Vinoth Ramachandra

Remembering Palestine

Posted on: April 9, 2019

As Israelis go to the polls, the world needs to remember that Israel is not a democracy by any modern understanding of that term. It officially declares itself to be a “Jews-only” state. Arab Israelis are second-class citizens; and as for the indigenous Palestinians, they are a beleaguered and oppressed population in their own land.

So Israel is no more a democracy than South Africa was under apartheid.

Theodore Herzl, the Austrian journalist often credited with the label “founder of the Zionist movement”, was rightly concerned that assimilation and sporadic persecution were destroying Jewish culture in Europe. The Jews need a “home” where they could preserve their traditional way of life. Herzl was not thinking of Palestine as the Jewish “home”- for Judaism had for the past two millennia reconfigured itself around the study of the Torah rather than the Land and Temple. He initially toyed with the idea of Uganda as a safe haven.

It was “dispensationalist” Christians in the US and UK following the teachings of John Nelson Darby, Henry Irving, the Moody Bible Institute- and later- the Texan Cyrus Scofield’s commentary on the Bible, who influenced the Zionist movement and the British colonial authorities to settle the Jews in Palestine. Wrenching Old Testament texts out of their historical contexts, they taught that the return of Jews to Palestine was foretold in biblical prophecy and would usher in the parousia, or “return” of Christ.

The creation of a Jewish state in 1948 witnessed what today would be called “ethnic cleansing”: from December 1947 till the early 1950s, a well-organized military campaign by the Jewish minority (numbering 660,000 out of a population of two million) destroyed five hundred Palestinian villages and eleven urban neighbourhoods, expelled seven hundred thousand people and massacred those who refused to give up their homes. Those expelled became permanent refugees, unable to return to their ancestral lands. But Jews anywhere in the world who have no Semitic ancestry and no ancient claim on the land are able to migrate to Israel and are granted automatic citizenship. (See Ghada Karmi and Eugene Cortran, eds., The Palestinian Exodus, 1948-1988)

This is what Palestinians remember as Nakbah– catastrophe. And if all moral persons should be horrified by attempts at Holocaust-denial, should we not also be horrified by Nakbah-denial by the Israel state and pro-Israeli academics and church pastors?

Israel continues to flout international laws with impunity (for instance, erecting permanent structures on lands seized by invasion). It does so because it enjoys the diplomatic and military protection of the United States.

The military occupation of Palestine encroaches on every area of peoples lives: restrictions on travel, high youth unemployment, poor healthcare and educational facilities, forcible annexation of houses and land.

More Jews live outside Israel than within it, and many are outspoken critics of the Zionist project. There are also courageous rabbis and human rights activists within Israel who are opposed to the abuses heaped on the Palestinian people by the Israeli army and right-wing Jewish colonists. So to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Jewish.

There is a single ray of light in the tragic history of Anglo-American Christian involvement in the affairs of Palestine. Henry King was the President of Oberlin college, a Christian liberal arts school in Ohio which was the first college in the US to admit women and also played a leading role in the abolitionist movement. King was a personal friend of President Woodrow Wilson. After the First World War he served with the YMCA in Paris. At the Versailles Peace conference in 1919, Wilson asked King to head a commission of enquiry to ascertain the aspirations of the indigenous Arabs in Palestine. Wilson knew that the British and French were eager to seize hold of the remnants of the Ottoman empire. In the Wilsonian vision of breaking up empires, the Arabs, too, were entitled to liberation and the independence denied them by four centuries of imperial rule under the Turks.

What became the King-Crane commission discovered that the majority of Palestinians were fearful of a Zionist presence and a British or French mandate. They wanted either independence or to be part of a Greater-Syrian Arab state. The King-Crane report troubled the governments in London and Paris. The report was shelved when Wilson became seriously ill and collapsed later that year. With it died the liberal vision of national self-determination.

This was the first and last time that any attempt was made, as one historian puts it, “to build a new Middle East according to the aspirations of the local population rather than those of Washington and its allies.”

I tell my British and American Christian friends that they can never be part of the solution to the Palestinian crisis until they recognize that they have been a huge part of the problem. And fundamentalist Christian preachers in the so-called American Bible Belt continue to be the problem as they refuse to accept any other reading of “biblical prophecy”, and spread misleading Zionist historiography around the world through the Internet and TV channels. There are many churches in Asia and Africa that have imbibed such views without ever examining Scripture as to what is being said is actually there (for example there is not a single reference to the land in the entire New Testament).

