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Truths, facts and facts on the ground

Much of the international support that Israel receives is based on several lies it tells and re-tells as “facts”.

Joseph Massad Last Modified: 27 Oct 2011 11:03

In 1991, negotiations started officially and unofficially between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (and the Palestinians associated with it) and the Israeli government. At the time, Israel had occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip for the previous 24 years.

Today, 20 years later, Israel and President Obama insist that the only way to bring about peace, and presumably end the Occupation, is to continue with negotiations. It is unclear if what Obama and Israel are claiming is that Israel needs 24 years of negotiations in order to end its 24-year occupation of Palestinian land, so that by the time the occupation ends, it will have lasted for 48 years.

This of course is the optimistic reading of the Israeli and US positions; the reality of the negotiations and what they aim to achieve, however, is far more insidious.

The negotiations have been based on specific goals to end certain aspects of the Israeli relationship to the Palestinians, namely some of the parts introduced since the 1967 war and the occupation, and the beginning of exclusive Jewish colonial settlement of these territories.But what always remains outside the purview of negotiations is the very core of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship, which the Palestinians are told cannot be part of any negotiations.

These off-limits core issues include what has happened since 1947-1948, including the expulsion of 760,000 Palestinians, the destruction of their cities and towns, the confiscation and destruction of their property, the introduction of discriminatory laws that legalise Jewish racial, colonial and religious privilege and deny Palestinian citizens of Israel equal rights and reject the right of the expelled refugees to return.

Yet, this core, which the Israelis summarise as Israel’s right to be, and to be recognised as, a “Jewish” state, is what is always invoked by the Israelis themselves as central to beginning and ending the negotiations successfully and which the Palestinians, the Israelis insist, refuse to discuss.

But the core issues of the question of the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis have always been based on the agonistic historical, geographic and political claims of the Palestinian people and the Zionist movement.

While the Palestinians have always based their claims on verifiable facts and truths that the international community agreed upon and recognised, Israel has always based its claims on facts on the ground that it created by force and which parts of the international community would only recognise as “legitimate”, retroactively.

How is one then to sift through these competing notions of truths and facts on the one hand, and facts on the ground, on the other?

The core issues of the US and Israeli agenda were best articulated in the speeches delivered by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the United Nations (UN) last month in response to the PLO’s bid for statehood at the UN. It is there where both Netanyahu and Obama invoked what they called “truths” and “facts” to assert Israeli facts on the ground. As I will show, their strategy is engineered to convert Israeli facts on the ground from antonyms of truths and facts to synonyms with them.

The first ‘fact’

Let me begin with what Zionists and the US have defined as the first “fact”, which is by definition not open to any doubt or question. Obama insists: “These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland.”

Netanyahu echoes Obama by listing this first “fact” as the first “truth,” or rather by making sure that “the light of truth will shine” at the UN through his words: “It was here in 1975 that the age-old yearning of my people to restore our national life in our ancient biblical homeland … was … branded … shamefully, as racism.” He added later “and we will know that [the Palestinians are] ready for compromise and for peace … when they stop denying our historical connection to our ancient homeland.”

Now, this insistence that the first fact, nay the first truth, that Palestine is the historic homeland of modern European Jews who resided in Europe and not of the Palestinian people who lived in it for millennia, turns out to be neither factual nor truthful, though it indeed remains the primary and first claim made by Zionism and anti-Semitism.

The claim relies on anti-Semitic notions propagated initially by the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century and later by secular anti-Semitism, both of which insisted that modern European Jews were blood and genetic descendants of the ancient Hebrews respectively, which is precisely how eighteenth century European philology’s reference to Jews as “Semites” would soon be transformed in the hand of political and racial anti-Semitism by the late nineteenth century from a “linguistic” category into a “racial” and biological one.

It is based on these anti-Semitic claims – that millenarian Protestants, secular anti-Semites, and Zionists called for the “restoration” of European Jews to the alleged homeland of their alleged ancestors.

The uncontroversial academic and historical facts that European Jews are descendants of European converts to Judaism from the centuries before Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century are unquestionable axioms in academic scholarship, including by Zionist historians.

No respected historian of European Jewry has ever argued that European Jews, or for that matter Moroccan, or Iraqi, or Yemeni Jews, were descendants of the ancient Hebrews. All respected scholars recognise them as descendants of converts to Judaism.

But even if the wildest genetic fantasies of anti-Semites and Zionists of Jews as a “race” were “proven”, would this make ancient Palestine, where the ancient Hebrews cohabited with other ancient peoples, the historic land of modern European Jews?

