Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his Christmas Eve address from Bethlehem extended greetings to the world on the occasion of the birthday of Christ 2000 years ago. Abbas stated:
“Palestine, the Holy Land, extends its warmest seasonal greetings to the peoples of the world on the holy occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ, peace be upon him. In Bethlehem, more than 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ was born; a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world. As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later, we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace. Read more.
It is hard to imagine an Arab leader referring to Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem in the year 6 BC, as a “Palestinian messenger”; and, for this same leader, a Sunni Muslim, to speak as if he is an appropriate person to extend “warmest seasonal greetings” to the world on the occasion of Christ’s birthday.
A somewhat amusing response was made by Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, who is reported to have responded:
Israel’s Foreign Ministry displayed rare humor in its reply. Spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “Abbas should have perused the New Testament before he said such utter nonsense [that Jesus was a Palestinian messenger], but we forgive him because he knows not what he does.” Palmor was paraphrasing a famous statement ascribed to Jesus.
Imagine that – a Jew telling a Muslim he needs to do a better job of reading the New Testament so he can get his facts straight about Jesus!
Abbas’ Christmas Eve message caused me to reflect about the connection between the birth of Jesus and modern day West Bank, Gaza Strip, i.e., Palestine Territories, and Israel. I decided to summarize the highlights of these areas for myself and others who might need a refresher on the history behind these areas and how current events are so important.
1. Palestine refers to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River extending southward to the Sinai Peninsula. As the above map reflects, it includes the State of Israel, along with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (the two green areas). Bethlehem is in the West Bank as is East Jerusalem (East Jerusalem comprises the holy places of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Present day Palestine finds its geographic boundaries largely identified in what is known as “Mandatory Palestine,” a geopolitical entity under British administration that was carved out of the failed Muslim Ottoman Empire after World War I (1920 – 1948) (Read more about “Mandatory Palestine” here).
“Palestinians” are the modern descendants of the peoples who have lived in Palestine over the centuries. They are the Arabic peoples of these areas both in language and culture, and in most cases, their religion is Islam. The Gaza Strip population of 1.6 million is entirely Arab, the majority of the population of the West Bank (approximately 2.3 million), and 16.5% of the population of Israel are Arab (Arab citizens of Israel).1 If one looks Biblically at the definition of Palestinians, there are a few key passages that identify the Arabs, descendants of Ishmael and Esau:
- Genesis 16:11-12 NASB
- Genesis 25:5-6 NASB
- Genesis 25:12, 16 NASB
- Psalm 83:2-7 NASB
2. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are Palestinian Territories. The West Bank is on the west side of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, hence, the name “West Bank.” The West Bank is surrounded by Israel on its north, south, and west boundaries and by the Kingdom of Jordan on the east side (across the Jordan River).
3. Palestinian Authority. An important
agreement that governs the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians is the Oslo Accord. Executed in 1994, this agreement is between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the state of Israel. The agreement documents the PA’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist and Israel’s recognition of the PA as the sole organization representing the Palestinian people. The agreement was intended to be temporary. It included a five-year period of time within which a permanent agreement would be executed. The permanent agreement has yet to be agreed upon.
In 1987, HAMAS (HAMAS is an acronym in Arabic translated as “Islamic Resistance Movement”) was formed in the Gaza Strip as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The HAMAS Charter, affirmed in 1988, stated “that HAMAS was founded to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.”
In 2007, HAMAS won a majority of seats in Palestinian elections replacing “FATAH” as the majority party. Rather than becoming the minority opposition party to HAMAS, FATAH officials resigned. FATAH retained control of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. HAMAS in the Gaza Strip determined itself to be self-governing and independent of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. HAMAS is committed to the elimination of the State of Israel from Palestine by any means, including violence. The Palestinian Authority, under the present leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, is committed to negotiation with Israel and to non-violence in the establishment of the State of Palestine in Palestine. (Read more). The United States and other Western countries consider HAMAS a terrorist organization since its charter does not recognize Israel’s existence and it’s fonding purpose is to eliminate the State of Israel.
4. Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power. However, neither claim is widely recognized internationally. The United States recognizes Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel and has consistently maintained this position.
5. The State of Palestine. The Palestinian Authority (prior to 1993, the “Palestinian Liberation Organization,” i.e., PLO) has been designated as the sole governing authority of the Palestinian Territories through the Oslo Accord. However, the Oslo Accord did not go so far as to create the State of Palestine. In 2012, a significant advance was made in this regard when the United Nations granted it “observer status.”2 “As of 27 September 2013, 134 (69.4%) of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognised the State of Palestine. Many of the countries that do not recognise the State of Palestine nevertheless recognise the PA as the representative of the Palestinian people. Since granting observer status in 2012, the United Nations has authorized a change in designation from “Palestinian Authority” to the “State of Palestine” in all correspondence and communications (12/17/2013). The United States does not recognize the Palestinian Authority as the “State of Palestine” but advocates that recognition for statehood must be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the interim Oslo Accord.
6. Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. In the 1967 Six-Day-War, Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights in a decisive military victory. Israel continues to occupy these territories, except for the Sinai Peninsula. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1978, through the Camp David Accords, including the execution of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that exists to the present day. As a result of the Six-Day-War, a wave of Palestinians was displaced. An estimated 300,000 Palestinians left the West Bank and Gaza Strip, most of whom settled in Jordan.
In President Abbas’ speech, Abbas “claimed” Jesus to be a Palestinian Messenger presumably because he was born in Bethlehem, presently located in the West Bank, a Palestinian Territory. With the above background, how might we resolve the accuracy of Abbas’ statement?
Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a Jewish mother; this fact alone is sufficient to conclude Jesus was “Jewish.” Read more. In fact, the Qur’an recognizes that Jesus was born to Mary:
Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God makes His signs clear to them [Christians]; yet see in what ways they [Christians] are deluded away from the truth!
For their [Christians] unbelief, and their uttering against Mary a mighty calumny, and for their saying, “We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God”—yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them.
The Bible recognizes Jesus as a Jew and Jesus identified Himself as Jewish (a descendant of David of the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, a son of Isaac, the promised son of Abraham (not Ishmael). Mathew 1:2, 1:6, 1:16; John 4:9, 19:19; Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 2:21-24. The Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, sin bearer and atoning savior of the world. John 1:11; Matthew 27:25. Bethlehem (and Jerusalem) in the time of Christ were cities populated by Jews, predominantly, not Arabs. When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, at the 1st Jewish Revolt, historian Josephus puts the number of Jews under Roman siege at 1,000,000. The Jews were killed, taken captive, or expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans. Jews were not expelled from Bethlehem until the 2nd Jewish Revolt, the Bar Kokhba revolt, 132-135 AD. The point is that until the Roman’s expelled the Jews from Bethlehem in 135 AD, Arabs were the minority and Jews the majority. Today, Bethlehem is a city of 25,000 located in the West Bank and populated predominantly by Palestinian Arabs, not Jews or Christians (the actual percentage of Arab Christians in Bethlehem is debated. Some reports are as low as 8% and others as high as 15%.).3
It only took me 1,500 words to say what we already knew: Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew, not an Arab. Galatians 4:22-23, 30 NASB. Jesus was not an Arab Palestinian so He could not be the “Palestinian messenger” that Abbas has laid claims to. Muhammad may have been a Palestinian messenger; but not Jesus. Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world. For most of those reading this post, we know that His birth has significance only through His death and resurrection. Jesus was born that He might fulfill God’s purposes (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 12:27) — to atone for the sins of the world. John 1:29. It is in His death and resurrection that the “guiding light” that Abbas lays claim to following is rendered the Light to follow. Romans 1:3-4 NASB.
Perhaps Mahmoud Abbas is really not interested in the Light of God that Christ burst forth in His birth, death and resurrection but another kind of light; a political light, one that draws sympathy from world leaders and furthers his mission for the Palestinian peoples. In any event, if it causes Jews and Muslims to check out the New Testament to find the real Jesus, I am all for it.
Happy New Year and may the favor of God rest upon us in 2014.
Jesus come quickly.
- “Population, by Population Group”. Monthly Bulletin of Statistics. Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 9 April 2013 [↩]
- Observers have the right to speak at United Nations General Assembly meetings, but not to vote on resolutions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_status [↩]
- In the modern period, “Palestine” as a term was first coined by the Romans after the 135 AD Bar Kokhba revolt when Syria and Judea were combined to be referred to as Syria Palestinai. Quite clearly, Jesus was not an Arab “Palestinian” if Rome did not use the term until 135 AD. The Greek word, Palaistínē (Παλαιστίνη), first occurs in the work of the 5th century BCE Greek historian Herodotus. The reference to “Palestinian” states, “From this district [the “5th Provincial District” of the Persian Empire] came 350 talents. All of Phoenicia, Syria (the one called Palestinian), and Cyprus lie with this province.” See “The Landmark Herodutus, The Histories. A New Translation by Andrea L. Purvis.” Edited by Robert B. Strassler;Pantheon Books, NY. 2007. Page 252 and map on 253. [↩]
Thanks for the history refresher. You see through the smoke of Abass’s message. Those who have studied the politics of Israel and Palestine of the past 50 years can understand that Abbas is riding the fence. It’s appropriate for him to express a holiday-inspired message of peace along the lines of MLK and Mandela but there is a big price on his head and he doesn’t want to inflame local militants and give them further incentive to kill him. As a Muslim he will not contradict the lies in the Koran about Yeshua and quote what the New Testament says about him, for that would mean apostasy and a swift end to his career. So saying that Jesus was a “Palestinian” enables him to have it both ways . I can appreciate his sentiment if not the inaccuracy of what he says about Jesus’s identity. It’s preferable to the bile that spews from Hamas. I find Yigal Palmor’s passive-agressive jab to be arrogant and obnoxious. Better for him to have even feigned appreciation of the sentiment behind Abbas’s message before correcting his facts and pretending to forgive him.