April 2004 - As the Christian population continues to fall below 2% of the three million and a half Palestinians that live in the West Bank and Gaza , we are probably looking at a future that might not include Christians living in the land of Christ 's birth. How sad for such a sacred land where Jews, Muslims and Christians should practice co-existing instead of slaughtering each other. Actually, living in the Holy Land the last eight years, I see the Jews and the Muslims killing each other and the Christians just disappearing to other countries.
The fight is not just physical but also an entire economic occupation and strangulation of the Palestinian territories due to checkpoints, closures and complete siege on towns and villages under Israeli military control in the West Bank . Palestinians are prisoners in open areas blocked by cement blocks and walls the Israelis are constantly putting up for security. I don't see how the new Apartheid Wall will ever bring security to Israel . It is so frustrating and aggravating getting around these walls to go to work and school daily. As Christians we turn the other cheek and try to survive within the madness. Before 1948, Jerusalem was almost half Christian, now it is barely 2% due to the terrible wars, violence and discriminatory policies practiced by the Israeli government.
As a Greek-American of Orthodox Christian faith living in the middle of Judea on top of one of the highest mountain ranges in Palestine , surrounded by hundreds of illegal Israeli settlements, I overlook Jerusalem from my living room window and grateful to be alive each and every day the Lord grants me in the middle of the bloodshed. My husband's village of Taybeh is one of the only all-Christian villages left in Palestine . As members of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh we want to work very hard to maintain this Christian presence that has been here since the time of Christ. At least we want to keep the 1300 residents that live in the village.
We have five churches and one small chapel in Taybeh. The first Greek Orthodox Church of St. George was built in the fourth century and now remains as ruins and a special place of worship. Our current church was built in 1931 after the original church was destroyed twice since the early centuries. A church committee including my husband's grandfather, Fr. Daoud (David) C. Khoury who was the village priest at that time collected money abroad and helped built the church we pray in today. The other two churches are the Greek Catholic (Melkite) and Latin Church (Roman Catholic) and one small chapel with retreat facilities built by a French monk. Taybeh is the modern name for the Biblical village of Ephraim . It is best known for the time Christ came to the village to escape and rest with his disciples before his crucifixion. (John 11:54).
I began to volunteer my time to the Church in order to help preserve and maintain the Christian presence in this little village. Among many other activities, we are trying to help fundraise for a critical housing project to improve the living conditions of families who do not own homes; help minimize the Christian immigration to other countries; help young married couples have their own home at a reduced cost; and help create temporary jobs for the 60% unemployed.
The last hundred years, the Catholic church and other Christian denominations have built many housing projects and maintained quality Christian schools, thus many Orthodox faithful easily convert for free or low income housing or free education.
In l998, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch allocated land to the Taybeh Church in order to help thirty families build their homes by providing the land without cost. A Housing Committee was formed to search for funds and manage the housing project licensed under the Orthodox Youth Club of St. George's Greek Orthodox Church registered with the Palestinian Authority. The funds are managed by the six member committee including, Fr. Daoud P. Khoury, our parish priest, Dr. Grace C. Muaddi, and Mr. Naseem Fqier. I am currently serving as the chairperson for the committee since the passing of my father-in-law, Canaan David Khoury, who is the founder of the housing project and very instrumental in initiating the project. I have asked Mother Agapia Stephanopoulos to also assist us. I believe I have asked every person that I have met to help us maintain our Christian presence in this unique little village.
We are grateful to Father Nicholas and Nancy Tentzeras for helping us construct the website for the church (www.saintgeorgetaybeh.org) and bring awareness to the housing project and the fact that there are Palestinian Orthodox Christians living in the Holy Land that trace their roots back two thousand years.
The housing project eventually hopes to help thirty families acquire their own homes at a low cost. Each family must agree that they will not sell their unit except to another needy Christian family or leave it to their own children. In addition, each family must contribute monthly to a building fund toward the total cost of the project. Our initial fundraising hopes to cover building the skeleton structure.
Since fundraising has been very difficult we have decided to initiate the first phase by building ten houses as soon as at least $350,000 is raised. All funds currently raised will help only the first ten families. Fundraised money will equally be shared among the ten families and homes cannot be sold for profit only what individuals put out of pocket. However, due to the tragic situation in the Holy Land , we have more than 60% of the people currently without work. None of the members have made payments in four years. If enough funds are not raised in the next few years at least two homes will be build for the church and given by lottery.
Can your church help? We are seeking churches, organizations or private donors that would like to help the first ten families build their first home. Raising money has been difficult. We have only raised $45,000 as of April 2004.
One option is if we could find 10 parishes or private donors that would sponsor the 10 families at $50,000 each home. If you know of anyone that wishes to support Christians by helping them build their first home, we would be so grateful if any church community or organization that you know considers us for a special collection or fundraiser. Several churches from different jurisdictions might consider cooperating to support building one home.
Another option is making an appeal to all Christians in American and Europe to contribute just one dollar during the Lenten Season through their local churches with permission of their boards, priests and bishops. If 100 churches participate with one thousand dollars each church, that would encourage a new set of 100 churches to possibly join the one dollar campaign in the following Lenten Season. These 100 churches could help build two homes. The One Dollar Campaign for the Holy Land Housing will run from 2003 until Pascha 2006.
Donations to help Taybeh can be made out to Metropolis of Boston Holy Land Housing, and mailed to Metropolis of Boston, 162 Goddard Avenue , Brookline , MA 02445
Contributions will also continue to be managed by the housing committee in Taybeh and held in an account at the Arab Bank-Ramallah, Al Balad Branch. Your help is greatly needed. Donations may also be sent by check to Taybeh O.C. Housing Project, P. O. Box 867 , Ramallah, Palestine VIA ISRAEL. Or by electronic transfer to Arab Bank-Ramallah, Swift code ARABPS 22090, Al Balad Branch Account # 9090-662656/4/510 Taybeh Orthodox Club Housing Project, Via the Arab Bank New York , swift code US33. Please notify by e-mail for better tracking of donations: Khourymaria@hotmail.com
Don't forget about the sacred land of Christ 's birth and get your church involved with this important housing project to express your solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters in Palestine . One day you may have the gift of visiting the Holy sites and it would be rewarding to meet the living stones, the local Palestinian Christians, who have maintained the Mother Church for over two thousands years.
Editor's Note: Dr. Maria C. Khoury is the author of seven Orthodox Christian children's books including the latest, Christina Goes to the Holy Land . She is a graduate of Hellenic College , Harvard University and Boston University . She lives in the Occupied Palestinian territories with her husband David C. Khoury, also a Hellenic College graduate and founder of Taybeh Beer the only microbrewery in the Middle East and the only Palestinian Beer established in l994 following the Oslo Peace Agreement.