Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Old and the New

I was reading a Jerusalem Post article the other day and I came across a common, but glaring error. See if you can spot it:

"We haven't chosen the Jewish children of Israel as the leading theme, but all of Israel's children - the Jews, the Arabs and the Christians," she said. "I don't want to exclude anyone."
If you guessed that the person should have said "...the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christians", you win the prize. It may be a minor point to most, but if anyone is interested in correctly understanding the nature of the conflict here, this is of supreme importance.

For those who like numbers, here you go: Israel has approximately 7 million citizens. About 75% are Jewish, 20% Arab, and the rest mostly Druze and others. Of those 20% of Arabs, about 9% are Christian (the rest, the majority, are Muslim). And, Arabs Christians compose about 80% of all Christians in Israel.

In other words, for every 1,000 Israelis there are 200 Arabs. Of those 200 Arabs, 17 are Christian. Why is it worth talking about 17 of every 200 Arabs? We often hear in the media about the conflict referred to as the "Arab-Israeli" conflict or the "Arab-Jewish" conflict. Is that correct? No, not hardly.

Arabs are a distinct ethnic group which you can read about here. Some may claim that if there is a place which Arabic is spoken, those people are Arabs. One does not have to try hard to prove that there is huge a difference between west Africans from Mauritania in far west of the continent and run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern Arabs. Some call those in Egypt Arabs, but the deceased president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, once said about his country, "We are not Arabs, we are Egyptians". And he has a point. The same goes for the Lybians, Syrians and Iranians, to name a few more. Why do I mention these countries? Because they all (except Mauritania, that I know of) have actively participated in the conflict against Israel.

So what is the common denominator of all of these (including Mauritania) who want to drive Israel into the sea? If you guess Islam, you are again correct.

Although the actual conflict that is being fought within Israel/Palestinian territories is between Jews and Arabs, remember the numbers above. Nearly 10% of those ethnically Arab are Christian. While this conflict is over the ownership of the Holy Land, all may stake some sort of a claim but not everyone is an active participant in trying to cash it in. Judaism and Islam have their religiously-backed historical claims to the land here, but Christianity had their rare unfortunate factions (see the Crusades) who mistakenly believed they were the inheritors of the Promised Land. They were the exceptions, few and far between.

Because Islam claims the land as it's possession and exclusive right, and Judaism sees the land as it's direct inheritance from Abraham, we have a disagreement. And although the Christians "do not have a dog in this fight", we are present in it. On the sidelines and yet caught in the middle.

Christian Arabs are in both Israel and Gaza/West Bank (including every other country in the Middle East). Most, if not all, don't really care about the conflict, but instead just want to live their lives as Christians regardless of who administers this land.Here by virtue of birth, Christians are caught between the combatants who have little concern or regard for much else. To be fair, the fact is that Christian Arabs living inside Israel far and away enjoy more freedom, liberty, and protection as Christians than anywhere in this part of the world. If you don't believe me, just ask the Christians in Gaza. Though they are Arab ethnically, with respect to the actual conflict they are merely passive non-participants with personal opinions on the matter.

So, simply put, the conflict is essentially one between Jews and Muslims. In the global context, ethnic Arabs only account for a relatively small fraction of those wanting to drive Israel into the sea. And even though there are few Arab Christians remaining here, they were on the scene a good 600 years before the first Muslim appeared (see Acts 2:7-11).

Which gets me to the point of why I'm writing this now.

I, a Christian, along with my Arab-Christian wife, and our (obviously) non-Jewish children are sitting here in this nearly completely Jewish city inside Israel located close to the 100% Palestinian Arab Gaza Strip where, like us, there is also a tiny smattering of Arab Christians. Throughout the day my doors and windows have been rattling from the various explosions coming from the land dispute. I can't help but think about how much in common I have right now with those believers just a few miles from here. I'm sure they are feeling just like me, wanting to be left alone and out of this thing everyone is fighting about. We will be good, law-abiding citizens under whichever government rules over us. Yet, we all involuntarily experience the effects of the fighting.

I can't imagine wanting a piece of property, or anything for that matter, so much that I would kill for it. Likewise, I can't imagine having to fight to protect my family and people from those wanting to gleefully destroy us all. It is all so unreal to me, but at the same time I am continually reminded how real and serious these people are. Don't they know that we have no part in, and want no part of, this fight? Do they even care that they are shooting at us? I guess not.

Or maybe they are just sending us their New Year's greetings? Well if that's the case, Happy New Year to you too!

No comments: