Ongoing Campaigns & Educational Resources
The ICEJ is committed to seeking godly peace and pro-active solutions for Israel and its neighbors, while not being willing to overlook injustice for the sake of any cause. We believe that Israel has a right to live safely in the land that God has promised her, and that Jerusalem should remain her undivided capital under Jewish sovereignty. That is our starting point.
But many of the key issues at the heart of the Middle East conflict are complex. Whether it is the existential threat that Israel faces from terrorist entities such as Hamas and Hezbollah, or the growing campaign to delegitimize Israeli self-defence by labelling her an ‘apartheid state’ Christians need to get better informed. The following resources are designed to enable you to do just that.
The global reach of the ICEJ means that we have branches and representatives in over 100 nations of the world. Consider getting more involved with local ICEJ Events in your area, attending the Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem.
Legal Implications of Palestinian Statehood
Israeli officials from the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s bureau have outlined in recent weeks their concerns over the legal and diplomatic implications of the Palestinian Authority’s planned unilateral moves at the United Nations Opening Assembly in September.
At its Algiers summit in 1988, the PLO already issued a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood without specifying its borders, a move that was recognized by more than 100 nations from the Soviet and Non-Aligned blocs.
When the UN gathers for its annual Opening Assembly in New York this month, the PA is now determined to seek a UN vote to recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital. The PA will also demand that this state be accepted as a full UN member. In addition, the PA may press for a UN condemnation of Israeli “settlements” in the disputed territories and a declaration that they are illegal under international law.
Among the legal and diplomatic options available to the PA are:
a) A demand for recognition and admittance as a member state in the United Nations. Membership first requires the recommendation of the UN Security Council before the General Assembly may vote to admit a new member. The PA claims it has the necessary nine votes in the Security Council to pass such a resolution, but it could still be blocked by a veto from a permanent member state, such as the US.
b) A UN General Assembly resolution recognizing Palestine as a “non-member” state along the pre-1967 lines and/or declaring Israeli settlements illegal. Such a decision is non-binding, but it would bolster the legitimacy of Palestinian territorial claims against Israel, and allow the Palestinians to become full members of numerous UN forums, among other effects. This is considered the most likely outcome of the looming diplomatic showdown.
c) A UN General Assembly referral to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for an advisory opinion regarding Palestinian rights and claims to statehood and/or the legality of Israeli settlements. Again, such an opinion would be non-binding, but it would further bolster the legitimacy of Palestinian territorial claims against Israel.
Israeli officials contend that any such measures would be blatant violations of all the signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, while also contravening UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), among other UN decisions.
Thus, Israel opposes these unilateral actions for the following reasons:
1. UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967) called upon Israel and the Arab parties to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and specifically stressed the need to negotiate directly in order to achieve “secure and recognized boundaries.” This resolution provided a suggested negotiating framework for resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict and has been reaffirmed in numerous UN decisions ever since. Israel argues that the Palestinians are now refusing to engage in any such negotiations and must not be rewarded for obstructing the peace process.
2. The Palestinian proposal, in attempting to unilaterally change the status of the territory and determine the “1967 borders” as its recognized borders, would be a fundamental breach of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending a final peace accord. In that interim agreement, the parties undertook to negotiate the issue of borders and not to act unilaterally to change the status of the territories pending a permanent agreement.
3. The Palestinians entered into the various “Oslo Accords” with full knowledge and consent that Israel’s settlements existed in those areas, and that settlements would be one of the issues to be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations. Furthermore, the Oslo Accords impose no limitation on Israel’s settlement activity in those areas, which the Palestinians agreed would continue to be under Israel’s jurisdiction and control pending the outcome of the final status negotiations.
4. The Oslo agreements signed by Israel and the PLO were all witnessed by the United Nations together with the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States, Egypt and Norway. These witnesses must demand that the Palestinians fully honor their signed agreements or risk undermining their own integrity as reliable intermediaries.
5. The pre-1967 lines never constituted a border. The 1949 armistice agreements entered into by Israel and its Arab neighbors established only the armistice demarcation lines where the respective armies stood when the conflict ended in 1948, and expressly stated that these lines did not constitute an international border.
Why Christians Must Defend the Nation of Israel
By Rev. Malcolm Hedding
The awful horrors of the Holocaust had hardly become fully known when Israel emerged as a nation on the world stage amidst the shambles of the Second World War. As time passed the depth of wickedness and evil perpetrated against the Jewish people by the Nazis became more and more evident. As a consequence one would have thought that a “new day” would emerge in terms of the world’s relationship with the Jewish people. Sadly this is not to be.
Not only did the international community, and Britain, renege on their undertakings to the early Zionists leaders of the Jewish people, but they turned their backs on the clear undertakings approved by the entire League of Nations on the 24th of July, 1922. Clearly within this framework the perceived Jewish State was everything on the West Bank of the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Eli Hertz, writing in “Mandate for Palestine” states, “The mandate for Palestine, an historical League of Nations document, laid down the Jewish Legal rights to settle anywhere in Western Palestine, a 10,000 square mile area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”
Within hours of the declaration of statehood in May 1948, Israel was faced with immediate war. Five Arab armies attacked the “new born” state in contradiction of the will of the world community expressed through the United Nations. Behind this attack was not political disapproval, but a radical Islamic agenda that cannot abide a foreign entity on what it perceived to be “Islamic soil until doomsday”. This, and only this, is at the root of the conflict that still rages in the region. Even when the Arabs had everything they say they want now from 1948 to 1967 they were not content. In fact, they formed the PLO in 1964 with the single and urgent aim of dismantling the entire Jewish State. This “aim” is reflected in the many “destruction clauses” enshrined in the PLO charter up until today.
Four Pillars of Conflict
The inability to dislodge Israel by conventional war, as proved by the Yom Kippur war of 1973, led to a more sinister form of conflict that has involved four pillars.
3) Peace initiatives …and …
4) The Media
In terms of terrorism Israel has withstood wave upon wave of violent assaults against its citizen population. Strangely, these are almost always given scant reviews in the media…but, if a Palestinian is injured or dies in the conflict, there is international uproar. The ten thousand Hamas fired rockets raining down on the south of the country are proof of this. There were no rallies in the streets of Europe protesting such outrageous behaviour and the world community, in all its forums, gave very little importance to it.
Israel’s attempts to defend itself were made extremely difficult because the perpetrators of these acts of terror took refuge amongst the civilian population. This was the case in Jenin, Ramallah and Gaza. All the while the political wing of the PLO agreed to various peace initiatives while at the same time, in Arabic, assuring its constituency that they have not moved away from the 1964 approved plan for the phased destruction of Israel. Groups like Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) have clearly demonstrated this beyond all doubt.
The Smear of Israeli Apartheid
This “battle” took a turn after the collapses of the various Oslo initiatives in the late nineties in that the media, generally driven by the left, began to renew their assault against Israel by equalling it with the fallen Apartheid Regime of South Africa. Strategically, this was brilliant as the icons of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, like Desmond Tutu, were “on board”. So, Durban 1 and 2, though purporting to deal with racism and discrimination on a world-wide scale, were actually attempts to discredit Israel. It can be said that Durban 1 launched the Apartheid smear against Israel in earnest.
The idea of the campaign was simple; discredit Israel, delegitimize Israel and (hopefully) dismantle Israel. Sadly, this misguided campaign has taken root everywhere in the Western world and particularly on educational campuses. Prominent Israeli’s can hardly address students at these anymore as their right of free speech will be removed by heckling and even violent actions. The Palestinian machinery has “milked” this Apartheid smear against Israel to the fullest extent. To be honest, the label is sticking and the campaign is reaching into the halls of western governments. It’s popular today to be anti-Israel, as Stephen Harper, the courageous Prime Minister of Canada, recently pointed out. So, taking positions against Israel in the United Nations will get you “kudos” and introductions to the right people!
Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions
On the heels of the Apartheid smear campaign against Israel has arrived the so called “BDS Campaign”. BDS meaning; Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Once again the strategy is clear; if Israel can be discredited as an Apartheid state and thus delegitimized then, as was the case with Apartheid South Africa, she should be subjected to boycotts, disinvestment and broad based sanctions until she is successfully dismantled. We must not minimize the impact of these two campaigns. They are gathering momentum at an alarming rate and as a result Israel is facing increased isolation and rejection across the world.
To ensure, the lucrative oil markets of the Arab world coupled with growing commercial demands and markets for Western products is playing a roll in all of this. Blackmail is still a political game!
Jerusalem, Incitment & the Right of Return
Many of Israel’s so called friends want her to commit national suicide by giving in to unreasonable demands such as the surrender of East Jerusalem and the return of millions of second and third generation Palestinians to Israel proper. All the while, in the Palestinian media and in Palestinian school books, the destruction of Israel is called for and jihadist terrorists are celebrated at youth camps as role models and heroes. These things have been brought to the attention of the European Union, the United Nations and the U.S. government, but nothing happens or changes. They are ignored. Israel, without a true peace partner (The Mandela factor) is demonized, vilified and isolated, and yet she is the only Democracy in the Middle East and has demonstrated a unique ability to forge a lasting peace where genuine peace partners can be and are found. The history of this is well known.
Islam & the Hatred of the ‘Collective Jew’
Sadly, lurking behind all of the above is a hatred of the Jew and now the “collective Jew” (Israel). The assault against Israel from 1948 onwards has been unrelenting. It is driven by a radical Islamic agenda of conquest at all costs. The nature of this conflict has not changed though the Arab/Palestinian interlockers have changed colours to suit the moment like chameleons. An unlikely alliance between the political left and the radical Islamic constituency of Europe has emerged, fuelling anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. Once again in Europe Jews are in danger and Iran has surrounded Israel to the north, south, east and west. That is, with Hezbollah and Hamas to the North and South respectively and with a new alliance with Turkey to the North West.
Driven by visions and visitations of a mysterious 12th Iman Admadinijad of Iran is preparing for war with Israel. If not stopped by the international community, this war could involve a nuclear attack against the Jewish State. The situation is urgent and dangerous but the international community continues to entertain Admadinijad at the UN, in violation of its own charter. In this case, incitement to Genocide against a member state.
The Right of Self-Defense
While Israel has made mistakes she is not the transgressor that much of this world makes her out to be. The hatred of Israel has become so intense that she is no longer allowed to defend herself against the enemy that is determined to destroy her. The Second Lebanon War followed by the war with Gaza in early 2009 demonstrated this. In a so called enlightened world it is hard to believe that what happened to the Jews in Germany could happen again. But it is! Now the target is the “collective Jew” (Israel). Once again the Jews are being blamed for every ill being suffered by the world. Even the attack on the World Trade Centre buildings on 9/11 in New York by radical Islamic jihadists was attributed to Jews on much of the Arab main street! And, with austerity programs being adopted by the western democracies, in order to stave off economic meltdown, the Jews are being, and will be, blamed for much of this. Rioting on the streets of London and Europe are now common place and Israel and the Jews will be in the firing line.
The march to delegitimize Israel continues and even though Israel has legal, historical, international and biblical legitimacy this will all be pushed aside on the assertion that “this may be so but the facts on the ground have changed.” It is thus now expedient to make Israel comply with the will of the international community. This “will” will in the future become more rigid and threatening especially as western democracies face economic austerity programs that make turning to “green energy”, which is very expensive, more unlikely. Oil will remain the “life blood” of the world and this reality will contribute to the pressure on Israel to comply.
Our Response as Christians
These are very dangerous days and, whether we like it or not, the biblical scenario of all nations coming against Israel is becoming a likely one. Israel is moving into a period of isolation not seen since her founding. Her friends will be few but the Lord God of Heaven has prepared a body of people all over the world who will now stand up and be counted. These are the Evangelical Christians. We cannot be silent again as Jesus’ brethren are threatened with destruction.
Israel’s restoration is not a political accident but a direct fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham 4,000 years ago. Her role in history has not been one of racial superiority but of serventhood. She gave us the Bible and our wonderful Messiah Jesus and now we are indebted to her. Our faith is rooted in Israel’s long journey and we must stand up to support her and defend her.
This means that:
(1) You must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
(2) You must live a holy life by which Christ is glorified.
(3) You must live out your biblical responsibilities and obligations to the local church.
(4) You must pray for Israel and seek to bless her.
(5) You must get active and involve your elected representatives in your community.
(6) You must keep yourself fully informed of current events in Israel and the wider region. Jesus said, “watch and pray”.
(7) You must avail yourself of our specialist seminars and speaking events that can better equip your circle of friends, prayer group and church …and …,
(8) You must involve yourself in the wider activities of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
If not now, when?
Siding With the Truth
This is a transcript of a speech by Susan Michael, US Director, to the 9th Annual Solidarity Event at the Embassy of Israel, Washington DC, May 7th, 2010.
A worldwide campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State is sounding in the halls of governments, global institutions, universities and in streets around the world. This mounting campaign against Israel is unprecedented and it is undermining her ability to deal with the other serious threats she faces. The goal of this campaign is not only to tie Israel’s hands, but actually to bring about the end of the Jewish state.
A Campaign of Delegitimization
We just endured the Sixth Annual Israeli Apartheid Week that took place on college campuses in over 40 cities around the world. They are calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’: a country in which the Arab minority is allowed to vote, attend universities next to Jewish students, serve in the IDF, serve as ambassadors, as Supreme Court judges and even represent the nation as Miss Israel. Former US President, Jimmy Carter even turned this accusation into a bestselling book. To us this is ludicrous. But do not be fooled. This is a very dangerous global campaign because it implies that if Israel is a nation like apartheid South Africa then she can be sanctioned and dismantled in the same way as the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Hitler understood the role propaganda played in preparing the way for the extermination of the Jewish people. The steps were first discrimination, second delegitimization and lastly, extermination. We need to understand the role of the global disinformation and propaganda campaign taking place against Israel today and take it seriously.
