Xavier Abu Eid, Rooted in Palestine: Palestinian Christians and the Struggle for National Liberation 1917–2004

In: International Journal of Asian Christianity
Sami Abu ShehadehHistorian and Social and Political Activist; Head of Al-Tajjammou (National Democratic Assembly) Party, Jaffa, Israel

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Xavier Abu Eid, Rooted in Palestine: Palestinian Christians and the Struggle for National Liberation 1917–2004 (Bethlehem: Dar Al Kalima University Press, 2022), pp. 349. isbn: 978-9950-376-49-6.

This book represents an unprecedented research that brings together an important part of Palestine’s diplomatic history with the outstanding role played by Palestinian Christians in the struggle for national liberation. It is not just an important addition to the Palestinian historiography but represents a breakthrough description and analysis that contradicts several accounts about Christians in Palestine that deprive them of their national identity as an integral part of the Palestinian people. Such narratives, explains the author, have mainly served to perpetuate attacks against the Palestinian people going to the extent of executing the closest to a mortal blow to a viable Palestinian Christian presence in Palestine, as was the case during the Nakba. In addition to presenting a very factual-based narrative on Palestinian Christians, it also serves as a narrative of the Middle East Peace Process from the early nineties and the importance given by Palestine to the Status Quo of the Holy Sites and the defense of every stone of Jerusalem, including its Christian heritage.

Having a Palestinian Christian writing about Palestinian Christians signifies a major development, as most of the sources in English about Christianity in the Holy Land come from foreigners. Rooted in Palestine stands out as a unique contribution to the Palestinian historiography showing the authenticity of the integral Palestinian Christian component of the Palestinian people in a way that hardly can be challenged. In addition to the comprehensive academic research, Abu Eid added dozens of interviews with protagonists of such stories, some very unique in nature and content. An important aspect to be considered is that the author is not a professional historian but a political scientist who wrote this book drawing heavily from his long diplomatic experience. The result is a book that is easy to read as it provides contexts that go well-connected to understand not just the background of Palestinian Christians in the Palestinian national movement but the political processes that were taking place at the same time.

An important aspect of the book is its inclusivity. In contrast to other narratives that speak about the Palestinian people only as those remaining in the occupied territory or the refugee camps, the book highlights the different realities of the Palestinian people, including the particular situation of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, victims of policies of Jewish supremacy through racist legislation, and whose fate is largely unknown to or ignored by external audiences. Specific references to the situation of the ethnically cleansed Palestinian Christian villages of Iqrith and Kufr Bir’im serve to highlight the reality that almost one-third of the Palestinian citizens of Israel were displaced from their homes in 1948 during the Nakba.

Perhaps one of the book’s most significant contributions is to have shown the extent to which Nakba affected not only the Palestinian people in general but Palestinian Christians in particular. The book records every Palestinian Christian community that was ethnically cleansed, thus bringing out, for the first time, since a long gap, a comprehensive list of churches that were closed by Israel. It also refers to the few Christian leaders worldwide who have spoken out about Palestinian Christians. The fate of those Palestinian Christian refugees is also discussed in the book describing, in particular, the ground realities of refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The book also highlights the contributions to the Palestinian national movement made by Palestinian Christians in western countries.

The consequences of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 are largely described with striking facts, including the effect of policies of annexation and colonial-settlement occupation in Palestinian Christian communities, particularly in the areas in and around Jerusalem. The role of Palestinian diplomacy in confronting such actions, particularly in the United Nations and at the International Court of Justice, as well as the US veto over almost every attempt at making the UN react, is explained. It is done in a way that also shows the consequences of western shielding of Israel in the daily reality of Palestinian Christians. The book presents Palestinian Christians as what they are: An integral part of the Palestinian people rather than a religious minority.

The differences between foreign heads of churches and their Palestinian congregations are also addressed. The book also acknowledges the role played by the Palestinian Christian clergy, who have become heroes, including people such as Latin Patriarch Michael Sabbah and Episcopal Bishop Elia Khoury, among others. Towards the end of the book, while describing some of the most painful memories in Palestinian history, including the Israeli siege of the Nativity Church, the importance President Yasser Arafat gave to the Christian component of Palestine, becomes evident.

The book certainly presents new findings. Hundreds of interviews conducted by the author over five years covering a wide range of people, from leaders to people who are rarely known, get reflected in this book. Thanks to the cooperation between the author and certain churches that agreed to open their archives for the benefit of this research, this book could give voice to a lot of people who played an important role in the modern history of Palestine, but ignored or underestimated by the vast majority of historians writing about modern history of Palestine. Here we can talk about the richness of the church archives that contain copious information about the daily life of different Christian communities. They shed as well much light on historical events in Palestine in general. This makes this research a precious one, with sources that were never used before. The book opens a new window on the importance of the archives of the churches, which could be very helpful in understanding the history of Palestine, mainly because of the theft of Palestinian archives by Israeli forces through the Nakba and the events after that.

This is certainly a must-read for anyone who would like not to simply limit his or her knowledge to the history of Palestinian Christians but to get into the context of almost a century of struggle for national liberation, equality, and return.

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