Dr. Sa’ed Atshan, professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College, will be the guest speaker next Sunday, March 13, at a special session in the Adult Education class series at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church. For many in attendance, it will be their first encounter with a native Palestinian Christian.
SPC welcomes all — especially those from non-Christian faith traditions — to join its members in learning from Dr. Atshan about his background and his thoughts on nonviolent and peaceful resolutions to conflict. The church has a history of exploring the complexities of life and faith in the Middle East, particularly the controversial territories known as the Holy Land.
Dr. Atshan has taught at Harvard — earning four awards there for excellence in undergraduate teaching — and at Tufts and Brown universities. We asked him for some background to help establish the context of his visit.
Q: Did you grow up in Palestine as a Christian?
A: I grew up in Palestine and attended the Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker institution established in the 1800s. I am a practicing Quaker.
Q: Did Christians in Palestine experience discrimination?
A: Palestinian Muslims and Christians have lived as neighbors and in harmony, and Christians have played a disproportionate role in Palestinian society and politics. Many people do not realize that Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is a Palestinian Christian town in the West Bank.
Q: Do you feel Christianity is imperiled in Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East? Why?
A: Palestinian Christians made up 20% of the population of Palestine in 1948 and the figure is at 2% today. The main reason for this decline has been the exodus of Palestinian Christians, primarily as a result of the Israeli occupation. While Palestinian Christians are increasingly feeling anxious about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the oppression of Christians in Palestine is a result of the policies of the Israeli state and military.
Q: What are some things Americans can do to advance peace in that region and worldwide?
A: Americans, regardless of their religious tradition, play an important role in contributing to a nonviolent resolution to the conflict. Israel is currently the world’s largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving more than sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean combined, and most of this goes towards military aid.
Dr. Sa’ed Atshan will speak at 9 a.m., Sunday, March 13, in Fellowship Hall of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, 727 Harvard Avenue. All are welcome to attend this adult education session, and to stay for SPC’s worship service at 10:15 a.m.
The Swarthmorean encourages dialogue; please write us with your perspectives on peace in the Middle East.