This current campaign of delegitimization focuses on Israel as though she is the source of all evil in the world. She is not only the obstacle to Palestinian statehood but to world peace. But I want to know this: while orchestrated demonstrations were held around the world against Israel when she moved into Gaza to end the rocket attacks, and while global institutions such as the UN are accusing her of war crimes, and while our academics and mainline churches are calling for divestment – where are the demonstrations against the Iranian government for the incitement to genocide, or for threatening another member-state in the United Nations, or for beating and imprisoning innocent citizens for protesting against a rigged election?
Where are the demonstrations against Hamas who fired 8,000 rockets at innocent Israeli civilians, or for persecuting and murdering Christians in Gaza, or for kidnapping and holding Gilad Shalit for four years! Where are the demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority for glorifying suicide bombers and brainwashing little children to want to become one?
The list goes on and on and if I get started on Sudan, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia we will be here past dinner.
It is really maddening. And to think that while an almost-nuclear Iran is threatening to wipe Israel off the map, the world asks Israel to commit to a nuclear free Middle East! Or get this one: Iran was just elected to a four-year seat on the UN Women’s Rights Commission. Iran does not recognize the basic human rights of women! These are the same institutions condemning Israel for a war of self defense. Israel suffered over 8,000 rocket attacks from a group that ignores the laws of war and not only targets Israeli civilians but uses their own civilians for cover, and then Israel is the one accused of war crimes!
I am telling you that the global campaign against Israel is unprecedented. Its influence is being felt everywhere. While we have been immune to a lot of this in the US I can detect its growing influence here not only in our government, but even in Christian universities, and in the wider Evangelical world.
A Battle over Values
So what is behind all of this? First, the enemies of Israel have found a politically correct manner in which to defeat Israel and see the state dismantled. Parts of this campaign are absolutely planned and deliberate with this goal in mind.
Secondly, they have found lots of bedfellows because it is nothing but a new form of antisemitism. While classic antisemitism blames the Jews for the world’s ills, the new antisemitism, anti-Zionism, blames the Jewish nation for the worlds ills. Antisemites have simply found a politically correct way to be antisemitic.
Thirdly, it goes beyond that because Israel is in direct confrontation with the value systems of the world today. We are living in a world that now believes in moral relativism – the belief that there is no right or wrong, good or evil, truth or falsehood – it is all a question of competing narratives. The Jewish nation, which gave the world the Ten Commandments, flies in the face of moral relativism. Israel is also a Jewish state in an age when both religion and nationalism are under assault, therefore her ‘Jewishness’ is being called racism. The world is also becoming increasingly pacifist. Israel, a nation that relies on military force for her very survival, flies in the face of pacifism, hence they call her “Nazi.”
I can’t help but think of two scriptures at this point. Isaiah 5:20 says “woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” And II Thess. 2:11 “Therefore God will send them a great delusion because they did not love the truth.” This is why I am very concerned for our world and the direction in which it is heading.
A Challenge to Speak the Truth
So what can we do in the face of such gigantic challenges. There is a saying that comes to my mind that sums it up well: pray as though it is all up to God, and work as though it is all up to you.
Isaiah 62:6-7 says this:
I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent,
And give Him no rest till He establishes
And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
Jerusalem will no longer be ridiculed, instead she will be praised by all the earth, and it is “He” who will do this. We know that the battle is the Lord’s. And we will pray as though it is all up to Him.
But we also need to roll up our sleeves, see this for the battle that it is and go on the “information offensive.” How do we fight disinformation, but with information. You and I need to tell Israel’s story, over and over, and louder and louder.
We need to tell the world how they are indebted to the Jewish people. The Jewish contribution to religion, science, literature, music, medicine, finance, philosophy, technology etc., is staggering. They are making our world a better place.
We need to tell the Christian world how indebted we are to the Jewish people for everything we hold dear as Christians comes from the Jewish people.
We need to tell our country how indebted we are to Israel. Her intelligence and military technology are helping us and are saving lives of our servicemen and women. Her high tech industry and innovation is fueling Silicon Valley and our economy. She is the only democratic ally we have in the volatile Middle East. A strong US-Israel relationship is not only good for Israel, it is good for America!
The Bible is clear that those who curse Israel and seek to destroy her will suffer the consequences of the very hatred and destruction they foment. As Yehuda Avner, an Israeli author, said just last week in The Jerusalem Post, “our history is that our enemies try to destroy us in every generation, and every time it is they who are destroyed.”
We need to tell Israel’s story not just because it will help Israel, but because it will help our own nation and everyone in the world who will side with truth.
Behind the ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ Conference
Just when the annual “Israel Apartheid Week” campaign will be hitting college campuses across North America this week, Palestinian Christians will be hosting a five-day conference in Bethlehem which is expected to convey many of the same messages and aims of seeking to delegitimize Israel. What makes this “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference unusual is that it is largely an initiative of Christians from the Evangelical movement, whose ranks traditionally have held favorable views on Israel.
This briefing paper provides background information for the media on the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference [March 5-9, 2012], its objectives, sponsors, and the speakers involved.
The annual “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference was first launched in 2010 at the initiative of the Bethlehem Bible College, an Evangelical institution established by local Palestinian Christian clerics and educators. Many of the core sponsors and speakers at that initial “Checkpoint” gathering were previously involved in events held under the auspices of the Sabeel Center, directed by local Anglican canon, Rev. Naim Ateek. Yet it appears that these Evangelicals have made a conscious effort in recent years to distance themselves from their past associations with Sabeel and to offer a forum more appealing to a wider Evangelical audience. Indeed, Dr. Ateek was a speaker at the inaugural 2010 Checkpoint gathering but has not been invited back since.
Critics of Sabeel say it has espoused a radical brand of Palestinian Liberation Theology that would seek to justify violence by the “oppressed” Palestinians against the “oppressor” Israel on biblical grounds. In one sample of his radical rhetoric, Ateek once told followers in an Easter message: “In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.” (1)
Over the years, a number of Sabeel speakers have also denied the reliability and authority of Scripture or offered radical interpretations of biblical passages related to Israel. For instance, the late Prof. Michael Prior denounced the Bible as “a dangerous book” which legitimizes and mandates genocide. Prior also described the authors of the biblical narratives as “very narrow minded, xenophobic, perhaps militaristic… pin-headed bigots,” and ridiculed Joshua as the “patron saint of ethnic cleansers.” (2)
These are all positions that would make most Evangelicals quite uncomfortable and even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. Rowan Williams, turned down an invitation to speak at a Sabeel conference in Jerusalem in 2004 because he did not want to be identified with “the wrong voices” – as his spokesman put it at the time. (3)
Thus the annual “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences should be seen as a bid by local Palestinian clerics and their allies abroad to move away from Sabeel and offer a message more appealing to Evangelicals. This has included an effort to invite new voices into the conference more supportive of Israel. This year’s roster of speakers, for example, includes Rev. Wayne Hilsden of the King of Kings Community fellowship in Jerusalem and two local Messianic Jewish leaders.
Still, these voices will likely be drowned out by the overwhelming chorus of Israel critics at the conference, and the thrust of Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 will remain largely a one-sided message based on a deeply flawed historical narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and highly suspect theology.
Nonetheless, the conference has begun to achieve its aim of drawing more speakers and attendees from the Evangelical movement, though from its more liberal wing, such as Tony Campolo and Lynne Hybels. These Evangelical newcomers have begun expressing sympathies for Palestinian suffering as part of their wider advocacy for the cause of “social justice.” But they are largely novices regarding the history and complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and thus their views are often misinformed and easily misguided by anti-Israel propaganda.
A number of these new Checkpoint participants from the “Religious Left” signed the letter to US President George W. Bush in July 2007 seeking to distance themselves from the Evangelical mainstream’s more skeptical view of Palestinian intentions in the Middle East peace process. (4)
Meanwhile, the more veteran Evangelical critics of Israel involved in the Checkpoint conference consist mainly of native Palestinian Christian clergy with nationalistic motivations, along with a small group of Christian scholars from the West who have made a career out of maligning Israel and its Christian Zionist admirers.
Most of the local Palestinian Christian participants can claim genuine Evangelical credentials and some have personal family stories of loss and dispossession which they have utilized to elicit sympathy from Evangelicals abroad. The “Local Committee” for the Checkpoint conference is listed as Munther Isaac, Bishara Awad, Salim Munayer, Hanna Katanacho, Jack Sarah, Sami Awad and Alex Awad.
The veteran Evangelical scholars from abroad will include Stephen Sizer and Colin Chapman from the UK, and Gary Burge from Wheaton College, near Chicago. They were also previously involved with Sabeel events in years past and were among its most strident critics of Israel and of Christian Zionism. Sizer, for instance, has defended the provocative Gaza flotilla in May 2010, welcomed the caustic comments against Jews by veteran AP White House correspondent Helen Thomas which led to her dismissal, and has even been willing to appear at conferences alongside radical Islamist elements from Iran and Hizbullah who called for Israel’s elimination and denied the Holocaust. (5)
Based on past Checkpoint conferences, the listed speakers, and the topics to be addressed, the gathering can be expected to promote a series of disturbing positions, including:
Cloaked versions of Replacement theology: For many Evangelicals, the main concern with the Checkpoint conference lays in the theology espoused by various invited speakers which serves to undergird their one-sided and critical approach to Israel. Not wanting to be identified with Replacement theology and its abysmal fruits down through Church history, many now expound Fulfillment theology or other beliefs which deny Israel its rightful place in the land today. They maintain that with the death and resurrection of Christ, all the Old Testament promises to Israel were fulfilled. Yet this teaching winds up in the same place as Replacement theology by insisting that Israel has already served its purpose and the Church has now superseded the Jewish people as God’s redemptive agent in the world. This teaching does not give room for a unique and enduring national calling upon the Jewish people and rejects any notion that the modern-day restoration of Israel is the consequence of God keeping His eternal covenant with them. Rather they denounce Zionism as “man-made.” In doing so, they also abrasively assail Christian Zionist supporters of Israel without just cause. (6)
The Israel=Apartheid analogy: Many Checkpoint speakers have wrongly smeared Israel with the apartheid label and called for dismantling the Jewish state. For instance, conference speaker Ben White has authored a book entitled, “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”. The fact that the conference is timed to coincide with Israel Apartheid Week only serves to reinforce this distorted message. The conference has also set aside special sessions to reflect on the Kairos Palestine document, co-written by conference organizer Yohanna Katanacho, which peddles the apartheid analogy as well as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions strategy. (7) It is worth noting that some leading proponents of this BDS movement are now admitting its real aim is the elimination of Israel, not peace with the Palestinians.
The ‘Palestinian Jesus’: Many Palestinian political and religious leaders, including the late Yasser Arafat, have falsely portrayed Jesus as a Palestinian revolutionary fighting Roman oppression, and described Palestinians today as the Body of Christ suffering under Israeli oppression. Even the very name of the conference, “Christ at the Checkpoint,” plays into this distorted narrative of a Palestinian Jesus. A number of conference speakers have endorsed this twisting of the true Jewish identity of the historic figure of Jesus. For instance, co-sponsor Sami Awad once wrote that an Israeli incursion into Bethlehem during the second intifada was akin to the Roman massacre of infants in the same city as described in the Christmas story. He wrote of “passing by big Israeli army tanks and army personnel carriers each pointing their guns at us. Israeli army troops were being brought from all corners into Bethlehem like Herod’s soldiers… We pray that the reign of Herod will come to an end and that the message of the Prince of Peace will again be a light from Bethlehem to all corners of the world.” (8)
One-sided Palestinian narrative: Conference speakers have repeatedly denounced Israeli “injustices” against the Palestinians while ignoring or falsifying the true course of events which led to Palestinian loss and displacement. That is, there is little or no acknowledgement that the Jewish people came to resettle their ancient homeland in peace and it was Arab leaders who ignited a war against the fledgling state of Israel in 1948. Further, there is no acknowledgement that Palestinian leaders have repeatedly rejected peace offers made by Israel and escalated the conflict instead, leading to more losses for their people. Conference speakers have consistently downplayed Palestinian terrorism and other security threats to Israel, while also ignoring radical Islam as a primary source of Palestinian Christian grievances. The conference’s use of the Israeli security “Wall” and IDF checkpoints as symbols of their suffering is indicative of this dishonest historical narrative. No calls for reconciliation and ‘social justice’ – as demanded by numerous Checkpoint speakers – can be built upon such untruths.
Beyond Anti-Israelism: Finally, certain speakers invited to the Checkpoint conference have taken stands that go beyond mere criticism of Israel and into outright anti-Semitism. Scholars have characterized the “new anti-Semitism” as obsessive efforts to highlight and condemn alleged injustices committed by the Jewish state while ignoring gross atrocities being committed elsewhere. In this regard, it should be noted that the Christ at the Checkpoint conference is being convened to focus on perceived Israeli injustices at a time when Arab regimes in the region have been openly slaughtering their own people.
In anticipation of the Checkpoint conference, Dr. Jürgen Bühler, Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, noted on Sunday: “While we do recognize and respect the organizers of the conference as our brothers in Christ, we do have strong disagreements concerning their theological approach, as it can easily lend itself to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda, as some of the Checkpoint speakers have proven in the past. Yet at the same time, we have to confess that too many Christian friends of Israel have neglected our Arab brothers in the Holy Land and beyond. We surely need to increase our efforts to prove that being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Arab. Jesus loves both people groups and we do well to do the same.”
