Last week marked 64 years of the Palestinian ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe. In other words, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Following a transaction between a handful of bankrupt British imperialists and influential Zionist Jews close to a million Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes to give way to Jewish migrants from Europe. The years that followed have been devastating.
Millions of Palestinians continue to live as refugees all around the world today. Many of them still hold the keys and deeds to their family homes, waiting for the day when UN Resolution 194 is honoured—where “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.
The truth is Arabs who were forced out of their homes were not only Muslims. Many were Christians. Associate Professor Sabella from Bethlehem University in Palestine estimates about 400,000 or roughly 6.5 percent of all Palestinians worldwide today are Christian. According to his study, more than 50 percent of Palestinian Christians are found outside of Palestine.
Sabella further states that Palestinian Christians were an integral part of the Intifada movement. He describes Muslim-Christian relations in Palestine as “excellent” and the primary reason for that being “the modem history of Palestine with the Arab-Israeli conflict affecting the entire population equally, with the experience of dispersal and loss of homeland”. Not many in Malaysia are really aware of this.
In an effort to increase awareness in this region as well as to offer another common good by which Muslims and Christians can stand in camaraderie, Just (Malaysia) and Peace for Life (Philippines) co-organised a seminar titled “Muslim-Christian solidarity on Palestine”. In the two-day programme the organisers slotted a session for a Muslim and Christian representative from Malaysia to share their views.
That session was a stark reminder that many members of Muslim and Christian groups in Malaysia, including their leaders, are poorly acquainted with the issue of Palestine. It was also a sad display of Muslim-Christian relations here at home.
Adam Ibrahim, the Honorary Secretary of Research & Information Centre on Islam (RICOI) and Executive Committee member of the Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs (ACCIN) spoke as a representative of the Muslim religious community. The Christian community was represented by Reverend Hermen Shastri, General Secretary of the Malaysian Council of Churches.
There was barely any interaction between the two speakers throughout the session and their body language spoke volumes. Adam’s contribution to the discussion on Muslim-Christian solidarity on Palestine was to speak about the stumbling block between Muslims and Christians in Malaysia, that is the burning suspicion that one group is constantly trying to convert members of the other group. His prime example was a story on his encounter with Christian proselytisation, and nothing much on Muslim dakwah activities in the country.
Reverend Hermen Shastri on the other hand claimed that the greatest barrier for Christians in Malaysia to empathise with Palestinians is the government’s unwillingness to recognise and have diplomatic relations with Israel.
This, he said, makes visitation to Christian holy sites in occupied Palestine problematic. Interesting that he should say this when many Malaysians, especially Christian pilgrims, have been granted access to these territories by the Israeli regime via special visas. It took a South African anti-Apartheid academic to tell him that Malaysia’s greatest contribution to Palestine is precisely her principled unwillingness to recognise Israel as a legitimate state.
If this is the level of discourse for religious groups in Malaysia, then the project for Muslim-Christian solidarity on Palestine still has quite a way to go.