Jesus represents the oppressed of the world, the refugee, and the person living under occupation
Christmas is cancelled in Bethlehem in 2023. There are no tourists, and the hotels and restaurants are empty. One enters a Christian church and instead of a traditional nativity scene, one finds baby Jesus, wrapped in a Palestinian keffiyeh, lying alone, surrounded by rubble.
We too often forget that Jesus was a Palestinian Jew born under occupation. Some of his descendants remained Jewish, others became Christian, and still others became Muslim. These people lived together in relative peace – although it would be an oversimplification to say that there was continuous and uninterrupted peace among them throughout the centuries – until their region came under the control of Britain in the early 20th century.
The message of Jesus of Nazareth to love God and love one’s neighbour is easily integrated into any culture because these values are simply a part of our humanity. But as an Arab Christian, the portrayal of Jesus as pale-skinned and blue-eyed never sat right with me.
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If I’m honest, I will admit that I’ve always found Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Indigenous representations of Jesus to be quite beautiful. People I encountered who portrayed Jesus with northern European features were often offended when I mentioned that Jesus was an Arab. People of other ethnicities, in contrast, never once expressed that sentiment; in fact, we had meaningful conversations about the essence of God incarnate.
While many Europeans gave Jesus physical features like their own to adapt his message to their cultural setting, it cannot be denied that others promoted a blue-eyed Jesus for nefarious reasons. Christian Zionists offer unwavering support to the State of Israel because they believe that the massacre of the descendants of the real Jesus is necessary to allow their version of Jesus to come to earth and bring them to heaven.
The Christian Zionist fantasy, unfortunately, has tragic, real-life consequences. While some may find the image of a Palestinian Jesus lying in the rubble disturbing, the reality for Palestinian babies in 2023 is far more dire. As part of their reaction to the heinous attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, Israeli Defense Force members shut off power to hospitals, chased staff out of at least one maternity ward at gunpoint, condemning Palestinian babies in incubators to horrendous deaths, and then leaving their little bodies to decay.
How many other Palestinian babies are being murdered in this cruel and vicious siege of their homeland?
While people in powerful countries callously debate whether the Israeli government and military are committing crimes against humanity and even genocide with Western complicity, people in the Arab world and the global south have already drawn a clear conclusion. Western politicians and their supporters seem to have no idea of the damage they are doing to the reputations of their countries, damage that may already be irreparable.
We are seeing consumers refuse to buy American products, especially if their executives have openly supported Israeli aggression or have tried to suppress pro-Palestinian sentiments. The biggest loser thus far is Starbucks, which has announced losses of $11 billion in value since the siege of Gaza began. Several other corporations with ties to America and Israel are also being boycotted worldwide.
The carnage simply needs to stop. It is difficult to argue that there is not a racist element in those who support the decimation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, just as there was a racist element in those who claimed that it was God’s will that white Christians ethnically cleanse the Indigenous peoples of North America. Or that white Christians should enslave and colonize Africans, terrorize and colonize Asia, or do the same in every other part of the world.
Maybe this is why a non-white baby Jesus always made sense. He represents the oppressed of the world, the refugee, and the person living under occupation.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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