1. An Easter Message from Sabel (Sabeel Article Archive)
2. Paul Wilkinson, “Report of The 5th International Sabeel Conference, April 14-18, 2004
5. See: http://seismicshock.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/antisemitism-and-christ-at-the-checkpoint-2012.pdf
6. See: http://us.icej.org/news/commentary/israel-and-fulfillment-theology
7. http://www.kairospalestine.ps/; See also http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Article.aspx?id=164070
Still Fighting Apartheid
A Noble Lineage
As a young ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, South African native Malcolm Hedding confronted the apartheid system from the pulpit and was forced to flee his homeland. Today, he is a prominent Christian Zionist leader based in Jerusalem who is challenging the incessant branding of Israel with the “apartheid” label.
Hedding was born in 1952 into a family of British descent that had settled in the Eastern Cape region. His father, Guy Usher Hedding, managed a gold mine and learned to speak the “click” language of the local Xhosa peoples, eventually mastering many other African dialects.
“My father was greatly loved by all the black African mine workers under his supervision, because he always treated them with respect,” says Hedding. “They even twice crowned him as an African king.”
“In the 1960s, there was a major land dispute between the government and the African people in one of the provinces,” he recalls. “The government wanted to take away some land with huge platinum deposits, and the Africans asked my father to come represent their cause. Thousands of Africans had come to protest, and I will never forget when we arrived there was a shout of joy that ‘the king’ had come. He confronted the government and was very successful.
“My father instilled within us values that let us know we should not just accept the system; that we should never rob the black people of their dignity or dehumanize them.”
The system was apartheid, which had taken root when the Nationalist Party swept into power in 1948 and consolidated its political grip on the country.
A False Foundation
According to Hedding, in many respects apartheid was a theological system. The architect of its Calvinist form was a Dutch Reformed minister, Daniel Detoitas, while the first apartheid prime minister was also a Dutch Reformed minister, Daniel Francois Malan.
“The Dutch Calvinists’ platform was a false notion, another deviant form of replacement theology based on the biblical injunction that believers ought to keep themselves ‘separate’ from the heathens. You can see who the heathens were – they were the blacks. And of course the righteous people of God were the whites. So they built this system, vindicating it on false theological grounds,” explains Hedding.
At one time, he notes, the prime minister of the country was Balthazar Johannes Vorster and the moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church was his brother, Koot Vorster. So the Vorster brothers tied up the country politically and ideologically.
“In a sense, it was a limited democracy for the whites only. An estimated 170,000 Afrikaners effectively held power over 40 million blacks because of the undemocratic nature of the system,” he says.
Hedding entered the ministry in the early 1970s as a member of the Assemblies of God of Southern Africa. This was primarily a black movement founded in part by a black preacher, Nicholas Bhengu. For this reason, the racial tensions within the Assemblies of God were never the same as in the rest of the country.
“As the years passed, my emotional and cultural resistance to the apartheid system was fortified by my theological education,” Hedding notes. “I didn’t need to be convinced because of my father’s example. But the word of God brought further understanding – passages like Ephesians, which speaks of ‘one new man’ in Christ who is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female. This means that in the Christian life, there are to be no prejudices or hatred, nor any sense of discrimination between people groups or gender groups. We are all equal in the sight of God.”
Once he had his own pulpit, Hedding began to attack apartheid in public. “I always tried to show my congregation why it was wrong and unacceptable, and that if they couldn’t change the political system, they should at least treat people of color with absolute dignity and respect and love and courtesy.”
Hedding was also interested in Israel and his understanding of the dangers of theologies that “replace” Israel was accentuated by apartheid. “I came to realize just how deviant the various replacement theologies can be, and the evil they birth. I was living in an environment that said: ‘We are the people of God, the new Israel. We, the Christians, are living among pagans, these dirty people, and we have to keep ourselves separate.’ Many scriptures were taken out of context and applied in this way.”
The ‘Plant’ Uprooted
Pastoring churches in the Transvaal, where he had grown up, and later in Durban, Hedding continued preaching against apartheid and by the early 1980s had developed a nationwide ministry, traveling widely in response to frequent speaking invitations. He insists he never politicized his message, but attacked the issue from a biblical perspective.
“If my message contradicted some political party’s platform, then so be it,” he says. “I was living out my conscience. And more and more, for various reasons, I was invited to preach all over the country.”
Before long he was holding seminars on this issue, even for business groups. Strangely enough, even some Dutch Reformed churches invited him to preach on the subject. “That’s when things got hot,” Hedding notes with a smile.
Over time his activities caught the attention of the Bureau of State Security, which began following and harassing him. In 1986, the BSS even planted a top security agent in his congregation to monitor his sermons and compile a dossier against him.
“Trevor” infiltrated the church posing as a longhaired hippie, wearing sandals, dirty jeans and T-shirts. One sympathetic church leader even opened his home to this apparently poor man. “Then one night Trevor got wonderfully saved,” recalls Hedding. “He got converted under my preaching and came forward calling on God for forgiveness. Afterwards, he said he wanted to come and see me.”
Hedding thought Trevor wanted to talk about his new lease on life, but instead he walked in later that week with a thick file, laid it on the desk and confessed to spying. He warned Hedding that he would likely be detained without trial and urged him to take his family and flee the country.
Coincidentally, around this same time he had been contacted by Jim Cantelon, a pastor who was starting a church in Jerusalem and suggested that Hedding join the ministry team at what is today King of Kings Community, the largest evangelical fellowship in the city. With the agreement of his church elders, he left South Africa for Israel. While living in Israel, Hedding also was invited to serve as chaplain for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a global Christian Zionist ministry that he now heads.
By 1989, apartheid was slowly crumbling and the Hedding family determined it was safe to return to South Africa. They arrived home in Durban the very week hard-liner president P. W. Botha was ousted by F.W. de Klerk, a reformist who released Nelson Mandela from prison shortly thereafter.
The security apparatus let Hedding know he was now “on the good side,” and over the next 10 years he founded churches in South Africa and traveled for the ICEJ, preaching in support of Zionism. Then in 2000, he was invited back to Jerusalem by the Christian Embassy’s board of trustees to take over leadership of the ministry.
His struggle against apartheid in South Africa and his close involvement with Israel have given Hedding unique credentials to address today’s Israel-apartheid analogies. In fact, the UN Conference on Racism in 2001 that spawned the current campaign to brand Israel an apartheid state was held just two blocks away from Hedding’s home church in Durban.
“Calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’ is absolute nonsense,” he insists. “You might have structures that look like apartheid, but they’re not. The barrier fence has nothing to do with apartheid and everything to do with Israel’s self-defense. There was no such barrier until the second intifada, when people were being murdered on the highways. And the country does not dehumanize its minority in the sense of apartheid. The issues are totally different.”
Hedding believes Israel has more than proven its desire to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians, while granting political rights to its own Arab citizens within a liberal democratic system. Nevertheless, the Palestinians remain committed to Israel’s destruction.
By contrast, he says, it was a tiny minority in South Africa that held power and once democracy came, the Nationalist Party that had dominated the masses disappeared.
“Israel is not trying to dominate the Arab minority or dehumanize it; she’s trying to facilitate sovereignty in one way or another while protecting her own citizens from a program of destruction. In no way is it an apartheid system.”
He believes the security barrier gave fuel to that idea because it separates people, but it is incorrect fuel. Still, he says people like Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu seize upon it as a physical symbol to further their misguided political agenda.
“When I hear ‘apartheid’ used in regards to Israel, I think it trivializes the word. In fact, the harsh reality was that 40 million black people were dehumanized, robbed of their dignity and treated like absolute dirt. To trivialize apartheid in that way is an insult to the black peoples of South Africa.
“Of course, it’s a very convenient and very emotive word. You have to give them credit – it is a brilliant PR stroke, but it’s disingenuous. When people like Desmond Tutu continue to feed this, it is an insult to the very people they tried to liberate.”
Attacking the Root
Hedding has concluded that if there is any analogy between the two situations, it is the link between Christian replacement theology that undergirded apartheid and an Islamic version of replacement theology that stands at the heart of the Middle East conflict today.
“Radical Islamic theology and its desire to return the region to Dar al-Islam [House of Islam] is the one core issue that very few people acknowledge. Even though you have groups like Hamas riding on very clear Islamic theological principles, the world makes the constant error of avoiding the theological nature of this conflict. Instead, they are trying to deal with it in a secular, humanistic, political context. They can never solve it because they won’t own up to the truth that we are dealing with a conflict with Islam.
“If you don’t start from the theological foundation, like we did in South Africa, then you can never address this thing honestly. You can’t do it by pointing to symbols like the wall and equating them with apartheid. That is a very false and superficial analysis. The source of the conflict is a radical Islamic need to verify their revelation by the dismantling of the Jewish state.”
If he could talk to Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, he would tell them they are being fundamentally dishonest.
“I admire Desmond Tutu in many ways. I heard him preach in South Africa during the apartheid years, and I’ll never forget how wonderfully he preached one night in a conference I attended. He preached on the lordship of Jesus and blessed my heart with his message. Today I would say to him: ‘Desmond, of all people, you who unearthed the very foundations of the apartheid system, why are you ignoring totally the radical Islamic desire to dismantle the Jewish state? Why do you not have the honesty to get up and say it?'”
By Lela Gilbert
Jerusalem Post Christian Edition
Lela Gilbert is an award-winning author and journalist. Among her 60 published books is Their Blood Cries Out, co-authored with Paul Marshall. This article was first published in The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, January 2007.
DENOUNCING ISRAEL DOES NOTHING FOR PEACE
Response to Protestant Leaders’ Letter to Congress
Mainline church leaders who systematically demonize the Israeli security forces while whitewashing the record of those committed to her destruction do little to promote true peace in the Middle East says the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) – the world’s leading Jerusalem-based evangelical ministry.
The comments by the ICEJ’s USA Director, Susan Michael, were made in response to a letter written to the US Congress by fifteen mainline church leaders alleging human rights violations by Israeli troops and calling for an investigation of American military aid to the country.
“They would do us all a service if they would begin to address the real issues of the day like the endemic persecution of Christians in the Muslim world, the atrocities of the Syrian government against their own citizens and the threat to global peace and stability posed by a nuclear-armed Iran,” countered Michael in response to the October 5th letter by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the National Council of Churches.
The letter which was issued late in the day on the eve of the Sabbath in the midst of the Jewish holiday season of Sukkot, prompted angry and articulate responses from Jewish leaders, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Rabbis (RA). It also led to the cancellation of an annual Christian-Jewish leaders’ summit which was to have been held October 22-23 in New York. The so-called Jewish-Christian Roundtable was launched in 2004 in the wake of liberal Protestant movements to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” says Michael who has been actively involved in promoting greater dialogue between the Jewish and Christian communities in the US for over thirty years. “The whole point of the New York meeting was to ease the tension with these denominations. But what this letter revealed was that many of their leaders never had any intention of abandoning their one-side Israel-bashing agenda, no matter how factually inaccurate and counterproductive it has proven to be.”
“Millions of Christians in these mainline churches do not support this type of ongoing demonization of the Jewish state, especially by church leaders who refuse to acknowledge the ongoing rocket-fire and terrorist attacks being carried out against ordinary Israelis on a daily basis,” Michael continued. “It is time that those who claim to represent the cause of Christ take stances that may actually help peace rather than simply condemning Israel for her efforts to defend her civilians.”
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is headquartered in the Israeli capital, with branch offices and representatives in some 70 nations, and a reach into more than 125 nations around the world. Its primary mandate is to serve as a “ministry of comfort” to Israel and the Jewish People worldwide, as a means for Christians to finally redress the lingering grievances which the Jewish people have against us due to the tragic history of Christian anti-Semitism.
The UN Durban Declaration
In the picturesque Swiss city of Geneva April 20-24, 2009 the United Nations held its second global summit on racism a ‘human rights’ gathering designed to review the outcomes of the hate-filled fiasco held in Durban, South Africa in the week before the 9/11 attacks of September 2001.
The US, Australia and Germany were among a handful of influential western democracies that joined Israel and Canada at the last minute in boycotting the gathering, in part because the arrival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva promised to turn the entire event into a farce.
UN protocol dictated that Ahmadinejad was given the platform first as the sole head-of-state in attendance. He used it to accuse Israel of having “a racist government” and commiting genocide against the Palestinians. His speech prompted a mass walkout by European diplomats, and prompted condemnation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who criticized the Iranian leader for using the forum “to accuse, divide and even incite.”
The events in Geneva on April 20th just as Israel was beginning the solemn annual observance of Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Memorial Day – provided vindication of President Obama’s 11th hour decision to boycott the gathering.
The ICEJ is proud that we played our part in the chorus of voices from both the Jewish and Christian world that called on him to stay away and appreciate the grassroots support of nearly 5,000 online activists who signed up in support of our Boycott Durban II Petition.
That petition was delivered to the White House on Friday April 17th, together with an impassioned plea from ICEJ Executive Director Rev. Malcolm Hedding for President Obama to resist the mounting pressure to send a delegation to Durban II.
On the ground in Geneva the ICEJ national directors of Switzerland, France and Russia were standing with hundreds of Christians and Jews as part of series of city-wide protests against the Durban II conference and in memory of the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, in the Czech capital of Prague, ICEJ national director Mojmir Kallus spearheaded a rally at the Senate that led to the withdrawal of his nation from Durban II within hours of Ahmadinjad’s opening tirade. In Jerusalem ICEJ International Director Dr. Jürgen Bühler refuted the charge of Israeli racism in an extensive debate on the influential Arabic language satellite channel Al-Hurra.
