"We feel so helpless..."

Palestinian Christians share what they want Western Christians to know about the conflict in Palestine and Israel

A crowd searches the crater of a destroyed building at night

In Bethlehem, which resides in the West Bank, Palestinian Christian leaders have canceled all Christmas and Advent festivities this year in solidarity with the Palestinians living through the siege in Gaza. A season that is the source of great joy for some, celebrating the birth of Jesus, will be instead marked with immense grief and despair this year in the very place where he was born.

Palestinian Christians trace their history to the very origins of the Christian church 2,000 years ago. Their ancestors have lived on the land ever since, while others migrated to the land over the centuries. Today, Palestinian Christians make up only a small percentage of Palestine and Israel, somewhere between one and three percent, but they are nonetheless the lifeblood of the Christian church in this part of the world.

baby Jesus lying in the rubble
The nativity scene at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, West Bank, depicts Jesus born in a pile of rubble. (Photo courtesy of Munther Isaac) 

As the fighting continues and the death toll continues to climb in Palestine and Israel, MCC connected with pastors and partners to ask what they would want Christians in Canada, the U.S. and rest of the world to know about the realities that Palestinian Christians are facing.

The Rev. Ashraf Tannous is from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Beit Jala, just outside Bethlehem. He says there should be a deep, connected unity to the Christian church in times like these.

“I want to remind everyone, and especially the Christians all over the world, that we are all praying the Lord’s prayer,” says Tannous. “The first words, we say, ‘Our father,’ This means that the moment we say, ‘Our father,’ there are relationships created. We are the children of God. We are brothers and sisters.”

In late October, the Church of Saint Porphyrius, a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City believed to be the third-oldest active church in the world, was impacted by a series of airstrikes. Sixteen Palestinians were killed in that attack, with dozens more injured, leaving those seeking shelter unsure if even places of worship would offer the safety they are desperate for.

Milade Thalgieh (pictured in 2001) lights a candle in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, West Bank, Palestine weeks after his brother Johnny, 17, who wanted to be a priest, was shot and killed while
In 2001, Milade Thalgieh lights a candle in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, West Bank, weeks after his brother Johnny, 17, who wanted to be a priest, was shot and killed while returning from afternoon prayers. (MCC photo/Matthew Lester (2001))

Pastor Sally Azar is a pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. She says even though Christians make up a small percentage of Palestinians, prayer is not about numbers.

“We Palestinian Christians here in the Holy Land, we're quite far away from a lot of places of the world, but people forget that we as Christians exist,” she says. “And people forget that we, as a Christian community, have been here for over 2,000 years. I ask you all to pray for us here in this land, in this part of the world, that we have the patience and endurance to bear it all; to pray that we feel seen and to pray for a peaceful place to live in, a place where we can all coexist as one church.”

Omar Haramy is the director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an MCC partner in Jerusalem. He says as the fighting has gone on, and he and his community have watched the death toll rise past 20,000, it is increasingly hard to feel hopeful for peace.

“When we go to church in Jerusalem, so much is happening in our minds and our hearts,” says Haramy. “Do we pray for the soldiers standing at the corner? Do we pray for the Palestinian students? Do we pray for ourselves and our communities? Do we pray for the international community that everybody contributes to doing peace rather than contributing to conflict? We do pray, we do ask God to help us. But God is not answering.”

Azar shared a similar sentiment, saying “You see [on social media], these people have died from my family, and you feel like ‘What can we do?’ We feel so helpless in that sense.”

A female pastor on a video conference call
Pastor Sally Azar is a pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, seen here on a video call with MCC staff. (MCC photo)

Tannous shared what he has been praying for in hopes of encouraging Christians all across the world to join him in faith and in action.

“I pray that there will be enough people to shout and be the voice of the voiceless. I pray for mercy. I pray as Jesus said: blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called the children of God. I pray that the whole world would recognize us as Palestinians here. That we are the descendants of Jesus. We are the people of this land. I pray that peace may prevail. I pray that love may prevail. And I pray that people may feel our suffering and act accordingly.”

Palestine and Israel are MCC countries of sensitivity. While this photo has been vetted and may be used without further checking, please consult the MCC content vetting guidelines when communicating
In 2016, parishioners attend a Sunday morning service at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour, West Bank, where Rev. Ashraf Tannous was then pastor. Some people consider Beit Sahour to be the birthplace of Christianity. The city’s name — depending on the original language — refers either to the shepherds or the wise men in the biblical Christmas story. (MCC photo/Emily Loewen (2016))

MCC’s response in Palestine and Israel is currently focused on the humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip, distributing food baskets and emergency bedding to vulnerable families. MCC’s partners are responding as they are able, despite the highly dangerous conditions.

To take advocacy action for the Gaza crisis, write your member of Congress or member of Parliament or join Mennonite Action.

Top photo caption: People inspect the area at the Greek Orthodox Church after an Israeli attack in Gaza City, Gaza on Oct. 20, 2023. At least two women have been killed and many other people have been injured in the attack, the Palestinian news agency WAFA said Thursday. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)