Why does the Christian West ignore Palestinian Christians’ plight?

Israel may well wipe out Christian presence in Gaza as part of its genocide, and Western leaders would not care less.

Archbishop Alexios of Tiberias visits Saint Porphyrius Orthodox church in Gaza City, which was severely damaged in an Israeli airstrike on Thursday. At least 18 people were killed [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]
A funeral service is held at St Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza City for the people killed in an Israeli bombardment of the church complex on October 20, 2023 [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Since October 7, Israel and its allies have tried to put the war in Gaza within the “war on terror” framework, actively comparing Hamas to ISIS. Many who instinctively equate Palestinians with Muslims have indeed fallen for this false narrative.

But the brutal war Israel has waged on Gaza has not targeted “only terrorists” as it has claimed. Instead, it has massacred Palestinian Muslims as well as Palestinian Christians in what legal scholars agree amounts to genocide.

The Christian community in Gaza has lost at least 21 members so far. This may sound like a small number, but given they were only 1,000 before the war, these massacres threaten to eliminate the Christian presence in the strip for the first time in almost 2,000 years. Proportionally speaking, the death rate of Palestinian Christians is double that of the entire Palestinian population in Gaza.

And yet, the leaders of Christian-majority countries in the West have remained shockingly silent on the plight of Palestinian Christians. United States President Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, has said and done nothing to protect fellow Catholics in Gaza, who have also been targeted by the Israeli army.

This falls in line with decades of unwavering Western Christian support for the racist Israeli state, which has threatened the Christian presence in the holy lands for decades.

A history of Christians targeted

The Israeli onslaught against Palestinian Christians was taking place long before Hamas was even created. During the Nakba of 1948 when Jewish militias attacked Palestinian villages and towns, Palestinian Christians were targeted just like Palestinian Muslims.

Christian Palestinians were forced out from Lydda (what Israelis call today Lod). Many ended up taking refuge in Ramallah, walking dozens of kilometres on foot while trying to avoid the brutal Jewish militants.

In Jerusalem and other areas, Palestinians regardless of their faith were also expelled. Members of my own family – my dad, uncle and grandmother – had to flee for their lives. My aunt and her family who lived in the Musrara neighbourhood sought refuge near the Notre Dame Catholic Chapel, thinking they would be safe there, but a Jewish sniper shot and killed her husband, leaving her a widow with seven young children.

The terror and dispossession did not stop even after the state of Israel was established. For example, residents of the two predominantly Palestinian Christian villages of Iqrit and Biram, which at the end of the Arab-Israeli War fell within northern Israel, were forced out in November 1948. They were told they could return “within two weeks”, but the Israeli state never allowed them to.

In the following decades, the Palestinian Christians who remained within the territory Israel claimed faced the same apartheid regime that Palestinian Muslims did. They have been subjected to about 65 racist laws that deprive them of the same rights as Jewish citizens of Israel, according to research done by the Haifa-based Adalah NGO.

One of the earliest of these laws was the 1950 Law of Return, which enshrined the right of Jews to come to Israel, settle and automatically receive citizenship. It denied the same right to the expelled indigenous Palestinian population despite the fact that the United Nations had decreed in Resolution 194 that Palestinian should be allowed to return to their homeland and be compensated for the loss of their homes.

More recently, the Knesset approved the Nation State Bill in 2018, which formally declares Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, thus further solidifying the legal iteration of Jewish supremacy. This emboldened even more the extremist elements within Israeli society and encouraged even more anti-Palestinian violence.

Incidents of Jewish extremists harassing and intimidating Palestinian Christians, spitting on them and attacking their processions have spiked. Christian properties, including churches and cemeteries, have been targeted.

Just days before Hamas’s October 7 attacks in southern Israel, a group of Jewish men and boys harassed a Christian procession carrying a cross, viciously spitting on them. A video of the incident went viral and caused international outrage, but clearly not among Western leaders. Repeated appeals from Christian church leaders for action on Jewish Israeli violence have fallen on deaf ears for years.

Western silence on Palestinian Christians’ plight

On October 17, just days after launching its brutal war on Gaza, Israel bombed the courtyard of the Christian-run Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, killing hundreds of people who had sought shelter there from its bombardment. The Israeli propaganda machine tried to blame the attack on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but subsequent investigations confirmed that the “evidence” it had produced was fabricated.

Two days later, the Israeli army bombed the nearby Church of St Porphyrius, the world’s third oldest church, killing at least 18 people.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which runs the church, said many of those inside at the time were women and children. “Targeting churches and their institutions, in addition to the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens … constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored,” it said in a statement .

But the targeting of Palestinian Christians continued. On December 16, two Palestinian women who had taken refuge in the Holy Family Catholic church in Gaza City were shot dead by an Israeli sniper. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said the two women were “shot in cold blood” while Pope Francis condemned the murder during his weekly Sunday homily.

British MP Layla Moran, who has relatives trapped in the same church, has said they have witnessed the Israeli army use white phosphorus against its compound in addition to targeting its solar panels, water tanks and generators, making life incredibly difficult for those taking shelter there.

Over the past 80 days of war, Christian Palestinians have not stopped appealing to the world to take note of their plight and the plight of all Palestinians and take action to stop the genocide.

A Palestinian Catholic mother published an appeal to Biden, calling on him to base his policies on his moral beliefs. “We are not children of a lesser God, Mr. President, we are the Palestinian Christians of the holy land where the message of love peace, and justice started, and we call upon you to stop this Genocide.”

Leaders of the Palestinian Christian community also sent an open letter to Western church leaders and theologians in which they challenged “western theologians and church leaders who have voiced uncritical support for Israel and [called on] them to repent and change”.

Unfortunately, these appeals have been completely ignored.

Biden and other leaders of Western Christian-majority nations have demonstrated remarkable disregard for Palestinian lives – both Muslim and Christian. The US has repeatedly voted against ceasefire resolutions at the UN Security Council and blocked any attempts to pressure Israel to stop slaughtering Palestinians or even to marginally criticize it.

Biden and his administration have indeed treated us, Palestinian Christians, as the children of a lesser God. He and other Western leaders who have backed Israel are fully responsible for the genocide of the Palestinian people. What they have done will not be forgotten.

Today we are not celebrating Christmas. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is also not celebrating. All festivities have been cancelled as Palestinian Christians mourn the victims of the Israeli genocide.

What gives many hope in this dark time is the fact that despite Israeli brutality and Western silence, Muslim and Christian Palestinians stand as a united front. Israel has long deployed the divide and rule tactic on us, but in the past two months and a half, we have demonstrated that our unity is stronger than ever in the face of Israeli colonial violence and racism.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.