The ongoing debate over Jesus Christ’s ethnicity seems to have intensified in recent years with a surge of Black Lives Matter, CRT activism and equity-based, minority-centered ideologies lending to an increasing preoccupation with Jesus’ race and social status. 

The obsession can be narrowed down to the question: To what extent was Jesus a White male? Not only in terms of skin color, but also in terms of “privilege.”

In 2021, The New York Times published an opinion piece titled: “How I learned that Jesus is Black.” A year before, The Washington Post published an article that read: “How Jesus became so White.” 

These are only two examples out of many. 

But Jesus was Jewish and Middle Eastern. In the region, the debate over his identity takes a markedly different tone among Palestinians who consider Christ as one of their own. 

“The entire world knows that Jesus is Palestinian,” according to Israeli Arab MP Sami Abou Shahadeh. (PA TV, Dec. 13, 2021). 

It is usually around Christmas when Palestinian officials stress that they are the descendants of Jesus. Last year, Palestinian Authority spokesman Ibrahim Melhem referred to Christmas as “The holiday of the birth of the Palestinian prophet Jesus, the son of Mary.” (PA TV, Dec. 24, 2020)

A Palestinian TV host wished the audience “resolve and patience that characterized the first Palestinian, Jesus.” (PA TV, Dec. 24, 2020).

In December of 2013, Adel Abd Al-Rahman, a columnist for the official PA daily wrote: “Today humanity is celebrating the birth of Jesus by conducting mass in churches all over the world in honor of the birth of the messenger of love and peace who was persecuted by the Jews from the first day he raised the banner of the New Testament. When it seemed to them (i.e., the Jews) that they had caught him, they crucified him, and to this very day they persecute him through incessant attacks against the Arab Palestinian people… Jesus, son of the Palestinian people…” 

Jesus is often described by Palestinians as a “self-sacrificing fighter”. The Arabic term is fida’i. It is also known as the national anthem of the Palestinians which begins with: 

Warrior, warrior, warrior,
Oh my land, the land of the ancestors
Warrior, warrior, warrior,
Oh my people, people of eternity

Fida’i is also a word used by Palestinians to describe terrorists and honor them for their actions. For example,  Fatah called Ashraf Na’alwa – who brought a rifle to work, tied up a young mother of a 15-month-old, and then murdered her and another coworker – “The heroic Fida’i.” 

Fatah official Rawhi Fattouh applied this status to Jesus, when he referred to him on Facebook as “The first Palestinian Fida’i.” (Dec. 24, 2021)

Another term that is often applied to Jesus is shahid, the Islamic definition of martyr. Shahid is used by Palestinians to describe a terrorist killed during an attack. Senior Fatah leader Tawfiq Tirawi applied both terms to Jesus when he posted this last December on his Facebook page: 

“On Christmas of the prophet of love, the first self-sacrificing fighter and the first [Islamic] Martyr, the messiah Jesus son of Mary, peace be upon him, we send our people’s Christians and Muslims, each and every one of them, blessings and wishes for Christmas that has become the calendar of the entire world from this holy land. Every year with good for Palestine and our people Merry Christmas.” (Dec. 24, 2021)

From a Palestinian perspective, both words – shahid and fida’i – are used to celebrate Jesus, despite their connection to acts of terror.

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