And even if one were to commit oneself to the science-fiction of Christian biblical archaeology which accompanied European colonialism in the nineteenth century and on which Israeli archaeology continues to be based, would that mean that modern Jews, now posited as direct genetic and biological descendants of the ancient Hebrews could claim the land where the ancient Hebrews lived with the Canaanites among other myriad groups as their own exclusive national domain and take it from its inhabitants who lived in it for millennia?

Could anyone today, except genocidal racists, link Germanic populations to an Aryan origin that started in northern India and based on that link, argue that northern India is the ancient homeland of all German-speaking people to which they must return and evict the current inhabitants of the land as nothing but recent interlopers in the land of the White Aryans?

These fantastical scenarios are precisely what Obama and Netanyahu tell us are undeniable facts and truths.

Indeed they both insist on them being the first fact, the very first indubitable principle of Zionism, which they want to impose on the international community and on the Palestinians!

The second “fact”

Obama’s second fact is asserted with a rhetorical flourish: “Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbours that have waged repeated wars against it … These facts cannot be denied.”

But these also are not facts at all. Not even Israeli historians of Israel’s wars agree with them. But Israeli politicians and ideologues of course do. In his UN speech, Netanyahu himself echoes Obama’s words by telling us that Israel is threatened by its neighbours, that it is “surrounded by people sworn to its destruction and armed to the teeth by Iran” and enjoins presumably the American part of his audience at least not to “forget that the people who live in Brooklyn and New Jersey are considerably nicer than some of Israel’s neighbours.”

These racist overtones aside, the academic and historic record shows us however that it was Zionist forces who have waged war against the Palestinians in the wake of the 1947 Partition Plan starting on November 30, 1947.

By May 14, 1948, when Israel declared itself a state, it had expelled 400,000 Palestinians from their homes and was capturing their lands and territories, which were assigned to the Arab state. When three (not five!) Arab armies invaded Zionist-held Palestine on May 15, 1948, they were intervening to stop the expulsion of the Palestinian people and to protect their lands from being taken over by Zionist forces. At the end of the war, they failed miserably at their task. Israel was able to expel another 360,000 Palestinians and to capture half the territories of the Arab state adding them to the Jewish state.

  • In 1956, Israel invaded Egypt along with Britain and France. This was in addition to intermittent but continuous cross border raids into the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egyptian-held Gaza over the decades to come.
  • In 1967, Israel invaded Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and occupied their territories and all of the remaining lands of Palestine.
  • In 1973, Egypt and Syria invaded their own territories (Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights), which Israel had earlier occupied, in an attempt to reclaim them but failed. They did not invade Israel itself.
  • In 1978, in 1982, and in 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon killing tens of thousands of people.
  • In 2008-2009, Israel invaded Gaza.

These are the undeniable facts that the international community and historians and the actual documentary record proves. As such, Israel was never invaded by its neighbours, except in 1948 – which was an attempt to stop Israel’s invasion of Palestinian territory and the expulsion of Palestinians.

That Israel won the majority of these wars cannot change the facts that it initiated them and that it has been the aggressor on its neighbours since even before its establishment in 1947. Indeed, Israel would launch raids on Iraq in 1981 and on Tunisia in 1985, neither of which was an immediate neighbour and without the slightest military provocation from either.

That Israel and the Zionist movement have been the aggressor in the region for the past century are the undeniable facts.

That Obama wants to assert that Israelis were victims of their neighbours is nothing short of imposing a fact on the ground by sheer American rhetorical and political power unrelated to real events. Obama’s invocation of honesty here turns out to be nothing short of a call for outright dishonesty.

But this “fact” for Obama derives from the “first fact”, namely, if European Jews have the right to colonise Palestine, expel the Palestinians, confiscate their lands, occupy them and discriminate against them by virtue of the first fact of their bogus historic claim, then any Palestinian or Arab resistance to the Zionists’ murderous campaigns is nothing short of aggression on Jews.

Obama proceeds to tell us other “facts”, including that “Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.”

While a handful of Israelis have been killed over the years by rocket fire, tens of thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians, have been killed by Israeli rocket fire during times of war and peace. Perhaps the most recent example can shed some light on this.

During Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Israeli rockets killed over 1,400 Palestinians while Hamas rockets against Israel did not kill a single Israeli, though several Israelis were shell-shocked and required psychological counselling. As for the murder of thousands of Arab children since 1948 and through the invasion of Gaza, Israel has killed at a rate of thousands of Arab children to one Jewish child in retaliatory attacks on Israel.

