Christians in the Holy Land, edited by Michael Prior and William Taylor. London: The World of Islam Festival Trust, 1994. xviii plus 235 pages. £10, paperback.
Daphne Tsimhoni is an Israeli scholar who has made the Christian communities of the occupied territories and Jerusalem a particular area of her expertise, and this book is the fruit of considerable research over many years. It is a very welcome and valuable contribution to our knowledge of the history of Palestinian Christians as a larger community and the particular problems encountered by those living under Israeli military occupation since 1967. The situation of these 40,587 Palestinian Christians (her figures) differs considerably from that of the 114,000 living in Israel proper who have had Israeli citizenship since 1948. Those in the West Bank and Gaza live a much less privileged existence, and those in Jerusalem, though officially a part of the state of Israel, suffer the same repression and indignities of military occupation as do their coreligionists in Gaza and the West Bank. It is not surprising that substantial numbers have emigrated since the Six-Day War 30 years ago.
The book is divided into nine chapters, the first of which examines the status of Christians of the West Bank and Jerusalem under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967. Here the author's Israeli perspective is from time to time obvious. But the following chapters on demographic trends, the individual sectarian communities (the Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians and Chaldeans, Copts and Ethiopians, and the various Catholic and Protestant groups), lead to a thoughtful and interesting concluding chapter, "Between the Hammer and the Anvil: The Christians during the Intifada." The book is exceedingly well-documented. The author draws on the many archives available to her in Israel, including the Jordanian administration files, which "were transferred in 1967 to the Israeli state archives" (p. ix), the Arabic and Hebrew press, including newspapers owned and published by local Christians (e.g., the Greek Orthodox "Filastin").
Although no comprehensive census has been carried out in the West Bank since the 1970s, other statistical sources are available, and the author has used them to show just how static the Christian population has been since 1967. "Christian businessmen who have left Jerusalem" since 1967 have been "superseded by Muslim Hebronites, who gradually gained control of the commerce of the Christian quarter" (p. 21). The Christian population in the West Bank has declined from nearly 35,000 in 1961 to well under 29,000 in 1989. During the same period the Muslim population has grown from 710,000 to an estimated 867,000 (p. 23). The Christian population of Jerusalem, officially calculated at 1 4,400 had, according to church sources "that normally tend to inflate the number of their own flocks," fallen to 8,000-10,000 (p. 29) compared with 11,000 in 1961 and 29,350 in 1944 (p. 20).The Greek Orthodox patriarchate reported in December 1990 that "nearly one-third of its numbers had emigrated since the beginning of the Intifada." For the author "the growing influence of the Islamic movement over Arab society during the intifada has caused growing violence towards Christians and their institutions, deepening the identity crisis of many Christians and their despair over their future in the area" (p. 29). My own research in Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza in the summer of 1995 pointed to the factor of arbitrary Israeli imprisonment and general harassment of and hostility towards local Christians as a greater reason for Christian despair, a situation made worse by the bleak employment picture for Palestinians since the recent ingathering of some half-million Russians, all of whom need jobs and have been given priority in finding them.
The author's consideration of the individual Christian communities that make up the bulk of her study (pp. 33-164, chapters 3-8) is very complete and detailed, perhaps unnecessarily so in the case of the tiny communities like the Syrian and Armenian Catholics, Lutherans and other Protestant sects. Over 40 percent of the Christians in Jerusalem and the occupied territories are Greek Orthodox, and another 40 percent Catholics (mostly Latin with small numbers of Greek Catholics and others), and it is they who deserve most of our attention. The ongoing saga of the Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox faithful and their purely Greek and mostly non-Arabic speaking hierarchy is related carefully and accurately. Despite this long standing problem, the Orthodox community remains internally strong and well-organized in both Jerusalem and their major outlying centers in Ramallah, Bayt Sahur, Bayt Jala and Bethlehem .. The various Orthodox associations and clubs regard themselves as distinct secular organizations emphasizing "their Arabism and national indigenous identity in contrast to the alien Greek upper hierarchy of the patriarchate" (p. 54). The Armenian community, though small, is very ancient and unique in that nearly all of the community resides with in the walls of the patriarchal monastery precincts of St. James (p. 64 ). Perhaps this close proximity has led to a particularly intense internal divisiveness, but the recent history of rivalries for ecclesiastical leadership makes for fascinating if somewhat discouraging reading.
