The “racist concept” of a Jewish national state is an “impediment to peace,” Philip Farah of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Palestine (PCAP) judged during the panel “Myths about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Impediments to Peace.” Farah spoke at the November 8-9 (with Sunday worship following on November 10), 2013, Waging Peace in Palestine & Israel conference. Farah’s anger towards Israel was typical among the event’s self-professed Christians who consistently undermined the Jewish state’s legitimacy in numerous ways.
The conference sponsor was the Alliance of Baptists (AB), founded in 1987 as a “prophetic voice in Baptist life” among “people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, theological beliefs, and ministry practices.” “[C]ombining progressive inquiry” and “prophetic action,” these diverse individuals are “married, divorced, single, committed and somewhere in between.” AB’s partner congregation in Washington, DC, Calvary Baptist Church, was the conference host.
AB in the conference’s program described the event as an “effort to be faithful to our Statement of support to Palestinian Christians.” Reprinted in the program, The Alliance of Baptists Respond to the Kairos Palestine Document is also available at the AB website. In this statement AB affirmed the December 15, 2009, declaration Kairos Palestine—A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, Hope, and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering as representing the “most prevalent views of Palestinian Christians living in the occupied territories.”
Read online, A Moment of Truth set the conference’s troubling tone. The declaration invokes a “Palestinian people who have faced…clear apartheid for more than six decades,” namely since Israel’s very founding in 1948, and not since any post-1967 Six Day War occupation. The declaration describes Israel solely as an attempt by the “West…to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe…on our account and in our land.” Yet half of Israel’s present Jewish population is of Middle Eastern/North African (Mizrahim) origin, many of them descended from Jews expelled by Arab countries in the years before and after Israel’s 1948 establishment. Such charges call into question A Moment of Truth’s subsequent attribution of hostility with Israel to its post-1967occupied territories, namely that “if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”
A Moment of Truth’s “Palestinian Christians declare that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity, and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings.” The declaration’s “clear position” is that “non-violent resistance to this injustice is a right and duty for all Palestinians including Christians” as well as the international community. A Moment of Truth, though, does not specify whether the Palestinians’ “thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons” for whom the declaration asks “when will they have their freedom” have a similar commitment to nonviolence. Indeed, the declaration denounces Israeli use of “armed…Palestinian legal resistance” as a “pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists.”
Thus A Moment of Truth flatly rejects any Israeli concern about indefensible “Auschwitz borders” along the 1967 cease fire lines stemming from Israel’s 1948 independence war. Likewise receiving no mention are Jewish claims to what Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called Israel’s “historic heartland” of Judea and Samaria in the area first called the West Bank by Jordanian occupation authorities in 1950. Rather, A Moment of Truth flatly calls for an “independent Palestinian state with Al-Quds [Jerusalem] as its capital.”
Amidst its condemnation of Israeli behavior, A Moment of Truth presents a false moral equivalence in the condemnation of “all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” The declaration thus continues the practice of various Islamic supremacists (analyzed here, here, and here) of equating anti-Semitism, a hatred of individuals like other prejudices based upon ancestry and appearance, with “Islamophobia,” a supposed irrational fear of Islam as an idea entailing certain beliefs and behaviors.
Such beliefs and behaviors are at issue, for example, with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian affiliate Hamas. Ruling the Gaza Strip since seizing power there in 2007, this terrorist organization’s charter draws upon canonical Islamic sources to express a genocidal agenda against Israel. Hamas merely receives an oblique reference in A Moment of Truth with criticism of the international community’s refusal “to deal positively with the will of the Palestinian people expressed in the outcome of democratic and legal elections in 2006” swept by Hamas. Only in a “call to reject fanaticism and extremism” for Muslims do any concerns about (anti-Semitic) sharia and jihad shimmer through in the declaration, caveated by a “message to the world that Muslims are neither to be stereotyped as the enemy nor caricatured as terrorists.”
AB’s Washington conference picked up where A Moment of Truth left off. During the opening worship service on the evening of November 8, 2013, Rev. Dr. Steve Hyde of Annandale, Virginia’s Ravingsworth Baptist Church recalled his native memories of segregation in Arkansas. In this context, the “forced segregation of the illegal and immoral Israeli occupation” was “as toxic to the soul of Israel as slavery and racism” were in America.
Such accusations of Israeli racism and apartheid, rejected as slander by the South African Jew Richard Goldstone, continued throughout the conference. At the breakout session on Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), the late Edward Said’s sister Grace Said noted that the 1985 Kairos document on South Africa served as a model for the Kairos Palestine initiative. During the “Myths” panel Farah also repeated the common canard that Israel’s various security exclusions of occupied Palestinians (as well as Israeli citizens of any ethnicity) from roads in the occupied territories were worse than the “whites-only roads” South African apartheid never had.
If racism were not bad enough, Hyde even described Israeli policies in terms of “genocide” while Farah’s co-panelist during a breakout session presentation of PCAP, Zeina Azzam, referenced Israeli “ethnic cleansing.” Central to such claims are Palestinian refugees, 600,000 in one estimate, from the 1948 war. Individuals like Farah during his panel presentation claim these refugees were victims of a terror-induced “ethnic cleansing…absolutely essential” for Israel’s creation. Yet evidence indicates that most fled of their own volition for a variety of reasons.
