Areej Masoud, who is visiting churches throughout Australia in October as part of a Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network speaking tour, said moving the embassy would have devastating consequences for the Palestinian people.
“For us Palestinians, it has more significance than just changing a location,” Areej said.
“It would legitimise an occupation that violates international law and that terrifies me.
“It would send a message that we are unseen or don’t exist.”
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised the prospect of moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem holds historic and symbolic significance for Israelis and the Palestinians, with both peoples claiming it as their capital city. Most countries operate their Israeli embassies out of Tel Aviv in recognition of this sensitivity.
When the US government relocated their embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year, it sparked mass protests on the Gaza border, with dozens of Palestinians killed.
“When Trump relocated the embassy, nearly all Palestinians went on strike,” Areej recalled.
“Everything was locked down, no one would be going to work or leave their houses because they were mourning and in deep sadness. It was like a zombie town.”
Areej spent the first seven years of her childhood in Qatar before her family moved back to Palestine, where she began to experience the restrictions placed on the Palestinian people.
“Maybe at the time I was not able to put it under the label of ‘occupation’ but I was noticing that can’t I go to the beach or a park, like I used to do in Qatar,” Areej said.
“That’s how you were introduced to the occupation growing up – something that sets limitations on each aspect of your life.”
The mass exodus of Palestinians in the past few decades has seen the number of Christians drop from 30 per cent of the Palestinian population to just 0.9 per cent.
Christianity may be a minority religion in Palestine, but Areej believes Christians and Muslims are united in their struggle against the occupation.
“We never see each other based on our religion, we just see each other as neighbours, friends and fellow Palestinians. It’s like growing up having a daily interfaith dialogue,” she said.
“It’s the political occupation who are trying to use religious ideologies to make it seem like Christians, Jews and Muslims can’t live together.
“For example, I’d go through a metal detector much easier than a woman in a hijab. This can cause tension as some might come to the conclusion that we are more privileged because we co-operate with the occupation.
“It’s a way to separate people, and when you separate people you conquer.”
Growing up as a Christian, Areej struggled to reconcile Jesus’ call to be a nonviolent peacemaker with her identity as a Palestinian living under occupation.
A turning point came when she enrolled at Bethlehem University and studied the Kairos Palestine document, an ecumenical statement from Palestinian Christian theologians that declared Israeli military occupation as “a sin against God and humanity”.
Areej later wrote her dissertation on Kairos Palestine and Christian Zionism, with supervision from one of the document’s authors.
“Christian Zionism has a huge effect on us Palestinians,” Areej said.
“Other Christians who believed in the same Bible that I do would legitimatise the occupation from the Word of God and use it to justify my hardship and persecution.
“Some verses have been picked out and this has left out the God of justice, love and mercy.
“Little by little, I learnt I had to look at the holistic message of love. We are all God’s children and I cannot exclude one people over another.”
When Areej started teaching religious studies at high school, she realised many young people also wrestled with the same questions about God.
“A lot of them were only attending the classes because they had to and had lost faith in God,” she said.
“I realised they were having the same struggles that I had, but I was able to put my struggle into words.
“My advocacy started out of that, so I began running workshops, raising awareness in my local community and that has now expanded to international communities.”
Areej encouraged Australians to see beyond the Holy Land’s historic sites and meet the ‘living stones’, the people of Palestine.
“I ask people to pray for us and for our leaders that they will make better decisions for Palestinians and Israelis and for the churches to still have living stones in them and not end up as just empty buildings,” she said.
“My fear is that one day where Christianity started is the same place where Christianity is going to end.”