The other major Christian community besides the Greek Orthodox is that of the Latin Catholics, who form 34 percent of the population in Jerusalem and the occupied territories. Although historically dominated by the Roman Church and the Franciscan order in particular, the Latin community's foreign control ended in 1988 with the enthronement of a Palestinian Arab patriarch, Michel Sabah, a native of Nazareth and an example which the native Arabic-speaking Greek Orthodox have noted with some envy and longing. The largest Protestant community, the local Anglicans, have likewise been self-governing since the last English "Archbishop in (not of, so as not to offend the Orthodox and Latin patriarchs) Jerusalem" retired in I 974. There had been an Arab bishop of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the Rt. Rev. Najib Qubayn, since 1958, but he had no authority in Jerusalem itself nor in Israel proper, where the archbishop's sway prevailed. But with the resignation of Bishop Qubayn in 1976, a new Arab bishop was appointed whose diocese included all the former Palestine Mandate plus Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, another reason for the Greek Orthodox to chafe under their colonial-style ecclesiastical rule by Greek nationals (the patriarch and the Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre).
The final chapter chronicles the events of the intifada and points out that Christians killed (five out of a total of 410) during the first year (1987-88) demonstrated the resolve of Palestinian Christians to risk their lives along with Muslim protesters. Certainly the international attention given to the plight of the Christian village of Bayt Sahur -which refused to pay taxes in 1989 as a means of protesting Israeli military response to the intifada, resulting in a 46-day siege by the army and the confiscation of "$3 million worth of merchandise and belongings" - did more than any one event up to that time to capture the world's support for those suffering under Israeli rule (p. 135). Likewise the shady deal engineered by the Israeli government to acquire Greek-Orthodox patriarchal property in the Christian quarter in April of 1990 again put Israel in a very bad odor in the West (pp. 176-180). The author states that the 150 settlers entered St. John's Hospice on the eve of Good Friday (Maundy Thursday) "inadvertently" (p. 176). But even Jewish settlers know about the importance of Maundy Thursday (the date of Christ's Last Supper with his disciples) and Good Friday (his crucifixion). More than likely it was a deliberate provocation. The matter still remains in the Israeli courts.
Nevertheless the author finds that the Christians, while supporting the intifada, still fear the rise of fundamentalist Islam that came with it (p. 183}, citing the common motto "after Saturday comes Sunday," meaning that once they have dealt with the Jews, Muslim fundamentalists will tum against Christians (p. 183). This is given as the major reason for Christian emigration, though, as I stated earlier, this was not my finding. "Church leaders," the author continues, "prefer to play down, if not deny, the problem of fundamentalism- preferring to blame Zionism" (p. 184), a view that from my own research has a sound basis in fact. The author concludes by citing two Palestinian Christian attitudes towards resolving the problem of Christian Arab identity in a heavily Muslim society. They are too complex to consider here except to say that the second, Anglican Canon Nairn Ateek's "Palestinian Theology of Liberation," revolves around his Protestant problem with the Jewish chosen role in the Old Testament. This is a somewhat irrelevant concern, given that 90 percent of Christian Palestinians are either Orthodox or Catholic; the Old Testament has never played the significant role in their theology or worship that it does in Protestant churches.
A few minor errors need to be mentioned. On page 95 the author states that "Islamic rule initially meant a serious setback to Coptic Christianity in Egypt," when in fact it was the Copts themselves who sided with the Muslim invaders to drive out the hated Byzantine Orthodox rulers, who had tried to suppress the Coptic Monophysite heresy [the belief that Christ is half divine, half human rather than having two natures, one divine and one human] which the Muslim conquerors were happy to let the local Christians practice. The map on p. 214 incorrectly shows the villages of Jifna and Ayn Arik as having between 1000 and 5000 Christian inhabitants when in fact they number only in the hundreds, whereas the village of Zababda is shown as having fewer than I 000 Christians when its total Christian population is over 2000.
