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‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ conference brings Evangelical leaders to Bethlehem

by on February 27, 2012 6

From March 5 – 9, 2012 the Bethlehem Bible College will be hosting it’s second “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bethlehem. The conference will bring Christians from around the world to Bethlehem to connect with Palestinian Christians and to better understand the daily situation they are living under and how certain Christian theological stances help to perpetuate those conditions.

Many times Evangelical Christians, especially those from the United States never get off the “tourist trail” and have the opportunity to meet with Palestinians and to hear their stories. Daily trips to places like the Bethlehem Checkpoint, Hebron, and the Tent of Nations will give participants the opportunity to see areas most affected by the occupation.

The aim of “Christ at the Checkpoint” is to provide an opportunity for evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Some of the conference goals are stated as:

1. Empower and encourage the Palestinian church.

2. Expose the realities of the injustices in the Palestinian Territories and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace.

3. Create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum.

4. Motivate participants to become advocates for the reconciliation work of the church in Palestine/Israel and its ramifications for the Middle East and the world.

Speakers include Tony Campolo of Eastern University, Shane Claiborne of “The Simple Way”, Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Church, Sami Awad of Holy Land Trust, journalist Ben White and many local pastors and leaders from the Bethlehem community. A full list of speakers can be found here.

This conference has already received a lot of attention from Christian and Jewish Zionist groups trying to cast it as “delegitimizing Israel”. Charges not often thrown at Evangelical Christians.

While the media continues in its futile efforts to sideline the BDS movement by portraying the supporters of BDS as Nazis and anti-Semites, a growing number of Jewish people have realised that social justice and equality are non-negotiable elements of  Jewish identity. These Jewish people do not try to hide the sins of Israel behind the racism of Arab nations (that the West have supported for decades), nor do they  demand Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel-Palestine at any cost.For many Jews, right wing Zionist Israel, rather than being the only thing that is holding back the barbaric Islamic hordes, is in fact the root source of the conflict; provoking a people, that for centuries have been the friends of Jewish people, to violence and despair in response to the colonialist oppression of Zionist Israel.

And for many Jews, like many gentiles, all it takes to change a person’s mind is to visit the West Bank and open ones eyes to what is really going on in Israel-Palestine.

The following article was published on the Mondoweiss website on September 15th 2011.

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann changes her mind on the boycott
Sep 15, 2011 05:00 pm | annie

On the eve of a significant Open Jewish Conversation about Cultural Boycott of Israel reported here last month Stolen Beauty has published a letter from highly regarded Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, founder of the the Progressive Jewish congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Park Slope, which is hosting the event tonight. The letter is addressed to other signatories of the Brooklyn Rabbis Letter, a letter originally signed by seven rabbis criticizing the boycott of Ahava Cosmetics.

Stolen Beauty prefaces:

After a visit to the West Bank, Lippman wrote to the other rabbis saying that she had changed her mind and now supported the boycott of settlement products, including Ahava.

Dear rabbis,

I am writing this note which I have meant to write since returning from the human rights mission to Israel and Palestine that I co-led in October; a trip organized by Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. It was an amazing trip in many ways, and a sorrowful one too, as we saw the painful places where human rights are damaged if not discarded. I urge you to go on next year’s trip, which will take place in mid-November.

Among many other things, we saw the destruction that is wrought by too many Israeli settlers. We stood on the charred ground that had been a thriving olive grove only days before, before settlers set fire to it, as they also poison and cut down other trees and groves, seemingly just because they are owned and run by Palestinians. We stood with cave dwellers in the south Hebron Hills and a day later they and Israeli advocate Ezra Nawi were attacked by armed and masked “bandit” settlers. We visited Hebron, where streets are empty of life except in the area of the Cave, because Palestinian shops have been locked and so have many homes, and where the main street near the Cave is divided by a cement barrier; Palestinians walk on one side, Israelis, Americans, on the other, watched by a soldier.

Israel has many real security needs. But I have come to know that the ways in which the occupation of the West Bank is enforced go way beyond those needs to the realm of harsh discrimination and ready violence, aided by a complicity military and government.

This is all preface to my main point to you: I have changed my mind about the purchase of products made in the Jewish West Bank. All the rabbis I spoke to in Israel, who were not only RHR rabbis, are not buying West Bank products. I have decided to join them. Therefore, I will no longer oppose those who refuse to buy Ahava products.

