On 29/3 2008 Rhadia Qupty was invited to participate in a one day conference of the Sabeel Friends of The Netherlands held at Zeist. Rhadia gave a presentation on Complex Identity: as Christian Arab/ Palestinian Israeli. She traced her life story starting with her birth in Haifa, Palestine in l944, and including the family crisis due to the loss of her mother immediately after her birth. Many mothers had passed away during those rough times because of ill health and not suitable health care and socio-economic-political unrest. Her father moved to Nazareth to be with her only uncle on her mother’s side. Rhadia was placed at the Nazareth Christian Hospital until her father would be able to restore his family life. She was cared for by her aunt, who was the first certified Palestinian midwife.
The Baptist church, like many other Christian Churches welcomed many broken, displaced and dispersed families who left their homes in villages and cities around Nazareth. Rhadia was fortunate to have Baptist Missionaries who hired her father to work in the Baptist school and Church since he and his family were one of the first Baptist Church members. They were originally members of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Southern Baptist Missionaries decided to open an orphanage called The George W. Truet Home for many Palestinian babies and children who were left in hospitals and churches. In the aftermath of 1948 many families were separated, dispersed or threatened and ran away to Arab countries thinking they will come back and take their children when life got more settled. Rhadia was the first to live in the Home since her father was working with the mission and he agreed to keep her there on the basis that he and his other children could visit, and that Rhadia would be allowed to visit on family occasions.
Her father remarried Rhadia’s first cousin, the daughter of her mother’s brother. Her cousin became her stepmother and joined a family that had five children already, for Rhadia had two older brothers and two sisters. Because wages were minimal at that time, Rhadia’s step mother worked at the George W.Truet Home, ironing for the l9 children to help provide for the basic needs of Rhadia’s immediate family.
One needs to pay special gratitude to the Christian Private Institutions that were present during the years after the Nekbah. They helped many Palestinian refugees and desperate families who had very low income and could hardly survive. Thanks to the Christian Hospitals, Schools and Churches which supported those who could not have survived, as they provided education and employment and other services that helped maintain the dignity of the community.
In the meanwhile Rhadia had two families: her blood family and the l8 brothers and sisters who grew up with her in the George W. Truet Home. She was also fortunate that she kept close touch with her father, step mother, brothers and sisters. Most of the kids in the Home were orphans and the society looked down upon them. The considered them unfortunate and didn’t accept them because their parents were absent and unknown.
The Baptist Mission realized the unfortunate position most of the Home Kids were in so they built an Agricultural Boarding Home at the Baptist Village, near Petah Tikvah where they would learn farming and taking care of animals e.g. cattle, chicken, horses. At the village schooling was provided as well as recreation in their own swimming pool and other activities on their camp grounds. Rhadia was around l0 years old, and had already four primary grades in an Arabic school. The location of the Home at the Baptist village was in an entirely Jewish area. Arab teachers came from Nazareth, but that didn’t work out well. Jewish teachers then attempted to teach the children and that confused them. Therefore, English language seemed to be most suitable under the circumstances, and missionary, American and English teachers came yearly to upgrade the High School Education and train teachers
Rhadia learned three languages, Arabic, Hebrew and English. She was the only one of her immediate family who graduated from High School in l963. She yearned and sought to get higher education. She moved to Jerusalem to pursue work, study and find a suitable University. Jerusalem had better opportunities than back in her home town Nazareth.
Having a High School Certificate from a private institution that wasn’t recognized by the Israeli Educational System made it difficult for Rhadia to be admitted to the Hebrew University. Therefore she decided to repeat the last year of high school at the Anglican School in Jerusalem, in order to achieve a General Certificate of Education that was recognized by the Israeli Educational System. After finishing and upgrading her High School standard, Rhadia realized the only way to go to the University would be abroad. Many Palestinians of her age had left the country to seek a better opportunity for university education, since excellent students only or those who could afford it would stand a chance to be admitted to Israeli Universities.
Rhadia was very lucky to have been a maid of honor to a Jewish believer who married an American in the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. When an American Presbyterian student couple, where studying at the Hebrew University, attended the wedding and heard about Rhadia, they approached her and told her that they wanted to support a Christian Arab Palestinian Israeli to study in the U.S.A. This was the answer to her dream to go to college abroad. These American Presbyterian students’ parents became her sponsors for the college and University degree. She got her B.A in Iowa Weslyan College in l966-1970, and then she attended Michigan State University where she received her Masters in Social Work, from1970-1972.
