Posted by: azizabusarah | April 5, 2011

Challenging the evangelical bias against Palestinian

Monday, April 4 2011|+972blog

By Aziz Abu Sarah

Last week Ynetnews.com published an article by Johnnie Moore, a Christian evangelical pastor and vice president of Liberty University (the largest evangelical university in the world, founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell). Moore was visiting Israel with a group of students on a trip that ended 24 hours before the bombing in Jerusalem. A Christian tourist was killed in the bombing, and Pastor Moore was moved to write about the terror attack and his views on Israel and the Palestinians. The article, entitled “No Excuse for Brutality,” was one-sided and inflammatory, asserting that Palestinians are entirely to blame for the conflict.

Normally, as a Palestinian I would brush off such an article as an example of the natural, emotional responses that arise from tragedies and traumas like last month’s bombing. However, Moore’s article is more than a reactionary piece; his comments also reflect the views of many Christian evangelicals in the United States. As a result, I feel it is important to respond to some of the points Moore raised.

Moore opened his article by claiming that the media is biased against Israel, and has justified the terror attack. The effort of some media outlets of putting the attack in context is not to be interpreted as a bias. The political stalemate, the continuation of the occupation, the confiscation of land and demolishing of Palestinian homes, and the “price tag” attacks by settlers executed all over the West Bank explains the rise of violent tendencies. These things should not be used as a justification but rather provide contextual analysis for the cycle of violence endemic to the conflict.

Moore writes that the Jerusalem bombing “should be an embarrassment to every supporter of the Palestinian cause. Instead… this act of war will be met with cheers in Hamas’ training camps even as Palestinian leaders give lip service to the international community and condemn the attacks in English, while praising them privately in Arabic.” This is problematic, first because many supporters of the Palestinian cause did view the bombing as shameful, and second because Moore assumes that the Palestinians are praising the attack in Arabic. As a writer for Al-Quds I can testify that Arab leaders condemned the attack in Arabic just as they did in English, and many Palestinians were outraged by the bombing.

In fact, those who criticize the Palestinian Authority for failing to prevent attacks like these should take a hard look at the situation in the West Bank. The PA controls around 14% of the West Bank, and cannot even issue a building permit for most Palestinians.  However, it is expected to police the West Bank in ways that even Israel, with its vastly superior training and weaponry, has been unable to do.

Perhaps the most ill-informed statement in Pastor Moore’s article is his statement that “I knew the message [of Israeli victimization] was understood when one of our students asked, ‘I see Palestinian neighborhoods all over Israel, what is the problem with Israelis having neighborhoods (settlements) within Palestinian areas?’ [The student’s] point was poignant as it highlighted Israel’s preparedness to live in peace with its neighbors and the refusal with which this has been met.”

The comparison between settlements and Arab villages in Israel shows a complete lack of knowledge of historical context. This is not surprising, as few American Christians are familiar with the Palestinian narrative. Palestinian villages in Israel were all founded long before the 1948 war, and since the formation of the Israeli state the Israel government has not allowed new Arab towns to be created within its borders.

On the other hand, in the Palestinians territories (which currently comprise only 22% of the area of the British mandate for Palestine), all Israeli settlements were built in the last 44 years.  Moreover, settlements in the West Bank are generally built on privately owned Palestinian land that has been confiscated, while Arab towns in Israel were not built on confiscated land. Another important fact is that Prime Minister Fayyad has indicated on more than one occasion that Jews are welcome to become Palestinian citizens in any future Palestinian state.

Ironically, Moore and his student also seem unaware that many of the “Arab neighborhoods” in Israel are populated by Palestinian Christians. This is a common oversight in American Christian rhetoric about Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Americans do recognize the existence of Palestinian Christians, it is often only to use their situation to support anti-Muslim propaganda. For example, according to a poll conducted by Zogby International, 45.9% of Americans blame Muslims for the Christian immigration out of the Holy Land, while only 7.4% of Americans cite Israeli restrictions as contributing to Arab Christian immigration. However, when Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem were asked about the primary cause for Christian immigration out of the area, 78% cited Israeli restrictions as their reason for leaving.

Ultimately, Dr. Moore concludes that Israel has a right to exist without the threat of terrorism. There is nothing wrong with this idea: Moore is completely correct in saying that Israel has that right to exist free from fear. However, rights are symmetrical, and Palestinians also have the right to live free of fear and free from the yoke of occupation.

Palestinians often feel the West views Palestinian rights as less important than Israeli rights, and that our blood is valued less than Jewish blood. When American Christian leaders like Moore write articles condemning bombings in Israel but are silent about bombings in Gaza (the most recent of which resulted in the death of 3 children), it tells Palestinians that we are viewed as sub-human. However, we also bleed, just as we care for the blood of others. I myself felt disgusted at the Itamar attack and the bombing in Jerusalem.

I must say that I don’t understand Christians who value the life of one group over another. Even if American Christians consider Muslims as enemies, in the New Testament Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.  The word he used for “love” in Greek (agapao) means to entertain or to welcome in. This concept seems to be in direct opposition to the doctrine of Islamophobia spread by many Christian evangelical groups in the United States. Moreover, Isaiah says “”Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” The scripture does not apply only to Jews, to the “foreigner” and “alien.” Hundreds of millions of Americans profess to be Christians and believe in the divine inspiration of these verses, so where are these “believers” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Moore’s article is a reminder that many American Christians view supporting Israel as a tenant of faith, without thinking critically about the theological and practical implications of this viewpoint. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Like many Christian groups who visit Israel, Moore’s group did not bother to visit any Palestinian towns. My guess is that neither Moore nor any of his church members have ever even met a Palestinian. Perhaps then their demonization of Palestinians is unsurprising.

When I was ten, my brother was murdered by Israeli soldiers. As a result, I understand how easy it is to seek revenge and find justifications for violence. As Solomon said, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” However, I long to see more religious people practice these verses which speak of justice as a higher form of religion, and I long for the day when religion becomes more a tool for bringing people together than for dividing them. On that day the prophecy of Isaiah will be realized “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who spends his time between Jerusalem and Washington D.C. Aziz is a columnist with Alquds Newspaper and is the director of the Middle East Projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. Aziz runs alternative tours to Israel and the West-Bank through MEJDI a social enterprise he co-founded. His blog can be found at http://azizabusarah.wordpress.com

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Responses

  1. Thank you for these balancing insights. It is a situation of such complexity and pain. It must be our task to humbly attempt to do justice, love mercy and extend forgiveness each day. Otherwise we will let complexity overwhelm us and be an excuse to categorize others and dismiss their needs. Thank you for entering into the narrative of Palestinian and Israeli, Muslim and Jew and Christian and opening a door for others to do the same.

    Don Hart


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