ISRAEL: Whose Promised Land?
The violent Al-Aqsa Intifada began on September 29th, 2000. That's the day after
Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, went to the Haram Al-Sharif, the Temple
Mount, with about a thousand soldiers. That passed more or less without
incident, surprisingly. But the next day, which was Friday, there was a huge
army presence as people left the mosque after prayers; there was some stone
throwing and immediate shooting by the Israeli army and Border Patrol, which
left about a half a dozen Palestinians dead and over a hundred wounded.
That's September 29th. On October 1st, Israeli military helicopters,
actually US military helicopters with Israeli pilots, sharply escalated the
violence, killing two Palestinians in Gaza. On October 2nd, military
helicopters killed 10 people in Gaza, wounded 35. On October 3rd,
helicopters were attacking apartment complexes and other civilian targets.
And so it continued. By early November, the helicopters were being used for
targeted political assassinations...
For an excellent brief history of the region please see:
Views Of The Future
A Jewish peace activist (name unknown) writes: 'The first challenge, then, is to extract
acknowledgement from Israel for what it did to the Palestinian people. The
root cause of the Palestine-Israel conflict is clear. During the 1948 war,
750,000 Palestinians fled in terror or were expelled from their
ancestral homeland and turned into refugees. The state of Israel then
refused to allow them to return and either destroyed their villages entirely
or expropriated their land, orchards, houses, businesses and personal
possessions for the use of the Jewish population. This was the birth of the
state of Israel. We know it is hard to accept emotionally, but in this case
the Jewish people are in the wrong. We took most of Palestine by force from
the Arabs and blamed the victims for resisting their dispossession. The
Israeli government could solve the Palestine/Israel crisis tomorrow. It
actually would be in the best interests of its citizens to do so because
random acts of terrorism against Israelis would cease if Palestinian demands
for a viable, independent state were accepted and compensation for Arab
A CHRISTIAN APPROACH?
Christians and Jews range right across the left-right spectrum in terms of
their understanding of the Israel/Paelstine problem. Broadly:
1. MOST JEWS AND THE CHRISTIAN EVANGELICAL/FUNDAMENTALIST 'RIGHT'.
Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview on CNN and was asked about Israel's
occupation of Arab lands. His response was 'It's our land.'
The following is a summary of the Jewish and Christian evangelical/fundamentalist perspective:
1. Nationhood and Jerusalem. Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C.E., two thousand years before the rise of Islam.
2. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
3. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 B.C.E., the Jews have had dominion over the land for one thousand years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.
4. The only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 C.E. lasted no more than 22 years.
5. For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.
6. Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.
7. King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.
8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward Jerusalem.
9. Arab and Jewish Refugees: In 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.
10. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.
11. The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same.
12. Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own peoples'
lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the U. S. state of New Jersey.
13. The Arab - Israeli Conflict: The Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won.
14. The P.L.O.'s Charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, and autonomy under the Palestinian Authority. However, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_National_Covenant : the Hamas victory in Gaza (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012600372.html ) in 2006 has made the issue more complex. The evolution of the 2014 Hamas/Fatah pact is yet to be discerned (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/23/plo-hamas-agree-unity-pact-form-government )
15. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and made accessible to people of all faiths.
16. The U.N. Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel.
17. Of the 690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed against Israel.
18. The U.N was silent while 58 Jerusalem Synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians.
19. The U.N. was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
20. The U.N. was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
Yasser Arafat regarded Zionism as a way of making Palestinians pay for the Holocaust. The 'leader of the Palestinian people' stated the purpose of his life, just a decade after he established Al Fatah, the predecessor of the PLO (and incidentally, this was many years before Israel conquered Arab
lands): 'The end of Israel is the goal of our struggle, and it allows for neither compromise nor mediation,' he explained to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in 1972. 'We don't want peace. We want war, victory. Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else.'
