The following article originally appeared on the Frontpage Magazine website, and is reproduced with permission.
The Friends of Sabeel in North America, which professes to be the “voice” of Palestinian Christians, is raising cash for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Sadly for apologists of the Palestinian cause, the European Union axed its funding for ICAHD because of “pressure brought to bear by right-wing Israeli neo-cons who have campaigned obsessively against our funding while threatening publicly to close us down.” Or at least that version comes from ICAHD’s Jeff Halper, as he described his group’s dire straits without Euro cash.
Halper, an anthropology professor and American by birth, was a 1960’s-era student radical in the U.S. until he relocated to Israel, where his radicalism simply shifted focus against the Israeli Government. He founded ICAHD in 1997.
In 2005-2006, the European Union Partnership for Peace Programme gave nearly a half million Euros to ICAHD for an education program called “Re-Framing: Providing a Coherent Paradigm of Peace to the Israeli Public.” Ostensibly, this EU funding funnel “supports local and international civil society initiatives that promote peace, tolerance and non violence in the Middle East.” But most of the cash seems to flow towards groups like ICAHD that simply repeat the standard anti-Israel narrative.
Friends of Sabeel did not explain why the European Union cut off ICAHD’s funds. But apparently it was because of Halper’s role in the “Free Gaza Flotilla,” in which “peace” activists broke the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza by sailing in from Cyprus. Upon returning to Israel, Halper was arrested and incarcerated overnight. Apparently even the normally tolerant European Union was unimpressed.
Last year, when it apparently was more flush with funds, ICAHD published a full-page ad in The New York Times with the headline: “Who Will Stop this Bulldozer from Destroying the Chance for Peace?” Included was a large photo of a Palestinian woman holding up her arms in the face of a presumably onrushing Israeli bulldozer. Naturally, ICAHD portrays the Israeli house demolitions as merely a nasty ploy to force Palestinians off their land. That destroyed homes usually housed terrorists, tunnels, or arms caches goes unmentioned, of course.
Despite this indifference to Palestinian terrorism, ICAHD professes to oppose all “forms of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians. It insists that a “lasting peace” depends on full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, but not necessarily any change in attitudes by Palestinians. ICAHD specially focuses on Israel’s “ongoing policies of Palestinian home demolitions, relentless development of large settlements, and building of the ‘Separation Barrier’ deep into the West Bank area.” The group is also distressed by America’s “uncritical political support” for Israel and Israel’s chronic “violations of basic human rights.”
So ICAHD’s allies at Friends of Sabeel in North America are appealing to anti-Israel religious activists in the U.S. to help contribute $30,000 towards ICAHD. Friends of Sabeel is the American branch of Jerusalem-based Sabeel, which is a think-tank for Palestinian Liberation Theology. The American Sabeel helps to organize U.S. church officials who believe that Israel is the primary villain in the Middle East. In recent years, Sabeel has advocated that U.S. churches divest their pension funds from firms doing business with Israel, but that campaign has largely collapsed, having been rejected even by liberal denominations. Board members of Friends of Sabeel in North America include former Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, radical Catholic eco-feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Christian Century magazine contributing editor James Wall.
Friends of Sabeel forwarded to its own supporters Jeff Halper’s urgent appeal for American dollars to replace the lost Euros. “So we now face a real crisis,” Halper glowered. “That said, those who want us ‘gone’ make a mistake in assuming that we will close if our funding is withdrawn.” Halper promised to keep his office open and work on a voluntary basis, with two staffers to help him. He thanked his American supporters for having provided an “important supplement” to the now cut off European Union funding, which had helped launch the “Constructing Peace Campaign.”
ICAHD launched the “Constructing Peace Campaign” last year to rebuild demolished Palestinian homes, so as to spotlight Israel’s supposedly senseless destruction. As a sort of pro-Palestinian Habitat for Humanity, the peace campaign also hosts an annual two-week summer camp, in which international volunteers help rebuild Palestinian houses as a “symbolic gesture of peace and opposition to the Occupation.” In between the construction work, the volunteers take field trips to observe what Halper calls Israel’s “Matrix of Control,” including the Wall, the “massive check points,” and “one of the many refugee camps created in 1948.”
All of this important anti-Israel work must continue, of course. So Halper defiantly concluded his appeal to American supporters: “I promise you, no matter what, ICAHD will not be silenced.”
Trying to rescue ICAHD, the Friends of Sabeel in North America have pledged to raise at least $30,000. The fundraising includes inviting Halper to the U.S. for a fall tour, during which he will presumably address sympathetic church groups. “We, along with Jeff, promise you that ICAHD will not be silenced,” the board members of Friends of Sabeel earnestly promised. “Together, we will continue to be a loud and persistent voice for justice.”
Potential American religious supporters of Sabeel and ICAHD will have to ponder whether a group too radically anti-Israel even for European Union support should merit dollars from among U.S. churches.