Q&A with Shadia Qubti - A Palestinian Christian on the Recent Hillsong Concert in Israel
Recently Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian Christian woman from Nazareth, shared about her experience attending a Hillsong concert in Caesarea. It was a moving article about feeling overlooked as other Christian groups were welcomed, and Palestinian Christians were not named, recognized or welcomed. Our bloggers had a few questions, and she has since had a lot of people reach out to her, so we wanted to let you hear her thoughts. To give this a bit of context, first check out the original article posted in Come and See here.
Thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts with us. Since writing the article, what has happened?
Shadia: I have received many comments and messages from friends and others who expressed their sympathy and support. I want to take this chance to thank them, and I thank Another Voice for giving me the opportunity to share about what has happened since then. There are a number of questions people have asked me, so I’d love to take the chance and address some of them here as well as answer questions from your blogging collective.
What is the most common question you’ve been asked so far?
Shadia: The most common question has been: Has Hillsong responded, and if so, how?
I have not received an official response from Hillsong in the form of a public response. However, I have received personal messages from several people working for or associated with Hillsong, and they have tried to explain the Hillsong structure.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for contacting me and for expressing sympathy and support. I value their efforts. I will share some of the answers that I have asked permission to use. I do not want to reveal their names because it is not an official response.
One of the people who contacted me said that Hillsong wants everyone to feel welcome, and the concert I attended operated in partnership with TBN where they were given 30 minutes of time to share, and Hillsong had no control of what was said during that time. My experience of rejection and exclusion happened during those 30 minutes’ time. However, I shared that from a participant’s perspective, a partnership assumes a level of agreement. And therefore, what is said on stage reflects all the partners of an event.
The individuals who contacted me also noted that last year, Hillsong United produced a music video where, among other shots, they featured Daoud Nasser, a Palestinian Christian farmer who owns Tent of Nations (a large plot of land squeezed between two settlements, and his story is but one example of the many injustices Palestinians with land in Area C regularly face). The Hillsong United team also visited Palestinians in Bethlehem during the production period, and they also met and spoke with other locals.
I am familiar with the video and actually shared it on my social media when I first heard about it.  The video played a role in my decision to actually attend the concert in Caesarea because the video did make me feel welcome and acknowledged. I’d expected to feel the same way at the concert, although the spirit of inclusion and awareness of the political situation were not reflected in that event.
What sort of response would you like from Hillsong?
Shadia: I did not write the article in order to attack the work of Hillsong. I also do not expect an apology. I simply wanted to share my experience as a local, indigenous believer in the Holy Land, and I know that some other local friends feel the same way that I do. I hoped that it would bring an increased level of awareness, hopefully on behalf of Hillsong, but also on behalf of others who want to know what it feels like to be a Christian here.
Additionally, in the future, I would want to know where Hillsong stands with regard to Palestinians, and specifically Palestinian Christians. It would be so much easier not to attend an event and feel insulted, so knowing the political leaning of the event and how it may be expressed would be helpful. If future events have speakers who deny the existence of the local Palestinian community, if your partners do not feel comfortable acknowledging us, please somehow make that clear on your website and invitation. I would much rather not attend and be hurt by the lack of clarity. However, if we are welcome, I would love to know how a similar experience can be avoided in the future.
Palestinian Christians tend to be marginalized by many mainstream evangelical groups. Why did you expect something different from Hillsong?
Shadia: I want to see followers of Christ, on both sides of the conflict, find a way to be a bridge for Palestinians and Israelis, and music can play an important role in the process. Hillsong has a powerful message, and they have the ability to portray and express God’s heart through their music, and I want to continue to experience that, and bring others to feel their heart. Hillsong still has a great opportunity to do that.
Hillsong is also starting a church in Tel Aviv, and it is important that they are aware or at least try to understand what that means to the local church. Additionally, I’m not aware of any other place in the world where Hillsong names its churches after the country where it is placed, and calling it Hillsong Israel carries certain associations in our post-colonial or still-colonial context (whichever way you view the situation). What message is that sending to their own community, and what message is that sending to the local church?
Very often our churches are also theologically polarized about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we too submit to the binary view of it. This is important for the future of the Hillsong Israel church. Your name and your location are sending a certain message to the local Palestinian church, and if this is not your stance, then engage with us and help us understand you better.
Why did you write the letter publicly?
Shadia: I think this is part of my personal journey of making a decision to voice my experiences as a Palestinian Christian woman, and I have learned a lot in the process. From my many years of experience trying to bridge between local Christians from Israel and Palestine, I know that when I am vulnerable and share my pain and suffering, God is able to transform my heart and heal me. And in the same way, this blog, Another Voice, gives a voice to those less public among our communities, giving your blogging collective the chance to share your experiences, to try and bridge some misconceptions, and also to feel healing in the writing.
I know this is a personality thing, but I think if I was there attending I would have confronted the organizers or the band members to ask if they know Palestinian Christians exist, and if so why we weren’t acknowledged alongside other believing groups. Did you have the urge to do this at the end of the concert?
Shadia: No, that didn’t occur to me.
How do you not lose trust or faith in the worldwide church, especially evangelicals, who mostly are either ignorant of your existence or even purposefully try to erase your identity?
Shadia: Some commenters have said that I shouldn’t have gone to the concert, as I should’ve known the leaning of the event the minute I saw TBN was the co-host. I think it is important to say that, as with most Palestinians, I didn’t know what or who TBN is, and for that matter I didn’t know who Mike Huckabee was. They are not part of our knowledge. In the same way, I cannot assume that evangelical churches or organizations come here with an understanding of the situation.
One of the problems in our conflict is the lack of information, and it is for this reason sometimes evangelicals simply do not know Palestinian Christians exist. I choose to believe that we are all cherished children of God created in his image. Everything else is open for change. Part of my existence as a Palestinian and as a Christian is to see every encounter and relationship as an opportunity to learn more, to bring more awareness, and to correct misinformation about my people (both the Palestinians and the church).
How do you think internationals and/or Israelis, who are in a place of recognition and greater privilege, can work to prevent this in the future or bring awareness that there are local Christians who are actually Palestinian?
Shadia: Due to the zero-sum mentality, meaning that if you are pro-Israeli then you are anti-Palestinian and the other way around, people weigh the price of what they say before they do it. In a similar way when I wrote the article, I had to weigh the cost of writing. In the same way, internationals and/or Israelis who are in a place of recognition and greater privilege have to weigh the cost of bringing awareness of Palestinians. These costs vary from public slander, loss of reputation, financial support and, at times, personal relationships. My prayer is that the voice of God guides them louder than any other consideration to be our advocates as much as advocates for the Messianic Jewish community, Muslim background believers and the international Christian community in this land.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Shadia: I would like to raise questions that Another Voice bloggers have asked, and I don’t know how to address them, but perhaps Hillsong would be interested in knowing other locals’ perspectives.
Why do groups like Hillsong, even after they have met and heard about the situation for Palestinian Christians, marginalize them and invite a speaker that does not recognize their people’s existence?
Are Hillsong afraid of something?
Thank you, Shadia, for sharing your responses with us.
 For a local perspective on the video, see more here.