These refugees largely equal the increase in the British Palestine Mandate’s Arab population of 588,000 between the world wars. Jewish development of a previously poor area in the mandate actually incited this Arab immigration outnumbering the 470,000 Jews who immigrated to the mandate in the interwar period. Even larger in number than the Arab refugees from 1948 war, however, were the 820,000 Jews who fled Arab lands between 1948 and 1972, with 586,000 going to Israel.
Yet since this exodus Israel’s Arab population has continued to grow alongside an increasing Jewish population. The 156,000 Arabs who stayed in Israel at independence have become 1,967,000 today (about 24% of Israel’s population of 8,018,000), to say nothing of the Palestinian territories’ population of 4,420,000. The British Palestine Mandate from which Israel and the Palestinian territories emerged, meanwhile, counted 1,267,037 Arabs in 1946. Hardly the figures of “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.”
Predictably, Farah described during the “Myths” panel Israel as the “rejectionist” in the peace process. Farah cited Israel’s refusal of a March 27, 2002, Arab League plan calling for complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Additionally, the plan offers no revision to longstanding Arab demands that Israel accept an unlimited “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.
Kathryn Johnson, interim director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, correspondingly stated during her breakout session organization presentation that these Palestinians are “like refugees living all around the world” with a “right to return.” Unexamined by people like Johnson, however, is that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) counts “descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children,” as refugees from the 1948 as well as 1967 wars. Thus “about 750,000 Palestine refugees” when UNRWA began operating in 1950 have become “[t]oday…some 5 million Palestine refugees…eligible for UNRWA services.”
This contrasts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) definition of 10.4 million non-Palestinian refugees around the globe in 2012 not encompassing descendants. Excluding descendants as well as Palestinian “refugees” already living in the Palestinian territories as well as those who are free to go back would entail about 30,000 current Palestinian refugees. Israel, meanwhile, has accepted in the past some 200,000 Palestinian refugees and is willing to accept more. An unlimited Palestinian “right of return” of a still hostile population, though, amounts to Israel’s demographic “national suicide” as a Jewish state.
Befitting the conference’s outlook, Israel consistently appeared as an aggressor victimizing innocent Palestinians. Hyde somehow discerned during his travels to Israel and the Palestinian territories a “surprising lack of bitterness” among the Palestinians not apparent to other observers such as Palestinian Media Watch (e.g. “Jews/Israelis are Evil” section). Speaking during the “Church Groups Waging Peace” panel, Kay Tarazi of Hyde’s Ravensworth congregation recounted how personal visits with her Palestinian-American husband G. J. with hospitable shopkeepers in the territories broke “stereotypes” of “Palestinians being suicide bombers.”
Carlton Cobb, meanwhile, discussed during his breakout session presentation of the United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) how it used microfinance to help Palestinian widows create small businesses in lieu of their lost spousal support. At first glance such aid might seem to conform to the Bible’s admonition “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27), yet the critical observer would well ask just how exactly these women lost their husbands. Indeed, Cobb in response to my inquiry stated that such widowhood was “pretty common” during periods of Israeli-Palestinian fighting like the First (1987-1993) and Second (2000-2005) Intifadas and the 2008-2009 Gaza operations.
The suspicion thus arises that UPA is, indirectly and unintentionally at least, providing a familial support system for terrorists similar to aid given in the past by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship and Gulf State individuals. Such diversion of foreign aid funds from welfare to warfare is not unknown among the Palestinians. Likewise, Farah complained that Israel blocked cement deliveries into the Gaza Strip needed to repair water facilities, yet Hamas might very well have other, military uses for cement.
Similarly, irrespective of the “nonviolent resistance” to Israeli occupation advocated by the conference, the topic of violent resistance against the occupation or indeed Israel in toto was never far from mind. Conference key note speaker and A Moment of Truth signer Mitri Rehab, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, spoke of meeting fellow Palestinians while studying in Germany during the 1980s. They had “plans for liberating Palestine…some of them even from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.”
Asked during a brief interview about the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) originating in 1964 before any Israeli occupation, Rehab justified PLO violence against Israel as a “reaction to what Israel was doing.” Rehab, though, judged that the “PLO changed their philosophy in the 1970s” concerning peace with Israel, a change of heart many have doubted (see here and here). Asked about the propriety in general of violence against Israel, Rehab simply asserted that the United Nations has a “clear idea” of what is “permitted in terms of resistance,” a comment certainly unsatisfying in many ways to Israeli victims of Palestinian terror.
Rather than Palestinian acts, Israel’s “using violence and state terror” seemed foremost in Rehab’s mind. The “wall is violent,” Rehab commented upon the Israeli security barrier that has done so much to stop Palestinian terrorists from attacking Israeli communities. Similarly, “confiscation of land is violence,” Rehab commented upon controverted Israeli land takings in the occupied territories nonetheless subject to review by the Israeli Supreme Court.
In the end, the Waging Peace in Palestine & Israel conference differs little different from advocacy for Palestine to wage war against Israel. Any Muslim jihadist in the ranks of Hamas or the PLO would come away from this conference confirmed in the legitimacy of fighting Israel. The conference’s recommendations such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel would also only complement anti-Israeli armed struggle. Despite numerous comparisons to struggles against racism in the United States and South Africa, the conference’s distorted analysis and anger did not encourage people in a spirit of Christian love to sing “We Shall Overcome” or to say “I have a Palestinian dream.” Further analysis of Waging Peace in Palestine & Israel in a coming article, however, will show that conference supporters are not just in conflict not just with Israel’s present, but also past.