So, while Obama is indeed not lying that rockets have been fired on Israel and that historically Israeli Jewish children have been killed by attacks, he takes it out of the context of the much larger destruction and killings Israel engaged in against its neighbours since it was established, which is after all based on the first fact!

Obama’s half-facts, like his alleged full facts, end up being again engineered to impose Israeli facts on the ground. For these claims are being made to assert Israel’s need for “security”, which is of paramount importance, and which is the reason both Obama and Netanyahu claim that the negotiations have failed.

Let me quote several of Obama’s references to Israel’s security in his UN speech: “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable”; “Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security”; “any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.”

So, basically Israel gets to invade the Palestinians and all its sovereign neighbours, some repeatedly, over the last six decades, and it continues to occupy their territories and invade their airspace and oppress the occupied populations and colonise their lands. However, for negotiations to be successful, Israel wants to ensure that its security be safeguarded from any resistance to Israeli attacks, colonisation, and occupation by those it continues to attack, colonise, and occupy. And this it can demand based on the first fact.

Obama, it should be noted, never mentioned the security concerns of Israel’s neighbours who have been the target of Israel’s attacks for over six decades. He did however mention the security of Palestinian children once alongside his several mentions of Israeli children despite the one-to-several-thousands victimisation ratio between them: “The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live in peace and security, with dignity and opportunity.”

Netanyahu picks up where Obama left off: “Our major international airport is a few kilometres away from the West Bank. Without peace, will our planes become targets for anti-aircraft missiles placed in the adjacent Palestinian state?”

What is most interesting about this statement is the fact that Israel’s airport has never been attacked by rockets, which is not to say that Israel has not attacked the airports of its neighbours. That, it has done with aplomb. In 1968, Israel bombed the Beirut international airport destroying 13 civilian airliners on the tarmac. It would attack Beirut airport again in 2006 – bombing runways.

As for plane hijackings, Israel was a pioneer in the Middle East, when its first hijacking took place in 1954. The Israeli air force would often seize flying civilian airliners in international skies and divert them to Israel, subject the passengers to inspection, interrogation as well as incarceration.

Indeed, Israel remains the only Middle East country that blew up a civilian airliner when it shot down a Libyan civilian plane in 1973, killing 108 passengers on board.

Negotiations and more negotiations

This takes us back to what Obama believes, the negotiations are and should be about, namely: “It is Israelis and Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: On borders and security; on refugees and Jerusalem.”

The negotiations which started in 1991 in Madrid and continued in earnest after the 1993 Oslo agreement, however, were based on UN resolutions that stipulate that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories (Resolutions 242 and 338), which would settle the borders question if it were not for Israel’s refusal to abide by the resolutions.

Moreover, the main issue that has terminated the negotiations and which both sides do not agree on has been Israeli Jewish colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

As luck would have it, the international community and international law both condemn Israeli colonial settlement in the 1967 territories, which are categorically considered illegal and have been declared as such myriad times by UN resolutions and policy statements.

It is curious that Obama never mentioned the colonial settlements in his speech, even though he had attempted a number of times in the last two years without success to intervene with the Israeli government to stop, or at least slow down, building them.

As for the issues of borders, the 1947 Partition Plan had already specified the borders of the two states, and Resolution 242, on which the negotiations are based, specified where Israel should be withdrawing to after the 1967 war, Israeli casuistry in that matter notwithstanding.

The Palestinian negotiating position echoes that of international law and UN resolutions while the Israeli position violates them. This also relates to the matter of the refugees which has also been settled by UN resolutions and international law while Israel remains adamant in its refusal to implement these resolutions by refusing to repatriate, compensate and return the property of the 760,000 Palestinians it expelled. Neither will it agree to compensate and return the property of the quarter of a million Palestinians (internal refugees and their descendants) who are Israeli citizens whom it expelled from one part of the country to another part of it.

But the so-called historical truths and the first “fact” that Netanyahu marshals to assert facts on the ground are endless.

He adds: “In my office in Jerusalem, there’s a … an ancient seal. It’s a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of the Bible. The seal was found right next to the Western Wall, and it dates back 2,700 years, to the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there’s a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That’s my last name …”

“… My first name, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin – Binyamin – the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Samaria 4,000 years ago, and there’s been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since.”

Netanyahu (a name which Benjamin Netanyahu changed when he lived in the United States to Ben Nitay allegedly because it was easier for Americans to pronounce) is itself an invented Zionist name, which, like all other Zionist names, began to bestow on European Jews an ancient Hebrew lineage.