The list produced by Gush Shalom is attached, if you want to think about this as well.

I have no interest in embarrassing any of you, my colleagues. I will not be standing in front of Ricky’s urging a boycott. But I have come to think I must support it.

Thanks for “listening.” I leave Monday for a month’s sabbatical, so will have little chance to talk to any of you before going. I would be happy to talk when I return, if you like.

I wish you all a happy and hopeful new year.

Ellen
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann Kolot Chayeinu / Voices of Our Lives http://www.kolotchayeinu.org

Our western society seems to take it for granted that Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, are anti-Semites. How else can we explain Arab violence towards the state of Israel? Israeli lobbyist, Alex Joffe, has recently said that Arabs only understand ‘somebody smacking them on the head,’ http://mondoweiss.net/2011/08/arabs-only-understand-somebody-smacking-them-on-the-head-explains-israel-lobbyistarchaeologist-who-lives-in-new-rochelle.html.

We are advised that, to depict Arabs, particularly Muslim Arabs, as barbarians, is not racist, it is simply an observation, an historical reality of life in the Middle East. When it comes to Hamas, we are in anti-Arab heaven. Hamas are the very minions of hell. Westerners are free to vent their racist attitudes towards these people. They drink to the very dregs with no sense of shame at their hateful indulgence. We are told that Hamas deserves all our hatred and vilification. Goldstien looks loved in comparison. When Christ said that we should love our enemies, we all know that He wasn’t referring to Hamas any more than He was referring to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ted Bundy or Genghis Khan. We should not love all people as equals regardless of whether they are Jew or gentile…

Israels supporters very often demand that Europeans are clearly superior to the Arabs and hence the civilised world must not cave in to liberal demands for Palestinian rights. To do so would mean losing the battle for civilization. Israel is the front line of US versus THEM.

The following article and video appeared on the Electronic Intifada website. It gives us a bit more balanced idea of racism in the Middle East.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nb_vXaVKaMM&

Video survey: Racism rampant among Israeli youth

Eli Ungar-Sargon

The Electronic Intifada

18 August 2011

Over the past three years, my wife Pennie and I have been working on a documentary film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During our second production trip to the region, one of the many remarkable people we encountered was Uri Davis. He is one of a handful of Israelis who has built a life for himself among the Palestinians of the West Bank. This made him a very interesting subject for our film, which examines the practical and moral failings of the two-state solution.

During our interview with Davis, one of the questions we asked was whether he had encountered any anti-Semitism in the West Bank. The question was motivated by a desire on our part to address a narrative — prevalent among American and Israeli Jews — which claims that anti-Semitism is an obvious feature of Palestinian culture.

As these two groups are an important part of our target audience, we felt that it was our responsibility to address this perception. Who better to ask about the veracity of this narrative than a Jew living among Palestinians? Davis answered by saying that although Palestinian anti-Semitism does exist, it is a marginal phenomenon, while anti-Arab sentiment among Israelis is a mainstream phenomenon. Shortly after the interview, it occurred to us that we could either substantiate or disprove Davis’s provocative statement with our cameras.

We began our survey in February 2011 and completed it in early March. On the Israeli side, we interviewed a total of 250 Jewish Israelis in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Jerusalem and Beersheba. For this part of the survey I conducted the interviews myself from behind the camera in Hebrew. On the Palestinian side, we interviewed a total of 250 Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. (Despite multiple attempts, we were unable to procure permission to enter the Gaza Strip.) Here, we collaborated with local journalist Mohammad Jaradat who, using my questions, conducted the interviews in Arabic.

The questions we asked pertained to a number of sensitive political topics and the idea was to get people to talk long enough to detect if there was any racism at play in their answers. In sociological terms, we were engaged in qualitative analysis, but unlike typical qualitative interviews, we spent minutes, not hours with our subjects. Our survey is not exhaustive and our method was very simple. We went to public places and asked people to talk to us on camera. In designing the questions, I set out to distinguish actual racism from conflict-based animosity. That is, to allow for the possibility that Israelis might exhibit animosity towards Palestinians without being racist and to allow the same on the Palestinian side in reverse.

