Ali Elhajj, a 35-year-old software engineer who lives in Weston, grew up Muslim in Lebanon. Eight years ago, he converted to Christianity. He found peace in his new religion, but he was also alarmed by how American Christians spoke of circumstances in Palestine. "I find that the American church does not understand what is going on in Palestine and rushes to the defense of Israel," Elhajj says.
He vowed to educate other Christians about hardships in Palestine, and to work toward Arab-Israeli reconciliation. In 2007, he invited Americans to accompany him on a December trip to Bethlehem, where they distributed Christmas presents to needy children. An Israeli ex-soldier and Christian Palestinians also partook in the gift giving. He repeated the trip in December 2008.
So Elhajj was devastated when Israel started bombing Gaza a few weeks ago, shortly after he'd returned from Bethlehem. He became even more distraught after seeing a video of a Palestine supporter in front of the U.S. Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale telling pro-Israel protesters to "go back to the oven."
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On Sunday, at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Elhajj made an emotional appeal to Palestine supporters: "When I saw the protest in Fort Lauderdale, honestly, as an Arab, I was ashamed. How can I go to the American Christians and Jews, who, frankly, hate us, and talk about reconciliation with these harsh words? And I'm not going to repeat what was said. All I'm saying is -- please -- I understand your rage. I grew up in Lebanon during the civil war. But we need to decide if we want to build on a foundation of bitterness, or build a new future for ourselves and our enemies. Please, choose another path."
The Jewish community, for instance has found an effective path -- specifically, the direct line between American elected officials' campaign purses and their perspectives on this religious conflict. "Our politicians don't really care about Zionism," said Elhajj. "There are folks in their constituencies who support Israel and give them money. If you're angry, please raise money for the politicians to change their votes."
After the jump, check out the video about Elhajj's nonprofit organization, the Bethlehem Christmas Project.