2. CHRISTIAN 'LEFT' (MAINLINE CHURCHES/WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES):
One of the problems in this debate is that most Jews and right-wing Christians are not listening to the Palestinians - particularly Palestinian Christians. I would strongly recommend Elias Chacour's book Blood Brothers for a Christian Palestinian perspective on all this...
Here's a representative perspective of the 'Christian left', from Desmond Tutu:
'In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jewish people. They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice, oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders.
'What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. On one of my visits to the Holy Land I drove to a church with the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem. I could hear
tears in his voice as he pointed to Jewish settlements. I thought of the desire of Israelis for security. But what of the Palestinians who have lost their land and homes?
'I have experienced Palestinians pointing to what were their homes, now occupied by Jewish Israelis. I was walking with Canon Naim Ateek (the head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Centre) in Jerusalem. He pointed and said: "Our home was over there. We were driven out of our home; it is now occupied by
'My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden? Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured. The military action of recent days, I predict with certainty, will
not provide the security and peace Israelis want; it will only intensify the hatred.
'Israel has three options: revert to the previous stalemated situation; exterminate all Palestinians; or - I hope - to strive for peace based on justice, based on withdrawal from all the occupied territories, and the
establishment of a viable Palestinian state on those territories side by side with Israel, both with secure borders.
'We in South Africa had a relatively peaceful transition. If our madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world. If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land?
'My brother Naim Ateek has said what we used to say: "I am not pro- this people or that. I am pro-justice, pro-freedom. I am anti- injustice, anti-oppression."
'But you know as well as I do that, somehow, the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal [in the US], and to criticise it is to be immediately dubbed anti-semitic, as if the Palestinians were not semitic. I am not even anti-white, despite the madness of that group... People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful.
'Well, so what? For goodness’ sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust. Injustice and oppression
will never prevail. Those who are powerful have to remember the litmus test that God gives to the powerful: what is your treatment of the poor, the hungry, the voiceless? And on the basis of that, God passes judgment. We should put out a clarion call to the government of the people of Israel, to the Palestinian people and say: peace is possible, peace based on justice is possible. We will do all we can to assist you to achieve this peace, because it is God's dream, and you will be able to live
amicably together as sisters and brothers.'
Desmond Tutu is the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
Many Jews resonate with this approach as well. As I write this a news item says more than 320 members of the Israeli Defense Forces have signed a pledge refusing 'to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people' through 'missions of occupation and oppression' against Palestinians. Though these 'refuseniks' consider the military defense of the State of Israel to be legitimate, the signers have denounced 'commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people.' Yesh Gvul, a support organization for refuseniks, says these soldiers accept the legal consequences of their action as part of a history of effective resistance. Yesh Gvul credits the imprisonment of 168 soldiers during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and 200 jailed for refusing to combat the 1987 intifada with helping to curtail those military campaigns.
IS THERE ANOTHER - CHRISTIAN - WAY?
The persecution of the Jews for centuries in Europe was the worst of many stains on the European record, and the Zionists' desire for a place of sanctuary is certainly understandable
HARDLINERS - the religious and political right - tend to emphasize the promises of Yahweh to Israel and 'realpolitik'.
Their text: Deuteronomy 11: 23-24: 'The Lord will drive out all these nations before you... Your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon, and from the river Euphrates, to the Western Sea.'
Their philosophy: The only way to root out terrorism is by force, not love and gentle persuasion.
Their attitude: demonize the Palestinians.
'Who won the wars?' they ask. The average Israeli on the street would say: 'It's not our fault, they started the war, they haven't recognised our right to exist, they don't want to live in peace with us anyway - so I would be crazy to invite somebody who might join Hamas to come and live down the road
from me. What's more, they started the war, we won it, and that's that.'
Israel is strong - it is the fifth largest military power in the world, is economically dominant, deep in leadership cadres, healthy in civil society and culture. But the Israelis don't seem to know they're strong. They still believe they are victims. As long as you believe you're a victim, you are not accountable. As victims, Israelis believe they must defend themselves whatever the cost, whatever the consequences.
