Palestine (MNN) – Despite being the birthplace of Christianity, the Holy Land can be a difficult place to be a Christian, specifically for Palestinians living in Palestine. Areej Masoud, Development and Communications Coordinator for Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem, speaks to this truth first hand as a Palestinian Christian.
“We have our own challenges. We don’t have our equal rights. There’s a lot of limitations. The occupation that’s around us is very limiting, especially for young people…I’m in my 20s. I have very, a lot of limitations, even for my ambitions, my hobbies,” Masoud says.
Challenges as a Palestinian
Imagine being unable to travel the land you call home because a government occupying the area restricts people to specific regions. This is life for Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation.
Masoud enjoys the outdoors, but the occupation and the wall around Bethlehem limit her movements. She cannot explore her land, go camping, or even enjoy a run outside of the small city of Bethlehem. For travel, she is confined to a specific land zone. If she does wander around, Masoud says there is always the concern of whom she will meet along the way.
“Being a Palestinian, it’s not easy to be in the wilderness let’s say by myself or with other groups of Palestinians. We might look like we’re planning something dangerous, even though we’re just being adventurous and enjoying a certain hobby or just enjoying the wilderness. But, it’s not something easily done,” Masoud says.
Furthermore, Masoud was raised in a war zone. Her formative years, like many other Palestinians, were filled with wars and exposure to weapons.
“This is the background, [the] soundtrack to your life, actually. You know what it means to have soldiers around, to be in fear as well, because you need to always be cautious, to differentiate between sounds of…shootings and between fireworks, for example. And I don’t think…everyone around the world knows the differences. But for us, that’s how it is living in the Holy Land, or that’s how it is being a Palestinian,” Masoud says.
The Joshua Project says in the West Bank and Gaza, only 1.2 percent of the population are professing Christians. However, Masoud says realistically Palestinian Christians make up less than one percent of Palestine’s population. It is a number that has been dropping over the years.
Palestinians, particularly in Bethlehem, were once very reliant on tourism economically. But because of a significant decline in tourism, many people lost their jobs in the industry. Without a job, people had to move and leave their home, history, and heritage behind.
For some, even if they choose to stay despite struggling to find work, they are concerned their kids are not receiving a proper education or that schools will be closed due to the political situation.
Being Palestinian and Christian
So how does the Palestinian identity, against the backsplash of an occupation, mesh with a Christian faith? For Masoud, her Christian and Palestinian identities are inseparable. They are both a part of her. One does not cancel out the other. However, being a Christian, she says, does give her a strong sense of responsibility.
“I have a bigger responsibility towards my identity because I’m asked to love my enemy. It’s a requirement, it’s my faith. That’s how…I’m told to live my faith. To love not only my neighbor, but also my enemy. And I don’t think, a lot of people…have the concept of an actual enemy. Like, who’s the actual enemy? But, I do. And, I have to love them,” Masoud says.
“That’s a big challenge of how to practice and live [my] faith. But also, I have to stand with the oppressed and speak against injustice and fight any act of dehumanization. And that as well is a huge responsibility, just adds to the responsibilities as a Christian Palestinian.”
Let’s help our Palestinian family carry these burdens by investing in their work, and listening to their words. Then, be a voice right where you are at for the Palestinian Church.
Also, pray for Palestinian Christians. Ask God to give them courage, strength, and peace as they choose to remain in the Holy Land. Pray for justice in their lives and God’s grace in difficulties.
Join us tomorrow for part two of this three-part series when we dig into Palestinian Christians’ role in the Holy Land and the challenge of remaining in the birthplace of Christ.
Header photo courtesy of Bethlehem Bible College.