For Palestinian Reverend Alex Awad, whose current home is in Jerusalem, Palestinian oppression is a daily reality.
Awad recalled his daily encounters at Israeli military border checkpoints.
“I look to the left and right, and there are Jewish settlements on Palestinian land,” he said. “I look at the checkpoint, and there are young Israeli soldiers pointing their guns at Palestinian … young men kneeling with their hands in the sky … refugee camps by the Bethlehem Bible College, where I work.”
“What I am saying is that what I see on a daily basis allows for my emotions against the Israeli occupation,” he said.
On Thursday, April 27, Seattle Pacific University’s Student Association for Middle Eastern Affairs (SAMEA) hosted a conversation with Awad about “The Palestinian Church and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”
For 10 years, Awad served as a Methodist Pastor of an international church in Jerusalem.
At Bethlehem Bible College, he assumed the role of a professor, the dean of students and a university board member
His lecture mainly focused on the interrelations of the Israeli-Palestinian land conflict. Through photos, graphs and maps, Awad discussed the theological, economic and political perspectives of the topic.
Awad went to school in the United States and earned a degree in education. When asked why he chose to pursue the subject of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he replied, “I am a Palestinian by birth, and I have seen the suffering of my people. I can articulate the dilemma.”
“There are 40,000 Palestinian Christians living among 3.9 million Muslims in Palestinian territories,” he said.
And, according to Awad, this relatively small number continues to diminish annually.
“The decline isn’t due to Christians becoming Muslims or Jews, but because Christians leave the country,” he said.
Awad attributes the reduction in Christian population to several factors, including “situations of war and occupation, economic turmoil and instability and uncertainty about the future of the Palestinian society.”
The conversation also allowed the audience to see a bit of Awad’s family heritage. He described that his father died in the first Israeli war, and his mother was left with seven children.
“We buried our father, and then we ran from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem to join the refugees,” he said.
Awad quoted something that his mother often said: “Never look back. Always look forward. Don’t ever ask ‘why, God?’ Always ask ‘how, God?’ Never harbor hate in your heart. Always forgive.”
One audience member asked Awad about his views on how the Trump Administration is dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Awad replied that, “The wonderful thing about Trump is that he is the most unpredictable person. [The Palestinian] hope is that he may go against the administration in his unpredictability.”
Awad’s desire is “to see God’s church healthy.”
He said, “My burden is not only for my Palestinian people and their freedom, but I [also] want the American church to be liberated from bad theology and politics.”
When reflecting on Awad’s lecture, Dylan Forbes, a sophomore global development studies major and SAMEA Publicist found the numbers he gave shocking.
“I had no idea that two-thirds of the area’s population became refugees in [the first war],” Forbes said. “The struggle became their whole existence. The resilience of humanity astounds me every time. It is so beautiful, but also so sad. Nobody should have to go through that.”
Although she became heavily interested in international affairs in high school, Forbes said that being involved with SAMEA has been an eye opening experience.
“It has made me think about how international issues truly affect the U.S. and the conflicts here.”
SAMEA President junior Briyana Brinson noted that she and SAMEA adviser Doug Thorpe are responsible for recruiting speakers and hosting on-campus events.
She also shared that the club was still known as the Israel and Palestine Club when she joined, but as she learned more about the topics in light of Islamophobia in the U.S., she decided to change the name to its current form “to make it more general.”
“In order for people to understand the internal conflicts between Israel and Palestine, they also needed to understand the external factors, which included the other Middle Eastern states,” Brinson said.
She noticed that changing the name of the club from the Israeli and Palestine club to SAMEA made “people more interested and open to learning about the topic.”
“I want to speak more towards Middle Eastern students and Muslims on campus,” Brinson said.
“I would tell them that, if they are feeling alienated, SAMEA is a platform for them.”