Date: January 22, 2018
A Jordanian Christian trauma counsellor has urged US Vice President Mike Pence to recognise Palestinian statehood to make good his pledge to help Christians in the Middle East.
Issam Smeir, who has worked with refugees in the Middle East and in the US, wrote a first-person piece for the Washington Post, titled: ‘Why Pence should listen to Christians in the Middle East, not just in the Bible Belt’.
It is believed that Mike Pence was instrumental in President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to please US Evangelical voters. That decision angered Palestinians and others across the Arab world, Christian and Muslim alike, and led to Palestinian leaders withdrawing their invitations for the West Bank leg of his trip.
Dr. Smeir, who has worked as a clinical consultant to the US Christian charity World Relief, said Pence can “serve as a bridge” between Christians in the US and the Middle East.
He said the US government should recognise a Palestinian connection to Jerusalem; lift the refugee ban; reach out to Muslim clerics and leaders and push for reforms; and condemn human rights violations, especially in the West Bank.
“While the United States does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the Trump administration should do more to acknowledge that Palestinians — including both Christians and Muslims — have a historic connection to Jerusalem,” he wrote.
He added that: “To truly support the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the administration should consider minimally leaving the door open for Palestinians to claim the eastern part of Jerusalem as their own future capital.”
He argued by placing restrictions on refugee resettlement from countries including Iraq, Iran and Syria, the Trump administration “has dramatically reduced the number of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians allowed into the country — while also harming Middle Eastern Muslims trying to flee”.
Since the first iteration of the Trump administration’s travel ban last year, fewer than 450 Iraqi Christians have been resettled, compared to almost 2,000 in 2016 under the Obama administration, he wrote.
Dr. Smeir urged Pence to reach out to Muslim clerics and leaders, pointing out that Christians and Muslims “enjoyed centuries of relatively peaceful coexistence prior to the rise of religious radicalism”. But he said it was also necessary to encourage US allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt to push for reforms to the curricula of some religious institutions that denigrate Christians and other non-Muslims.
Finally he urged the US government to “take back the baton of leadership” on human rights issues that affect daily life and result in Palestinian Christians “reluctantly” deciding to emigrate.