The fight against the rising tide of global anti-Semitism continues.
DURBAN III: NY SEPTEMBER 2011
By Lisa Schmid – ICEJ Germany
Durban I, South Africa
The original goal of the United Nations anti racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 was to acknowledge that slavery and colonialism is a crime. But instead of dealing with the painful colonial past something different happened – the event mutated into an anti-Semitic show trial against Israel. The Arab League together with non-aligned countries and some African states made use of their automatic majority to show-case Israel as a scapegoat for every real and perceived offense of the west. Fueled by reports of the just erupted second Palestinian intifada Israel was the only country out of 194 states worldwide to be placed in the dock. Zionism was equated with racism and apartheid, while at the same time ongoing human rights violations in Sudan and Congo were not even mentioned much less the persecution of minorities in the Islamic world.
Fiamma Nierenstein, who now serves as vice chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee of the Italian parliament was a journalist reporting on the first Durban conference in South Africa. According to Nierenstein: “Jews wearing a kippah had to escape demonstrators who were carrying around portraits of Osama Bin Laden and chased Jews. Jewish community centers in the town were stormed and closed. The press conference of the Israeli delegation was violently attacked and interrupted. Israel was equated with the German Nazis and particularly in South Africa accused of apartheid to question her right of existence.”
Just a few days later the terror attacks of 9-11 displaced Durban I in the headlines.
Durban II in Geneva
The follow-up conference “Durban II” in Geneva in 2009 was not as violent as the previous one but just as anti-Semitic. It started on the 20th of April, the very same day when Israel commemorated the victims of the Holocaust. The main speaker was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a known Holocaust denier. He characterized “the Zionist occupiers of Palestine” (Israel) as “racist”, “extremely brutal” and “criminal” and accused the Jewish state of the Crime of Genocide. He stigmatized “Zionists” as the root of the trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some countries such as Israel, the USA and Germany learned from the debacle in 2001 and from the inception stayed away from the event. Delegates of other western nations walked out of the room in protest when Ahmadinejad delivered his speech but the majority of the delegates stayed – including many who gave the Iranian dictator a standing ovation.
Durban III in New York
The Majority of the 128 countries present at Durban II succeeded in putting the first Durban declaration – which equated ‘Zionism with racism’ on the United Nations agenda once again. The stated goal of the Third Durban conference in New York on the 23rd of September 2011 is to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Durban declaration and to incorporate “the implementation of the Durban declaration in the established human rights of the UN framework” (draft of the final statement). In other words – anti-Semitism, hatred of Israel and the Jews will be written into the official “human rights” policies of the United Nations. The timing of this initiative is especially controversial as it will take place shortly after the vote of the United Nations on the recognition of a Palestinian state at the annual opening of the General Assembly. The demonization of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people will once again be happening at the highest level – in front of the ruling leaders of the world. And the keynote speaker will once again be the Iranian President Ahmadinejad!
As of the end of August the USA, Canada, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, the Czech Republic and Austria have all canceled their participation in the Durban III conference in protest against its anti-Semitic and one-sided agenda. At the beginning of September, after numerous requests from different Jewish and Christian groups – among them the ICEJ – Germany also decided not to participate in the event. It is hoped that more countries will follow.
The Myth of Israeli Apartheid
While Israel was due to mark a solemn day of Holocaust remembrance on Monday April 20, 2009, the United Nations convened in Geneva for its second global anti-racism conference to endorse the outcomes of the anti-Semitic hate-fest that took place in the South African city of Durban on the eve of the 9/11 terror attacks in September 2001.
It is important for Christians to understand the real agenda behind the UN’s Durban initiative. That’s why, on the eve of the 2009 Geneva conference, we produced a 15 minute interview with ICEJ Director, Rev. Malcolm Hedding, a vocal opponent of Apartheid in South Africa and former resident of the city of Durban. In it he dismantles the myth of Israeli Apartheid.
Misusing ‘Apartheid’ to Delegitimize Israel
By Malcolm Hedding
On the 20th April, the day Hitler was born, the United Nations conference on racism, Durban II, will convene in Geneva. Durban I was nothing more than an attempt to attack Israel by accusing it of racism and of setting up the new Apartheid state. Thankfully, the USA walked out of that circus thus exposing the racist and anti-Semitic nature of the convocation. But now, in Geneva, those seeking to delegitimize Israel are seeking to ratify Durban I and smear Israel again. The Apartheid accusation against the Jewish State will be revived and more greatly amplified. Anti-Apartheid activists like Desmond Tutu will be quoted to verify the claim and even Jimmy Carter will be referenced in order to prove the point. The goal is simple: Discriminate against Israel, delegitimize Israel and, in the end, call for the dismantling of Israel. These voices are already being heard in different parts of the world. Durban II will press forward with this agenda.
Naturally, the word Apartheid is a very powerful one as it evokes images of racial discrimination and suffering that were all too common in South Africa for decades. Forty million people were robbed of their human dignity, treated like animals and herded into ghettos. They were classified white or non-white at the stroke of a pen and sometimes, when such racial profiling was not possible, the strength of one’s curled hair would determine one’s fate. Race coloured all departments of life and those who opposed the system were harassed, hunted down, imprisoned, exiled or even killed. It was an evil system that destroyed the lives of countless thousands.
It was indeed a joyous and great day when this scourge was finally removed allowing South Africa to become a fully democratic non-racist state on the 24th of April, 1994. However, to equate Israel with this system is ludicrous. I lived under the Apartheid State and its vicious machinery and know all too well what it meant. To band the word apartheid about loosely is an insult to the 40 million people who suffered under it. To use the term other than in its original context is to play down the horrific nature of this political nightmare. The same applies to the use of the word Holocaust other than in its original context. There can be no equal! Yet this is what Durban II is all about. The goal is sure; if a charge or accusation of being an apartheid state can be made to stick as far as Israel is concerned then a call can be made to the international community to dismantle such an entity. After all, why should Israel be different to South Africa? This is the danger that Israel now faces. It is a real danger and not one to be taken lightly. Powerful and significant international “players” are involved with it.
Israel is not an Apartheid state. It is a thriving modern day democracy that affords all its peoples dignity and equality under the law. Within its borders are Jews, Christians, Arabs, Druze, Armenians and many other minority groups. All have the same rights and dignity under the law. It enjoys freedom of the press and the right to peaceful protest. Women are respected under the law and allowed into all branches of human endeavour. Israel is a shining light in an Arab world that is largely in the grip of totalitarian governments. Yet it is Israel that the United Nations conference in Geneva has chosen to describe as an Apartheid one! Nothing could be further from the truth.
The conflict in Israel has nothing to do with Apartheid and never will. It is a conflict for survival and thus until Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and their fellow travelers in the Middle East come fully to terms with Israel’s existence the sufferings of the Palestinians will continue. Not because they live under an Apartheid regime but because they live under bad leadership that has led them continuously into a no man’s land of misery and despair. The idea of a Middle East without Israel is a delusion that many have to get over. Until that day dawns the blessings that Israel can bring to the region will be forfeited.
Rev. Malcolm Hedding
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
Understanding the roots of Arab-Israeli conflict
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon features in the latest video produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled “The Truth about the Refugees”
As the name implies, the video gives a historical account of the refugees, both Jewish and Arab, created by the Israeli War of Independance in 1948. Refugees from that war and their descendents (on the Palestinian side) are still being used by many in the Palestinian camp as an excuse to refuse to negotiate a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The issue is also widely used by Israel’s enemies around the world to demonize the Jewish State, making Ayalon’s video particularly helpful for pro-Israel activists.
This video and the accompanying articles serve as an introduction to this complex and difficult subject.
The plight of the Palestinian refugees is a frequent media headliner. Some people have called on the international community to boycott Israel, blaming the nation for the creation of the refugee issue and for the poor living conditions of nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees spanning four generations. To answer the question of who is responsible for today’s refugees a little historical perspective is necessary.
In 1947 the UN passed Resolution 181, The Partition Plan, creating a Jewish and Arab state side by side that looks very much like today’s two-state proposal. Israel accepted the resolution and the Arab nations rejected it launching an attack on the newly created state of Israel. Israel defended herself and the war ended with a cease-fire line known today as the green-line which separates the West Bank and Gaza from Israel.
About 600,000 to 700,000 Arab Palestinians fled their homes in the war of 1948 and ended up outside the cease-fire line becoming refugees. About the same numbers of Jewish refugees fled or were expelled from Arab lands around the time of the war. Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees despite the economic hardship it created on the new state. The Arabs refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.
How did roughly 700,000 Arab refugees turn into 5 million? The United Nations defined Palestinian refugees differently from all other refugees worldwide. This exclusive treatment has led to a situation where the Palestinian refugees are the only refugee group that is expanding rather than contracting.
FACTS ON NON-PALESTINIAN REFUGEES
- In December of 1949 a refugee agency was created by the United Nations called the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They are responsible for all refugees worldwide (with the exclusion of Palestinian refugees). They are held to the legal standards of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Under the UNHCR definition of a refugee, the status of refugee pertains only to those who have lost their home and occupation in their country of nationality. They cannot pass down their refugee status to the next generation once they have been relocated and integrated in another nation providing safety and citizenship.
- The UNHCR seeks to solve refugee issues in three ways they term as “durable solutions”: (1) Repatriation – returning to one’s country (2) Integration – becoming citizens of the nation to where they have fled and (3) Relocation – moving to another nation that welcomes refugees and grants citizenship. If any refugee is granted one of these solutions his status as refugee is terminated.
- The UNHCR is held to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and has helped an estimated 50 million people to restart their lives. They have a staff of just 6,300 people in more than 110 countries helping 36.4 million refugees and displaced people.
FACTS ON PALESTINIAN REFUGEES
- Palestinian refugees are under the administration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA was established in December 1949 to “alleviate the conditions of starvation and distress among the Palestinian refugees” with “a view to the termination of international assistance for relief” at an early date – set for no later than December 1950. However, rather than ending its emergency assistance, UNRWA began development programs for the Palestinian refugees. UNRWA is now the largest UN operation in the Middle East with a staff of over 30,000 – most of whom are Palestinians themselves.
- UNRWA’s programmes include: education, healthcare, micro-financing, infrastructure development and emergency needs. The original “relief” programme accounts for only 10% of the budget with 90% dedicated to development goals. Many refugees throughout the world today are not getting adequate food and shelter while Palestinian refugees receive among other benefits, business loans, after school tutoring and university scholarships.
- Under UNRWA’s mandate, Palestinians continue their status as refugees even if they integrate or relocate to a safe country and are granted citizenship. As of current international law, the only way for Palestinians refugees to lose their status is for them to return to their lands or until a “just solution” is agreed upon. The UNHCR (for world-wide refugees) requires “durable” solutions to the situation of the refugees, whereas UNRWA (for the Palestinians) requires a “just” solution which is deeply political rather than humanitarian.
- UNRWA is not held to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and is constrained by very few international or local governmental laws. They staff over 30,000 to care for just 5 million refugees and have yet to remove one Palestinian refugee from their roles except upon death.
The Palestinians as a group therefore are under a different set of rules to every other refugee in the world today.
So who is responsible for the situation of the Palestinian refugees?
Firstly, had the Arab nations accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan providing for both a Jewish and Arab state side by side, there would have been neither war nor Palestinian refugees.
Secondly, had the UN dealt with the Palestinian refugee situation as it has with all other refugee s throughout the world, there would be fewer than 700,000 in contrast to today’s 5 million. And had the Arab nations absorbed the refugees in accordance with the 1951 Convention on Refugees, as Israel did the Jewish refugees, there would not be one Palestinian refugee today.
When referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict the word refugee is nearly synonymous with Palestinian. The reality is that when Israel became a modern nation in 1948 there were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian. As five Arab nations launched a regional war against the state of Israel, an estimated 670,000 Arabs fled the war and an estimated 860,000 Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands.
Historically this process is considered a “population exchange.” Arabs fled to neighboring Arab states and Israel became the beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands losing substantial assets and the historical heritage of their families. Israel also became the haven for 600,000 European Jews who survived the holocaust.
Thus, in 1948 over a million Jewish refugees found security in the state of Israel. The infant state welcomed the refugees and sacrificed as a corporate community to provide housing, food, and even education to quickly transform their feeble refugees into functioning, prosperous members of society.
The Arab nations did exactly the opposite. Believing their armies would soon destroy Israel, they made a calculated decision not to absorb the Palestinian refugees as citizens or to re-establish their lives in any way. Untouched by the suffering of their fellow brothers, they chose to exploit the misery of the Palestinians as a political weapon against Israel continuing the war they began in 1948.
Sixty years and four generations later, the Palestinian refugees have grown to a number of over 4.4 million. Still all Arab nations continue to refuse citizenship to Palestinians. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the definition of a refugee pertains to an individual who has lost both their home and livelihood. The status of refugee is not transferred to his/her descendants. The UNHCR is responsible for all refugees worldwide, except for the Palestinians.
Under the pressure of several Arab nations, on December 8, 1948, the UN formed the agency of UNRWA, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The only agency in the UN dedicated to just one group of people, the Palestinians. Under UNRWA the definition of a Palestinian refugee is different from all other refugees worldwide in that the status of refugee is transferred indefinitely from generation to generation. Because of this the Palestinians are the only group of refugees whose numbers are growing rather than shrinking.
The US taxpayer supports 40% of UNRWA’s annual $300 million budget while the oil rich Saudi Arabia contributes a token 2% to the care of its Arab brothers in refugee camps the Arab League refuses to dismantle. The best solution is simply to shut down UNRWA and to transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR in order to break the refugee cycle and to provide Palestinians with the ability to build a brighter future.