During Rhadia’s study in America, the l967 war took place and Israel occupied the rest of the Palestinian Territories; she was worried and concerned. But when she would converse with Americans about the Israeli and Arab Conflict, they would be so happy for Israel’s victory and didn’t seem to know or care about the original indigenous Arab Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim living in Israel. This angered her and she was more motivated to return to Israel. Meanwhile she attempted to raise the awareness of people and the media abroad about the important and valuable historical existence of her people many years before the Jews entered and conquered/occupied Palestinian land. It was obvious that the Jewish propaganda controlled the media in the West and Europe which was capturing their limited and one sided view of the Middle East, while the reality of the local Palestinians was being distorted and seemed eliminated from the map of the well known world.
Rhadia was determined to awaken the Christian World in the West and Europe about the Christian and Muslim Palestinian’s historical existence. She continued spreading awareness about their land, regaining their human rights and demanding equality of other faiths and nationalities. Many Palestinians who received their education abroad never returned to their homeland in order to remain in their comfort zone and avoid hardships rather than return to war and a conflict zone where their identity was being threatened, shaken and compromised.
However, Rhadia was determined to return and attempt to make a difference in the community and society of her home land. She didn’t want to escape from the troubles and fears her Palestinian people were facing daily. She wondered, if everyone who received higher education didn’t return to affect his community and his people who will? Many attempted to persuade her to change her mind but she insisted she wanted to return to her homeland and work amongst her family, and her people. She sought to be a problem solver and encouraged the young to face difficulties, anxieties and conflicts constructively and positively.
After six years of professional training, Rhadia was ready to go back home and seek employment related to her ideals and peaceful efforts. Life had changed in Israel. It became more militaristic, segregated and lack of trust and suspicion prevailed between Jews and Arab Palestinians. Under such circumstances, she couldn’t find employment among two people and three faiths. But eventually something close to fulfilling her dream was found. She worked for three years in a project for Rehabilitation in the Triangle area for Jewish and Arab villages. Rhadia worked with Muslim Arab/Palestinians while Jewish social workers worked in Jewish towns. But her great excitement was when they reviewed the population together and applied conclusions to the establishment of a Comprehensive Health Rehabilitation Center for the disabled in Arab and Jewish villages…This project was sponsored by the American Government so it was a temporary task for achieving this specific purpose.
The turning point appeared in Rhadia’s life was when one of the Home Kids, Milady, became very ill. She was married with three children. It hurt everyone when her disease was life threatening. At the same time Rhadia’s father also fell ill and had a heart attack and passed away early in l975. After three months of Milady’s severe illness, she passed away at the end of March, l975. Milady was survived by three children ages 3,4, and 7 and a devoted husband Elia, who was a teacher at the Baptist School and was finishing his teaching degree at Haifa University. After a few months Elia and Rhadia became close friends and she began to realize there is more to academic achievement and career. She felt he was going to propose to her. Rhadia thought deeply and realized there is a time for everything: time for love, for marriage and for raising a family. This caused her to be content with her academic achievements and now she felt she wanted to take responsibility within the Nazareth community as a wife to a well known teacher, a man of faith and a good father. She had agreed to marry Elia, and the wedding took place at the end of 1975.
For Rhadia life became a challenge having an instant family. It was transforming all the professionalism and training into reality and practicing and applying her ideals to every day living. Her Christianity became more alive. Her obedience to Jesus’ teaching was practiced on the ground through her marriage and motherhood as she raised three children, and was blessed later on with three more of her own. She was also given the opportunity to establish a social service department at the Nazareth Hospital as part time employment and she accepted that too.
Throughout the years, it became very clear that as Arab Palestinians and citizens of Israel, Rhadia and her people were facing many challenges such as Land Day events which left l3 Palestinian Israeli Youth shot to death by the Israeli police, two intifadas in the Occupied Territories (West Bank & Gaza), the solidarity stand of Israeli Palestinians against land confiscation within Israel and throughout the West Bank and Gaza and other related human rights abuses related to Occupation. All these elements enhanced discrimination measures within the Israeli society.
Rhadia realized she needed to become more active and involved with the Arab/Palestinian community within Israel so she began to attend local Sabeel meetings and International Sabeel Conferences because it dealt with the everyday issues and complexity of the Christian Palestinian Israeli. Most Palestinians attempted to solve their complexity within secular means and organizations but Rhadia became more involved with Sabeel since it gave her a constructive and effective way of applying Christianity to every day life.
It was not enough to be involved locally and nationally but internationally as well. Christianity is world wide and Christians everywhere need to stand with and lift up the spirits of Christian Palestinians especially since they belong to the same Faith….However both Christian and Muslim Palestinians share a common strtuggle regarding the same issues( Occupation, The Right of Return, Jerusalem, Refugees, Demolition of Houses, Desperate conditions in Gaza, etc.) All these common concerns need to be addressed so as to keep the issues alive and to seek ways to keep the Christian presence shining and rewarding in the Holy Land!! Christian Palestinians have become a minority within the minority in Israel, East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza and in the Middle East.