Back to right-wing Christians. One Middle Eastern Christian leader wrote: 'Most visitors who come to the Holy Land for the primary reason of "walking where Jesus walked" have never been victims of torture, oppression, unjust imprisonment, or physical deprivation. From their more comfortable lives,
they may not be as sensitive to Jesus' marching orders in Luke 4 to "preach good news to the poor...and release to the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This is a vacation, after all, not a "mission trip." Many who come believe in a near-heretical apocalyptic theology nurtured by the "late great" prophetic literature that declares that the secular state of Israel is the long awaited pre-messianic event. The vast majority of those who come are traveling with tour agencies or guides trained and
supervised by the Israeli government. As a result Arab Muslims and Christians alike are often denigrated as violent, dirty, and criminally inclined people whose neighborhoods should be avoided. And many visitors come with fully arranged schedules and are afraid to reach out to local believers, to worship with them, or to see their reality-especially since many congregations are in the "dangerous" West Bank and Gaza Strip.'
The truth is, these visits are rarely dangerous physically, but they can cause troubling spiritual challenges to misperceptions and prejudices. When visitors observe injustice and align themselves with the poor and
oppressed - when the scales come off the eyes of pilgrims - the result can be painful internal and doctrinal adjustments, but also a deepened spiritual sensitivity. As one of our pilgrim friends, Rev. Katherine Kallis from Boston, said, "The experience with Palestinians sandpapered my heart. I will never be the same."
SOFTLINERS (is that a word?) - the religious and political left – say violence usually breeds more violence. Negotiation is the only way to solve conflicts. Martyrs only produce more martyrs.
Gandhi (yes, Gandhi!) offered some wisdom for us here when he said 'If a lunatic is loose in the village and threatening people, you first deal with the lunatic, and then the lunacy.'
Peace is preferable to war. But it's not an absolute value. And so we must always ask, "What kind of peace?" If Hitler had conquered the world there would be peace but not the kind we would like to see.
Most observers agree that the role of the U.S. and the U.N. crucial if the Palestinian/Israeli impasse is to be resolved. The Gulf region has the major energy resources in the world: whoever controls that region not only has access to enormous wealth; the control of energy resources is an extremely powerful lever in
world affairs. But Palestinians have no wealth or power.
Someone has said: if the secretary-general of the UN or the president of the US lived in a back alley of Gaza for a month the whole problem would have been solved a few decades ago...
Here are some of the essential components of a viable peace for Israel/Palestine:
1. Justice. 'No peace without justice; no justice without truth'. 'The first challenge, then, is to extract acknowledgement from Israel for what it did to us... But then, I believe, we must also hold out the possibility of some form of coexistence in which a new and better life, free of ethnocentrism and religious intolerance, could be available...If we present our claims about the past as ushering in a form of mutuality and coexistence in the future, a long-term positive echo on the Israeli and Western side will reverberate.' (Edward Said in "The Progressive", March 1998).
Here's something from Jews for Justice: 'The root cause of the Palestine-Israel conflict is clear. During the 1948 war, 750,000 Palestinians fled in terror or were actively expelled from their ancestral homeland and turned into refugees. The state of Israel then refused to allow them to return and either destroyed their villages entirely or expropriated their land, orchards, houses, businesses and personal possessions for the use of the Jewish population. This was the birth of the state of Israel. We know it is hard to accept emotionally, but in this case the Jewish people are in the wrong. We took most of Palestine by force from the Arabs and blamed the victims for resisting their dispossession.’