UNRWA’s mandate, however, keeps being extended year by year and will continue to be so until enough people cry out against the injustice of the Arab nations toward Israel and the disenfranchised Palestinians in their midst. According to that same mandate the descendants of those Arabs displaced in 1948 will remain refugees until they are able to build communities inside all of Israel.
Under these terms there will be no end to the Palestinian “refugee” issue until there is an end to the State of Israel, a nation built by over a million forgotten Jewish refugees.
A Nuclear Iran
Stop A Nuclear Iran
On Thursday, September 18, 2008 the ICEJ delivered a global petition to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon signed by over 55,000 Christians from more than 120 countries worldwide demanding that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be indicted for incitement to genocide against Israel.
The petition was delivered to the United Nations on the eve of the Iranian leader’s visit to New York to address the Opening of the UN General Assembly, where he was be greeted by a mass rally on Monday demanding a stronger UN and international response to the growing Iranian nuclear threat.
“In a sense, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and the United Nations were both born out of the ashes of the Nazi Holocaust. The silence of most Christian clergy in the face of Germany’s horrific bid to annihilate European Jewry left a deep stain on the churches. Yet from it has arisen a sense among multitudes of Christians today that we have an inescapable moral duty to earnestly speak out whenever another genocidal campaign threatens the Jewish People,” said Rev. Malcolm Hedding, the ICEJ’s Executive Director.
“Unfortunately, we are concerned that just such a genocidal campaign is taking shape in the form of Iran’s repeated threats to eliminate the Jewish State and its quest for the nuclear means to carry out these threats,” Hedding said.
The Plight of Believers Under Palestinian rule
Under siege and without protection, the Christian population under Palestinian rule has dwindled with each passing year. In October, 2007, after repeated threats, Rammi Ayyad was brutally murdered outside the only Christian Bookstore in Gaza. In 2008, a bomb was set off at one Christian school in Gaza, while at another, run by the Baptist Church, guards were assaulted and a bus hijacked.
Even though Hamas denies involvement in the attacks and claims that it is attempting to protect the small, ancient Christian community in Gaza, attacks on the 3,000 Christians residing there have increased since the Muslim terror militia came seized power.
Basing his findings on ten years of research, an Israeli expert on international human rights law has warned that the shrinking Palestinian Christian community could disappear within 15 years due to the threat of Muslim extremism. “The systematic persecution of Christian Arabs living in Palestinian areas is being met with nearly total silence by the international community, human rights activists, the media and NGOs,” said Justus Reid Weiner, a lawyer and scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Given current trends of Muslims persecution, he fears Christian communities within Palestinian-run territories are likely to completely disappear in 15 years.
“Christian leaders are being forced to abandon their followers to the forces of radical Islam” Weiner lamented in a public lecture on the subject. Unless governments or other such organizations intervene, soon the Christian communities will consist solely of top clergy officials, with a few Western Christians. Some 50 years ago, the Palestinian Christian population stood at an estimated 15%, but today it has dropped to 1.5%. Bethlehem once had a strong Christian majority, but that figure today stands at only 20% Christian. In the Gaza Strip, there are only around 3,000 Christians amongst some 1.4 million Muslims. “In a society where Arab Christians have no voice and no protection it is no surprise that they are leaving,” said Weiner.
These brothers of ours in Christ need our prayers and support as never before.
Justice Can Only Be Based On Truth
A small but growing circle of Christian leaders is seeking to lead evangelicals in America away from support for Israel and are doing so under the banner of “social justice” and “just peacemaking.” These leaders are portraying themselves as “pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace and pro-justice.” And while their intentions may be good, they are actually playing into the hands of a larger, more sinister campaign seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel.
Even more disturbing, their words expose a trend in the evangelical world to disregard the authority of the Bible. They deny the irrevocable calling on the Jewish people and they teach variations of Replacement Theology which requires sections of scripture to either be disregarded or spiritualized to take on new meanings. This theology has historically been the basis for anti-Semitism in the Church and its influence should be guarded against.
One does not have to dismiss the biblical significance of the Jewish people and the modern-day return to their ancient homeland in order to have a heart for the Palestinian people. As Christians we should have a love for all men. And in this situation, we need to appreciate the very difficult position that the Palestinian people are in, the additional difficulties facing Palestinian Christians in general and evangelical Palestinian Christians in particular.
Those seeking true justice must ask the question: just what are the Palestinians’ difficulties and who is to blame for them? Instead, the blame is always placed squarely on Israel and rarely do pro-Palestinian voices put any blame on Arab leaders. At the end of the day, this dishonest brokering does nothing to help the Palestinian people.
Future articles in this column will discuss some of the issues that are used to delegitimize Israel such as the legality of Israel’s founding, the plight of the Palestinian refugees, the “occupation” and accusations of being an Apartheid state.
But before taking on the very complex and complicated issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict one must have a firm foundation of biblical and historical truth.
Social justice must not be confused with biblical justice. While the Bible is clear that we are to judge situations righteously and honestly it does not call us to impose a certain social structure.
Leviticus 19:15 is very clear that righteous judgment is based on the facts without respect to persons or their status.
15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.
Justice is based on the truth. That is why one had better know the history, culture and religious ideologies in the Middle East before making judgments and ascribing blame.
In Jesus’ day, there was considerable conflict within society from living under Roman rule, yet Jesus never addressed it and instead went about ministering compassion to the people. So too Christians today should have a heart of compassion for the Palestinian people, living under their own repressive and corrupt government, just as we have for the Jewish people who live under constant threat of war and annihilation.
This is why the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which is a ministry raised up to minister love and support to the people of Israel, has always provided humanitarian assistance to Arabs as well. In addition to 33 years of outreach to Israeli Arabs the ICEJ is also partnering with an evangelical Palestinian ministry to provide humanitarian aid in the Palestinian areas.
The truth is that the Jewish people have a four thousand year-old claim and connection to the land of Israel. God gave this land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as an everlasting possession and they are the only people who ever built a nation there. Likewise, Jerusalem was established as Israel’s capital by King David and it has never been the capital of any other nation.
The Jewish people have now returned to their homeland as foretold by the Hebrew prophets and as legally sanctioned by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, League of Nations in 1920, Ran Remo conference in 1920, the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and finally UN recognition of Israeli statehood in 1948.
Israel was not built on stolen land but private land that was purchase and public land conveyed from the Ottoman Empire to the British Mandate and then to Israel. The Jewish people returned in peace. But they were faced with war and in those wars borders changed and some Arabs lost possession of homes, lands and even life. This is an injustice. But who is really to blame? The Jews who returned in peace or the surrounding Arab countries who declared war?
Justice is Based on Truth
Justice for the Palestinian people will only come when their supporters are honest enough to address their situation candidly. They are suffering at the hands of Palestinian leaders who care more about hating Israel than helping their own people and who are skimming off billions of aid dollars into personal bank accounts. Palestinian Christians are suffering discrimination in aid distribution, land ownership and business by the Muslim Palestinian government. Anyone speaking against the Palestinian Authority can be arrested including journalists. There is no freedom of press or freedom of speech.
This is why numerous polls reveal that 40% of Palestinian Arabs living in Jerusalem would move to Jewish neighborhoods in order to remain living under Israeli rule rather than to live under Palestinian statehood. There is obviously more to this than the usual anti-Israel narrative that some Christians are being taught.
When faced with lies and delusion we need to take a stand for the truth – both biblical and historical.
Only then can there be true justice.
The Real Root of the Christian Exodus
With his recent segment for 60 Minutes, CBS News reporter Bob Simon has once again stoked the perennial debate over why so many native Palestinian Christians have been leaving the Holy Land in recent decades. Sadly, he addressed this important issue with a very superficial brand of journalism. The report relied mainly on one local Palestinian cleric – notorious Israel-basher Rev. Mitri Raheb – to single out the “Israeli occupation” as the scapegoat for this Christian flight. There was no need to dig deeper, since Simon knew the report was sure to be a sensation from the moment Israeli ambassador Dr. Michael Oren caught wind of the production and intervened with his bosses at CBS News.
If Bob Simon had truly wanted to know why Arab Christians have been fleeing in droves from Palestinian areas, he should have asked those émigrés now living in Toronto, Sydney and Santiago. Because that is where the majority of Palestinian Christians now reside – in dispersed communities in Canada, Chile, Australia, Germany, the United States and elsewhere.
The disturbing truth is that more than 60% of the Arab Christians born in Palestinian areas over the past several generations now live abroad. Yet the same holds true for Lebanese Christians, as a similar 60% of their beleaguered community now live in foreign lands.
Indeed, there has been a widening Christian exodus from all the surrounding Arab countries, with Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christian community collapsing from 1.5 million to as few as 250,000 since the Second Gulf War commenced in 2003. The Coptic Church in Egypt is also losing tens of thousands of parishioners in the wake of the Arab Spring.
So it is indisputable that Arab Christians are fleeing all across the Middle East, and surely the Israeli occupation is not to blame. Rather, this flight has been primarily due to local conflicts and the rise of Islamic militancy, as noted by Ambassador Oren, and the Palestinian Christians are no exception to this trend. The lone exception, in fact, happens to be the state of Israel, the only place in the entire region where Arab Christians are growing in number and are afforded their democratic rights.
Still, some Palestinian clerics insist that Muslims and Christians would co-exist in perfect harmony if not for the Jews and their settlements. That, sadly, is a living portrait of a people in denial. How else to explain that Palestinian Christian flight from the Holy Land predates the “occupation” by decades?
For instance, the last British census in 1948 recorded 29,000 Arab Christians living in Jerusalem, while the first Israeli census in eastern Jerusalem in 1967 found only 11,000. That means two-thirds of the Arab Christian population had fled during the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem.
The real root of the current exodus actually lies in the historic interplay between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East ever since the Islamic conquests began in the seventh century. The region’s Christians and Jews became dhimmis – suppressed minorities living under Muslim dominance. They could keep their faith but had to accept second-class status. To survive, both communities adopted a code of silence which dictated that they never challenge the system nor say anything bad about Islam in public.
This system of dhimmitude basically held until modern times. The Crusades may have brought temporary relief for some Christians, but only terror for the Jews.
When Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the dynamic finally began to change. The Great Powers of Europe moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations. Western missionaries also brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions. With their better education and job skills, Arab Christians became more mobile and many began to migrate to the West to escape the prison of Islam. Thus the modern-day Christian exodus began.
Meanwhile, the Zionist movement arose with a dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty back in their ancient homeland. Israel’s emergence in 1948 challenged the system of Muslim dominance over Christians and Jews, an achievement the Arab world has never truly accepted.
For many Christians in the Middle East, the rebirth of Israel actually stands as a light and model of freedom from Muslim tyranny. But for Palestinian Christians, the conflict that seeks to destroy the Jewish state has been too close for comfort. They are powerless to end it and struggling to survive.
Thus many Palestinian Christian leaders have taken to patriotically waving the flag of Palestinian nationalism higher than even their Muslim neighbors, in the hope such loyalty to the cause will safeguard their flocks. They rail against the Israeli occupation and the settlements as the reason for their dwindling presence. The checkpoints and security barrier may create hardships for them, but it is not the core reason why proud Christian families who have weathered many turbulent centuries here are now pulling up roots.
We must all understand that they are employing an ancient survival mechanism ingrained through centuries of Muslim oppression. Unable to name the real culprit, Palestinian Christians often deflect Muslim anger away from themselves by directing it at the Jews. Meantime, Ambassador Oren is giving voice to the very things they cannot say.
The Plight of Christians in the Holy Land
The long-neglected plight of Palestinian Christians has finally hit radar screens in the US Congress, though there is still lots of clutter to clear up over the source of their distress and how to remedy it.
The unlikely catalyst was conservative commentator Robert Novak, who relishes any chance to spread dirt on Israel. In a Washington Post column in late May, Novak disclosed that veteran Congressman Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, sent President George W. Bush a private letter suggesting American support for Israel’s security fence may involve “the affirmation of injustice” due to its “negative consequences on communities and lands under their occupation.”
Accompanying Hyde’s letter was a report compiled by his staff over recent years detailing the alleged impact Israel’s security barrier is having on Arab Christians in the Holy Land, particularly in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
In response, House members Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY) circulated a proposed resolution in June that blamed the Palestinian Authority’s systematic abuse of Palestinians Christians for their continuing flight from the land where Christianity began.
A heated debate has ensued on Capitol Hill, fueled by Arab clerics and pro-Palestinian American clergy who fault the draft resolution for exaggerating the role Islamic radicalism plays in the Christian exodus from the Holy Land. Three senior Arab clerics in Jerusalem (Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Anglican Archbishop Riah Abu al-Assal, and Lutheran Archbishop Mounib Younan) even invited McCaul and Crowley to visit the region and see for themselves how the “massive migration to other countries of Palestinian Christians [is] largely due to the illegal [Israeli] Occupation.”
This debate is not new and all sides agree that the Palestinian Christian community is dwindling fast, from around 10% of the population in 1948 to barely 1.5% today. What remains in dispute is who should be held responsible for the decline – Israel or the Palestinian Muslims.
IT WOULD seem Chairman Hyde has fallen victim to that evil twin of divestment – namely the dismantlement campaign. Both are anti-Israel propaganda initiatives launched after the infamous UN conference on racism in Durban in 2002. While divestment made some in-roads in the Presbyterian and Anglican churches, the campaign to force Israel to dismantle its security fence has now penetrated the halls of Congress – thanks mainly to Arab Christian activism.
