November 2-9, 2006
“The Forgotten Faithful: A Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land.”
Palestinian Christians are the offspring of those first disciples and apostles whom Jesus called and who followed him. They are the offspring of those who, on the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago, experienced the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and responded to the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet Palestinian Christians of today’s Holy Land are painfully aware of their declining numbers. Virtually all Palestinian Christian families have one or more members living abroad. In 1949, according to the Statistical Abstract of Israel, Christians made up 21.3% of the total population. Today they comprise less than 2%. Worsening economic, political, educational, and social conditions prompt many Christians to consider joining those who have already fled their homeland.
In light of this reality, Sabeel entitled its Sixth International Conference held November 2 – 9, 2006, “The Forgotten Faithful: A Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land.”
Prior to the Conference, Sabeel received a generous grant from Diakonia, a Swedish agency funded by 5 churches, to commission a sample survey of 1500 Christian families representing the approximately 50,000 Palestinian Christians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as the approximately 110,000 Palestinian Christians living in Israel. Unfortunately, conditions in Gaza prevented including in the Survey the approximately 3,000 Christians there.
The Sabeel Survey on Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Israel was supervised by sociologist Dr. Bernard Sabella, a long time friend and supporter of Sabeel. University Lecturers Romell Soudah and Walid Atallah and Father Jamal Khader, all of Bethlehem University, directed the graduate students from Bethlehem University who gathered the data, which was analyzed by Dr. Sabella and Mr. Soudah. The results of the Survey were presented at the Sabeel Conference in November, 2006, and are available from Sabeel in print form both in Arabic and English as well as electronically on the Sabeel website: www.sabeel.org
The conference itself had two goals:
1. Opportunity for international Christians to share in the lives of Palestinian Christians by visiting their churches and communities and by interacting in various locales during the Conference. Thus, the Conference held sessions in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nazareth enabling participation by many Palestinian Christians.
2. Educating participants about the history and current realities of Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land and clarification of the role of Palestinian Christians in peacemaking and seeking to shape a just and sustainable society in the future. Conference worship services, lectures, panel discussions, and cultural presentations thus conveyed:
• The rich diversity of Christianity both historically and currently through the participation of all of the Leaders of the Churches in the Holy Land.
• The differing experiences of Christians who are Israeli citizens from the experiences of those who live under Occupation.
• The impact of Occupation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza on all Palestinians and the relationship of Christians and Muslims who share these difficult conditions.
• The tradition of pilgrimage and the importance of cultural context in Biblical interpretation and worship in sustaining the faith of local Christians.
Presentations on these and related topics are collected in the present volume.
Many fear the time when there will be pilgrimages to the “dead stones” of traditional Holy Sites but no “living stones” witnessing to the message of Jesus in the place of his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. However, Palestinian Christians of all denominations are called to live out Jesus’ message of peace in his homeland, not a false peace based on militarism and power but a true peace based on non-violence, justice and equity for all the peoples of the land. As we Palestinian Christians struggle to remain in our homeland and to witness to our faith, may we be strengthened not only by our hope in God but by the prayers and advocacy of Christians throughout the world.