Ignorance of history has to be countered with historical facts. Bad theology has to be challenged with good theology. The Christian theologians of Palestine have come up with a Kairos theological statement similar to the seminal Kairos document of South Africa in 1985 that countered Afrikaaner state theology and mobilized the Church against apartheid. I commend it to you:

http://www.kairospalestine.ps/index.php/about-us/kairos-palestine-document

17 Responses to "Remembering Palestine"

“So to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Jewish.”

100% agree

Thank you Vinoth. I have just found the Easter Alert which contains ongoing reflection on the situation and the Kairos document http://www.kairospalestine.ps/index.php/resources/christmas-alerts/263-kairos-easter-alert-2019

Please see “The Balfour Declaration: Scottish Presbyterian Eschatology and British Policy Towards Palestine” by Alasdair Black to nuance your discussion about Zionism’s history with dispensational hermeneutics. Full article available here: https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/perc/16/4/article-p35.xml?rskey=uVc3a5&result=1

Thank you Vinoth for remembering the Nakhba and Christian complicity in the injustices of the Mandate period, in this probing challenge to knee-jerk truisms about the “Arab-Israeli” conflict. Fuel for prayer and action in these critical days for Palestinians.

Here is Professor John Dugard (well-known authority on international law) today on “Why Aren’t Europeans calling Israel an Apartheid State?”:

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/aren-europeans-calling-israel-apartheid-state-190410081102849.html

Vinoth

But there are Arabs serving as government officials in the Knesset, Certainly black South Africans would not have served as government officials in South Africa´s parliament during apartheid … would they have?

I am critical of many of the policies of the State of Israel, and I agree nearly 100% with your article, but I stop short at comparing Israel to what occured in South Africa.

I´m not certain what the answer is … I believe the Jewish people deserve a home of their own where they can practice their religion and culture in peace, but I also believe in justice for the Palestinians.

You need to read up un the history, Vinoth, and not only read one-sided books and articles like the ones you are referring to. I have been reading and studying on this subject my whole life, and find your analysis shallow and unbalanced. I just finished reading a great book on this subject dealing with Israels land according to international law. The book builds on three recent ph.d dissertations on the subject, and shows how international law supports Israels right to the land. Unfortunately it hasn’t been translated to english yet (it´s written in Norwegian).
I agree that some christians has been very one-sided regarding the conflict, and have not taken the suffering of the palestinians seriously – but one have to put the blame where it belongs, and the fact is that most palestinians are better of under israeli rule than under their own governments – especially the Hamas government – who has no respect for the life of a human being, be it an civilian israeli or a palestinian living in Gaza. They gladly sacrifice their own population in the fight to win public opinion in their religious seal to wipe out the only Jewish state on the face of the earth.
I also think the way you are portraying other christians, who a hold well founded, but different view of the bibles teachings on Israel, is very unrespectful. I hope you in the future will take a more nuanced and respectful tone in how you talk about these issues.

Please can you explain how to apply the Bible in a “more nuanced” way to the secular nation-state of Israel today? (What is the connection between Old Testament Israel and Israel today?)

Also, do you know any Palestinians personally, and have you asked them if they are actually “better off under Israeli rule”? Would you like somebody who has never visited Norway saying that the sami peoples would have been better off under, say, Russian rule?

Yes, I know some palestinians, both i Norway, and I have visited our partner school in Ramallah (i am a teacher). I have also been to the bible senter in Bethlem and listened to the palestinians version of the conflict and how they read the bible. To me it is classical replacement theology. I urge you to read this article; http://www.kkcj.org/teaching/article/replacement-theology to hear why replacement theology is not only bad theology, but one of the main reasons for the terrible antisemitism that has ridden history. And regarding my “more nuanced way” comment, it was not about reading the bible, but how you look at the conflict and the two peoples rights to the land. All the states in this region was established through French and British mandates on behalf of the victors after the first world war, so if Israel is not a legitimate state, neither is Jordan, Iraq, Saudi, Lebanon or Syria. You can not hold a double standard in this regard. Then you could argue that these other nations were given to the local inhabitants, while the jews were imported. But that’s not a fair judgment. There has always been jews present in the land of israel, and they had for a long time been a majority in Jerusalem. Besides the early aliyah (their returning to the land) startet already in 1881, and not at the invitation of the british. At the time of the Balfour declaration there were 14 million stateless jews in the world, and only 11 million stateless arabs in the area that the british and the french took from the Ottomans. And the arabs “got the best deal of any people” agreed the british. The kurds and other groups got nothing. And Faisal, who legally represented the arabs at these peace negations in San Remo agreed to the right of the jews to have their land. I could go on, but don’t have more time.
Finally, regarding wether the palestinians are better off under israeli rule – there exists many statistics about what the almost 2 million palestinians living in Israel proper would prefer. Almost none of them wants to move to a new PLO run state, much less a Hamas run Gaza. Regarding the palestinians living in the so called occupied areas (more precise would be to call them disputed areas, since no other state has held sovereignty over this erea since the Ottomans) , of course they are not well off under a kleptocratic government which does not practice democracy, human rights and insights hatred into the population against Israel.
Sure, Israel makes many mistakes and most of the jews are not godly people, and their culture can be very abrasive – but that neither changes Gods love towards them or the status of international law which grants them the land they live in.
Best wishes
Andreas

@Andreas Magnus:

Have you been to a “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference where many Palestinian Christian leaders speak out about the issues they have with Israeli occupation?

I often hear from evangelical or conservative Christians in the west “Oh yes … the suffering of the Palestinians is sad.”, but I seldom see any action on their part to end the suffering.

I was once aligned with a Messianic Jewish group in Israel some years ago and I remember asking in a Bible study what they were doing to help ease the plight of the Palestinians? No one could answer the question.
I find this troubling.

That said, I am in no way anti-semitic toward the Jewish people and I am certainly saddened by the way they have been treated historically — particularly at the hands of Christians. They deserve a place of their own as well, but no nation-state is above reproach, including that of Israel.

No, I have not been at one of those conferences, but I’ve been at a real checkpoint. And I have no problem understanding the Palestinians plight. And as Christians we have a responsibility to love everybody, also the Palestinians, and show concern for their situation. However, that they are suffering doesn’t necessarily mean they have a rights to the land that they claim. And one has to analyze the reasons for their suffering. One cannot blame Israel for wanting to safeguard their citizens against terrorist attack’s. Any responsible government would have to do that, Especially in a democracy if they want to be reelected. We must not hold Israel to a different standard than other democracies. If you look at how the UN has treated Israel the last 50 years, UN has clearly discriminated between Israel and lots of other nations which have been responsible for much worse and much more systematic wrongdoings.
The wall that the Palestinians are complaining about, for instance, only came up after the intifadas started. The suffering of the Palestinians is real, but it is mainly to blame on their selfish leaders who has failed to except any of the peace agreements offered to them. Instead they have incited hatred, and use their own population as a propaganda tool in the aim to discredit the state of Israel. The same goes for the neighboring Arab states, who have not integrated the Palestinian refugees, but kept them in refugee camps for three generations ( supported by the UN through UNRWA). Nowhere else in the world has refugees been treated like this. When the Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe after the war they were integrated into the new Germany. The turks who were chased out of Greece, and vice a versa, after the First World War were all integrated into their new countries. So where the 800,000 Jews who was chased out of the Arab countries after the war of independence and the six day war. So, to get to my point, yes the Palestinians are suffering, but it is not fair to put the (main) blame on Israel. They have been trying to create their own legitimate state in the area given to them according to international law. And the more the Arabs have been trying to obstruct them in their endeavor, the worse off the Arabs have become.
And by the way, as a Norwegian, a good chunk on my tax money is going to the Palestinians since we’ve been sponsoring the Palestinian authority with billions of dollars during the last 25 years. Right now we’re arguing with them about how they spend that money. Part of that money is given to the families of the terrorists, And the amount increases with the number of victims of the terror attack. That’s not the way to build a peaceful future.
If you are concerned about the Christian Palestinians, you should pray for The quick removal of the Hamas government in gaza who are persecuting Christians to the degree that the number of Christians among the Palestinian population is dwindling quickly. Actually Christians all over the Middle East are suffering these days under Muslim rule. One more Arab state (in Palestine) won’t do much good for anyone if it does not practice democracy, the rule of law and human rights such as the freedom of religion.
I think we both want peace for all parties, but it has to be a just peace.