The very first question we asked of Jewish Israelis was the extremely broad “What do you think about Arabs?” It is only reasonable to expect that people who harbor anti-Arab sentiment would mask their feelings when answering such a direct question on camera. Most people responded to this question with some variation of “They are people,” although we were surprised that a sizable minority used the opportunity to launch into anti-Arab diatribes.

One of the most disturbing trends that we noticed was the strong correlation between age and anti-Arab sentiment. The majority of Israeli teenagers that we spoke to expressed unabashed and open racism towards Arabs. Statements like “I hate them,” or “they should all be killed” were common in this age group.

When looking over the data, we divided the respondents into three groups: those who were neutral about Arabs; those who were positive about them; and those who expressed negative attitudes. Amongst the responses, 60 percent were neutral, 25 percent negative and 15 percent positive.

Rights misunderstood

Interestingly, some of the same people who answered the first question by saying that Arabs are people, went on to say that they wouldn’t be willing to live next door to them. Internal inconsistencies of this nature cropped up in many of the interviews and it is for this reason that we reserved our overall judgment on the prevalence of anti-Arab sentiment until all of the answers were tabulated. Our results show that 71 percent were willing to live next door to Arab neighbors, while 24 percent were unwilling. Five percent failed to answer this question with either a “yes” or a “no.”

It should be noted that the Israel Democracy Institute received dramatically different numbers in response to the above question. In its 2010 survey, it found that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis were unwilling to live next door to an Arab. The implication of this discrepancy is that our survey sample was much less anti-Arab than the population at large.

When it came to equal rights, a clear majority of our respondents answered that they felt it was important for Arab citizens of the state of Israel to enjoy equal rights. Upon review of the data, one of the significant trends that emerged in these answers was the recurrent use of the phrase “rights and responsibilities.” Many people openly resented the fact that most Arab citizens of the state don’t perform military service and argued that Arabs should only have equal rights if they are held to the same responsibilities as Jews. This response demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the very concept of rights, but it was prevalent enough that we felt it justified its own category. We called this category “conditional.” Of these responses, 64 percent were in favor of equal rights, 16 percent were opposed and 20 percent were in favor of conditional rights.

Once again, we saw a clear discrepancy from the Israel Democracy Institute numbers, which showed that 46 percent of Israelis were opposed to full and equal rights for Arab citizens of the state.

Democracy for Jews only?

Israel defines itself as a “Jewish democracy” but we were interested in discovering which part of that definition is more important to Jewish Israelis. We went about doing this by asking: “What’s more important: that Israel be a Jewish state or a democratic state?” What we discovered was that a clear majority of the people we spoke to felt that the Jewish character of the state was at least equally if not more important than the democratic character. There was, however, an impressive minority who were clear about the fact that it was more important to them that Israel be a democratic state. This last category represents, by a slim margin, the single largest group of our respondents: 37 percent felt that a democratic character was more important, 36 percent felt that a Jewish character was more important and 27 percent felt that both were equally important.

On the subject of the settlers, we asked a more leading question: “What do you think about the settlers? Are they an impediment to peace?” We broke the responses down into three groups: those who were neutral about the settlers; those who were positive about them; and those who expressed negativity. In this instance, answering “yes” was taken as evidence of negative feelings towards the settlers, answering “no” without qualification was taken as a neutral stance and answering “no” followed by something like “they are the heroes of the Jewish people” — a phrase that we heard a number of times — was taken as evidence of positive feelings. What we discovered was that more than 70 percent of the people we spoke to were either neutral or positive towards the settlers. Of the responses, 45 percent were neutral, 28 percent were positive and 27 percent were negative about the settlers.

Many of the people we spoke to exhibited a deep suspicion and mistrust of the Palestinian people. When asked whether it was possible to make peace with the Palestinians, less than half of our respondents answered “yes.” This is a sobering statistic for anyone invested in the peace process. It would seem that most of the people we spoke to have given up on the prospect of peace. Even among the Israelis who believed that peace is possible, a recurrent theme was “not in this generation.” Another important trend in this part of the survey was blaming the Palestinian leadership for the lack of progress in the peace process. Many of the people who answered “yes” stated that peace was possible with the Palestinian people but not with their leaders. Of the responses, 48 percent believed that peace with the Palestinians is possible, while 40 percent felt that peace is not possible. Thirteen percent failed to answer this question with either a “yes” or a “no.”