The matter of justice raises another issue. A people can only cope with so much humiliation, until they say, 'This far and no further'. Jim Wallis: The Israeli policy is called closure. Everything gets closed down in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians are not allowed to move freely-to go to school, to work, or even to visit family. All Palestinians are required to have permits and pass through interminable checkpoints. Our group was stopped at every checkpoint, even though we were an international delegation in large buses. We had some clout and were no threat to the Israelis, and they still held us up for hours. If you are a Palestinian, you wait. And you wait. I heard many stories - for example, of a woman in labor, stopped at a checkpoint on the way to the hospital. She was forced to deliver her baby in
the back seat of her car, waiting at the checkpoint. The soldiers ordered her outside the car, where she collapsed on the ground in utter exhaustion, with the umbilical cord still attaching her to her baby, while Israeli soldiers laughed. In July, another baby born at an Israeli checkpoint died before reaching the hospital. These women experienced the extreme of the type of indignities visited on Palestinians every day... There is no "symmetry" in the violence of the Middle East today. Israeli violence is enormously disproportionate to Palestinian violence. That includes the violence of the settlements and closure policies themselves and the Israeli military practices, especially in their retaliation against Palestinian attacks. Despite this lack of proportionality, there is no moral or strategic justification for the Palestinian violence in response to Israeli domination, especially when it targets civilians. No argument, even lack of symmetry, will suffice.
2. Love of Enemies. This is not a very Jewish, (or Arab) virtue. See Leviticus 19:17, 18: 'You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin... You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.' Deuteronomy 10: 18,19: 'The Lord executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' Leviticus 19: 33,34: 'When an alien
resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.' So love in the Jewish Scriptures is limited to one's kin and the 'agreeable alien'.
3. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a traditional value in world affairs. The concept is foreign to most secular political philosophies and peripheral at best to Christian theories of the common good and a just war. Among 20th-century philosophers, the German-Jewish refugee Hanna Arendt stood out. Writing after the Holocaust, she saw forgiveness as one of two human capacities that make it possible to alter the political future. The other is the ability to enter into covenants. Forgiveness surfaced after the grisly
nightmare of apartheid in South Africa, when then-president Nelson Mandela awakened many to a reality expressed later in the title of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 1999 book, No Future Without Forgiveness. In Northern Ireland, many Catholics and Protestants have been able to imagine a
different future through public acts of mutual repentance and forgiveness. In Cambodia, Buddhist primate Moha Ghosananda has struggled to release people from a paralyzing past by envisioning a future of forgiveness. He calls for selectively forgiving Khmer Rouge leaders who have repented and
renounced violence after perpetrating that nation's unspeakable genocide. In his unequaled work, An Ethic for Enemies, Donald W. Shriver defines forgiveness as an "act that joins moral truth, forbearance, empathy and commitment to repair a fractured human relation."
4. Compassion. Something akin to the Marshall Plan would have to be mobilized if the Palestinians are to enjoy a viable homeland and lifestyle.
5. The cycle of violence must be stopped - from both sides.
6. The Right to Exist. Both sides have a responsibility here. The Palestinians and the Arab states must affirm the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders (UN 242). And the Palestinian people
need a sovereign, uncontested, independent state of their own. This is a matter of justice and practicality. They also demand territorial integrity and contiguity... Any further dissection of Palestinian territory would make it politically and economically impossible to maintain a state...There can be no civilian pockets under Israeli rule on Palestinian land... The Palestinians want a sovereign capital in Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is Palestine's historical, spiritual and commercial heart.
7. Occupation. The Palestinians are suspicious of any attempts to maintain an Israeli presence in territories occupied in 1967. The territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority is dispersed and
intersected by 144 Israeli civilian and military installations, diminishing the viability of that administration's control. The settlements are seen as an instrument of the ongoing occupation, the aim of which is to divide any future Palestinian state into noncontiguous portions.
8. International Help. The establishment of an international peacekeeping force, agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, would be needed to oversee the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and maintain order until a peace agreement can be fully implemented.
9. Israeli Settlements. Part of any agreement would need to include the cessation of the building of new Israeli settlements and of the expansion of existing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza; abandonment, dismantling, or other disposition of settlements that negate the geographic integrity of a
viable Palestinian state.
