It’s been a brutal week for Palestinians in the city of peace.
As hardline Israeli groups prepared a provocative parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, Israeli security forces turned their guns on peaceful Palestinian protesters and worshipers performing Ramadan prayers at the Aqsa mosque, injuring hundreds in yet another brutal crackdown. Videos circulating on social media in recent days have shown Israeli police officers throwing stun grenades and shooting rubber bullets at Palestinians inside the mosque, attacking Palestinian worshippers with tear gas bombs, and viciously beating a Palestinian man in the mosque compound. Disturbing footage showed a group of Jewish ultranationalists dancing in celebration to the sight of flames leaping above the Aqsa mosque compound. Violence quickly spiraled across the country, threatening a civil war in the streets of Israel’s mixed cities, notably Lod, Ramla, Acre, Haifa, and Jaffa, where Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians, have managed a delicate coexistence for decades. Farther south, Israeli strikes in Gaza have killed more than 100 Palestinians, including children, and wounding 1000 others, while destroying multistory buildings and displacing hundreds of residents.
Once again, Israel has turned its celebrations of Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City, into an occasion to repress Palestinians, and remind the world that it is in fact, as a Human Rights Watch report acknowledged last week, an apartheid state.
An unshakable question has been clinging to the bottom of my shoe for all of twenty years now. As co-director and area supervisor for the Bethsaida Archaeology Project I have been actively involved in overseeing excavations and writing reports at the site generally accepted as the ancient Galilean village where Jesus of Nazareth called his first disciples; however, as an Orthodox Christian I am at a loss to explain why over the span of two decades, almost without exception I have encountered no Orthodox Christian archaeologists working in Palestine. As Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority confirms, “Indeed, the involvement of Orthodox Christians in the archaeology of the Holy Land has been limited.”
It should be clear that I am not talking about ecclesiastical oversight of pilgrimage and touristic sites on the part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, or the Russian Orthodox Church’s Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society. I am also not discounting the work of Orthodox biblical scholars who incorporate archaeological findings in their scholarship. I am referring to dedicated professionals and institutions who not only dig in the field, but publish archaeological reports and deliver their findings at professional conferences. Moreover, having led volunteers from Mexico, Germany, Austria, France, and Poland, apart from sponsoring two Romanian Orthodox volunteers from an archaeology class I teach at the University of Bucharest, I have never had a volunteer from an Orthodox-majority nation (although I realize that economic factors may be at play). It appears that Orthodox Christians worldwide exhibit significantly less interest in the material culture of the biblical world than western Christians. Having queried Orthodox clergy and laity on the topic, I find attitudes toward biblical archaeology to be largely positive or at least neutral, their collective response summed up along the lines of “generally interested, but not terribly so.” Continue reading →
Amid the growth of Islamist persecution in the last few years, a variety of think tanks and politicians have sought to bring the plight of Christians in the Middle East to the forefront of American politics. Amid such fervor, Israeli leaders have also claimed their role in the defense of Christians. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently told a Jerusalem gathering of over 180 Christian media representatives that Israel is the protector of the Christian people and “the only place in the Middle East” where Christians have “the freedom to worship as they please.” Together, he explained, Christians and Israel stand against Islamic fundamentalism. Indeed, many American Christians concur.
A likely reason why this media gathering, organized by Netanyahu’s Press Office, featured prominent Israeli officials and a visit to Israeli settlements, but no local Christian representatives nor visits to local Christian villages, is that most Christians of the Holy Land do not share the rosy view of the State of Israel that Netanyahu’s government wishes to promote. So why the disconnect? Continue reading →