“There is a reason why God created me as a Palestinian Christian. I had opportunities to go abroad but I will stay in this country to fight the evil with good, with love, with education, with forgiveness and reconciliation. My purpose is here not abroad.” – Ashraf Tannous
The purpose of being a Palestinian Christian
Last week I met with Ashraf Tannous, 24, Palestinian Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the old city of Jerusalem.
Entering though the doorgate into the quiet inner courtyard of the Church of the Redeemer, we leave the marketeers, the tourists and the buzzy life of the old city behind us. Ashraf serves me arabic coffee than he starts to tell me about the situation of Palestinians and Palestinian Christians in general, and his own story in particular.
Multiple identities – united under occupation
Grown up in Ramallah as the child of Palestinian Christians who had to refuge from the Israeli army in 1948, Ashraf naturaly developed an identity which encorparates life under occupation, the belonging to the Palestinian people and his deep rooted Christian faith.
Unlike the common view from the western world Ashraf describes the relationship between the Muslim and Christian community in Palestine as one of mutual respect and acceptance. Christian and Muslim Palestinians likewise suffer under the occupation.
And he stresses that the Christian faith and church emerged from Palestine and there was always a lively Christian community in the area. Only the “lack of work, of freedom, of safety because of the occupation” had brought many Christians to migrate, leaving a minority of about 1% Christians in the region. Still Ashraf sees this minority as being a very active one, “being the salt of the society” by providing hospitals, schools and other fascilities as well as a worldwide voice to speak up against human rights violations.
“… from my mothers womb”
Asked when he as a child realized the political and military struggles for the first time, Ashraf is reflecting for a while then thoughtfull answering: “It is a good question. I do not know. It is like, I know the occupation from my mothers womb.”
The refugee story of his family, experiences of neighboors, the constant presence of the military, movement and building restrictions – “It seems like”, Ashraf continues, “the occupation is everywhere. Unfortunately we got used to it.”
“1 minute to 3 hours” – the checkpoints
Today, living in Ramallah, working in Jerusalem, Ashrafs life is especially affected by the checkpoint system and movement regulations imposed on Palestinians working in Israel or even just travelling through the West Bank. Each morning he has to cross Qalandia, the main checkpoint in the north of Jerusalem. And it takes him “between one minute and three hours” to get through it. It is not predictable before.
The situation at the checkpoint is especially difficult in the early morning hours when hundrets of Palestinian workers want go to Jerusalem and on the Fridays during Ramadan, when Muslims throughout the West Bank seek to pray on Al-haram Al-qudsī Ash-Sharīf with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
People regular face humiliating situations at checkpoints. Not only when they have to wait for hours before crossing because lines are closed or to many people waiting. They also have to deal with intimidating interrogating or screenings, screaming soldiers and offensive comments.
With education and information – civil resistance
Having to cross the checkpoint, getting screened, this even “becomes part of your identity”, Ashraf says. It is a constant struggle, but at the same time he can feel a purpose in taking up this struggle.”When I am at the checkpoint, I can feel God working within me. It gives me power to endure. God is in me, helping me, calming me, giving me patience. He prevents me from hatred and then helps me to do what is my work.”
Instead of getting angry and developing hatred Ashraf strives to resist by peacefull means. Instead of throwing stones or using guns “we are using a much more powerful weapon: education and information.” Aiming to fight the evil in the tradition of Christian non-violent resistence with “good, with love, with education, with forgiveness and reconciliation”, Ashraf finds it important to raise the level of education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and at the same time to inform people worldwide about the situation and “bringing people from abroad” to provide them with first hand experiences.
A call for Palestinians as well as people and Christians worldwide
Ashraf is with 24 years still young and at the begin of his career. He is engaged in the international work of his church community and will stay in Switzerland and Germany in the near future. Even so he already had the opportunity to work abroad he refused to leave the country, saying “money is not what is importan to me … my purpose is to be here with my people and not abroad.”
As Ashraf sees it, there is a special call for the Christian Churches in Palestine and abroad. A special call in the first place to support the Palestinians and especially young Palestinians facing restrictions and oppression. “The young people are bored and have few opportunities … the church should help them to have a good life and to cope with the situation.”
To support young Palestinians Ashraf engages in youth exchange programs, bringing youths from Palestine to Germany or other European countries, and on the other hand youths from these countries to Palestine. So these programs also serve the goal to educate and inform people about the situation.
As Ashraf puts it there is also a special responsibility for the Church to speak up with its “worldwide voice” and he calls on Christians to get engage, to show solidarity and to get to know to the situation on the ground. “Come, visit us, taste and see. Visit Palestine and the West Bank not only Israel. Live for a few days like a Palestinian and suffer with us.”
Not as Jews, Muslims or Christians – as people
At the end, Ashraf emphasizes, we should “see people as people not as Jews, Muslims or Christians.” The Jesus that he found in the Bibel “is opening his arms to everyone – ‘there is neither Jew, nor Greek, nor Gentile.’ (cf. Letter to the Romans 10,12)” And to Ashrafs view he is representing a “God of unlimited love” and at the same time “a God of rigtheosness”, siding with the oppressed.