Fadi Diab: Living Stones

By Jeannie Babb

“I feel sad when people in the West ask me whether I am a convert from Islam—a question they ask as if there are no Christians in the Holy Land.”

Father Fadi Diab is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. He says Christians have lived in Palestine since Pentecost. “Christians in the Arab world are descendants of the first disciples who carried the Good News to the entire world. It all started here, and from here it spread to the world.”

Diab was born in Zababdeh, a predominantly Christian town in the northern part of the West Bank. At one time, 95 percent of the people in Zababdeh were Christians. Today the town is approximately 60 percent Christian and 40 percent Muslim. Diab says there were two reasons for the demographic shift in his hometown. The Muslim population increased because townspeople welcomed Muslim refugees fleeing their home. At the same time, the Christian population decreased as Christians in Zababdeh immigrated to other Arab countries or to the West, fleeing on-going conflict in the West Bank.

He says the flight of Christians continues today, not just from Zababdeh but from all over the Holy Land.  It began when Israel became a state in 1948, causing many Palestinians (both Christian and Muslim) to flee. Others were forced to immigrate after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Ultimately the Christian population in the West Bank and Gaza fell from 12 percent in the 1920s, to less than 1 percent today. Still, Diab says, there are approximately 45,000 Christians in the areas occupied by Israel.

Diab received his theological degree at the Near East School for Theology in Beirut, Lebanon in 1997, and in 2001 was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. The diocese includes Jerusalem, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are confined to specific geographical residential areas. West Bankers cannot go to Gaza and vice versa. All Palestinians needs permits to enter Israel or even Jerusalem—not a Visa, but a special IDF paper. It is not even easy for Palestinians to travel to Syria and Lebanon. Restriction on movement makes it difficult for people to travel freely from one place to another. Even in the West Bank, Palestinians are not free to travel because of hundreds of checkpoints that restrict their movement.

In addition to the parishes he serves, Diab travels extensively in the United States speaking to churches about the plight of Palestinian Christians. He is a member of the Palestine Advisory Council of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and founder of the Youth Connection for Peace Program.

Diab works with the Rev. Kammy Young and Lynn Lantz to facilitate pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Students come from all over the United States and Europe to attend short courses of historical study on Israel/Palestine at St. George’s College Jerusalem. They also connect with the people of the land.

Diab gives three reasons for pilgrims to connect with the people of the Holy Land and not only to visit holy and historical sites. The first reason is baptismal. He says, “This is the land of the Holy One, always a special place for Christians to strengthen their faith and nurture their spirituality through pilgrimage. It is important to connect with Palestinian Christians because we are one body of Jesus Christ in our baptism, whether we live in Palestine, the United States, Canada, or elsewhere.”

Diab says, “In the Christian tradition, pilgrims do not come to see stones. They come to see living stones—people who live their faith.”

Second, as the Christian population in the Holy Land dwindles, it becomes increasingly important for Western Christians to connect with Palestinian Christians, to bear witness to and seek to relieve their suffering. “We, as Christians, have a mission to the forgotten, oppressed, and neglected. Palestinian Christians are a forgotten minority in the Middle East living under oppressive occupation, facing injustice and atrocities.”
“Connecting with the poor and marginalized is not just something to do on a pilgrimage; it is a way of life.” This conviction leads to the Diab’s third, and very practical, reason for emphasizing the connection between pilgrims and living stones. He is convinced that Christians in the West are an important component in bringing peace and reconciliation to the Middle East.

“This conflict needs a third side. Israel and Palestine are making strides toward resolution. Christians can be that third side that supports and contains such a process. Whenever there is a conflict, Christians are called to respond because we are called to be reconcilers. We need to respond because our faith is based on Christ reconciling us to God. Christians are called to a ministry of reconciliation.”

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