Evangelical Group Visits the West Bank to Witness Life, and Christianity, in Palestine

A nun walks through the Hebron Road Checkpoint in Bethlehem, West Bank, on June 5, 2018. RNS photo by Dan Rabb
A nun walks through the Hebron Road Checkpoint in Bethlehem, West Bank, on June 5, 2018. RNS photo by Dan Rabb

Bassem and Nariman Tamimi’s squat but expansive one-story home of stucco and tile sits near the highest point of the dusty hilltop village of Nabi Saleh, in the Palestinian West Bank. Bassem Tamini was born here in 1967, a few weeks before the Six-Day War and the subsequent Israeli occupation. In the years since the home has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli rule.

Most weeks for the past decade, the Tamimis have protested what they say are encroachments on their land by a nearby Israeli settlement and the demolition of their village’s property by Israeli security forces.

These are often violent events, as Nabi Saleh has grown into a flashpoint for Palestinian nationalist passions. The protests have developed into a form of high-stakes political theater, with activists and photographers surrounding stone-throwing teenagers to document their clashes with the Israeli troops who inevitably arrive.

Members of the Tamimi family frequently end up in custody, injured or worse. They also appear on the news. Depending on one’s view of the larger Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Tamimis are either heroes of the populist Palestinian liberation movement or the epitome of reckless incitement and exploitive propaganda.

Nabi Saleh is the last place one might expect to find a group of evangelical Christians, a demographic known in Israel–Palestine for its enthusiastic support for Israel. But on this hot spring day, two busloads of evangelicals, mostly American, sit sweating in a semicircle among the scraggly olive trees in front of the Tamimis’ house.

The cohort was bused here as part of Christ at the Checkpoint, a five-day gathering of Western Christians organized by the West Bank’s tiny evangelical community. In its fifth iteration since 2010, the gathering brings hundreds of Western evangelicals to the town of Beit Jala for field trips and lectures. Attendees learn about the Palestinian narrative and the biblical and theological arguments against faith-based support for the Jewish state.

Evangelical tourism to the Holy Land is hardly unusual. An estimated 100,000 evangelical tourists traveled to Israel last year to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Many come to see where the Bible prophesies say the end of days will occur. Yet travel into the Palestinian territories is usually limited to day trips to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and a cordoned-off baptismal site on the Jordan River.

Buses of Christian tourists are waved quickly through checkpoints, and exposure to the military occupation, and to Palestinians themselves, is almost nonexistent. Many evangelical tours of Israel are explicitly designed to foster the bond between Christians and Jews, and to maintain evangelical support for Israel that has such significant influence in U.S. foreign policy.

To find a group of evangelicals, many with conservative political beliefs, sipping coffee and Fanta orange soda with a self-described “freedom fighter” in a remote West Bank village is, to say the least, unusual. Bassem Tamimi, a Muslim, looks on quizzically as the group raises their hands in prayer.

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SOURCE: Dan Rabb
Religion News Service