I Felt Rejected as a Palestinian Christian at a Hillsong Concert in Israel
Famous artists or musicians do not come to Israel and Palestine very often. When they do, local communities jump at the opportunity to go to their concert.
Update (May 25, 2017): The author has written a follow-up essay on this subject. Read it here.
I was having Palm Sunday lunch with my family when my sister-in-law told me that Hillsong would be performing in Israel. I’ve always enjoyed their music and performance, which enables me to dial down the outside distractions and focus on what’s inside, dwelling in God’s presence in a way that only music can take you. My sister and I wanted to see them, and we bought tickets with my sister-in-law to attend their second concert in Caesarea.
During the drive there we brushed up on our familiarity with Caesarea and its biblical significance. As locals, we usually visit holy sites when we have friends or relatives come from abroad, and we try to show them some of our country’s famous locations. The visits entail physically taking our cousins to the site, but not really giving them all the information tour guides do. So on the ride to Caesarea, we turned our drive into a biblical history lesson about the city.
“Wasn’t it the place where the first non-Jew becomes a Christian? Maybe a Roman soldier or something?” I asked my sister-in-law.
“I don’t quite know. We usually go there to walk along the beach. The scenery is beautiful with the Roman ruins and all,” she answered.
“Wait, maybe this is where Stephen was stoned to death? I don’t know. Something about martyrdom. That’s what I remember,” my sister-in-law responded.
“I’m sure the hosts of the concert will let us know,” I answered.
“How naive of me to think this concert wouldn’t be one-sided, that I would be welcomed to worship God in a place of mutual recognition.”
We followed the crowds, and there were more than 20 buses of people also waiting for the concert gates to open. As we found out, this Hillsong concert is part of a 2017 Hillsong tour to the Holy Land, and tourists joining in this pilgrimage get to hear their favorite band perform in the Holy Land. This is a great marketing idea! Locals certainly would not be able to fill the Roman amphitheater there. I expected a few hundreds locals would come, and along with the thousands of tourists, the venue filled up quickly.
As we waited for the concert, a couple, Matthew and Laurie Crouch, whom I had never heard of, but the audience seemed to know them, cheered favorably. The Crouches welcomed everyone, and the viewers on TV. As I paid attention to the logos on the screen, TBN was a co-host along with Hillsong. The hosts seemed to know what they are doing and got the audience in a good mood welcoming those coming from Australia, the USA, Canada, Singapore, the U.K. and Mexico. Matthew was (so) delighted by the various nationalities present that he jokingly invited anyone from Madagascar to come on stage. There was no one from Madagascar.
Then Matthew welcomed a special group among the audience saying, “We are delighted to welcome Israeli Messianic Jews that are here with us,” and the crowd cheered and others stood to indicate their belonging to that group. I thought the host would continue to welcome other locals, but he stopped there. I felt unrecognized being a local as well, but not an Israeli Messianic Jew, and I knew other Palestinian Christians were among the audience. I shrugged at the irony of welcoming a Madagascan, but not Palestinians who are among the audience.
The hosts continued to invite another special guest that was also here with his tour group and who seemed well known: Mike Huckabee. I had no idea who he was, and as soon as I Googled him, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He is described as an ardent Christian Zionist, who, among other things, denies the existence of Palestinians. How awkward! My mind starting questioning my attendance. I wondered if they they didn’t welcome Palestinians because they don’t believe we exist at all. I couldn’t believe it. Why didn’t the Hillsong website have this information online so that the audience would have all the relevant information before attending? I could have spared myself the rush of anger, repulsion, and rejection that coursed through me at that time. How naive of me to think this concert wouldn’t be one-sided, that I would be welcomed to worship God in a place of mutual recognition. Perhaps I should have known. Hillsong is only performing in Israel and not in Palestine. They are performing in leading holy sites and venues in Israel, without making any political waves.