Indeed Netanyahu’s father Benzion Mileikowsky was the son of Polish Jews converted to Zionism, who named their son Benzion based on their ideological commitments and changed their name to “Netanyahu” after they immigrated to colonise Palestine in 1920.

The names of Benzion’s father and mother (and Benjamin Netanyahu’s grandparents) were Nathan Mileikowsky and Sarah Lurie, common European Jewish pre-Zionist names.

For Benjamin Mileikowsky (Netanyahu), a descendant of Polish Jewish colonists, to claim ancient Jerusalem as his ancestral origin, would be seen as a curious ideological and mythical fabrication during a dinner conversation, but to assert it as a fact-based political and territorial claim to the land of the Palestinians at the United Nations, makes a mockery of international law, which is the basis of UN resolutions that condemn Israel’s occupation and colonisation of the city.

While Israel today maintains at least 30 laws that grant Jews racial, religious and colonising privileges over Palestinian citizens of Israel – including the 2002 temporary law banning marriage between Israelis and Palestinians of the Occupied Territories – and more so against the Palestinian non-citizens living under Israeli occupation; Netanyahu claims, against these documented facts, that “The Jewish state of Israel will always protect the rights of all its minorities, including the more than one million Arab citizens of Israel.”

He adds a curious statement with regard to illegal Jewish colonial settlers in the Occupied Palestinian territories stating that “I wish I could say the same thing about a future Palestinian state, for as Palestinian officials made clear the other day – in fact, I think they made it right here in New York – they said the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. They’ll be Jew-free – Judenrein. That’s ethnic cleansing. There are laws today in Ramallah that make the selling of land to Jews punishable by death. That’s racism. And you know which laws this evokes.”

While no Palestinian official since the negotiations started has ever dared to state unequivocally that Jewish colonial settlers must be returned to Israel in line with international law, this unverifiable claim by Netanyahu, even if proven true, would not be racist or discriminatory, but rather anti-colonial, refusing to allow Israeli Jews to colonise Palestinian lands against international law by virtue of some Jewish privilege that invokes the “first fact”.

It is Israeli laws that restrict access to Israel’s lands to its non-Jewish Palestinian citizens, even though 90 per cent of that land was confiscated from the Palestinian people. It is also Israeli cities that remain Araberrein; indeed, as many observers have noted, Tel Aviv is the only Western city that does not have any Arab or Muslim inhabitants.

If any racist laws are being evoked here, they are evoked by Israel’s own racist laws and practices, not by Palestinian anti-colonial resistance.

But this statement clarifies where Netanyahu stands on the question of Jewish colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is not Jewish colonisation of the land of the Palestinians that is racist as the UN defined it in 1975, but rather the application of international law by preventing Jews from colonising the land of the Palestinians that is racist.

For Zionism and Obama, any attempt to reject the Zionist “first fact” is immediate proof of anti-Semitism. This is yet another example of how facts on the ground are transformed by Israel and its US backers into “truths” and “facts”.

Indeed, Netanyahu (or is it Mileikowsky, or Nitay?) asserts: “I came here to speak the truth. The truth is … that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace. The truth is that in the Middle East at all times, but especially during these turbulent days, peace must be anchored in security. The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. And the truth is you shouldn’t let that happen.”

For Netanyahu and the Israelis, however, peace can only be achieved if the Palestinians recognise the rights of Jews to occupy their land, to colonise their lands, and to discriminate against them.

To do so, the Israelis offer a simple formula, which Obama has also endorsed and insists on, namely that the Palestinians must recognise Israel’s right to be a Jewish state.

Netanyahu does not mince words when he asserts that: “this year in the Knesset and in the US Congress, I laid out my vision for peace in which a demilitarised Palestinian state recognises the Jewish state. Yes, the Jewish state. After all, this is the body that recognised the Jewish state 64 years ago. Now, don’t you think it’s about time that Palestinians did the same? … Israel has no intention whatsoever to change the democratic character of our state. We just don’t want the Palestinians to try to change the Jewish character of our state. We want … them to give up the fantasy of flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians.”

Challenging the UN and international law, which has called on Israel to allow the Palestinians it expelled to come back to their homes, is identified as a “flood” that will undermine Israel’s raison d’être as a state that extends racial and colonial privileges to Jews, which indeed it would be.

Where Netanyahu is wrong is when he asserts that when the UN General Assembly called for the establishment of a Jewish State in 1947, it, by default, recognised the Jewish State’s right to expel the Palestinian people, colonise their lands, and confiscate their property for the exclusive use of Jews and to discriminate against them by law.

