The Story of Palestine goes back a long way.
Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire until it was destroyed at the end of the First World War. Several Arab countries were at this time placed under temporary administration until they were considered ready for independence. Palestine was put under British mandate in 1922 by the League of Nations.
However, earlier in 1917, the British Foreign Minister, Arthur Balfour, made what became known as the Balfour Declaration. It promised ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine (not a nation state) but it insisted that nothing should be done to prejudice the rights of the existing non-Jewish community.
Between the two world wars Zionists moved into the land and settled, but the rise of Nazism in Germany increased the flow of people with those fleeing persecution in Europe. During the Second World War Palestinians and Zionists ‘agreed’ not to confront each other. However, as soon as the war was over, violence and confrontation erupted. It was a time when the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis had created a huge sense of guilt in the international community.
In early 1947 the British announced that they would withdraw from Palestine, and in November, under pressure from Zionist groups, the UN passed a resolution granting just over half the land of Palestine for the creation of the state of Israel against the wishes of the majority. Jordan then ruled over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt over Gaza. Tragically the attempt to divide Palestine peacefully failed, and in the bitter war that followed Jewish militia groups seized more than three-quarters of the land (see maps below).
More than 750,000 Palestinians, whose families had lived there for centuries, became homeless refugees. Many fled to neighbouring countries in a great exodus. Twenty years later, in 1967, Israel, by then a powerful military nation supported by the USA, occupied the remaining Palestinian territories controlled by Jordan and Egypt, as well as parts of Lebanon and Syria.
The situation today is that the Palestinians are a controlled people with limited autonomy under the effective economic, political and military control of the State of Israel. The Palestinian population is made up of 2.4 million in the West Bank plus 1.5 million in Gaza so a total of just under 4 million. Israeli citizens are 7 million, including the 1.5 million Arab Israelis: a total population of 11 million in the area. The average Israeli has 15 times the income of the average Palestinian. The per capita income in the West Bank is $2000, in Israel $30.000.
The Palestinian nation is disunited and impoverished in the face of the disaster that has befallen it, and includes factions that are a standing provocation to Israel and a pretext for ever more intrusive controls and assaults on the embryonic Palestine state. A separation wall built mostly through Palestinian territory not only divides wealthy Israel from dirt-poor Palestine, but actually prevents movement and economic activity within Palestine. Palestinian land is subject to creeping colonisation by hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, mostly recent immigrants; this activity has consistently been condemned by the United Nations.
Against this background, 2% of the mostly Muslim Palestinian population is Christian, in a tradition stretching back two thousand years, in the very land of Christ’s ministry. The number of Christians remaining in Palestine declines every year. This community is fully Palestinian and fully Christian, suffering at the hands of the Israelis but also experiencing opposition from many western Christians, notably those known as Christian Zionists. For many Christian Zionists, the State of Israel can do no wrong, and any Palestinian, of whatever faith, is subject to the gravest suspicion, as an obstacle to the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
Friends of Sabeel UK’s aim is to stretch a hand from western Christendom to our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Jesus’ homeland, and to help them continue a way of life that is under threat from their Israeli masters. We want to educate Christians in the West to understand better the plight of Palestinian Christians, and to provide direct economic help to Christians in Palestine to help them sustain their long-established way of life.