Adapted from Grace Al-Zoughbi Arteen, “A Palestinian Reflection on Overcoming Injustice: Seeking a Christ-like Response in Matthew and Luke,” in Social Injustice, Volume II: Evangelical Voices in Tumultuous Times. Ephesiology Press, 2021.
I was just seventeen years old when one morning at 2am I finally arrived at my own home in Bethlehem, laid my head on the pillow and thought to myself: “We must be the most humiliated people in the world!” It was not a pleasant thought, but this experience of returning home from overseas was a particularly difficult one for me.
You may know that, as Palestinians traveling in or to Israel or the Palestinian Territories, we do not have access to “normal” travelling routes. This is true when we travel by road, as well as by air! Although I live a mere 45 minutes’ drive from the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, Palestinians are not allowed to use this airport for outgoing or incoming flights except in exceptional cases such as at Christmas or Easter when normally, even then, only around 200 Christians are allowed to travel via Ben Gurion Airport, if granted permission by the Israeli authorities. One often does not know whether or not permission has been granted until just prior to the departure of the flight. So, the challenge we face is whether or not to book via Ben Gurion Airport! Instead, we have to make the exhausting, time-consuming and costly journey from Bethlehem to Jericho in the West Bank. Then, we have to cross into Amman to fly to our overseas destination via the Jordanian Airport.
It is not long before one concludes that holding a Palestinian passport does not make for an easy life. In fact, it never ceases to sadden me that this sort of injustice continues to occur every time my fellow Palestinians and I need to travel. However, what makes it all worthwhile and easier for me to tolerate is seeing my family or my husband at either end of this journey.
This is not the only challenge that I face as a Palestinian Christian. In fact, there are many other challenges that frequently cause me to feel troubled with a great sense of injustice for myself and my fellow Palestinian brothers and sisters. Still, in spite of this, the many times when I have thanked God that I am a Christian are endless. Without Christ indwelling me, I would have really struggled. I would have struggled to hold true in my heart to that sense of calling to serve God in my land. I would have struggled to live with the harsh realities that injustice imposes. I would have also found it difficult to love “the other” and I would have certainly found it impossible to thrive in such a highly volatile and grossly unfair context.
I am an Arab Christian woman, a Palestinian married to an Egyptian-American. I was born and raised in Bethlehem, and hardly remember a time where justice prevailed in my homeland. Having done graduate studies in the West, I find the freedom of movement I experience there very appealing. Growing up, I had many questions about the injustices we faced living in Palestine. I would ponder these thoughts as I admired the brown hills of Bethlehem, where Jesus, the epitome of justice, peace, and love was incarnated more than two thousand years ago. Some of my musings included:
- It is not only that I cannot travel freely within my country that I find unjust; but also that international travel has to be characterized by circuitous overland travel and long hours of waiting;
- It is not only that one’s citizenship and type of passport defines which areas one’s feet can tread upon and which they cannot, but also that it defines whether one’s spouse can remain in your homeland or not;
- It is not only that peace is no longer the very essence of this place; but also that the absence of justice makes one weary, exhausted and depleted.
To a Western mind, these might be alien reflections as freedom of movement is not restricted in the way we experience it in our country. For example, one can travel throughout the USA, north to south, and east to west without being stopped, or without encountering checkpoints or barriers. In Europe, one can travel from one country to another, equally easily and without any complications.
It is at this point of grappling with issues of injustice in my context, that I start meditating on God’s freedom, peace, His shalom, or, as I would say in my Arabic native tongue, salaam, and where I find Mae Elise Cannon’s thoughts poignant, “Shalom is unable to exist when God’s people are limited by a natural or supernatural force in their ability to live as God desires for them. The limitation of shalom is oppression” (2009:25).
It thus remains ironic that the very geographical place that embodied the message of peace through the incarnation of Jesus, is now dominated by various expressions of oppression and is struggling to keep peace alive. However, when Jesus was born, Palestine was also then a place where the Romans ruled with a cruel iron fist and facilitated Christ’s crucifixion. Because of the God I believe in, and the way I have placed my trust in His wisdom, the injustices I face in my day-to-day life have not crushed the hope I have. It is this hope in Jesus that compels me to learn, teach, and write about Jesus as the chosen Servant “who will proclaim justice to the nations,” as we will see below.
In this chapter, I will offer a Palestinian reflection on overcoming injustices in a Palestinian context. I will seek to formulate a Christ-Like response from Matthew 12:18-20 and Luke 4:18. As a Palestinian Christian, born and raised in a colossally unjust situation, each of these passages have helped to shape my own understanding and application of justice.
About the Author
Grace Al-Zoughbi Arteen – Grace is a Palestinian Christian, born and raised in Bethlehem. Grace holds a B.A in Biblical Studies from Bethlehem Bible College and an MA in Theology from the London School of Theology. Her thesis sought to explore the ways in which women can seek to defend and promote personal dignity, particularly within strongly patriarchal contexts. She served as a lecturer and Head of Biblical Studies department at Bethlehem Bible College 2011-2018. Grace is currently studying for her PhD degree also through the London School of Theology with special focus on the theological education of Arab women in the Middle East. She has published several articles on Arab women in theological education. In her day-to-day life, she participates in leading a variety of programs through her local church in Bethlehem and has been involved in various translation projects. She is married to Rev. Michael Arteen and together they are passionate about seeing God’s kingdom advance in the Middle East.