Yet it is farcical to pin the primary blame for the Palestinian Christian exodus on Israel’s security fence or its “occupation,” since the phenomena predates both by decades.
More than 60% of the native-born Palestinian Christians had already fled the land long before the fence started going up three years ago. And most of that emigration occurred prior to Israel’s entry into the West Bank in 1967, when the area was under Jordanian occupation. The last British census in Jerusalem, for example, found 28,000 Arab Christian residents in 1948, while Israel’s first official tally in 1967 registered only 11,000.
So for the bulk of the ancient Arab Christian community of the Holy Land, the current debate over the impact of the security fence is rather pointless – they fled long ago.
TRUTH BE told, Palestinian Christians have been driven out by the Arab-Israeli conflict itself, which arose from and is perpetuated by the Islamic world’s bitter and unremitting rejection of Israel’s very existence.
These Christians have wanted little to do with this conflict, which stymied economic opportunities in the land. More mobile and better educated than their Muslim neighbors, they sought a future elsewhere. Some crossed over into Israel proper, the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community has actually grown over the past 50 years, while scores of others started anew in such far off places as Toronto, Santiago and Sydney.
Those that remain suffer under the same hostile Islamic spirit battering Israel, which views Jews and Christians as followers of “inferior” faiths who are naturally destined to be subjugated by Muslims. Palestinian Christians – like other Christian minorities in Arab lands – have grown accustomed through the centuries to this sad state of dhimmitude, with most of their leaders maintaining a code of silence about it to protect their flocks.
It is a truism that the higher up the Palestinian Christian cleric, the greater their likely silence. The signers of the invitation letter to Cong. McCaul and Crowley are cases in point.
“The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims,” Bishop Riah told The Washington Times at a time when Muslim gunmen were invading Christian homes in Beit Jalla to shoot at Gilo.
“n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians,” Latin Patriarch Sabbah assured Newsweek at Christmas two years later.
BY PUSHING for dismantlement of Israel’s security barrier, Palestinian Christian leaders seek to accomplish two goals:
First, they prove their nationalist credentials to the Palestinian Muslim majority. They have not given any sons as shahids (martyrs) in the jihad against Israel, but they are contributing to the cause and thereby appease the Islamist beast.
Second, they genuinely want to keep the door open to Israel, lest their parishioners get trapped beyond the wall without any escape hatch from the menacing Muslim masses.
Nonetheless, they would have us pretend that Palestinian society is the shining exception to the prevailing Muslim oppression of Arab Christian minorities throughout the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands from the ancient Assyrian Christian community have fled the Sunni insurgency in Iraq over recent years. The proud Egyptian Coptic and Lebanese Maronite communities are wilting and fleeing under official and societal persecution. The practice of Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia. But all is fine in Palestine!?
I suspect Bob Novak probably cares more about smearing Israel than the fate of Palestinian Christians. By the same token, some probably highlight Muslim maltreatment of Palestinian Christians just to score points for Israel. But for far too many of them, it is much too late to play the blame game over who or what caused their exodus from the Holy Land. Rather, the pertinent question should be what can be done to preserve the embattled Christian remnant still clinging to the land. The answer to that, dear friends, lies largely in Israel’s protective hands.
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
Our Battered Brethren
By David Parsons
It has the ring of a spy novel “the Bethlehem dossier.”
The author, Samir Qumsieh, an Arab Orthodox parishioner from Beit Sahour, came forward in August with a list he had compiled of 93 incidents of abuses committed against Bethlehem’s Christians by local “Islamic mafia” and 140 cases of land theft against the dwindling Christian community over the past five years. Accompanied by a petition signed by scores of traditional Christians, the Bethlehem dossier was quietly delivered to leading bishops and clerics in Jerusalem, as well as to the Papal Nuncio, Ambassador Pietro Sambi, and the head of the Franciscan Custos in the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Like Luther nailing his 95 points to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, the dossier sent ripples through the corridors of Jerusalem’s historic churches. Here was a catalog of grievances compiled by grassroots parishioners documenting what the holy city’s pro-Palestinian bishops and patriarchs had been denying for decades.
Armed Muslim gangs have invaded our homes, extorted our businesses, torched our shops, raped our daughters, and stolen our lands, the dossier charged. Our appeals for protection and redress to Palestinian authorities go unanswered or even worse spark clan retaliation against us for filing complaints in the first place. Thousands of our family members have fled abroad. And the whole time, you shepherds remain silent!
THE SHEPHERDS indeed have not been just silent, but actively deceptive concerning the Muslim oppression of local Christians, adamantly insisting that all is well between Palestine’s Islamic majority and its tiny Christian remnant.
In but one example, prominent Arab clerics totally dismissed substantiated reports early in the second intifada of Muslim militiamen shooting at Gilo from Christian homes in Beit Jalla in a deliberate effort to draw IDF return fire.
“The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims,” Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Riah Abu ‘Assal told the Washington Times at the time.
“The Arab Christian community in the Palestinian territories is an integral part of the Palestinian people. It suffers with it, rejoices with it, and shares with it the same hopes and aspirations,” concurred the Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate, Father Raed Awad Abusahlia. “Therefore, the recent Israeli rumors about getting the town of Beit Jalla involved in the recent clashes is not a coincidence, but aim to ‘divide and rule’ among the one Palestinian people.”
“Refuse… the propaganda that wants to prove that there were any studied or willed persecution from our Muslim brothers and sisters of the Christians. We consider it as mere propaganda against Islam, a cold war against our Muslim brothers that only benefits the Zionists of Israel,” added Father Labib Kobtl, another representative of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah.
Sabbah himself assured Newsweek at Christmas 2002 that, “[i]n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians.”
Even now, leading Palestinian clergymen affiliated with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in east Jerusalem are being hosted in Protestant churches across North America, spreading the ruse that the salvation of Christians in the Holy Land lies in divesting from Israel and dismantling the security fence. Follow the Sabeel ‘road show’ this fall and you will not hear one word about the “dossier” of appalling cruelties by the Islamic mafia in Bethlehem.
THE BETHLEHEM dossier directly challenges these tired blame-it-all-on-Israel refrains instead sending up a desperate, genuine cry from the pews to the church hierarchy in Jerusalem to end their long silence regarding Muslim persecution and finally speak out in defense of their embattled flocks.
The source of the dossier was also startling Samir Qumsieh happens to be no friend of Israel. Exiled for a number of years for his activism in Fatah, he returned to Bethlehem under Oslo to open a local TV station named Al Madeh (“Nativity” in Arabic). But when Muslims recently claimed a plot of his land that he had set aside for expanding the station, Qumsieh had enough.
According to an article in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera in September, he was counseled by the Vatican representative not to go public with his compilation of grievances. “You could be killed”, warned Sambi.
“We have to complain, we have been silent long enough,” responded Qumsieh.
Father Pizzaballa of the Custos was finally ready to speak out as well, telling the Italian daily:
“Almost every day, I repeat, every day, our congregation is being attacked by Muslim extremists in the territories. And if it’s not Hamas or Jihad members attacking us, we run against a wall of ignorance in the Palestinian Authority, who does very little, if anything at all, to punish the culprits. In the past it even happened that these [attacks] were perpetrated by Mahmoud Abbas policemen or militant members of Fatah, by those who are actually supposed to protect us. I am so exhausted to hear the same complaints again and again that I sometimes don’t even check some of them.”
State of Fear
THE HISTORIC explanation for the silence of Arab church leaders in the face of Muslim persecution is well known by now. It stems from their long, sad status as second-class citizens steeped in dhimmitude a survivalist mentality passed down through the generations that conditions them to never say anything bad about their Muslim neighbors since it could prove deadly.
No doubt, Palestinian Christians have a deeply engrained fear that the Islamic religious hostility now directed primarily against Jews might one day be more fully turned against them.
Scholars monitoring the plight of Palestinians Christians are increasingly employing the analogy of the battered spouse syndrome, in which the wife of an abusive husband becomes conditioned to defend and identify with their tormentor even as the abuse worsens.
It helps to have a more precise clinical diagnosis of the problem, but what is much more needed now is an effective and compassionate prognosis for lifting the Muslim siege and preserving these ancient, fragile Christian communities. What is also sorely needed is for the shepherds to stop standing in the way of relief for their beleaguered flocks.
David Parsons serves as ICEJ Media Director in Jerusalem and a Contributing Editor of ‘The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition’ in which this article was first published.
Of Silence and Scorn
By David Parsons
Though relieved over the end to the long standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, many Jews and Christians remain outraged that most Church leaders did not forcefully condemn the blatant Muslim desecration of a major Christian shrine. Here was a clear case of Islamic militiamen deliberately taking their battle against Israel into a revered church and taking clerics and youths as hostages. Yet most of Christendom seemed mysteriously silent! And many churches that did speak out chose to unfairly criticize Israel for its “siege.”
It is vital for Israelis to understand the reasons behind this moral imbalance of silence to Islam and open scorn towards Israel. In this regard, the Bethlehem standoff provides an unusually crisp portal into present Christian attitudes towards Israel and the enduring plight of Arab Christian minorities under Muslim domination.
First, not all Christians were silent. The Christian Embassy, for one, published a statement early on that “strongly condemned… this transgression on the sanctity of the Church of the Nativity,” deeming it “a premeditated offense by militant Muslim outlaws.” This was long before reports surfaced that the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem had previously met with the Abayat clan that heads the Fatah Tanzim in Bethlehem, offered them keys to the Nativity compound, and encouraged them to seek refuge there if the need arose.
Yet much of the mainstream media refused to pick up on such sober truth telling, since it did not fit their spin on the story, and thus they bear partial responsibility for the perceived silence.
Otherwise, the most obvious reason for the silence is classic Christian anti-Semitism both patent and latent. The standoff indeed unleashed a firestorm of anti-Semitic diatribes from numerous Arab clerics and Western pulpits. There is still much darkness to be purged from the Church. But there were other factors in play that warrant explanation namely self-preservation and self-enrichment.
This first concept is simple to grasp. Arab Christians in Bethlehem and throughout the Middle East have developed over time an ingrained survival mechanism never say anything bad in public about your Muslim neighbors since it could cost you dearly. With the rise of Palestinian nationalism, this penchant for self-preservation prompted some indigent Christians to wax more anti-Israel than the Muslim majority. In his excellent work The Siege, former Irish diplomat (and Catholic) Conor Cruise O’Brien describes it as “waving the bloody shirt” higher than the Muslims in order to show your loyalty to the cause.
Yet the price for demonstrating that loyalty is on the rise. In the first intifada, Bethlehem’s Christians were asked, “Why don’t your sons come throw stones alongside the Muslim boys?” Many Christian families packed up and left. In the current, more deadly intifada, the question being asked is, “Why aren’t you giving any of your sons as shaheeds?” The silence is ever more deafening.
Many church leaders abroad understand the dangers faced by local Christians and thus adhere to the same code of silence to protect these precious flocks. This was prominently on display in the recent standoff, and may be a responsible move to some extent, so long as you do not also unduly blame the Israelis for every wrong.
In addition, as local Arab clerics keep silent about their suffering under Islam, it limits their ability to appeal for vital outside support to meet real needs in their communities. Some respond by jumping at any chance to trumpet supposed sufferings under the “Israeli occupation,” knowing Israel does not bite back. Thus when the IDF first entered Beit Jala last August to quash Tanzim gunfire at Gilo, there was a tremendous outcry that Israeli forces were holding some 45 “orphans” in a Lutheran compound as “human shields.” Total nonsense, of course, and nothing as egregious as Muslim gunmen invading the Church of the Nativity. But it proved profitable nonetheless.
Some local clergy and foreign ministries aligned with them subtly compete for funding, and the winner is often the one who can scream the loudest against Israel. The same can be said about major elements of the so-called human rights movements. Blasting Israel can be good for business.
In a similar vein, many churches that minister in the Arab/Islamic world make the mistake of thinking they have to bash Israel in order to “get in good” with the natives. This has manifested even in Evangelical circles that otherwise would be predisposed to favoring Israel. Yet we can attest that it is possible to raise monies and assist the humble Christians of Bethlehem without compromising on the Bible’s mandate to “bless” the Jewish people.
Be that as it may, there are some very positive signs coming out of the Bethlehem standoff that augur well for future relations between Israel and the Christian world.
One Protestant source close to the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Vatican delegations involved in the Nativity negotiations insists they were “tremendously grateful to Israel for exercising restraint,” but had “disgust beyond words” for the Muslim gunmen and Palestinian officials they had to deal with. Christian and Israeli officials built a “trustful relationship” during the stretched-out talks, although it will remain problematic to express this publicly. The outrage against the Muslim actions is there, but it is still outweighed by the fears.
The question is whether it is time for responsible Church leaders to remove the gag, since it has done little to relieve the plight of Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere under the Palestinian Authority. The standoff may be over, but they are still living with a Muslim gun to their heads. And God forbid that the next standoff darken the door of the Holy Sepulchre.
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem
Bethlehem on the Rebound
By Justus Reid Weiner
Each year during Christmas, the Christian world puts aside its other concerns and focuses on the birth of Jesus some 2000 years ago in the little Judean village of Bethlehem. The local celebrations are centered on Manger Square, a plaza in the middle of today’s much larger Palestinian town of Bethlehem which leads to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.
As many as 90,000 visitors came to Bethlehem for Christmas observances this year, nearly twice last year’s total, resulting in the most successful holiday season in more than a decade. This merits reflection: Why was this Christmas different from all others in recent memory? How did it differ from the regional and historical trends which have in the past witnessed alarming levels of persecution and violence directed at Christians in the Palestinian territories? Having researched the plight of Christian religious minorities in the Middle East over the past 35 years, I have learned to be wary in accepting such good news.
