Miles from home. And "home" doesn't even exist anymore. The people of Israel have watched their temple burn to the ground as Babylonian invaders carried them away to what is now the country of Iraq. There they sit on the banks of rivers, staring toward Israel and longing for the day they can return home. Their captors make fun of them, taunting them to sing songs of their lost temple.
The Israelites felt lost, abandoned and not very hopeful as they experienced exile in a foreign land. Today, another group of God's people fights those same feelings as they are exiled—except these people are exiled in their own country.
The news rarely, if ever, mentions their plight. Christians in America are largely unaware that they even exist. World leaders overlook them almost entirely. Who are they? Christian Palestinians.
In 1948, when the country of Israel was formed, there were more than 400,000 Palestinian people who claimed to follow Jesus. Today, less than 60,000 remain in their homeland.
For hundreds of years, these Christian families resided peacefully alongside their Jewish neighbors. Many of them used to live in and around Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. But today, pressure from some Muslims and Jews has driven them away from their homes and into remote areas or other countries that they consider safer for their families.
Christian Palestinians feel exiled—by Israel for forcing them out of their homes, by Muslims who persecute them for abandoning the "proper" faith of the Palestinian people and by Christians in the West who are essentially unaware that they exist.
Professor Abe Ata, a ninth-generation Christian Palestinian, sums up the desires of his people. "What we seek is support: material, moral, political and spiritual. As Palestinians, we grieve for what we have lost, and few people have lost more than us. But grief can be assuaged by the fellowship of friends."