Not only did the UN Partition Plan grant no such rights to the Jewish state, it explicitly stated that the establishment of such a Jewish state means that this state cannot expel its non-Jewish population, and that “no discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex” (Chapter 2, Article 2) and that “no expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish State … shall be allowed except for public purposes. In all cases of expropriation full compensation as fixed by the Supreme Court shall be said previous to dispossession.” (Chapter 2, Article 8).

The fabrications and lies about UN recognition are being asserted by Netanyahu to the very international body that issued the Partition Plan, and are addressed to their face, as truths, when all they are is nothing less than facts on the ground established by Israel, condemned by the UN, and defended by the United States.

While the negotiations that the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis have engaged in have prevented the Palestinians from raising the 1947/1948 crimes of the Israeli state (and those committed in the decades to come) because they would render the “first fact” dubitable indeed, Netanyahu and Obama raise these crimes as a sacrosanct principle of the Jewishness of the state, indeed of the very “first fact” that they affirmed.

Indeed Netanyahu does the same with Israeli crimes post 1967, including the colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Finally, Netanyahu concludes with a call to expel the 1.6 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. He instructs PA President Abbas to: “Recognise the Jewish state, and make peace with us. In such a genuine peace, Israel is prepared to make painful compromises. We believe that the Palestinians should be neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects. They should live in a free state of their own. But they should be ready, like us, for compromise.”

Netanyahu offers his call for a new expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel as a compromise that the Palestinians should accept. In doing so, his logic is impeccable. If Palestinians recognise the “first fact”, namely, Israel’s right to be a Jewish state based on fabricated historical claims, and that it should guarantee Jewish racial and colonial privilege, then it follows that they must accept another expulsion of Palestinians from that state to ensure that Jewish privilege continues to operate.

It is this formula of peace that the Israelis offer the Palestinians and which the Palestinians, even the collaborating PA, cannot accept.

When Obama asserts that “peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted,” he is being at best coy, for the peace that Israel seeks, as Netanyahu’s call for the expulsion of Palestinian citizens, rendering Israel finally Araberrein, clarify, will result in Palestinians and Israelis not living together at all.

The Pale of Palestinian settlement

The peace that Israel is proposing for Palestinians in fact evokes another memory, of how another country dealt with Jewish settlement, namely the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great and the creation of the Pale of Settlement in the late eighteenth century for Jews to be confined to, which they were for the most part till the early part of the twentieth century.

The Pale, like the Palestinian Bantustans, was the only territory where Russian Jews were allowed to live by the anti-Jewish czars, though Russian Christians also lived in it to ensure that there was no territorial contiguity for Jews. The Palestinian Bantustans would serve a similar function.

While Israel will become Araberrein, the Palestinian Bantustans carved out of West Bank and East Jerusalem territories would be criss-crossed by Jews-only roads and Jewish-only colonial settlements and cities, and by the Israeli army, which, as Netanyahu himself has proposed, will be stationed indefinitely in the Jordan Valley.

The Pale of Palestinian Settlement will be then called a “Palestinian State” which the Israelis and the Americans will immediately recognise as “sovereign”, though it would not even have the formal accoutrements of sovereignty. It is thus that the Palestinian State, whose existence would neither be a fact nor the truth, will be recognised as a fact on the ground, indeed the very last fact that Israel and the US will be asserting.

For the Palestinians to survive the more than a century-long Zionist assault on their society and country, their only option is to resist this Israeli- and American- imposed “peace”, and all the so-called facts they impose on them, from the very first “fact” to the very last one.

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University. His most recent books are The Persistence of the Palestinian Question and Desiring Arabs.


A Cry from Our Palestinian Brothers and Sisters

The following post was sent to me by

Sonja Karkar
Australians for Palestine

Following are responses to erroneous statements made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, citing anti-Christian Muslim extremism as the primary cause of the Palestinian Christian exodus from the Holy Land.  The first response is from Sabeel founder/director Naim Ateek in Jerusalem.  Below his letter is a link to a letter from Kairos Palestine coordinator, Rifat Odeh Kassis.

His Grace Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace

23 June 2011

Dear Archbishop Williams,

Greetings from Jerusalem!

Last week at Sabeel, we had the privilege of having the Anglican Consultative Council delegation headed by Archbishop Michael Jackson. We seized the opportunity to convey to them our response to your interview on the BBC regarding your concern about the dwindling presence of Arab Christians of the Middle East. The concern is genuine and sincere, unfortunately, your words were negatively received by our people; and we have been asked by our friends – locally and internationally – to make a public response.

