<style>.post-40320 .entry-title{color: }</style>314
<style>.post-40320 .entry-title{color: }</style>314
<style>.post-40320 .entry-title{color: }</style>314
<style>.post-40320 .entry-title{color: }</style>314

Intergenerational Struggle for Liberation

The Bishop of Jerusalem’s Grandson

By John Na’em Snobar

I was the first Palestinian Christian to join the diplomatic career stream of the Australian foreign service, serving in Egypt and Pakistan until October 2023. It is challenging to address all the reasons for my departure from this sought-after career – not the least of which is not embarrassing others, particularly by virtue of an Australian (and Western) inability to speak openly, meaningfully, and constructively about race, particularly anti-Palestinianism.

I followed the legacy of firsts set for me by my grandfather, Bishop Faik Ibrahim Haddad, who was the first Palestinian Anglican bishop of Jerusalem. He was appointed as coadjutor bishop in 1974 – the same year that African national movements were successful in their war of liberation from Portugal. Although Palestinian Christians were the first Christians, it was not until 1976 that a Palestinian Christian held the post of Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.

There is an intergenerational link between my grandfather’s appointment as the first Palestinian Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, and my service as an Australian diplomat, which centers on the British Crown, race, and colonization. As I reflect on my grandfather’s experiences within the halls of religious and establishment power, the similarities with my own experience are striking: race is at the heart of it. At its core, the disregard for Palestinians, and all Indigenous people, starts with the belief in white racial superiority. At its worst, it ends with genocide and the attempted extermination of an entire people.

For diplomats, race is not an invitation to listen and learn: it’s a political “card” used to conjure up support or to divide. Diplomats are more than trained envoys: they are highly skilled politicians, able to use subtlety to advance national interests. After all, why was it so important for the Church of England to have its own Palestinian Christian bishop of Jerusalem? What legitimacy does a foreign Crown gain through appointing a Palestinian Christian, whose roots date back to the Palestinian Jews, in the land where Christianity came from?

The appointment of a native Palestinian bishop of Jerusalem to the Anglican Church was described in an Episcopal News Service press release of January 6, 1976 as “…a new beginning for the Church in the Holy Land. An indigenous national bishop assumes the awesome responsibility of being the representative of the Anglican Communion in the Holy City.” The press release goes on to describe the ceremony as “rich [in] traditional stateliness and dignity that Anglicans throughout the world revere and look for in the orderliness of their liturgy.”

Painting of Bishop Faik Ibrahim Haddad of Jerusalem, the first Palestinian Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, wearing colonial regalia displaying the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Catholic Church), the Order of Saint John (Church of England), and the Jordanian Order of “Independence”.

John Na’em Snobar writes about his experience as a Palestinian Christian who served in the Australian foreign ministry until October 2023. He reflects on colonization and the role played by the Crown in colonizing Palestine, including the appointment of his grandfather as the first Palestinian Anglican bishop of Jerusalem.

The words “traditional stateliness and dignity” seem striking here. They convey the pomp and ceremony of my grandfather’s appointment, appearing to celebrate a milestone, in the so-called indigenization of the Church of England in Palestine. What this ceremony disguises is that the ushering in of a native bishop was intended to hide the mammoth role that the Church of England played in the theft of my ancestral homeland of Palestine. Like all colonizations, this was done with artifice.

For example, a native Palestinian Christian bishop required the creation of a new “autonomous province” of the Anglican Communion, the Diocese of Jerusalem. The Diocese of Jerusalem was responsible for Jerusalem itself, Gaza, the West Bank of Jordan, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In this way, these colonial constructs were reinforced by the English monarchy: they become structures through which British colonization of the region was, and is for now, maintained.

In the years that followed, my grandfather would receive the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (from the Sovereign of the Catholic Church in Rome), the Order of Saint John (from the Sovereign of the Church of England), and the Jordanian Order of Independence (from the Sovereign of the King of Jordan). All that pomp and ceremony – medals, robes, hats, and diplomatic passports – serve colonial interests, hiding a core truth about the Palestinian people: that they themselves are sovereign, as the Indigenous people of Palestine.

Did my grandfather know the full extent of the role of the Church of England in the British colonization of Palestine? Did he believe that there was a separation of Church and State, even though the head of the Anglican Church is the British/Australian monarch? Did he, like the rest of us before October 2023, once believe in the English colonial notions of “rule of law,” “accountability,” “democracy,” and so-called “human rights”? Or did he do the best he could to platform Palestine using the structures created by colonizers, finding powerful allies within the Church, to give voice to Palestinian Christians?

