In the wake of the controversy over last week's 60 Minutes episode on Palestinian Christians, the Israeli website 972 today runs an illuminating post by a Palestinian Christian, Philip Farah. On the question of whether Christians are being driven out of the occupied territory by Islamic radicals or by Israeli policies, Farah writes:
Palestinian Christians are, indeed, worried about the militancy of extremists who cloak themselves in distorted Islamic rhetoric. Yet, the majority of Palestinian Muslims and Christians have chosen peaceful resistance. To say that Hamas is the cause of the declining Christian population in the occupied Palestinian territories is standing the truth on its head.
Our people are fleeing their homeland because the Israelis are confiscating the land of Palestinians -- Muslims and Christians alike -- to build Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall which is ghettoizing many Palestinian communities. Palestinian Christians are leaving because of Israeli checkpoints and barriers that severely restrict the freedom of movement of Palestinians, destroying their economy and preventing their access to their holy places in Jerusalem. They are leaving because Israel diverts Palestinian water resources in a way that gives illegal Jewish settlements the right to enjoy swimming pools while the fields of Palestinian farmers next door go fallow for lack of water.
This testimony meshes with the one piece of evidence on this issue that I got first-hand. During a trip to Israel and the West Bank last summer, the group I was with visited a Palestinian brewery in the village of Taybeh. After touring the brewery, before getting back on the bus, a few of us were chatting with a Palestinian woman who was one of the brewery's proprietors. Small talk about how her business was doing led her into a pretty intense discussion of the occupation. She didn't deliver a political rant--she didn't talk about Palestinians lacking the right to vote or due process of law. She just talked about how her brewery couldn't count on the things an American-based company would take for granted--consistent access to water, electrical power, etc.--because these were under the control of Israelis who didn't seem very attentive to the needs of Palestinians.
But however mundane her critique, it was no less animated for that. And after watching this articulate, forceful testimony from a Palestinian woman with a cross around her neck, I said to a traveling companion something to the effect that, if you could get this woman on American TV, that could change some American opinions about the Palestinian predicament. I think that's one reason the Israeli government was so concerned about the 60 Minutes broadcast: It provided first-hand testimony about the grim reality of the Israeli occupation from people large numbers of Americans might actually believe.