ISRAEL: Whose Promised Land?
The violent Al-Aqsa Intifada began on September 29th. That's the day after
Ariel Sharon, now prime minister, 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 killed 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:
Gary Katz, Quest for Peace, CBS ONline
( http://www.cbc.ca/news/indepth/mideast/ )
Views Of The Future
A Jewish peace activist 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 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
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
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
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
8. Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray with their backs toward
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.
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
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
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
Yasser Arafat regards 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
'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
'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
'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,
'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 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 Arafat and his people.
'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 has 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 challenge 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 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 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 but also a very powerful influence in world
affairs; 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
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
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 Yasser Arafat's 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
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 or the right to
11. Jerusalem. In principle Jerusalem has to be shared by the 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
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 look at Sojourners magazine in the Google
search engine; 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
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
Gary Katz, Quest for Peace, CBS ONline
Jihad in Islam: Is Islam Peaceful or Militant?
Joint statements and actions from the patriarchs and heads of churches in
The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights
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