The apartheid regime’s Christmas propaganda and oppression of Palestinian Christians
by: Denijal Jegic
As people around the world are celebrating Christmas, occupied Palestine, the birthplace of Christianity, remains under brutal Israeli apartheid. Meanwhile, the Israeli regime targets Western Christians with Zionist propaganda.
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The Israeli propaganda apparatus “Hasbara” has long invested large amounts of money and significant PR efforts in legitimizing the Zionist settler-colony in the eyes of its international audiences. In portraying the colony as a democracy with alleged human rights and co-existence between various religions, the Israeli regime has attempted to whitewash its genocidal oppression of Palestinians in the eyes of the West. The propaganda attempts have been successful to a large degree, as many Christians in the West either ignore the Palestinian plight, or provide outright support to the apartheid regime.
Evangelical Zionists in the United States have been amongst the most radical supporters of Israel. Christian tourism has contributed to the colony’s economy. This year again, Zionist politicians and officials have extended their holiday greetings to “Christian friends” around the world.
Such greetings are packed with colonial propaganda and appropriation of history. Israeli PM Naftali Bennett published a video on Christmas Eve this year from occupied Jerusalem, connecting the “ancient land” and the Bible to the current colony in his address to Christians. Bennett, who previously bragged about how many Arabs he killed in his life, lied that the colony provided “religious freedom, tolerance, and prosperity in a region where Christians are routinely persecuted.” The illusion that Israel offered religious freedom and that Christians outside of the colony are persecuted is widespread in the West.
Bennett claimed that Israel is the “only one place” that “protects Christian life” and thanked his audience for “fighting for the state of Israel.”
While such proclamations further add to the positive image of the colony in the West, they stand in stark contrast to the reality on the ground.
The plight of Palestinian Christians
In fact, the world’s oldest Christian communities are victims of Israel’s genocidal settler-colonialism.
As a result of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign, the Christian population in Palestine has sharply declined throughout the decades. Places of significant importance for Christians are cut off from the outside world. The town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is surrounded by the apartheid wall.
Besides suffering under the structures of the apartheid regime, Palestinian Christians are also oftentimes prevented from exercising their religion. While foreign visitors may access Palestinian churches, the Palestinian right to worship is tightly controlled by the apartheid regime. Depending on where they live, Palestinians require permits issued by the apartheid authorities to attend Mass in churches. This year again, Palestinian Christians from Gaza applied for permits to travel to Bethlehem to attend prayers. Their requests were either rejected or outright ignored.
Palestinians are harassed by apartheid authorities on holy days, such as Easter and Christmas. This year on Easter, apartheid authorities escalated their ethnic cleansing campaign by expelling Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah (East al-Quds) from their homes. This Christmas again, hundreds of Palestinians were injured by occupation forces when they protested against settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Israeli violence has always extended beyond the borders of historic Palestine. The Israeli colonial regime has a history of targeting indigenous Christians in the region. It has done so during its military occupation and numerous wars in Lebanon and its continuous attacks on Syria. During last year’s Christmas celebrations, the Israeli regime invaded the Lebanese airspace to conduct airstrikes on Syria from there, killing several people.
The fallacy of a religious war
The Israeli regime is terrorizing Palestinians of all religions, but has been trying to portray the settler-colonial conquest as a “conflict” that is allegedly religious in its nature. Exploiting traditional Orientalism and anti-Muslim sentiments that are prevalent in Western cultures, the Israeli rhetoric has long focused not only on portraying Palestinian resistance - and oftentimes the very Palestinian existence as such - as anti-Jewish, but the regime has also tried to identify all Palestinians as Muslims to better advance its Islamophobic dichotomy and to frame the Palestinian struggle for freedom and liberation as a religious movement. It is the religious frame and the anti-Muslim prejudice amongst Israel’s backers that allows the apartheid regime to advance its goals. It is thus not surprising that the Israeli project is highly popular among the far-right and fascists around the world.
Of course the Palestinian struggle was never a sectarian one and many leading figures of Palestinian resistance have been Christians. Nor should the religion of colonized people determine the solidarity and support they receive from the outside world.
After all, destroying the cultural diversity of the region and dividing the population according to sectarian and ethnic lines have been long established practices of imperialist and colonialist forces.
Numerous Palestinian Christian leaders have appealed to Christians around the world to not turn a blind eye toward the continuous oppression and exploitation of Palestine. The Palestinian Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in al-Quds, Atallah Hanna, himself a crucial figure in the Palestinian resistance, has repeatedly affirmed that al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the holy sites will remain Palestinian. The Archbishop reminded Christians around the world that while streets and squares in Western cities are decorated with lights and Christmas trees, there would be no point in celebrating Christmas if they do not pay attention to what is happening in Palestine. He called upon all churches to urgently defend Palestine. The archbishop has reportedly been poisoned by Israeli authorities, but survived the attack.
The racist ideology of Zionism targets people of all religious affiliations who stand in the way of the settler-colonial conquest. This is, unfortunately, more often than not ignored internationally, and particularly by Western Christians.
This year again, many Christians in the West celebrate the birth of Jesus without talking about the struggle in Palestine.
Denijal Jegic is a writer and researcher, currently based in Beirut, Lebanon. He holds a PhD in American studies.