Is Jerusalem the Israeli capital or the Palestinian capital?
That simple intractability (both claim it, but no country in the world agrees with either one) underscores conflicts born in antiquity and complicated by repeated border-drawing by early 20th Century colonial European powers.
The scope and magnitude of religious fervor and abject violence going back millennia is simply beyond the comprehension of most Americans, including even our leaders and foreign-relations experts.
Because it's difficult to grasp a real understanding of the situation, it's even harder to devise possible solutions from afar. History tells us as much: What peace, by our standards, has ever lasted in the Middle East?
Gaza has been an occupied territory since the age of the pyramids. Its 1.8 million people (80 percent of which are impoverished), crammed into 146 square miles, know little but a history of oppression from the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Arabs, the Christian Crusaders and the Ottomans.
Few people I know could find Gaza on the map, or summarize the Oslo Accords, or explain what a caliphate is without having to look it up.
Define the Levant? The countries and territories and religious sects and administrative bodies are exceedingly confusing.
Our heritage is heavily Christian, which creates a general association with Judaic history (through the Bible) that is nonexistent for Islamic or Arabic history.
In truth, it's a somewhat inaccurate association because Israel today is no longer the archaic, fabled land of Old Testament legends. It's an advanced, sovereign nation and part of the modern world.
So while we may think we know a little about Israel, in reality we really don't understand its world, its neighbors or even its post-biblical history. (The two percent of the U.S. population that is Jewish is likely better informed than the public at large about Israel.)
We know even less about Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq; and less still about the region's ethnicities. Are Arabs Semites or are they Jews?
But sporting the largest Christian population in the world--nearly 247 million souls--it's puzzling that there is so little mass-media coverage (or public awareness) in the U.S. about the shocking persecution and plight of Christians in the Middle East, which is, after all, the cradle of Christianity.
Indeed, Christians in the Mideast are essentially a forgotten people--or ignored might be the better word.
The barbaric hostility of Hamas toward Israel is well publicized. Why not so with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its recent "convert, leave or face the sword" ultimatum to Iraqi Christians?
In Mosul (Iraq's second-largest city, across the Tigris from Nineveh), thousands of Christians who chose to leave were reportedly robbed of all their belongings by ISIL militants, whose rulers have a reputation for executing and crucifying those who oppose their policies.
Reports surfaced last week of the letter "N" being painted (for Nazarene) on the homes of the scattered Christians still in Mosul. Ten years ago, 30,000 Christians lived there.
Once a country home to 1.5 million Christians, Iraq how harbors fewer than 400,000. And Christians are being attacked, plundered, killed and forced to flee from other Mideast countries as well.
The shrinking Christian population in the areas where the apostles and early followers trod--centuries before the arrival of Islam--is no accident or voluntary exodus.
Violent Christian cleansing in Syria has resulted in more than 1.3 million refugees seeking asylum. Inexplicably, the U.S. denied visas last December for Christians chased from their homes by the Syrian civil war.
Once the majority in Lebanon, Christians now only account for a third of the population (thank Hezbollah). In Palestinian-controlled areas, Christians once comprised 15 percent of the non-Jewish population; the figure today is barely 1 percent.
And in a fiery two-day period last August in Egypt, 82 Christian churches--many dating to the Fifth Century--were destroyed, as well as monasteries, orphanages and Coptic Christian schools.
At the onset of the 20th Century, one-fifth of the Middle East was Christian. Fourteen years into the 21st Century, less than one-fiftieth is.
Islamic extremists spar with Israel at their peril; Israeli military superiority is clear and overwhelming. But it's evident they have no fear of the world's most populous Christian nation even taking notice of their anti-Christian atrocities, much less any action.
There is no Christian homeland in the land of Christ in which refugees can settle, and to which America can send billions in foreign aid and weaponry for security of life and property--maybe there should be.
Perhaps a democratic Christian state--well-armed and well-funded like Israel, possibly even more so given the kinship of so many American Christians--could bring greater stability to the Middle East.
It would stand as a pro-Western ally, with a better local understanding than the U.S. will ever possess (and with military training and armaments, would reduce the potential deployment of American combat troops to distant sands).
Like American policy defending Israel's right to exist, Pope Francis has said he isn't ready to imagine a Middle East without Christians. Uncle Sam should say amen.
Dana Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
Editorial on 08/01/2014
Print Headline: Undertold story in Mideast