10. The Right of Return. This is a crucial matter of justice and fairness for refugees... As a matter of principle, the Palestinians want all the refugees to be granted the right of return to the land they or their
families left behind during the war which accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948, and the Six Day war in 1967. They have several UN resolutions – and plenty of powerful media images of miserable conditions in some of the refugee camps - on their side. The Israelis will find this hard. The
Israeli right and left disagree about most of the key issues in the peace process, but there's one thing they're united on: allowing three million Palestinian refugees to move into the suburbs of Tel Aviv or the port of Haifa would be tantamount to national suicide. The future of the Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, is one of the biggest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli academics argue that just as many Jews were thrown out of Arab countries in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and these people aren't demanding compensation. And: tens of millions of people have been displaced throughout history, but no other country has ever been forced to take such a large number back. As one writer reminds the Americans: 'American Indians continue to live in squalid camps on the occupied West Bank of the Mississippi.' One and a half million refugees live in Jordan, where they
have been granted citizenship and have become well-integrated - even the Prime Minister is technically a Palestinian refugee. Another 1.3 million live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, mostly now under Palestinian control. The real problem is the 300,000 in Syria and 350,000 in Lebanon who have lived in camps for decades and have neither citizenship nor the right to work.
11. Jerusalem. In principle Jerusalem has to be shared by two peoples and three faiths. How this is to be done in practice, is perhaps the most complex issue of all.
12. Water. Futurologists tell us that wars in the next couple of centuries will not be fought over land or oil but water. This is a very complex issue as well. Palestinian farmers accuse the Israelis of discriminating against them in terms of their access to water.
13. Nuclear weapons. Some sort of U.N. supervision of Israel's nuclear stockpile would be desirable.
- Re Gandhi's quote about lunacy: What if the lunatic is a country's ruler? What should we have done with Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, Milosevic - not to mention Hitler and Stalin before them? Many Christian leaders during World War II - like Dietrich Bonhoeffer - tried the soft line with Hitler and reluctantly came to the conclusion that Hitler had to be killed to prevent millions more dying...
- Then discuss French theologian Jacques Ellul's decision to support the resistance movement against Nazism by appealing to the "necessity of violence" but didn't call such recourse "Christian." Gandhi said that nonviolent resistance is the best thing, but that violent resistance to evil is better than no resistance at all.
- 'We must hold out the possibility of some form of coexistence in which a new and better life, free of ethnocentrism and religious intolerance, could be available... If we present our claims about the past as ushering in a form of mutuality and coexistence in the future, a long-term positive echo on the Israeli and Western side will reverberate.' (Edward Said). Too idealistic?
- 'Love in the Jewish Scriptures is limited to one's kin and the “agreeable alien”.' How does this compare with Jesus' attitude towards loving enemies?
- Why do some of the earth's peoples find it so hard to forget history and forgive?
- Suggest that one of your group read Elias Chacour's book 'Blood Brothers' and present a synopsis of it to the group. Plenty to discuss there!
- Another suggestion: get someone to Google Sojourners magazine; put 'Israel' into the Sojourners search, and print out some of the articles there.
The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, The Right Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, in a message to international friends http://www.wfn.org/2002/04/msg00330.html
Bill Clinton, BBC, Sir Richard Dimbleby Lecture, November 2001 http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm/aasi/aasi0614.htm
Forgiveness in Conflict Resolution:
B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
The Jerusalem Center for Women http://www.j-c-w.org/monthly%20news.htm
Jews for peace: Not In My Name, at www.nimn.org,
Gush Shalom: www.gush.shalom.org
Gary Katz, Quest for Peace, CBS Online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/indepth/mideast/
Jihad in Islam: Is Islam Peaceful or Militant?
Joint statements and actions from the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem:
The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights: http://www.lawsociety.org/
Rabbis for Human Rights: www.rhr.israel.net
Christian Peacemaker Teams: www.prairienet.org/cpt
Dheisheh Refugee Camp: www.dheisheh.acrossborders.org
Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition: www.net-a.org/hdemol
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center: www.sabeel.org
Rowland Croucher, May 2002
Revised June 2014