@Andreas Magnus:

Thanks for your thoughts. I believe in a land, shared equally, between Palestinians and Jews. I know for many this sounds like an impossible dream, but it´s what I believe we should be stiving for and what is closest to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Andreas and Matthew: It is not for you or I to solve the political tragedy in Palestine. That would be arrogant. We should, instead, begin with the problem on our doorstep that we can confront- viz. within the “Bible-believing” churches of our acquaintance.

This is why I focused on theology and history. Large sections of the evangelical church are ignorant of both. All you have to do, regarding history, is compare a map of Israel today with one from 1948 (the only UN mandated map of Israel). You could also compare numbers of victims: how many Palestinians have been killed in any skirmish in Gaza or the West Bank compared with how many Israelis by Hamas militants. Simple arithmentic, but the contrasts are staggering and the disproportion a violation of all civilized rules of engagement.

As for biblical ignorance, “Replacement theology” has come to be used as a swear-word by Christian Zionists against those who are simply teaching (like me) the fulfillment of all God’s OT promises in Christ (2 Cor.1:20), and not in the contemporary nation-state of Israel. This is clearly stated in the Kairos Palestine document.

“We should, instead, begin with the problem on our doorstep that we can confront- viz. within the “Bible-believing” churches of our acquaintance.”

Thanks for this reminder Vinoth. On most days, though, I´m less than optimistic about confronting this problem with our “Bible-believing” brethren. I´m so sorry to say, but we are kilometers and miles apart when it comes to how we understand and handle scripture. It´s like two foreign ideologies competing for the single title “Christian”.

Lord have mercy … Lord come quickly.

Uncle V dropping some truth, as the kids might say. Thanks as always for raising your head above the parapet. And to think you are accused of not being nuanced simply for expressing a view that diverges from the American evangelical mainstream. The same ‘received wisdom’ that often happens conflates with the Religious Right. It is a political agenda rather than spiritual (although many of its proponents remain unaware); Imperialism with a ‘holy’ veneer.

As for Christians in Africa and Asia subscribing to it; a shame indeed bearing in mind how well-versed we are with colonialism its ideological vehicles.

I’m going to check out the Kairos paper you recommended. Much appreciated.

@Tolita:

“It is a political agenda rather than spiritual (although many of its proponents remain unaware); Imperialism with a ‘holy’ veneer.”

Thanks. I never really thought of the situation this way.

I’m not sure where to start, because there are so much to comment on here. Of course its not our role to solve this problem, but we can contribute by speaking truthfully and respectfully about it. Regarding theology we will probably have to agree to disagree. But even putting theology aside, International law is on Israel’s side in this dispute. You are arguing that we should look at the UN partition plan (you say the UN map from 1948, but I assume you mean the partition plan that was voted on in the general assembly in 1947), as if that plan carries any weight in international law. It doesn’t. The general assembly has no power in this regard, only the security counsel can create resolutions that are binding on the member states, and only when they specify that they do so according to a specific paragraph in the UN-charter. This was not the case in this vote. Then some people argue that the jews accepted this partition plan, but that’s only partly true. They only accepted it on the condition that the arabs would do the same, and as we all know that didn’t happen. Instead they attacked Israel when they declared their state in may 1948. Israel was not created by the UN as many people seem to believe, the state of israel was established by the jews based on the rights they received in the mandate established at the san remo peace conference, which was incorporated into the league of nations in 1922 and 1924. These agreements were inherited by the UN when the league of nations was terminated in 1946, and according to the mandate text (based on the Balfour declaration) the jews were encouraged to settle in the whole mandate in order to lay the ground for a independent jewish state.
Regarding your second argument, were you use the number of people killed on both sides as a measurement of guilt of wrongdoings, your logic breaks down. If you would apply this logic to other conflicts you would see how hopeless it is. Then the second world war would be a tie when i comes to responsibility for the war, because there died almost as many people on the side of the nazis as on the side of the allies. You can not use this logic when you try to figure out who is responsible for a conflict and who is in the right regarding the question of the land. Accept for the 1956 campaign, where israel was lured out on an adventure by the french and the british to help them regain the Suez canal, the initiativ in the conflict between the jews and their arab neigbours has always been with the arabs. And you can not expect a state to let their own civilian population be targeted by terrorist without striking back. When it comes to rules of engagement, Israel is following strict rules upheld by an independent court system, while the palestinians are targeting civilian israelis. There is a big difference in collateral damage, and targeting civilians and using civilians as shield, like the Hamas and other groups are doing.
We probably will not agree on this subject, but we should at least use correct facts and not hold Israel to a different standard than we do other countries.

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