‘Meet a Palestinian Christian’ at SPC

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.

Photo by Scott KingsleyPhoto by Scott Kingsley

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.

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