1. As Palestinian Christians, we perceive ourselves as an integral part of the Palestinian people. We might be a very small religious community nowadays but due to our long rootedness in our land, we do not refer to ourselves as a minority. Moreover, as Palestinians, whether Christian or Muslim, we equally live under the oppression of the illegal Israeli occupation of our country. As Palestinians – Christians and Muslims – we share the same hopes and aspirations and we struggle for freedom and human dignity together.

2. Although as Palestinian Christians, we appreciate the fact that you raised the issue of the vulnerability of the Christian presence in the Middle East — a subject that is dear to our hearts and of great concern to us – you singled out the extremist Islamists as a threat to Christian presence, but neglected to mention two other extremists groups, namely, Jewish extremists represented by the religious and racist settlers on the West Bank that are encouraged directly by the present extreme right wing Israeli government, and Christian extremists represented by the Western Christian Zionists that support Israel blindly and unconditionally. With candor the last two groups of extremists, i.e. Jewish and Western Christian Zionists are a greater threat to us than the extremist Islamists. In fact, these extremists have more military power and clout to uproot all Palestinian presence both Christian and Muslim from our homeland.

3. In 2006, Sabeel conducted a survey of the Christians in Israel and Palestine with the help of Bethlehem University. The survey clearly indicated that the primary causes for the emigration of Christians from the West Bank are both political and economic conditions. “Those who are leaving…because of the bad economic and political situation represent 87.3% of the total respondents” (p.34). Only 8% of the respondents attributed emigration to religious extremism.

4. As you are well aware, if Muslims are leaving Hebron, it is largely due to the violence of the Jewish religious settlers that has made the life of Palestinian Hebronites miserable and intolerable.

5. The area of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour has sufficient space for Palestinians to live in; but most of their land (largely Christian) has been confiscated by Israeli settlement expansion including the settlements of Gilo and Har Homa.

6. The separation Wall has broken up families and closed businesses. It has devoured land and torn communities apart. And with the checkpoints and permit system it has greatly restricted people’s movement especially to Jerusalem their Holy City. The Wall is a big “push factor” for Palestinians out of Palestine.

We are saddened that a great opportunity was missed by not revealing the oppressive consequences of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people, both Muslim, and Christian. If the church – local and international – does not raise the prophetic voice, who will stand for justice and truth?  In the absence of the prophetic, and as the rightwing Israeli government continues to spurn all international efforts for a just peace, we implore you to champion the cause of the oppressed Palestinians. The desperate situation needs the courage and clarity of an Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Respectfully yours,

Naim Ateek
Director, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

CC. Anne Clayton
Coordinator, Friends of Sabeel – UK

Bethlehem, 18 June 2011

The Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lambeth Palace
Lambeth Palace Road

Your Grace,

Kairos Palestine is deeply troubled by your recent comments regarding the situation of Christians in the Middle East in general and more particularly those related to the Palestinian Christians, as it was aired on the June 14 broadcast of the BBC news programme “The World at One.” 1  Your inaccurate and erroneous remarks cite Muslim extremism as the greatest threat facing Christians in Palestine, and the primary reason for our emigration. Your statements about Bethlehem are particularly faulty and offensive especially when you say that the movement of Muslims into the Bethlehem area, where space is limited, is forcing Christians to leave.

Equally shocking is how Your Grace managed, diplomatically –instead of being prophetic, as one would expect you to be, not to mention the Israeli occupation, the separation wall, Israel confiscation of Palestinian land, its policies that violate freedom of movement and worship (Palestinians in Bethlehem cannot, for instance, go to Jerusalem), or its brutal crackdowns on nonviolent protests as one of the major reasons that push not only Christians to emigrate, but also many other Palestinians. We were hoping that Your Grace would have a different voice than the one in mass media and other right wing political parties, which exploit our sufferings to fuel some islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam. Indeed, this is what the Israeli occupation persistently tries to do. It demonizes Islam in a way that deflects blame from the repression levied by the state itself. We are concerned that your comments are serving the same purpose.

