By Ghassan J. Tarazi
This current horrific and deadly confrontation between Israel’s powerful military and Palestinian resistance is a vivid example of reality versus propaganda. Listening to the drone of media describing the heart-breaking situation in Gaza is not enough. In addition, as a Palestinian American Christian with deep roots in Gaza, I don’t hear my story in any of the narratives.
There is little doubt that the Tarazi family goes further back than 1755, which begins our written family tree. This family tree is based on baptismal records in Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza City. Archeologists have determined this church was built during the early 400s. Miraculously, it still stands on its original foundation. That’s more than 1,622 years. It is one of the oldest still-active Christian churches in the world.
Throughout the centuries, the faithful Christians of this church have withstood the assaults of the Holy Roman Catholic Crusaders, the ongoing siege and devastating assaults of Israeli’s military and the deafening silence and apathy of Christians around the world.
To begin my story, there are two words I need to define.
Mizrahi Jews are local to Palestine going back to biblical times and are still found in Palestine and Israel today. Mizrahi Jews identify themselves as a separate religious subgroup and naturally intermingle culturally with Muslims and Christians in Palestine, and they intermarried with non-Jews. They are physically, ethnically and nationally the same as non-Jewish Palestinians. DNA studies have found links between Mizrahi Jews, Christians and Muslims of Palestine.
Ashkenazi Jews are a Jewish population that converted to Judaism during the end of the first century and coalesced as a community in Eastern Europe, where they became a distinct Jewish community. Their language is Yiddish, a derivation of the languages in their homeland. The pogroms and hateful antisemitism in Eastern Europe drove the Ashkenazi Jews out of their homeland and they finally settled in Palestine and what became Israel.
After World War I, the British took control of Palestine under what is called the British Mandate. During that time, my family moved to Jerusalem. Palestinian Christians, Muslims and Mizrahi Jews were educated together in English by the British. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. World War II ended the British Mandate. The Zionist State of Israel was created by the European Ashkenazi Jews in 1948 with a blitzkrieg-like march through Palestine. The occupation of Palestine was about to start.
During Israel’s creation in 1948, their military expropriated about 4.2 million acres of Palestinian land. In the process, more than 400 Palestinian cities and towns were systematically destroyed by Israeli forces and/or repopulated with Ashkenazi Jews.
“The Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade is a denial of basic human rights and amounts to collective punishment.”
Currently, as Israel’s occupation evolves, the population of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now living in an open-air prison. Many of them are “refugees,” forced to leave their homes in what was becoming Israel and being expelled into Gaza. In addition, the Israeli-imposed Gaza blockade is a denial of basic human rights and amounts to collective punishment. It severely restricts imports and exports, as well as the movement of people in and out of Gaza, denying them access to agricultural land within Gaza and fishing waters off their coast.
In addition to this air-tight blockade of Gaza, Israel has periodically attacked them with the deadliest war machinery, destroying their infrastructure including their electric generators, clean water supply and other vital services. These military incursions also have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed thousands of homes. Israel does not permit the equipment, materials and supplies needed for repairing the destruction to enter Gaza. And now Israel has completely cut off water, food and electricity. In addition, Israeli drones are constantly heard flying over many communities in the Gaza Strip. Gazans know that at any moment Israel can drop bombs adding to the death and destruction Gazans daily face.
This is total occupation.
My wife and I have taken three pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine along with members of our church. We have seen and experienced the occupation of Palestine firsthand. Here are brief descriptions of what we have seen and experienced.
On our trip in 2009, my passport was taken from me at customs, and I was taken to an interrogation room where I was identified as a threat to Israel because I am a Palestinian with Gazan roots. I was asked the same questions by three different interrogators for four hours. My wife never knew where I was. The interrogators repeatedly threatened to send me back to the United States at my expense. Finally, they permitted me to rejoin my wife and party. But they said I never would be permitted to enter Israel again.
Israel has gone to great lengths to isolate Palestinians. Israel’s huge concrete separation barrier snakes around and through Palestinian communities to keep them separated. This barrier is expected to reach at least 403 miles in length and is 25 feet high. The United Nations has declared the separation barrier illegal under international law. But Israel continues to build it.
“The United Nations has declared the separation barrier illegal under international law. But Israel continues to build it.”
There are 593 Israeli military checkpoints and roadblocks, and there are “Jews only” highways scattered throughout the West Bank, controlling the movement of Palestinians in their own land. The checkpoints also control the movement of about 100,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank and working in Israel.
As of 2022, there are 200 illegal Israeli colonies built on stolen land in the Palestinian West Bank, including 12 in East Jerusalem, which have a population of almost 620,000 Israeli Jews.
Mercilessly, Israel has destroyed more than 53,000 Palestinian homes within the West Bank, leaving more than 265,000 men, women and children homeless — within their own homeland.
This reality can only be called occupation.
Israel has stolen more Palestinian land; separated Palestinians within their own cities and villages — very similar to South Africa’s Bantustans — and effectively taken political control of Palestine, making the Palestinian government impotent.
This occupation must stop.
How can Palestinians resist this occupation? We have seen that violence is an ineffective resistance desperate victims use. My Palestinian brothers and sisters who were born into this Israeli-created and re-enforced occupation cannot be blamed alone. Putting Palestinians in this occupation is Israel’s crime.
“I am a follower of that first-century Palestinian Jew, who spoke truth to power and was hung on a Roman cross.”
Resistance must include speaking truth to power. I am a follower of that first-century Palestinian Jew, who spoke truth to power and was hung on a Roman cross. This is a challenge for Christians and Christian communities today. The resistance to Israel’s occupation must also come from followers of Jesus.
As a Palestinian Christian who is a Baptist and a member of the Alliance of Baptists, I am inviting you to be a part of resisting Israel’s occupation. The Alliance and our church have voted to call Israel an apartheid state. In this statement, 1) we affirm our commitment to freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people and all people; 2) we oppose all forms of racism, bigotry, discrimination, and oppression, 3) we declare ourselves an apartheid-free community; and 4) we pledge to join others in working to end all support to Israel’s apartheid regime, settler colonialism and military occupation. I invite you to take this pledge and work to bring Israel’s occupation to an end.
The resistance must include followers of Jesus. Together we will resist Israel’s occupation more effectively.
Ghassan J. Tarazi is a retired educator and member of Ravensworth Baptist Church in Annandale, Va. He serves with the Justice in Palestine and Israel Community of the Alliance of Baptists. This article was first published in Baptist News Global on October 15, 2023 and is published here with permission. See baptistnews.com for other articles.