(Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
Western Christians fail to fully grasp the suffering of Palestinians, including its Christian population, Bethlehem Bible College professor and Palestinian Christian told The Christian Post on Monday.
"The Christians in the west, most of them, they don't know the realities here. They don't know who is occupying who, who is oppressing who, who is confiscating whose land, who is building walls to try and separate people from one another," Alex Awad, who also pastors East Jerusalem Church, told The Christian Post.
"In the United States and much of Europe people — they just don't understand the realities on the ground," he added.
According to Awad, the reality is that the root causes of the Gaza conflict date back further than the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Instead, he blames Israel for not following through with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's plan under which the country was required to free Palestinian prisoners, whom he suggested were unfairly imprisoned after protesting the West Bank settlements. Awad believes that its failure to follow through with this condition enraged an already angered (and economically deprived) Palestinian population. He also called the current fighting a "cover-up" for the settlements and a diversion to focus attention to Gaza, even as the real crisis took place in the West Bank.
"The news media doesn't tell [a] comprehensive story where the average person will understand the causes and effects," said Awad. "This thing did not happen in a vacuum. What's happening today in Gaza — the Israelis attack on Hamas' rockets in Israel — it did not happen in a vacuum. The way that the Israelis dealt with the prisoners on one side, and also the collapse of the peace process on the other side, created that anger that brought us to the position."
While Awad said that the current attacks have not yet left any Palestinian causalities — just before speaking with CP he confirmed that employees at his NGO in Gaza were safe — they remain in harm's way.
"The Palestinian Christians in Gaza today, they suffer as much as the Palestinian Muslims in Gaza. They are under bombardment. They have only eight hours of electricity of every 24 hours. They have a hard time getting fresh water," he said. "The Palestinian Christians, they don't live in an isolated area where oh, this is a Christian town. No, they live among the Muslims in Gaza and therefore as much as the Muslims are suffering, the Christians are suffering, not only in the Gaza strip but also in the West Bank."
Palestinian Christians have not turned violent, Awad emphasized.
"The Christians in the West bank and the Gaza strip are not part of the fighting. We are not fighting on the side of Hamas. We are not fighting on the side of Israel. Most Christians are very, very neutral. We know in our hearts, we side with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, even the Muslims, because we know they are the ones under occupation, they are the ones who are under oppression, and we see that because it is very obvious for people who live here who is actually violating the other human rights," said Awad.
"We are part and parcel of the rest of the Palestinian people. We believe in Jesus Christ. We are still Palestinian Arabs. We speak the Arabic language. We consider ourselves Palestinian," he added.
Awad said that despite the shared sense of "being under the same yoke of oppression" that unites him with his fellow Palestinians, his "heart goes out to any Muslim, Christian, Jew, Israeli, whatever their title, who may be affected by this unnecessary war."
Issa Tarazi, the executive director of the Near East Council of Churches, recently told the National Catholic Register that the airstrikes on Gaza "are affecting all Christians and Muslims; Christians suffer the same as all the other people of Gaza, the same threats and the same stress.
Palestinian Christians, some of whom like Awad live in Israel, have been in the middle of the violence since it started earlier this month.
According to the National Catholic Register, "In Israel, Christians who live in the areas hit by more than 350 Palestinian rockets in recent days have been forced to seek refuge in bomb shelters. In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which by Friday had sustained some 1,000 Israeli air strikes aimed at destroying Palestinian rockets and rocket launchers, the strip's small Christian community is trying to cope with the violence."
Meanwhile, Gaza's tiny Christian population of roughly 1,000 Christians, who live alongside the region's two million Muslims, have been targeted in violence that has killed nearly 200 Palestinians since fighting broke out. There have been no Israeli fatalities reported.