Little knowledge of one-state solution

Given the subject of our film, we were very interested in exploring people’s preferences for potential solutions to the conflict. What we noticed almost immediately was that it was very important to clarify to our respondents exactly what we meant by one state or two states. For the purposes of our survey, we defined the one-state solution as a secular democracy with equal rights on all of historic Palestine, while we defined the two-state solution as two states more or less along the lines of the 1967 boundaries, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. It was important that we were able to explain exactly what we meant, because many Israelis answered one way but meant something entirely different.

For example, when asked whether they preferred the one-state solution or the two-state solution, many respondents answered that they preferred the two-state solution. But when we followed up and asked what territorial concessions they would be willing to make, these same people said that they wouldn’t agree to any concessions.

Furthermore, almost no one that we spoke to was familiar with the concept of the one-state solution. Many people even took this to mean one state for Jews only, until we clarified our meaning. When we reviewed the data from this section of the survey, we decided to break down the responses into seven different categories: one state; one state (i.e. a state for Jews only); two states; two states (i.e. without territorial concessions); either one or two states; neither one nor two states; and other. What is really fascinating about our results is that over two thirds of the people we spoke to were actively opposed to the classic two-state solution on the 1967 borders. Furthermore, there were almost as many true one-state solution supporters as there were classic two-state supporters. Amongst those we surveyed, 27 percent were true two-state supporters, 23 percent were true one state supporters, 22 percent supported neither, 16 percent were in favor of two states without territorial concessions, 6 percent were okay with either one or two states, 4 percent were in favor of one state for Jews only, and 2 percent didn’t fit into any of these categories.

Racism highest in Jerusalem

In trying to answer the question of whether anti-Arab sentiment is a mainstream phenomenon among Israelis, we looked at all of the answers and divided the data into three categories: not anti-Arab; mildly anti-Arab; and strongly anti-Arab. Once again, we allowed for the possibility that a person might exhibit animosity towards Palestinians without being anti-Arab and we did not put people into one of the anti-Arab columns simply because he or she expressed right-wing political views. So, for example, if the only evidence in an interview of anti-Arab sentiment was that the respondent said that equal rights for Arabs are conditional upon equal responsibilities, we did not put them in an anti-Arab column. However, if a respondent stated that they wouldn’t live next door to an Arab, this was sufficient to push him or her into the mildly anti-Arab column. To qualify for the strongly anti-Arab category, a respondent needed to exhibit anti-Arab sentiment in two or more answers.

Our results showed that 46 percent of our respondents were either mildly or strongly anti-Arab. When we broke these numbers down according to city, there were obvious regional differences. Jerusalem was by far the most anti-Arab of the five cities we visited, with 58 percent exhibiting some level of anti-Arab sentiment, while Haifa was the least with 32 percent. Interestingly, after Jerusalem, Tel Aviv was the city with the most anti-Arab sentiment (49 percent).

The data we gathered substantiates the idea that anti-Arab sentiment is a mainstream phenomenon in Israel. Almost half of all the Jewish Israelis we spoke to exhibited some level of anti-Arab sentiment. The single most disturbing trend that emerged was the correlation between youth and strong anti-Arab sentiment. We also learned that support for the classic two-state solution along the 1967 lines was very low among the people we spoke to. This data point was reinforced by the strong support that we saw for the settlers. Given our leading question, the fact that less than a third of respondents were willing to characterize the settlers as an impediment to peace, is further evidence that the two-state solution, as it is currently being proposed by the international community, is decidedly unpopular in Israel.

Despite the lack of knowledge about the one-state solution idea, some respondents appeared willing to consider it. Once this solution was explained to them, 22 percent preferred it and around 6 percent did not object to it. Finally, when we asked Jewish Israelis to choose between the Jewish character of the state and the democratic character, 36 percent opted for the latter. All of these results must be taken with a grain of salt.

We can report anecdotally that many of the people who refused to be interviewed told us that they wouldn’t participate, because they felt that we were part of the “leftist media.” For these reasons, we feel that it is likely, if anything, that our data underestimates the actual amount of anti-Arab sentiment in Israel.

Eli Ungar-Sargon is a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He and his wife Pennie are currently looking for translators to facilitate the data analysis on the Palestinian side of this survey. Anyone interested should email withoutaland A T gmail D O T com. To learn more about the film and see a visual representation of the data discussed in this article, please visit www.withoutaland.com

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