Couple share Palestinian Christian story
March 20, 2004
by Gayda Hollnagel
Palestinian Christians live and worship freely among their Muslim neighbors, say a Presbyterian missionary couple who lived and worked in a West Bank Palestinian community for 31/2 years.
"Their church is not a persecuted church," said the Rev. Marthame Sanders, a Presbyterian Church USA minister from Atlanta who with his wife, Elizabeth, spoke this week at churches in West Salem and La Crosse.
Marthame said Muslim and Christian Palestinians maintain good relationships and live and work closely together in their communities. He said many Americans have the idea the two groups are at odds because the Christians represent such a small minority of the total population in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Although Palestinian Christians were the first Christians and brought Christianity to the Western world, many people believe Palestinians became Christian as a result of evangelization by Western missionaries, Marthame Sanders said.
The Sanderses have attempted to tell the stories of the Christian Palestinians and the daily struggles they face as a result of the ongoing political and military conflict between Israel and Palestine through a video series that chronicles the lives of individuals. So far, six segments have been completed, they said.
The series, which the couple show as part of their presentations to churches and groups throughout the United States, is planned as a nine-part series for schools and church study groups, they said.
A huge problem for the Palestinians is the numerous Israeli checkpoints and barricaded areas within the West Bank that hinder free travel to schools and jobs, the couple said.
Elizabeth Sanders said there are 120 permanent Israeli checkpoints in
the West Bank and Gaza Strip, plus dozens of temporary barriers caused
by blown up roads or earthen and concrete barricades.
"It can take from two to eight to 11 hours" to get from one place to another, she said, "if you can get there at all. You can't even go some place that used to be 20 minutes away" without numerous detours.
The couple said the situation was much better when they arrived in the country in August 2000 but has deteriorated.
"It's not just harassment, many people have been killed trying to get on with their lives," Marthame Sanders said.
The couple said they also experienced threats and harassment when going about their work although not to the extent of the Palestinians.
The goal of the couple's sixth-month speaking tour is to educate American Christians about what is happening to the Palestinian Christians.
"We have an obligation to know about them as part of the body of Christ," Elizabeth Sanders said. "As fellow Christians, it's our duty to be in solidarity with Christians around the world."
Despite their sympathy for the Palestinian Christians, the Sanderses said they are not taking sides in the conflict. They said they believe there is blame on both sides. However, they said, they believe American government policy favors Israel.
"We don't want to come off as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel," Elizabeth Sanders said. "We want to be a prophetic voice seeking justice for all peoples."
The Sanderses have created a Web site, www.saltfilms.net, that includes a journal of their stay in the West Bank. The site also includes photos and other information related to the issues.