Celebrating Jesus, Not Arafat
The swell of Christian visitors to Bethlehem this year far eclipsed figures in the range of a few thousand holiday visitors during the period of the Second Intifada, which PLO chief Yasser Arafat launched in 2000 and lasted roughly through 2005. This year merriment prevailed, shops were full of pilgrims, the hotels were overbooked, and the decorations and ornaments celebrated Jesus, not Palestinian nationalism and its Fatah leaders. Perhaps most significant, the streets were peaceful.
From the time he took control of Bethlehem on the eve of Christmas 1995 until his death, Arafat’s personage factored heavily in the annual Christmas celebrations. He was the featured guest of honor at Midnight Mass, always given a front row seat among the bishops and patriarchs despite his being a Muslim. In his very last years, Arafat was secluded in his Ramallah compound but had a trademark keffiyah draped over his empty chair in the Grotto of the Nativity to sadly note his absence.
Moreover, Arafat’s visage was prominently displayed on huge posters and banners adorning Manger Square each Christmas. If an alien from outer space had landed amidst the celebrations, he would have thought that Yasser Arafat had been born there – not Jesus.
In such acts, Arafat did his best to project a gracious ‘fatherly’ image to his people, while concealing his central role in stirring street violence and terrorism against Israel. It was this violence and terror which began to discourage pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Even before the second intifada erupted, young Muslim thugs had begun preying upon, harassing, intimidating, and sometimes mugging tourists. Year by year, fewer tourists and worshippers took the trouble to visit Bethlehem. Israeli security checks were also slow and tedious, dissuading pilgrims even more. The nadir for Bethlehem came around 2003, when Hamas elements decorated Christmas trees in Manger Square with the images of Palestinian “martyrs” who had carried out suicide bombings.
Those trends are all on the wane now, however, as violence and terror are down and a new IDF checkpoint seeks to facilitate easier access for those crossing into Bethlehem through the security barrier.
Christmas as well as Easter are times when the world media spotlight focuses on Palestinian Christians, and in recent years the storyline has consistently been on their flight abroad. Various reports seek to blame Israel for the departure of thousands of Christians from the PA-controlled West Bank and Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, ignoring the fact that Israel is the only nation in the entire region where the Christian population is growing. Christians now comprise less than two percent of the population of the Palestinian areas, compared to ten times that ratio before the 1948 War of Independence.
The same holds true across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, as indigenous Christians are being driven out of Muslim-dominated lands. The Lebanese scholar Habib C. Malik writes that Christians in the Levant are in a “terminal regional decline.” And the leading cause has nothing to do with Israel – rather, it is intimidation by Muslims.
Bethlehem has witnessed many forms of intimidation against Christians over recent decades. Perhaps the best-remembered is the IDF standoff with dozens of armed Palestinian terrorists who had taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity in 2002 – looting and desecrating this important holy site while holding numerous Christian clergymen hostage for a month.
Christians in Bethlehem have been cursed and spat upon by Muslims. They have been beaten for eating in restaurants in violation of Ramadan, the Muslim month of day-time fasting. Islamic sharia law has been imposed in the curriculum for Christian children in public schools. Christian women have shunned modern Western garb to avoid being attacked for immodesty. Christian men have grown beards so they will be mistaken for Muslims.
There is widespread bias against Christians in the Palestinian Authority’s civil service hiring and promotion, as well as in the private sector. Church lands have been expropriated and mosques erected on them. Christians have been forced to sell historic family lands to Muslims at ridiculously low prices. Palestinian Authority officials have been exposed for taking bribes to record forged land deeds naming Muslims as property owners.
Particularly infuriating has been imposed marriages of Christian women to Muslim men. In addition, Christian women have been raped and murdered with nothing being done to arrest or punish the Muslim perpetrators.
The list goes on. Most cases of anti-Christian violence have gone unreported. So is anyone surprised why thousands of Palestinian Christians emigrate to any nation where they can obtain a visa?
Still, conditions have been improving for Palestinian Christians in recent years, as seen with this year’s festive Christmas celebrations. The PA’s American trained and equipped security forces have restored a sense of law-and-order to most West Bank cities, benefitting Christians and Muslims alike. Improved coordination and cooperation between the PA security forces and the IDF Central Command has also reduced friction.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas believe that terrorism will not serve their interests now. They will not fight terrorism, but neither do they encourage it. The Palestinian leadership has come to the conclusion that they do not want to trigger another intifada, at least not at this juncture.
The PA wants to move ahead in other spheres, such as improving its economy. It also wants to increase international pressure on Israel, which is harder to mobilize in an atmosphere of terror.
Nonetheless, when dozens of Christians are murdered in Egypt, Iraq, or Pakistan, we should understand that, regrettably, this has been the norm rather than the exception throughout most of the Arab/Muslim world, including in the Palestinian areas as well. A year or two of economic revival, more noticeable during Christmas, cannot and should not be misunderstood as a new beginning until it becomes a lasting pattern. Patience is essential.
The Persecuted Church
Cry of the People of Egypt
Scriptural references regarding Egypt can seem a bit contradictory as most refer to Egypt in negative terms, alluding to bondage and idolatry, while others foretell a national revival and times of restoration. Egypt is also mentioned more times in scripture than any other nation, second only to Israel who also was warned of impending judgment while promised national, spiritual restoration.
In fact, in Isaiah 19 God refers to Egypt as “My people” and Israel “My inheritance.” Therefore, current events in Egypt need to be considered in light of these scriptures and hearts need to be moved to a place of prayer for those whom God called His people.
THE LARGEST DEMONSTRATIONS IN HISTORY
In 2011, when the so called “Arab Spring” began, the world followed closely as Egypt’s young people began a peaceful, non-violent protest resulting in the fall of the Mubarak regime. The demonstrators were seeking progress, jobs, and opportunity as found in western countries.
Unfortunately, the opposition was not politically organized and, when it came time for elections, the only party that could step into the void and win the elections was the Muslim Brotherhood. One year later, the people of Egypt realized that President Morsi was a far worse dictator than Mubarak had been. Islamist ideology was guiding the country and the government was going bankrupt with no way to import bread and food. A country of 80 million was about to descend into chaos.
The opposition was able to collect the signatures of an astounding 20 million people calling for the removal of President Morsi and then organized a public demonstration of upwards to 30 million people. The military, led by General Sisi who had been appointed by President Morsi himself, responded to the people’s demands by removing President Morsi from power.
While clueless western leaders, including some U.S. officials, denounced it as a military coup, General Sisi appointed civilian Adly Mansour, a Supreme Constitutional Court Justice, as Interim President and respected economist, Dr. Hazem Beblawi as Prime Minister. He then asked the people to come back onto the streets to show America and the West their support for a military crackdown on the terror and crime that was plaguing Egypt at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and various jihadist factions.
THE CRY OF THE PEOPLE
It is estimated that as many as 40 million people, the largest demonstration in history, may have come onto the streets then to show their support for the military’s actions.
And yet, some US officials are threatening to cut off aid to Egypt if they do not release the Muslim Brotherhood from jail and bring the party back into the government. President Obama suspended shipment of four F-16s last month and Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have threatened to cut-off financial aid as well.
One cannot begin to describe the disappointment and confusion felt by the people of Egypt. Egypt is a key American ally now turning to Russia and China for help when another ally, Israel, desperately needs a stable, pro-American Egypt for her own security.
Moreover, current events in Egypt signify a large scale rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strict version of Islam and one can only wonder how many may in fact reject the religion altogether. A wave of Egyptians have been converting to Christianity in recent years, so the people’s heartfelt cry for help could be the beginning of a revival so huge it could sweep across the entire Arab world. Egypt needs our prayers at this critical time!
CHRISTIANS OF EGYPT
Roughly ten percent of Egyptians are Christian. They are now being used as scape goats and are accused of conspiring with the “Zionists” to bring about the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, their churches are being burned – some 60 in one week – and the black flag of Al-Qaeda has victoriously been flown over several of them.
Until the west stops pressuring the interim government, and allows them to gain control of the gangs of Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers in the streets, the Christians will continue to suffer and greatly need our immediate prayers.
The situation in Egypt has exposed the decline in western journalism in general and US media in particular. Due to budget cuts many news outlets no longer have many journalists in the field. Therefore, they rely on one of a handful of news wires. In the case of Egypt, Al-Jazeera became a trusted source due to their 24/7 coverage of the 2011 protests and the fall of Mubarak.
The difference this time around is that Al-Jazeera, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood news channel, was covering the fall of a Muslim Brotherhood government. Video footage and reports were skewed in favor of the ousted President and this misinformation was repeated by western outlets as fact on several occasions. Al-Jazeera’s coverage was so biased, however, that some 20 journalists have now quit in protest.
The Middle East is very complicated and the Christian world cannot afford to be at the mercy of ill-informed media monopolies when our informed prayers and activism are so desperately needed by both Egypt, “My people,” and Israel, “My inheritance.”
Israel’s Troubled Neighbor Syria
The Middle East is teetering on the brink of total chaos. Country after country has erupted into revolution or outright civil war. While younger people seeking economic and employment opportunities started much of the early dissent, Islamist terrorist groups exploited it in order to topple existing regimes in favor of more Islamist governments.
Caught in the crossfire are the Christian communities of the region. The jihadist/Islamist groups are taking their anger out on the vulnerable Christians, attempting to subjugate them and even drive them out. Nuns have been paraded in the street as spoils of war, and churches, orphanages and Christian businesses destroyed. In Egypt alone, over 100 churches were burned in one month.
Israel is quietly watching with concern as her neighborhood is increasingly unstable.
In July the Egyptian military responded to the outcry of the people, removing President Morsi from power and then outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood. They began clearing out the Sinai, where various jihadist and Islamist terrorist groups had been allowed to establish themselves, shut down the border with the Gaza Strip and destroyed all of the tunnels that connected Hamas ruled Gaza to Egypt.
The terrorist presence in Sinai was not just a threat to Egypt but also Israel and the whole of the Middle East so these developments are very positive for Israel and may result in the continuation of the peace – albeit a cold one – that she has shared with Egypt for over 30 years.
The Christians in Egypt are thankful for the new government which has just banned 55,000 Islamic clerics unless they obtain a license from the non-Muslim Brotherhood Islamic authorities at Al-Azhar University. The interim government is also allowing churches to be repaired and has even issued permits for new churches to be built – something that had not been allowed for centuries.
They also cleared out areas in the South of Egypt where Islamists were still in control and persecuting Christians. One whole village of 15,000 Christians had been given the choice to either convert to Islam or pay the high Islamic tax called the Jizya. This tax is based on a Quranic verse and was used historically to subjugate non-Muslims who refused to convert to Islam.
Currently, all eyes are on Syria. The Sunni Muslim majority country has been ruled by the Alawite Assad family since 1970. The Alawites are a secretive branch of Shi’ite Islam which was highly persecuted by the Sunnis throughout the centuries and today makes up about 12% of Syria.
Another 10% of Syrians are Christians, most of them of Eastern Orthodox tradition, and they have had relative peace under the Alawite government due to the ruling sect’s own minority status. This does not mean President Assad is a nice guy. On the contrary, he rules with an iron fist and the Alawites have remained in power by ruthlessly putting down dissent.
The current civil war started when schoolboys painted anti-regime graffiti on a wall and were arrested, interrogated and tortured. Their families gathered in protest and Syrian security forces opened fire on them beginning an uprising that grew into the current bloody civil war. The opposition forces have been infiltrated and in many cases lead by jihadist/Islamist groups taking advantage of the situation and attempting to take over the country.
Estimates are that 100,000 people have been killed in this civil war, at least 1,400 of them due to sarin gas attacks and while two million are in exile another four million are displaced inside Syria. Many churches have been damaged and there are reports of deliberate Islamist attacks on Christian villages and residents. As early as October 2012 the last Christian in the city of Homs – which had a Christian population of some 80,000 before the jihadis came – was murdered.
The controversy over American intervention in this situation is that there are no good guys to side with. An attack on the government’s forces will only strengthen the Islamists and practically insure their victory. The Christians prefer the government of President Assad because he allowed them to live in peace. They are doubtful the Islamists will even let them live.
The Road To Damascus
Christianity spread to Syria early on through the ministry of the Apostle Peter. Many Christians lived in Damascus which is why Saul of Tarsus was headed there to persecute them when he had his Damascus Road conversion and later became known as the Apostle Paul. Syria was predominantly Christian until the invasion of Muslim armies in the 7th century. Some Syrian Christians still speak Aramaic which was the language of Jesus.
Damascus is one of the longest continuously inhabited cities on earth, yet Isaiah 17:1 contains a “burden (prophecy) against Damascus” in which Isaiah declares that Damascus will one day cease from being a city. While this verse seemed a distant one just a few years back, one can sense just how quickly it could be fulfilled under current circumstances. A US or Western strike on Syria could easily result in retaliatory attacks on Israel, Russian involvement and a war of devastating proportions.
Hearts should break over the human toll and suffering this conflict has and could still potentially cause. All the peoples of the Middle East – Jew, Christian and Muslim – are, in one way or another, victims of the spiritual stronghold over the region that causes hatred, violence and death. There needs to be much prayer for the protection of Israel and the Christians, but also for the gospel to go forth throughout the region. We know that God loves all the peoples of the Middle East as they are part of the “world” He loved and sent His son to die for (John 3:16). A “Damascus Road” revelation of the Prince of Peace is their only hope.
