“We celebrate the birth of Jesus, a Palestinian messenger of love, justice and peace.”
These are the words of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, spoken in recognition of Christmas 2014, and reported in a Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) bulletin titled “PA: Jesus was a Palestinian” published on 12/28/14.
The claim that Jesus was a Palestinian is certainly startling news to traditional Christians who read the Scriptural account of Jesus’ birth every Christmas, but for Palestinians, this biblical revisionism is nothing new. Every year at Christmas time, Fatah and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials identify with Jesus as a Palestinian.
For example, Abbas’s adviser on religious and Islamic affairs and PA Supreme Sharia Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash states: “Christmas is also a Palestinian holiday, because Jesus, peace be upon him, was Palestinian. He was born in Palestine; lived and was sent (as prophet) to Palestine. Therefore, Christmas has a special Palestinian flavor.”
This outrageous assertion is made in spite of the fact that the biblical text identifies Jesus as the son of a Jewish mother and as a Jewish resident of Judea, who together with his parents celebrated Jewish festivals annually in Jerusalem.
This preposterous declaration is also made in spite of the reality that the geographical designation of “Palestine” did not exist during the lifetime of Jesus. It was years after Jesus’ death before the name of Judea was changed to “Palestina” by the occupying Roman Empire in its efforts to wipe out the history of the Jews in Judea.
But such certainties are blatantly disregarded for the sake of constructing a Palestinian narrative designed to delegitimize and demonize Israel. According to this story, Jesus was the first Palestinian martyr and the first Palestinian refugee. In other words, just as first century Jews persecuted Jesus, the Jewish State now persecutes Palestinians, the purported descendants of Jesus.
The exploitation of Christianity by the PA in its religious/political campaign against Israel reached new depths when Pope Francis visited Bethlehem in May 2014. As documented by PMW, the pope was treated to an art exhibit prepared especially for his arrival that modified classical Christian art in order to present Jesus as a suffering Palestinian martyr.
It is one thing for Muslim leaders to perpetrate this religious falsehood for their anti-Israel political purposes. However, it is quite another thing for Christian leaders to do the same. And yet, prominent figures such as Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, do just that.
In spite of the fact that the Bible he claims as authoritative contains the same Hebrew Scriptures Jesus knew and taught, Raheb teaches a form of replacement theology that eliminates the biblical history of Israel and Jews in the Land, and identifies Jesus as Palestinian.
Speaking at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem in 2010, Raheb said:
Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land. And this is not only because I’m a Palestinian. I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
This statement places Raheb and those who agree with him in the same camp as Palestinian Authority officials concerning the legitimacy of the Jewish State.
Abbas’ advisor, Al-Habbash, proclaimed in his televised weekly sermon on 12/12/14 that “All of this land will return to us, all our occupied land, all our rights in Palestine…adding, “In terms of resistance, all options are on the table…”
As Sharia Judge, Al-Habbash teaches that Islam prohibits accepting Israel’s existence because the “entire land of Palestine” is an inalienable religious endowment according to Islamic law.
As a judge of Sharia law, he forbids making peace with Israel.
These are the beliefs and positions concerning Israel that Christian Palestinian leaders identify with when they align themselves with Muslims through mutual delegitimization and demonization of Israel.
Many Muslims refuse to accept the existence of Israel based on Sharia law. Some Christians refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Jewish State based on unbiblical replacement theology.
And Muslims and Christians alike perpetuate their anti-Israel narrative of Palestinian victimhood through the denial of the Jewish Jesus and the creation of a Palestinian Jesus.
Western Christians need to be aware that when they hear appeals for support for suffering Palestinian Christians, the leaders promoting these appeals have rewritten the biblical text for religiously inspired political purposes.
Rather than ignore the fallacious narrative behind the appeals, Western Christians should hold their brethren in the Holy Land accountable to the biblical text as it is written.
This article was originally published in the February 2015 edition of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition.