Just as they did last year and every previous one, opponents of Israel are seeking to exploit the Christmas holiday by claiming Jesus was a Palestinian. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has made this absurd claim a holiday staple in keeping with the effort to portray the Jews as foreign colonists in their historic homeland. But while they should dismiss this canard out of hand, American Christians should still be thinking about the Middle East this season. With unknown numbers of Middle East Christians having been routed out of their homes or subject to murder, rape and dispossession by ISIS terrorists and other Islamist forces, this December 25th people of faith need to remember that the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored. It should also remind them that Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.
For the last century, Middle East Christians have been largely portrayed as being caught in the middle of a bitter war between Jews and Arabs over the Holy Land. But this is a profound misunderstanding of the reality of the conflict. Though many Christians have been prominent Arab nationalists, their effort to identify with the struggle against Zionism has not led to greater acceptance for Christians within Palestinian society or the Arab and Muslim world in general. To the contrary, over the decades, the Palestinian national movement has taken an increasingly Islamist tone as even allegedly secular figures like Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas have adopted the language of Islamist triumphalism. This is due in part to their need to compete with Islamist rivals like Hamas but also because it reflects the cultural and religious roots of the struggle to destroy Israel. Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim supporters have never sought to create a state alongside Israel but to ensure that no part of the region should be under majority Jewish sovereignty.
Looking beyond the Palestinians, the fighting in Iraq and Syria as ISIS has swept to control of vast territories in both those countries has reflected a similarly level of intolerance toward non-Muslim minorities. Simply put, an Islamist tide that has swept through the region has made Christians an endangered minority. Though there is nothing new about this dilemma, the atrocities visited upon ISIS’s Christian victims make the stakes in this struggle all too clear.
Turning back to the Palestinians, the same dynamic has led to a massive exodus of Christians from the territories. Though anti-Israel polemicists falsely attribute this dispersion to Israeli actions, it is the increasingly militant efforts of Hamas as well as their supposedly secular rivals in Fatah that has made life in many traditionally Christian towns like Bethlehem increasingly untenable for non-Muslims. By contrast, Israel remains the one nation in the region that is not only a functional democracy but also where Christian rights and those of all religions are respected. By contrast, the Palestinians make no bones about their future state being a place where no Jew would be welcome. Do American Christians really think their co-religionists will fare any better in such a state, whose main purpose will be to pursue efforts to try and destroy what will be left of the Jewish state?
American Christians should not fall for the Palestinians Christmas lies or their attempts to falsely portray Israel as the obstacle to peace. This Christmas there will be plenty of lip service paid to the cause of peace. But until Palestinians stop trying to deny Jewish history and therefore the rights of Jews to live in peace and security in their ancient homeland, lip service is all the cause of coexistence will get.