LAST YEAR, I walked through the ruins of a Crusader church high on a hill in Palestine. A fire had burned outside this church as one link in the great chain of fire that signalled Jerusalem had been won from Muslim control. Thanks to French archaeologists, I could see mosaic images, an ancient well – signs of Christian life a thousand years ago. But a dark stain splashed across the stone under the main lintel was evidence the place still had calling power. A hook was set in the lintel and here, I learned, people continued to come, Christians and Muslims, to slaughter animals in invocation.
The church stands on the periphery of the only remaining entirely Christian village in Palestine, one that is contiguous with a Muslim village and surrounded by 19 others. Even the press of Israeli control and the urgency of their common condition do not eliminate the villagers’ need to guard centuries-old habits of co-operation and friendliness: in the circumstances extremists can be persuasive. The Christian village, Taybee, works hard at hospitality, keeping its school open to Muslims, its health service responsive to the needs of everyone in all the surrounding villages. The priest urges inclusive Palestinian identity and non-violent resistance via newspaper column, website, pop song, television and street demonstration. Since unity implies strength, in this one place Eastern and Western Christians celebrate their feasts together, Christmas according to the Western calendar, Easter according to the Orthodox.
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