Praying As Watchmen On The Walls
What many in the West do not understand is that the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, was predominantly Christian before the Islamic forces invaded in the 7th century. A thousand years ago there were still more Christians in the Middle East than in Europe. Even a century ago, more than 20% of the region’s population was Christian.
Today, estimates put the Christian population of the region at 5% and likely to become extinct if Islamist forces continue to gain power. The second largest Christian community in the Middle East, after the Copts of Egypt, is the Syrian Christians. They are now dispersed, many are homeless refugees, and will never regain their community’s size and strength.
Isaiah 17 – 19 describes a time of coming devastation and destruction in the region from Egypt to Assyria but then the prophet foretells of a great revival that will come to the area. He predicts a time in which the peoples of the region know the Lord and are joined together with Israel along a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The people will live in peace and the Lord will be worshiped throughout Egypt, Israel and Assyria (Isaiah 19:18-25).
In the meantime, there is a great spiritual battle brewing over the entire Middle East. The same forces that want to destroy Israel are attempting to destroy Christian communities in their reach. They need our prayers and Isaiah 62:6-7 describes the type of prayer that is required in these days.
“O Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen on your walls; they will pray day and night, continually. Take no rest, all you who pray to the LORD. Give the LORD no rest until he completes his work, until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth.”
Our prayers are to be vigilant, as ancient watchmen guarding the people of the city under attack, as well as persistent, crying out night and day, and ever hopeful knowing that the battle is the Lord’s. But until that glorious day when His work is complete and the Prince of Peace reigns from Jerusalem, there is much to pray about.
The Brutal Targeting of Middle East Christians
By David Parsons
The ancient Christian communities of the Middle East are now considered ‘low hanging fruit’ for the global jihadists linked to al-Qaida. That is the apparent message being sent by the recent spate of brutal massacres at churches in Iraq and Egypt, as radical Islamists seek easily accessible targets in order to score ready ‘victories’ and bolster their ranks.
Given the usual tepid response of Arab governments to such Muslim atrocities, many of the region’s indigenous Christians are hastily joining the exodus from the region, which has been on the rise for decades. But the shocking assaults on churches in Baghdad in late October and in Alexandria on New Year’s Day may prove to be a tipping point. World concern over the issue has finally awakened, and Arab rulers are having to take action, lest they appear indifferent to – if not in league with – the cruel Wahabbist agenda.
The most recent outrage occurred in Alexandria, as a Coptic congregation in the sprawling port city on the Nile delta was targeted by a suicide bomber on New Year’s Day. Twenty-five parishioners were killed and nearly 100 wounded in a powerful blast after members of the Saints Church were finishing midnight Mass. Survivors recalled a joyous church service suddenly interrupted by a thunderous blast which sent congregants flying over pews, some in pieces.
The attack was followed by several days of unrest as enraged members of the Coptic Christian community, a significant eight percent slice of Egypt’s 80 million citizens, took to the streets to protest and demand government protection. Insisting that “this act of terrorism… hurt the hearts of Muslim and Coptic Egyptians,” Egypt’s ageing president Hosni Mubarak instantly pinned the attack on “foreign fingers.” But police authorities soon acknowledged local Egyptian extremists were also undoubtedly involved. Though no group claimed responsibility, clues were likely to be found in the shocking assault on a church in Baghdad two months earlier.
In that blood-soaked episode, an al-Qaida terror cell stormed into a Baghdad cathedral and held dozens of people hostage while issuing a litany of far-ranging demands. These included the release of two Egyptian women married to Coptic priests who allegedly had converted to Islam and were supposedly being held against their will by order of the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda. In an ensuing shoot-out with Iraqi police, the gunmen slaughtered 44 Christian worshipers, two priests and seven security personnel.
This act of carnage was followed by a series of ongoing Islamist attacks targeting Baghdad’s Christian neighborhoods, including a string of 13 coordinated bombings two weeks later that claimed another six lives, sowing panic among the dwindling members of this two millennia-old Christian community, many of whom openly spoke of fleeing.
In actuality, Iraq’s Christian community has been under brutal assault by radical Islamic elements for several years now, an easy prey in the chaotic aftermath of the US-led invasion. While achieving its objective of toppling the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein, that conflict was deliberately prolonged by global jihadists who decided to make Iraq the central battleground of their embittered campaign against the free, democratic world. Native Iraqi Christians, in their minds, were nothing more than traitorous allies of the “Crusader” West.
Thus five churches were bombed in Baghdad on one Sunday alone in 2004. Christians have been regularly kidnapped and held for ransom, Christian shops torched, priests beheaded and Christian women beaten for “un-Islamic” dress. Iraqi Christians have even been targeted for perceived offenses against Islam committed thousands of miles away, as in the case of the Danish cartoon riots in 2005 and the pope’s remarks on Islam in September 2006.
While all segments of Iraqi society have suffered in this violence-plagued period, the Christians’ suffering has been disproportionate, as has been their emigration abroad, according to reports by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In under a decade, the Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, Armenian and Protestant flocks have declined from an estimated 1.4 million to less than half that number. The Christian presence in Baghdad is now one-third of its former strength.
Canon Andrew White, who has spearheaded the Anglican Church’s reconciliation work with the Muslim world over recent decades, decided to set up base in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003. He served as chaplain to British and American forces inside the “Green Zone” in Baghdad, and held services in one of Saddam’s ornate palaces. He also established a church of native Iraqis that grew to nearly 4,000 congregants but has seen their ranks decimated in recent years.
White has had 93 members of his church killed in Islamist terror attacks over the past year alone. He told The Christian Edition about the dreadful experience of baptizing 13 adults on one particular Sunday, only to have 11 of them killed over the ensuing week. White has lost more body guards than he cares to remember. Some 500 members of his church have fled in the last three months of violence.
“It’s difficult to describe in words how awful the reality is of what has happened to the Christians of Iraq, one of the oldest churches in the world,” said Rev. White. “I have lived in other parts of the Middle East. I’ve even lived in Gaza. And the situation there was nothing compared to the tragedy of Iraq.”
White notes that Iraqi Christianity traces its origins all the way back to the prophet Jonah’s arrival in Nineveh and later to the preaching of Doubting Thomas. With such deep roots, he believes those who have stayed behind will now persevere.
“We’re not giving up!” insisted White in a Skype transmission. “Everybody who can leave has already left. Those still here believe they have to stay… The Iraqi government is trying to protect us and most in authority are not against us. The government has tried to secure so many churches but they cannot secure every Christian home. It’s their homes which are now under attack.”
White arranged a critical summit in Denmark last month between Chaldean Christian leaders and senior Muslim clerics from Iraq which aimed to elicit a joint Sunni/Shi’ite declaration denouncing killing in the name of Allah. He was pinning a lot of hope on its outcome.
Other Christian minorities throughout the Middle East have experienced similar Islamist campaigns of violence and attrition rates over recent decades, be it the Egyptian Coptics, Lebanese Maronites or the Greek Orthodox faithful in Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian areas (Israel’s growing Christian population is the lone exception in the region).
This has resulted in an unprecedented Christian exodus from Arab lands that has become a serious cause for concern among Western church hierarchies, and was slated to be a major topic of discussion at the Vatican’s historic synod of Catholic bishops from the Middle East back in October. In fact, a groundbreaking document compiled ahead of that gathering identified “political Islam” – for the first time – as the prevailing reason for the Christian flight.
Yet by the time the Middle East bishops concluded their two-week summit in Rome, anti-Israel agitators among them had somehow swayed the entire lot to blame all their problems on the Jews. The synod’s concluding “Message” barely mentioned the main problems plaguing their congregations, such as the rise of radical Islam, political repressions, and official as well as societal constraints on religious freedom. Instead, it issued a plea for the international community to work “to put an end to the occupation” of Palestinian territories, thus spotlighting Israel as the main source of torment.
The absurdity of this clerical charade was laid bare by the Baghdad cathedral massacre just a few days later, as it would have been incredibly hard to blame that tragedy on Israel. And yet during a visit to Indonesia that same week, even US President Barack Obama seemed undeterred from his consoling message that “Islam is a religion of peace…The United States will never be at war with Islam.”
The dwindling Christian flocks of the Middle East are increasingly paralyzed by fear and a sense of abandonment, as their shepherds often refuse to name the real menace to their congregants and Western leaders have neglected their desperate cries. Meanwhile, radical Muslims have apparently concluded that Christians are no longer entitled to a place in the Middle East.
The day before the Alexandria church bombing, a jihadi website posted a fatwa (religious ruling) by prominent Salafi cleric Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti which permitted the targeting of Christians for breaking their ancient ‘contract’ with Islam. This decree maintained that Christians living in Muslim lands today should no longer enjoy protected minority status under Islamic law, since they have ceased to pay the jizya, the infamous poll tax which Christians and other minorities were customarily forced to pay for protection by Islamic authorities.
Prof. Raphael Israeli, a lecturer in Islamic studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explains that this traditionally involved a shameful public ceremony repeated for centuries whenever Christians and Jews came to pay the head tax, as the Muslim rulers would always beat them across the neck with poles to remind them that the followers of Muhammad could have killed them but decided to spare their lives.
Israeli is currently authoring a book which places today’s assaults on Christians within the context of what he refers to as the “three invasions of Islam.”
The first invasion lasted over 500 years from the birth of Islam until Muslim forces were finally pushed out of the Balkan and Iberian peninsulas. In those early centuries, the Muslim armies nearly eliminated Christianity from its cradle in the Middle East and North Africa. Until then, most of the region had been Christianized for centuries. But the invaders from Arabia imposed a new religion, language and culture. Most Christians were forced to convert to Islam. Those who refused were eventually given a special dhimmi (second-class) status allowing them to retain their faith so long as they paid the protection tax and accepted Muslim dominance.
As a result, many of the 12 to 15 million Christians left in the region today deeply resent even being called Arabs. The Maronites of Lebanon identify themselves as proud descendants of the Phoenicians. The Copts trace their ethnic origins back to the ancient pharaohs of Egypt. Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria still speak the Aramaic language of their ancestors – and of Jesus. They simply refused to let the initial Arab/Muslim conquest swallow them whole.
The second invasion identified by Israeli was the Ottoman Turk advances into Eastern Europe, which were finally turned back at the gates of Vienna. In the meantime, the Ottomans managed to purge the historic Greek Orthodox presence from the former capital of Eastern Christianity in Constantinople.
Israeli assesses there is now a “third invasion of Islam against the Christian West, which has two facets. One aspect is the silent and smooth cultural and economic invasion of Europe characterized by the planting of Muslim colonies in the heart of Europe’s largest cities. The second phase is an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Christian remnant in the Middle East. The radical Muslims want to overwhelm the remaining Christians and drive them out,” said Israeli.
“The Christians are easy prey,” he added. “The Muslims feel they are not just a superior faith. They are the only faith and Christianity and Judaism are false and distorted religions. Islam wants to eliminate them, and this justifies even the use of violence.”
Door to the West
Another factor in the exodus of Middle East Christians is their greater upward mobility due to increased engagement with Western Christianity over recent centuries.
As Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the Great Powers moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various Christian denominations. British envoys arrived to safeguard Protestant interests, France the Lebanese Christians, Russia the Orthodox folds. The Vatican also stepped in to aid certain sects, producing the unique hybrids of the Maronite and Greek Melkite churches which are loyal to the papacy but retain some Eastern Orthodox beliefs and practices.
These Western interlocutors all brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions, thus vastly improving the education, health and job opportunities of the local Christians. With this came increased mobility and higher ambitions in life, and many began to acclimate towards more Western, urbanized settings.
This emigration trend has now accelerated over the past century under pressure from regional conflicts and resurgent brands of Islam, such as the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt since the 1930s and the spread of Wahabbism by the oil-rich Saudi regime, which has spawned al-Qaida and similar jihadist movements.
According to Lebanese scholar Malik C. Habib, the resulting displacement has produced growing Coptic and Armenian communities in the greater Los Angeles area, a sizable Assyrian community of Iraqi Christians with their own patriarch in Chicago, and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Christians in Montreal, São Paulo, Paris, and Sydney.
Demographers estimate, for instance, that roughly 60% of all native-born Lebanese and Palestinian Christians now live abroad.
There are, nonetheless, some encouraging indications that Christianity is growing once again in some parts of the Middle East. Writing in the wake of the Alexandria church bombing, Ramez Atallah, director of the Bible Society of Egypt, noted that Christian businessmen now own an estimated 30% of Egypt’s wealth, while “many churches in Egypt are flourishing with plans to expand their facilities to accommodate the growing number of weekly worshippers.”
“So what’s the true picture of Christians in Egypt: ‘a persecuted minority’ or a ‘thriving community’? Both of these statements are true,” he penned in an email report to friends and supporters.
Still, it is hard not to despair over the plight of Middle East Christians when even police authorities are turning their guns on them.
In but the latest incident of its kind, an Egyptian policeman went hunting for Coptic Christians while on board a train near Cairo, looking for the tell-tale green crosses many Copts have traditionally tattooed onto their wrists. Finding several, he shot one Christian dead and seriously wounded five others.
It remains to be seen whether any amount of Western intervention can do something to help stop this endless bleeding of Eastern Christianity.
David Parsons serves as ICEJ Media Director in Jerusalem
Islam & Terrorism
Uncovering the threat of Islamic extremism
Since 9/11 the issue of Islamic terrorism has become a reality for the West. For Israel, it has been something they have faced for decades.
At the 2008 Feast of Tabernacles, regular speaker, Professor Moshe Sharon, tackles the issue of Islamic Jihad and the danger it poses to the West and Israel.
Click below to listen and learn more about this pressing subject.
Prof. Moshe Sharon teaches Islamic History at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.