On a tour that has taken her to congregations around Australia, Christian Palestinian, Arda Aghazarian (pictured) is working to share and raise awareness about the complexities of the Palestinian struggle.
Although the internet has enabled many people in the West to hear different sides to the conflict in Palestine, there are still some who hold a set view on Palestinians.
Some Australians regard all Palestinians as radical Muslims bent on the utter destruction of ‘democratic’ Israel, a stereotype challenged by Ms Aghazarian.
“When I tell people that I am Palestinian Christian some people are surprised,” Ms Aghazarian said.
“People seem to pay more attention when they realise that there are Palestinian Christians, which is slightly amusing. I try to remind them: Jesus Christ… Bethlehem… does that ring a bell? Surely there must be some remnants from those days.”
Ms Aghazarian explained that she was able to broadly identify at least five sub-divisions of Palestinians who have been subjected to different realities:
“There are the Palestinian refugees, living in refugee camps or displaced.
“There are the Palestinians of 1948, who have Israeli citizenship but a different set of issues;
“Then there are the Palestinians living in Jerusalem, a lot of whom have no citizenship.
“The Palestinians living in the West Bank have no right of access to the rest of the country.
“And finally Palestinians living in Gaza, who pretty much can’t go anywhere.
“Just like the map has been fragmented, the people have also been fragmented.
“A Palestinian living in a refugee camp in Lebanon does not have the same issues as a Palestinian living in Gaza who does not have the same issues as a Palestinian living in Nazareth.
“Different things apply to different people.
It depends not on one’s political affiliations or whether one is Muslim or Christian, but on what geographic location Palestinians are in and in what time in history. These factors can change their entire course of life.
“This is basically what decides, is it 1948? 1967? It all creates a new reality for Palestinians based simply on that idea of where they were geographically at a certain time in history,” she said.
The comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel Palestine today is often cited as the situation becomes more visible.
But Ms Aghazarian says there are differences. For example, Israel does not rely on the cheap labour of those it oppresses as white South Africa did. Also, non-whites in South Africa were not separated by giant walls and check-points.
Ms Aghazarian said it was the daily oppression of her life and those around her that pushed her into speaking out about the injustices suffered by so many.
“I never wanted to talk about Palestine Israel.
“Since I was a kid I thought, there are more interesting things.
“I’d rather talk about music, movies, literature, why does it always have to be political stuff?
“However, I realised early on, in some parts of the world maybe you can avoid it but being where we are, it’s almost like a privilege that we don’t have,” Ms Aghazarian said.
It was “the oppression of daily life”, she said, that pushed her into speaking out about the injustices suffered by so many.
The checkpoints that have become formal and permanent-looking terminals are the kind of everyday discomforts that can drive people to extremes. But Ms
Aghazarian said she promised herself that these things would not make her bitter.
“Every single aspect of one’s life, starting from child delivery and going on to human relationships, suffers as a result of the political context.
“The entire context makes for a degrading setting, and the ongoing humiliation makes one angry. But what kind of a person does one become at the end of the day? That may still be a matter of choice.
“Every young woman should have the chance to go to university without having such an unsafe and degrading journey on the way.
“My hope is that we work towards achieving peace with justice, but we must first acknowledge that every human being has the right to live a life of dignity and integrity.
“Every person should be entitled to go to the beach. Every person should have the right of movement of access and safety and mobility and so on. So it comes from acknowledging those facts,” she said.
Brought to Australia by the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network and World Vision, Ms Aghazarian said it was not her intention to tell Australians what to do in order to help bring peace to the region.
She said it was best for Australians to educate themselves and if possible meet Palestinians and see for themselves.
“My message is basically to share the experience and stories, and maybe break certain assumptions that we have. During this trip I realised that many Australians are actually interested to know more and understand better. It is great when people come and see what is going on, and meet with people, and realise that we are all connected at the end of the day.”
The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network is made up of Australian Christians who seek lasting peace for the people of Palestine and Israel. They aim to equip and inform Australian churches, inspired by Christ’s vision for universal reconciliation.
By Chip Henriss
The Kairos Palestine, Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine, can be accessed by visiting the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network web site at: http://pien.org.au.