By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service
(ANS-JERUSALEM, ISRAEL, Jan.23, 2015) – Palestinian Christians were among scholars, practitioners, and researchers gathered together at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a two-day conference on Palestinian Christian Identity in Israel: New Trends of Research.
According to Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation (www.musalaha.org), the conference explored what is happening in Palestinian Christian identity in light of living among Palestinian Muslim and Jewish Israeli majorities.
Musalaha said several lectures stood out during the two-day event.
A spokesman for the ministry said: “One highlight for me was seeing the new generation of female and male scholars studying Palestinian Christian identity from different angles. In the past, the topic was primarily studied by international scholars and within a historical, theological, or political framework. We now see a new approach from the social science perspective that also deals with the complexity of the Christian identity. This is the first time Palestinian Christian identity has been addressed on an academic level and that in itself is a great achievement.”
The spokesman said: “It is very clear that Palestinian Christian identity has become a very distinct identity, but there are a number of segments or layers that this identity is comprised of, and each one of these layers is inter-woven together forming a distinct Palestinian Christian’s Identity.”
Professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University presented several major findings on voting patterns. Today, Palestinian Christian voting patterns in Israel resemble that of Palestinian Muslims. His assessment showed that they are affected by two major factors: one, their leadership will not break away from the majority – the Muslim leadership; and two, from the other side, Israel defines itself as a State of the Jews. While Israel wants Palestinian Christians to be further assimilated into the State, the character of the State of Israel as an ethnic-religious Jewish state prevents assimilation of Palestinian Christians into a majority Jewish society.
Musalaha reported that other scholars indicated the tendency for Palestinian Christians in Israel to separate themselves from both majority communities. “One reason has been the increase in national religious parties of both Muslims and Jews in recent years, which is drastically different than what we saw in the early 1990s. Palestinian Christians have also perceived that Israeli Jews are not adhering to western values, and with an increase in religious identification, it has become more difficult to integrate into Israeli Jewish society.”
The spokesman continued: “ We were honored to have His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem share with us his vision for Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. His words were received with much sensitivity by all parties as he shared his heart and the challenges the Palestinian Christian community in Israel faces. Jewish and Palestinian scholars were grateful to discuss and engage with him, and it helped many, especially the Jewish scholars, overcome many misperceptions they had of the Palestinian Christian community.”
The spokesman concluded: “We have also found that in the work of reconciliation and bridging communities, people change their perceptions based on the quality of their interaction and not only the frequency of their interaction.”
The conference was sponsored by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation, and the Center for the Study of Christianity, and organized by Professor Gabriel Horenczyk, Dr. Merav Mack, and Professor Salim J. Munayer.