Apart from these very minor points and a possible conclusion that her viewpoint on several issues may be necessarily colored by her Israeli associations, there is little to criticize in this book and much to recommend it. All persons interested in the complex existence of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem and the occupied territories today will find it a rich resource.
The collection of essays assembled by the Reverends Michael Prior and William Taylor are of necessity a less cohesive study than that of Tsimhoni, but several of the contributions are of exceptional value. The term "Holy Land" is of course very narrowly used to mean Palestine in this study, when in fact it applies to everywhere Christ set foot in His lifetime, including parts of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and the occupied Golan area of Syria. But Palestine and particularly Jerusalem and the occupied territories are the main focus just as they are in Tsimhoni's book. The two works cite different sources for population statistics. Also, while Tsimhoni makes no attempt to break the West Bank population down by town and village, Sabella gives us total Christian population with internal sectarian breakdown for all of the fifteen major Christian concentrations.
The 21 monographs in this collection are all aimed at expanding the reader's knowledge and awareness of the many social, economic, political and religious aspects of daily life for the Christian Palestinians living in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in particular. Especially interesting are the first two essays in the collection, the excellent introductory essay, "Church, State and the Christian Communities and the Holy Places of Palestine" by the Rev. Anthony O'Mahoney of the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, and the one by Prof. Sabella which follows (referred to above). My only criticism of the latter's population figures, apart from the one typographical error, is that the population of Jerusalem and the occupied territories given as 50,352 on p. 39 is followed by a figure of 114,000 for the Christian population of Israel proper (p. 43). Since that is the official Israeli figure, which always includes the population of East Jerusalem it would appear that the 11,000 or so Christians in Jerusalem have been counted twice. His analysis of "Why Palestinians Leave" (pp. 41-44) stresses the economic factor exacerbated by the recent Russian Jewish (and non-Jewish, as it turns out) influx. "Those who argue that Islamic Fundamentalism is the cause of Palestinian Christian emigration from the Holy Land," like Tsimhoni, "wish to obscure the fact that international political and economic factors are the primary reasons for the departure of Palestinians, Christians and others, from their homeland" (p. 43). Even he, however, does not mention the outright Israeli pressure on Christians, military and political, to leave.
The following sixteen contributions are of considerably varying length and interest, but two in particular stood out from the rest: Harry Hagopian's "The Armenians of Jerusalem and the Armenian Quarter" (no. 10) and Gabriel Baramki's "The Spiritual Significance and Experience of the Churches: The Orthodox Perspective" (no. 12). Dr. Baramki, vice-president of Bir Zeit University, summarizes the terrible pressures under which he and other Christians try to live a normal life under Israeli occupation. He points out in his brief but poignant essay, "Now there are those who demand that I leave my land. I am expected to lose the right to be in the land of Christ, simply because my ancestors became Christian "(p. 142), instead of remaining Jewish being the obvious implication.
The final essay by the Rev. Hugh Wybrew, former canon of St. George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, is an unfortunate choice in several respects. The author himself speaks of his "great reluctance" in writing it (p. 217), but having agreed to do so he takes rather excessive liberty in attempting to speak on such issues as what Christians in the Holy Land can expect from the rest of the Christian Church. This seems to boil down to nothing more than that they are there and are experiencing some "difficulties" (p. 218). He seems almost eager to accept the decline and even disappearance of the Christian communities in Palestine. "The churches in the Holy Land," he coolly observes, may be "destined to die." The patriarchate of Constantinople, we are told, is ready to accept "that it will die out with the disappearance of the remaining Greek community in Istanbul" (p. 223). It seems a little presumptuous for a clergyman in a church which is on a steep road to decline in both the United Kingdom and the United States (Anglican and Episcopal), rent with schisms and defections to both Catholic and Orthodox churches by whole parishes, to speak on behalf of the Orthodox Church and the Palestinian Christians, who are nearly all Orthodox or Catholic. But it is typical of many Anglican clergy to pontificate with condescension and indifference to older and larger ecclesiastical institutions on issues affecting their survival and the survival of the faith to which they have witnessed for nearly two millennia. The editors would have done well to find someone less willing to wash his hands of the fate of the 150,000 Christians in Israel and the occupied territories. It will be their choice to stay or not, and a Palestinian Arab observer would have contributed a better-focused analysis of their resolve.