We were deeply saddened by your declarations because we know that Your Grace is well informed about the situation in the Holy Land, and you know very well that in the Bethlehem area alone there are 19 illegal Israeli settlements (such as nearby Har Homa built on Jabal Abu Ghneim) and the wall that have devoured Christian lands and put Bethlehem in a chokehold. You know well that only 13% of Bethlehem area is available for Palestinian use and the wall isolates 25% or the Bethlehem area’s agricultural land. Not to mention the situation of Christians in Jerusalem, which you know very well, since you should have received reports from the Anglican Bishop in the City whose residency permit was denied by the occupying power. We can go on and on, but it is no longer important… We are no longer expecting support from Church leaders around the world. Our Hope, Faith and Love come from elsewhere. However, at the same time, we request you and every leader, especially church leaders, not to use us and our cause for your own purposes. We are so thankful to Your Grace for the “International Conference on Christians in the Holy Land” that you are holding in your Palace in July, but we feel it will be useless, not to say harmful to us, indigenous Christians in the land of the Holy One, if the outcome will be in the same spirit as your interview.

Since Your Grace did not meet or consult with any Palestinian Christians during your recent visit here, we are wondering why would you be suddenly interested to speak on our behalf? This troubles us. Palestinian Christians are fully capable of expressing their situation without needing anyone to interpret what they mean; we are happy to meet directly with church leaders and, in solidarity, discuss our reality and what can be done to transform it.

Finally, we would like to remind Your Grace that Christian Palestinians need advocates for the truth. It is the truth, and only the truth, that will lead to peace and justice in our home.

With all our due respect.

Rifat Odeh Kassis
Kairos Palestine Coordinator

The Legacy of Oppression in Palestine.

Supporters of the current policies of the Zionist State of Israel point to the situation in Gaza as proof as to why Israel can not afford to allow a Palestinian state of any kind to exist until the Palestinians somehow prove themselves to be worthy of such an honour.

They point to the brutality of Hamas militants and other extremists as justification for the oppressive policies of the Israeli state. “What else can Israel do?” they say. Such people seem to forget that self determination is a right, and a right is something you do not have to earn. What sort of behaviour do they think people will exhibit when their rights are continually denied? What behaviour did the Zionists themselves exhibit such that they earned the right to statehood in Palestine? Zionist terrorism in the British Mandate period (when Jews in Israel suffered the oppression of British policies that amounted to collective punishment against Jews) is well documented.

Was it the Holocaust that gave Zionists the right to self determination in Palestine? Do some people groups need to first become victims of atrocities before they are granted the same rights that we in the west take for granted? I think not.

Arab or Islamic extremists were not the cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict any more than the Black Panthers in the U.S. were responsible for the creation of slavery, discrimination and racism against Negroes in the U.S. or Aboriginal Land rights activists in Australia were responsible for the dispossession of Aboriginals in Australia that occurred at the hands of British colonialism. Nelson Mandela and the ANC were not responsible for the creation of Apartheid in South Africa.

Hamas and other Arab or Islamic extremists are the product of the Israel-Palestine conflict, not the cause of it. Those groups (with their hostility and violence towards Jewish people) simply did not exist before the advent of Zionist colonialism in Palestine. Religious Zionists who call for the extermination of Palestinian men, women and children did not exist then either. Those who do not grasp this fundamental reality will never make sense of the situation in the Middle East and hence will never understand the nature of any real solution.

What do we expect as a reasonable outcome of the conditions now experienced by the citizens of Gaza? A society under siege and cut off from the rest of the world. Do we really believe that such a situation is conducive to the creation of pacifism or democracy? Have such conditions anywhere else in the world been able to create such things? Conditions of despair and hopelessness make fertile soil for the voices of revenge and violence. Is anyone surprised that Gaza does not produce 1.5 million Zionists? Did Operation Cast Lead endear the citizens of Gaza to the state of Israel? Apparently not, yet the Zionist state is once again gearing up for another round of destruction in Gaza. Why do they think another episode of murdering Palestinian civilians will solve anything this time when it has clearly only strengthened the resolve of both moderates and extremists to continue to resist the Zionist state in the present?

If we do not approach the Israel-Palestine conflict with a sincere desire to listen to the basic, historic grievance of the Palestinian people, we can be assured that violence and horror will continue in this part of the world. What can Israel do? They can acknowledge the pain of the Palestinian people when they suffered the terrible dispossession of 1948. They can acknowledge the wrongs they have committed against the indigenous Arab population. They can stop perpetuating the odious lie that Israel was a land with no people for a people with no land. They can reciprocate the acknowledgment of the Palestinian people in 1993 that Israel has the right to exist with safe and secure borders. They can acknowledge the legitimacy of International Law that deems the occupation of the West Bank with its Jewish only settlements, Israeli only highways, checkpoints and separation barrier as being illegal. This would be a brilliant start and would not require Israel giving up once square metre of land that was not given to it by international law. I am certain such acknowledgments would bring a lasting peace within a very short period of time.