The Australian diplomatic passport issued for John Na’em Snobar, who served in the Australian Embassy in Egypt, and the Australian High Commission in Pakistan, until October 2023.

If annoying the Israeli colonial authorities counts as a small measure of success, the description by an Israeli newspaper of my grandfather’s appointment as the first Palestinian Anglican bishop of Jerusalem as “the first unsettling event” serves to suffice. In truth, it was not my grandfather’s appointment as Bishop of Jerusalem that was the unsettling event: it was the colonization of his homeland, driven by a foreign British Crown.

My grandfather’s contribution to Palestinians included supporting education, health, and community initiatives, working within the structures available to him. Most notably, he brought Gaza’s Al Ahli Hospital under auspices of the Anglican Church, which prevented the hospital’s closure, under pressure from Israeli colonial forces. This is the same hospital that the Israeli regime has now largely destroyed, during the course of its ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Like many Anglicans in his congregation – Edward Said, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Father Naim Ateek, and others – my grandfather used his position to speak about Palestinian liberation. These were sermons, lectures, interviews, coffees, breakfasts, and dinners: engagements with all levels of decision-making elites, anticipated to influence, in the hope of delivering peace to the Holy Land.

I recall fondly my teenage memories of the bishop, when I lived with him in Houston, Texas. He engaged at high levels with the American establishment and diplomatic figures, sharing his perspectives about Palestinian Christians and liberation theology. The bishop brought his Palestinian sincerity to each conversation, applying his fine theological mind to spread truth and dispel myths, about Palestine. During these interactions, establishment figures would always be at pains to whisper, “Bishop Haddad, I am personally with the Palestinians, even though this is not the official position.”

These sorts of decision makers that my grandfather engaged with would one day become my own interlocutors, on the diplomatic circuit. Perhaps my ears had become accustomed to words of acquiescence, dressed in empathy, just as a wolf wears sheepskins to appear innocent. Or maybe the British colonial project had succeeded in mellowing the fiery rage in my belly, eventually making me succumb to the British coos of “be reasonable,” and “calm down.” Whatever it was that had bound my tongue for all those years, one thing became clear in October 2023: I refused to be silent about the attempted extermination of my beloved Palestinian people, no matter the cost, or consequence.

As a Palestinian Christian, my ancestral roots extend back in time to original Christianity, far exceeding the history and legitimacy of any empire’s church in Palestine. My Palestinian Christianity tells me the story of a Palestinian Jew, who upon witnessing injustice and trade in a holy place, flipped over the tables in the temple in rage. Palestine then, as it is now, was under the thumb of a foreign occupation. Just as the Church of Rome was established by a Palestinian Jew, so too did the Church of England appear to gain legitimacy through the appointment of its first Palestinian Christian bishop of Jerusalem.

Palestinians in the diaspora are often at pains to explain that Palestine is not a religious struggle, but a political one. They point out that religious narratives are used by political actors to garner support and resources, to achieve political outcomes. At best, diaspora Palestinians identify an overlap between the religious and political elements of Palestine within the Christian decision-making elites. Just as my grandfather and many other Palestinian Christian leaders did, we should continue our truth-telling about Palestine to these elites.

Palestinian liberation requires us to go further than engaging with foreign religious elites, no matter how powerful they are. For Palestinian Christians, it requires us to recognize that we ourselves are the Church of Palestine: no foreign Crown or power, no pomp or ceremony, no robe or hat is required for us to affirm our own sovereignty. Palestinian sovereignty is an eternal flame which burns through any structure built to contain it, passing from one generation to the next.

If I were to sit with my Palestinian grandfather today, as though he had not passed, I would tell him everything I know now about diplomacy and race: that every nod of agreement was really just a pleasantry, that every handshake was really just a formality, that every word was just as empty as he had always suspected. I would tell him that he was heard by the establishment, but purposefully not listened to. He would tell me, as he always did, that none of this really mattered, as long as you always spoke the truth.

Palestine will be free.

  • John Na’em Snobar is a Palestinian Christian settler-migrant to Australia. He is a lawyer, former Australian diplomat, and the grandson of Bishop Faik Ibrahim Haddad, the first Palestinian Anglican bishop of Jerusalem. Instagram: thejohnnaem; Twitter: @johnnaemsnobar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *