December 11, 2012

A Christian in Israel

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Author Lela Gilbert just delivered a talk about her fascinating new book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel Through the Eyes of A Christian Sojourners. She spoke at the Hudson Institute, where she is an adjunct fellow, and which is next to the IRD office. It’s also where IRD board member and religious liberty scholar Paul Marshall is based. Paul was there, as were several IRD staff.

Lela, a Californian, has lived in Israel for the last 6 years, and the book is a memoir of her experiences as a Christian living in a mostly Jewish nation that is constantly under siege. She’s lived with the air raid sirens and periodic rocket attacks from Hamas or Hezbollah. Yet she has always found most Israelis to be resilient and forward thinking, despite their travails.

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Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East where Jews, Christians, Muslims mix together freely, Lela observed. Critics of Israel always focus on Palestinians displaced by Israel. But almost nobody, including most Israelis, commonly discuss the 850,000 Jews driven from majority Muslim countries after Israel was founded. Nobody lobbies for their “right of return” or at least a restoration of lost property, much less an apology. Lela notes they are the “forgotten refugees.”

Critics of Israel also liken Israeli policies towards Palestinians on the West Bank to Apartheid. Lela recalls meeting a white South African pastor who escaped to Israel during Apartheid in his native land, where he had pastored a mixed race church. Rev. Malcolm Hedding was targeted by the old South African security service after he began to preach widely against race-based discrimination. In 1986 he was warned to leave the country else risk arrest. When Jimmy Carter much later published his book accusing Israel of Apartheid, Rev. Hedding agreed to be interviewed by Lela, rebutting the Apartheid allegation as “nonsense.” Much of the charge is based on the security barrier Israel built after the second Palestinian Intifada, when terrorists were routinely murdering on the highways. Rev. Hedding also criticized Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s anti-Israel rhetoric for, among other problems, ignoring radical Islamic desires to dismantle Israel.

Lela similarly spoke of a Ugandan Muslim convert to Christianity, Umar Mulinda, who become a preacher and had acid thrown in his face by an Islamist shouting “Alahu Akbar” during a 2011 Christmas service in Kampala. The pastor came to Israel for medical treatment. He’s still recovering in Israel, and his face is permanently disfigured. He has a powerful Christian witness and speaks warmly of Israeli friendship, having hated Israel before his Christian conversion. Lela cites him as a living example of what Jews and Christians together face against radical Islam. She also speaks of other Christian exiles in Israel who escaped majority Muslim countries, most recently Iraq. Exiles of Jews presaged eventual exiles of Christians whose Arab communities, like the Jews, dated back to ancient times. The Christian exodus from Middle East lands continues, and Egypt’s large Christian community is now under siege. But unlike exiled Jews, beleaguered Christians have no natural homeland for relocation. Where will millions of Egyptian Copts go if Muslim Brotherhood rule worsens? There is no Israel for Christians, Lela wistfully observed.

Check out Lela’s book. And also stay tuned for a book coming out in a few months co-authored by Lela, Paul Marshall, and Paul’s colleague at Hudson, Nina Shea. It’s called Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christians. Too many churches are silent about global persecution, while many oddly obsess over Israeli transgressions. On Sunday, I attended a rural United Methodist church outside Winchester, Virginia. A lay woman delivered a special Christmas poem/prayer from the pulpit that lamented how too many Christians withhold friendship from Israel and the Jews when under attack. It was an unexpected, encouraging remainder that outside elitist circles, many Christians remain discerning and aware.

Follow Mark Tooley, IRD President, on Twitter. You can find him at @MarkDTooley.


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  • Davey Wavey

    This is nonsense. First of all, Christian Arabs are routinely oppressed by Israel in the Occupied Territories. Israel makes no distinction of one Palestinian from another. Anyone with a legitimate claim to the land stolen by Zionists is an Israeli target. Islamic radicalism is no more unacceptable than Jewish radicalism.

    The 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries after the usurpation of Palestine by the new “state” of Israel is a wild exaggeration and I demand a credible reference for this number. Secondly, Jews in Arab countries lived peacefully until Zionism made their presence uncomfortable for them and for the majority Muslim population. Rather than expelled, Zionism forced them to leave when many would rather have not. As it is, there is still a good population of Jews in Iran who refused all the bribes extended by Israel to move there.

