the presence of the Christians in Palestine is the most dangerous thing for us [Zionist Jews]. We need to make the land empty of the Christians.”
It is for this reason that the Rev. Danny Awad encourages his church to remain in Palestine and actively resist the occupation. Reverend Awad’s church is located in Bethlehem- the very city that Jesus was historically born. Though followers of Christ are now the minority, he believes that their place in Palestine is still very potent and that they should continue in the fight for justice just as Jesus would.
“I believe in resistance. The Bible teaches us how to resist,” says Reverend Awad. “Jesus, He resisted his enemy. Jesus, He stood for justice. He stood for the truth and he spoke out.”
During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, known as the Naksa, meaning “setback”, Israel occupied the remaining Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and continues to occupy them until today. Having lived through such devastation is not easy for all, even in spite of their faith.
“Hope is a difficult word. Sometimes I’m hopeless,” says Yousef Alkhouri, professor at Bethlehem Bible College. “In these days I frankly would say that I’ve lost hope but there are times when a glimpse of hope will come again and drive me for another one to two years.”
Alkhouri has family that works and lives in Gaza. He has not only survived trauma of his own having grown up in the city but even as recently as 2019 has had to come alongside his sister who lost her home and all that she and her family had worked for to an Israeli aggression.
“Most of the time when we talk about the destruction in Gaza, we care only about people’s lives not about the livelihood of the people,” says Alkhouri. “We are thankful that people didn’t die but at the same time they lost their livelihood. They lost their houses. They lost everything they worked for.”
In the most recent Israeli aggression in the Gaza strip that burned the high tower building, which houses the Associated Press, as well as residential apartments, no one from Alkhouri’s family was harmed but the trauma no the less lives on.
“It’s not post trauma. It’s not post-traumatic. It’s actually ‘still’ trauma because it didn’t stop,” says Allhouri.
The good news, even in the face of the great pain and adversity, is that the reality that Palestinians are living in is beginning to spread quickly through social media due to the vocal activism of young adults like Christine, Phoebe and Grace who refuse not to speak out.
“Right now, it’s really helping our cause [social media], especially with Sheikh Jarrah,” says Phoebe. “The reason that Sheikh Jarrah was in the spotlight is because there were a lot of activists living in that neighborhood.”
The truth that is now being exposed to the world the same way that the Black Lives Matter movement was given momentum through the summer of 2020 is that there is, in fact, no conflict at all taking place in the Middle East. Most Palestinians would agree that conflict does not accurately describe the events that are happening against the Palestinians. Rather, such a term is very misleading.
“It’s not a conflict because I feel like with a conflict you have at least semi-equal groups but we’re not equal at all. They have all the power. They have all of the military power. They have control over our electricity, over our water, over what we can say,” says Phoebe.
“The coined terms rather have been systematic oppression, ethnic cleansing, settler colonialism,” says Christine.
Many Palestinians still have the key to their homes because they believe they are going to be back in them one day. There is even a refugee camp in Bethlehem marked by the large key that towers over the entrance symbolizing this hope for the estranged Palestinians that have been forced to build a new life within.
Even in what is supposed to be their new place of refuge Palestinians in Aida are surrounded by a great wall from which Israeli military often watch over them with weapons pointed at their homes. Nonetheless, the Palestinians living in Aida fight to establish themselves with small businesses located in the camp and even a community center with programming for children and families.
“Palestinians believe that now it’s different because we’re getting a lot more recognition,” says Christine.
Though Christine may not speak for all Palestinians in this hope, or even the hope of her entire generation, she reflects the hope of the faith that her father has instilled in her and Baraka Presbyterian Church’s following.
“You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When you put salt in your food you don’t take a whole cup and put it in your food. You just take a little bit. You just put a small dash and it will give great taste,” says Reverend Awad.
Though the church may be small in Palestine he said he believes that it is graced to be no less mighty.
“For me, personally, I want to see where my grandfather grew up. I want to see what his life was like before Al-Nekba,” says Christine. “So many people have been hurt by this. Land has been stolen. People have been killed.”
“It’s a good thing to hope and also there’s a saying in Arabic ‘Alla la yansaa’ that’s like ‘God doesn’t forget us’, so that’s a big thing. I want justice for my grandfather and for my dad and for my many friends who have lost family members. At the same time, everything’s in God’s hands.”