At Christmas time the thoughts of Christians all over the world naturally turn to the land where Christ was born and taught and died. The story of Bethlehem is perhaps the most beautiful story ever told, as the picture of the worshipping shepherds is perhaps the most familiar of pictures. At Christmas time Palestine is indeed the Holy Land.
It is natural, therefore, that, in considering the future of Palestine, Christian leaders should insist that they as well as Jews and Moslems have intimate and sacred interests in the country that cannot be ignored. This fact has always been fully recognised by the Zionists and there is certainly no reason to fear that any hindrance to Christian worship or any interference with the hallowed Christian shrines could result from an increased Jewish immigration.
The native Christian population of Palestine is 8 per cent of the total population and 10 per cent of the Arabic-speaking peoples. More than half are members of the Orthodox Church which is under the jurisdiction of a Greek, not an Arab, Patriarch. According to Cardinal Hinsley there are between 40,000 and 50,000 Arabs in communion with Rome. The number has considerably increased in recent years, the Roman Church having attracted many converts from the Orthodox. A few hundred Arabs belong to the Anglican Church and various Protestant bodies.
In addition to these native Christians there are many foreign religious centres in Palestine. In the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre Greeks, Latins, Armenians, Syrians and Copts have their altars and the right to worship. There is a particularly lovely Armenian Cathedral in Jerusalem. There are many religious houses, Italian Franciscans, French White Fathers, Greek monks and Latin nuns and soon there is to be a settlement of Anglican Religious in Ain-Karin.
Generally these settlements have little if any contact with the life of the country. The Anglican Bishop is concerned mainly with the English speaking population. There is little attempt at proselytising in Palestine and the little has practically no result.
From the Christian point of view, therefore, there are two different matters to consider, the welfare of the native Christian population and the sacred association with the country universally cherished by Christians.
On the whole the Christian Arabs have supported the demand for the suppression of Jewish immigration and the abandonment of the National Home policy. But they have suffered severely from the campaign of violence. Some of their leaders who three years ago were associated with the exMufti are now in voluntary exile, fearing for their lives. In a recent speech, Cardinal Hinsley said that the Christian Arabs “felt that they were being robbed if others were given their lands or were given an opportunity of buying them out of their lands.” The Cardinal was obviously misinformed. There is no compulsion to sell land, but there surely is no grievance in a purchaser offering to buy! The legend that the Arab is being pushed off his land by the immigrant Jew is entirely untrue, but in common with other useful untruths it will doubtless continue to be repeated.
The truth is that the Christian Arab, who is culturally generations ahead of the Moslem, has everything to gain from the economic progress resulting from Jewish energy and Jewish capital, and everything to lose from the continuance of crime and disorder. Whatever future political developments may be, his interests will be guarded by the Mandatory Power and he can always count on the powerful interests of Christendom. In a Moslem controlled country he would be subject to the same persecution which is still being suffered by the Assyrian Christians in Iraq.
As for the non-Palestinian Christians, while the religious association will never be disregarded, it is not to be accepted that Palestine is or can be only a religious museum. Christ had his home in Nazareth. As a boy He worked in St. Joseph’s carpenter’s shop. At the beginning of His mission He was a wedding guest at Canaan. Palestine has again become the homeland of the race to which Christ belonged. Christians are surely honouring His memory in the spirit of His teaching when they demand that the largest possible number of His people should find freedom and shelter in the land of their fathers.
There is something sadly ironic this year in the Bethlehem message, “Peace on earth, good will toward men!” Good will? In Berlin, in Vienna, in Warsaw! But there could be both peace and good will in Palestine. As we have continually asserted, the Jewish National Home can grow and develop not only without incidental damage to the Arabs but to their material and cultural advantage. The creation of a bi-racial nation under British tutelage and greatly to Great Britain’s economic and strategic advantage is not beyond the capacity of a courageous, and we would add a Christian, statesmanship, Christian because in such a nation there would be an assured resting place for the weary and rejected, hope for the hopeless, a home for the homeless, a full life and not a living death.