    This site and this author are trying to demonize Islam because that is a more acceptable target for Americans than Palestinians have a people with rights that are violated day after day. Israel would love to identify Palestinian resistance with Islamic radicalism. But it is just resistance, in whatever form, to the invasion and theft of land and rights and property. Besides, if Hamas is terrorist, what is the IDF with their phosphor bombs and F-16’s? The IDF is, by comparison, a super
    terrorist.

    It is just amazing how ready Christians are to abandon their Palestinian brothers to the terror and humiliation and violence inflicted on them by Israel. What hypocrites you are .

    • Donnie

      Cool story, bro!

  • J S Lang

    If that earlier posting had contained the words “Shame on you,” I could guess who wrote it.

    • Davey Wavey

      Shame on you.

      • ontogram

        Ok, shame on you. Now that you know who I am, how’s about the argument? Or is your response just implied ad hominem?

    • Ben Welliver

      It’s like crabgrass. You think you’ve gotten rid of it, but nooooo

      • ontogram

        Is this analogy suppose to be an argument?

  • Gary

    Hey wavey davey, how about a credible source to back up your statement about Israel opressing Palestinians (and no, Arab TV outlets, CNN or MSNBC are not credible sources). Or how about getting a credible source for stating that 850,000 is wildly exaggerated instead of just saying that something is wildly exaggerated. And Islam does plenty on its own to demonize itself. Their “off with their head” mentality speaks volumes of this “religion”. And let’s see, who hides their rocket launchers next to schools, hospitals and mosques and fires the rockets into civilian populations – those terrorist Israeli’s – nope the cowardly Palestianians. You haven’t got much moral high ground to stand on telling other people they are hypocrites.

    • ontogram

      There are actually too many sources and I am not about to do your bidding. It is known and documented by Israeli historians including Morris and Pape that Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes and chased out of Palestine just after the British departed and before the state of Israel was unilaterally declared (like the “unilateral” declaration of the UN for Palestine just recently!) Since then, Israel has expanded from 56% of Palestine to 78% through precipitating war with neighbors (yes precipitating war.) Now, Israel wants all the West Bank as well, the remaining 22% of Palestinian land. Zionism was theft from day one and nothing has changed. No matter what you say, Israel has always, and still intends, to destroy Palestinian life and culture in the whole of Palestine. As for oppression, even right wing Zionist zealots admit to this: The whole Palestinian population of the West Bank is under Israel control, curfews, check points, unable to build, buy land, work their fields (which are often confiscated) and are set upon by “settlers” (colonists in their land) routinely, under the protection of the IDF.

      As for “cowardly” — Israel launches a modern army (4th ranked in the world) against a population that is largely civilian. If they don’t “target” civilians” how did over 1000 Gazan civilians die in Cast Lead (2008-9)? Did they kill themselves? Israel dumps phosphorus bombs on civilians and whoever dies is termed a “combatant.” The pathetic homemade rockets are the vestiges of resistance to an invader and occupier of land belonging to another people and the dispossession of the patrimony of this other people. “Cowardly?” There is nothing more cowardly than the Zionist assault on an essentially unarmed people. “Cowardly?” Israel kills anyone it likes, anywhere in the world, by any means it wishes without any accountability at all. The Zionists are imperialists, colonists, and they control native people just as their predecessors did, through creating a class of native cooperatives (the Palestinian Authority) and through controlling access, ownership and arms.

      You are an illiterate fool.

    • ontogram

      Islam doesn’t demonize itself any more than Judaism has made a mockery of itself through the violence of zealot “settlers” in the West Bank. Christianity has a long history that would tend to demonize it as well, or don’t you know about the Inquisition or the Crusades or the Reformation?

      BTW, I withdraw “You are an illiterate fool.” from my prior response as it is inappropriate.

  • Sara Anderson

    After visiting Israel for the first time last year. I am eager to read the book. I came back with even greater sympathy for Israel, whose neighbors want to see the nation wiped off the map.