But Israel is drunk with power. Power that has been inflated by the continued empowerment of the U.S. and the west. And the powerful never just hand over their power; that would require a type of wisdom never seen by politicians. Anyone who empowers anyone else to commit crimes against humanity is no true friend, but is exploiting the other party just as surely as night follows day. The U.S. in reality is no friend of Israel.

The open-air prison that is Gaza will continue to fill the need for justification felt by the supporters of the Zionist state of Israel. The continued oppression of the Gazans will undoubtedly provoke some to violence and this violence will be used by the self righteous amongst us to say yes to yet more oppression of the 1.5 million inhabitants of that tiny piece of real estate. Sanity and humility must prevail. Put yourself in the shoes of the powerful, the ones who have the power to make real steps towards reconciliation and justice. What would you do? If you are a Christian…what would Jesus do?

Craig Nielsen

No Peace Without Justice.

The savage killing of a Jewish family by a Palestinian Arab in the Israeli settlement of Itamar in the West Bank, evoked feelings of disgust, anger and sorrow in all who care about justice. This was not the first time that deadly attacks on settlers have occurred in this settlement.

What has not been reported is the massive crackdown that has been inflicted on West Bank Arabs by Israeli forces since the attack. The Israeli military raided homes and arrested around 300 people (did they really have 300 suspects for the attack?) as well as many instances of Israeli settlers taking revenge on innocent Palestinians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (which means all of them at every time according to the doctrines of religious Zionists be they Christian or Jewish). Nor is the fact that Palestinian deaths at the hands of the I.D.F. and Israeli settlers (of whom the Palestinian Authority has no power over) occur on a regular basis in the West Bank and greatly outnumber the amount of Israelis who are killed by Palestinians. The Israeli Government has responded to recent attempts to be more reasonable in peace negotiations with the Palestinians by saying that they are “in no mood to talk of peace while they are burying their dead”. Palestinians, however, are expected to comply with any demand with regards to the peace process regardless of the fact that they are continually burying their dead, or be labeled as obstructionist.

On February 25th 1994, (the day celebrating the feast of Purim that year) Baruch Goldstien entered the Cave of the Patriarchs where Muslims were gathered in prayer. He proceeded to murder 29 of them and wounded a further 125. Purim has long been a day of celebration whereby extremist Zionists in the West Bank in particular feel they are entitled to vent their hatred of Arabs.The Israeli Government totally condemned the act but the extremist settler community still hail Goldstien as a hero. Goldstien was killed by Muslim worshipers who grappled with him, disarmed him and beat him to death. At Goldstien’s funeral, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin celebrated the achievements of the slain gunmen saying that “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” In the rioting that followed, 25 more Palestinians and 5 Israelis lost their lives.

Such is the brutal legacy of the violence and hatred that is the reality of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I wonder if we can really be surprised by this legacy given the nature of these settlements. The burning sense of injustice felt by Palestinians who have, for 4 decades, watched while their homelands have been taken from them is met head on by the almost insane zeal of extremist settlers whose sense of entitlement to the land outweighs all other considerations. The settlements show in stark detail the reality of the consequences of colonialism however it is justified in the minds of those who consider that they have an entitlement to that which does not belong to them. I challenge anyone to read the websites of the extremist settlers in the West Bank and see if they are any different in their insanity and violence to even the most militant Islamist group.

Recently the U.S. had another chance to put pressure on the Israelis to end settlement construction in the West Bank, but once again they failed to act. How can the Palestinians feel anything but betrayal and abandonment by the West when the worlds only superpower will not move a finger to help them against Israel whom has violated some 69 U.N. resolutions while at the same time the U.S. attacks Arab countries that have broken only one decree of the United Nations?

We need to seriously ask our leaders to explain what kind of just solution to the Israel-Palestine they would be willing to submit to if they were the Palestinians. Or maybe we need to give up on our leaders and mobilize ourselves to bring justice and peace to the Middle East. The provocative nature of the settlements will not ease or disappear. Even Ronald Reagan recognised that they were an impediment to the peace process. The U.S. can not have it both ways. They can not continue to veto U.N. resolutions declaring settlement construction to be illegal and still pretend that they disapprove of that same provocative activity.

The legacy of hatred, violence and injustice that has been the inevitable consequence of Israeli expansionism in territories never allotted to them by God or the international community can only end when our desire for justice for all people outweighs all other considerations.

Craig Nielsen

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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March 2023