Recovering Evangelicalism – Seeking a Justice-based peace in the Middle East –

Archive for the ‘Peace’ Category

Little Town of Bethlehem

“How can we sing the songs of the kingdom as strangers in our own land?” The Israelites in exile refused to sing the songs of Zion, they should be sung in Zion’s land. Half a millennium later Zion’s Messiah told his ambassadors to sing the song of the kingdom throughout the world and when they came to Europe we were glad.

We too sing the songs of the kingdom. But the people of the place from which that song came, sing their songs of joy and praise tinged with sadness and hopeless hopefulness.

The ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ is surrounded by barbed wire, concrete and guns. From Incarnation to Incarceration, the place of Jesus’ birth a prison, the shepherds fields cut of by ‘the Wall’. Venture there and you too may be ‘cut off’.

What will you sing this Christmas time? How will you sing of Bethlehem? Will we be mindless of the pain of those who live there, or, shall we sing with a heartfelt commitment to justice for the persecuted, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew or other? Will we honour the incarnation; Jesus among us; through living the kingdom, challenging power, speaking truth, demanding justice and peace?

Or shall we just sing —  of shepherds, angels, lambs, and a baby —  of father Xmas, reindeer and presents —  but nothing of the greater gift:  of crucifixion, of resurrection, of rejection of earthly empires, of the kingdom of God ‘on earth as in heaven’.

Our choice:  no-one is watching …


Zion’s treasure

The State of Israel, based on the ideology of Zionism, has made ‘security’ its treasure. Based on militarism, the ‘glue’ that holds together the structure of the state and community, Israel sells peace through power. It is a phantom. Peace based on CCTV, on teargas, on overwhelming force is no peace; no people constantly subjected will remain so for ever. If/when they react, it solves nothing to call them ‘terrorist’.

And we may not use the Word of God as justification. The modern state of Israel has nothing to do with Israel in the Bible. Believing so does not just ignore Jesus, what He said and did, it ignores the Hebrew Bible. This is what Isaiah said:

‘The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness; he will be the stablity of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

‘Listen! the valient cry in the streets; the envoys of peace weep bitterly. The highways are  deserted, travellers have quit the road. The treaty is broken, its oaths are despised, its obligation is disregarded … ‘ (Isa 33)

There is no fear of the Lord among Israel’s leaders and never has been.There is no righteousness, no justice, no stability and no wisdom.  Israel is Jewry without Judaism, Samaria without Jerusalem. If we have any love for Jewish people we will call out Zionist Israel; and we will call out our leaders who – out of 19th century Militaristic Romanticism – defend Israel as if it were especially blessed by God. Israel is a self-created nation that disregards its obligations; a people whose ‘breath is a fire that will consume you’.

There is little point in praying for the ‘peace of Jerusalem’ while putting fire in the hands of those who oppress the poor, the weak, the helpless; especially those living in the land of the holy one.

Remembering Imperialist Folly

It is  99 years since Arthur Balfour, then Britain’s Foreign Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild. Regarded as the foundational document for the modern state of Israel it has become known as ‘the Balfour Declaration’.

Imperialism has changed shape throughout the ages yet there are two constants, power and wealth. In 1917 Britain still had something of both and remained the greatest imperial power, although not for much longer.  American Independence following France’s revolution suggested the death of imperialism.But imperialism is a tough weed, good at finding new ways to impose its will. If Balfour’s letter was a late act in Britain’s imperialism, the fundamentals haven’t changed, power and wealth still rule, and the weak and powerless suffer. Balfour generously offered one people land belonging to another people over 1000 miles distant from Britain’s borders. Such was the impact of socialist-secularist Zionism.

Many Jews and Jewish groups will celebrate next years 100th anniversary of ‘Balfour’. Given their history we should understand, even sympathise, but should we join them? I think not. To celebrate Balfour is to celebrate imperialism, the exercise of power and wealth to the advantage of some at the expense of others.  To celebrate the ‘safe homeland for Jews’ is to celebrate the loss of homeland of Palestinians. We should rather celebrate when there is real, sustainable peace based on justice.

Some suggest we British should apologise, I don’t agree. But we can repent if by that we mean that we try to put right the wrong.

How do we do that?  Certainly not by celebrating Britain’s imperialist folly. One think we can do is to contribute to it being fully remembered. British support in 1917 for a ‘Jewish homeland’ must be seen in the context of conflicting imperialist promises made to Arabs, the French and the Americans in the broader context of a Europe-based imperial war. From the subsequent peace conferences and British and Zionist actions it is evident that neither was particularly interested in democracy unless it furthered their own agenda. When the British, belatedly, proposed some form of limited democratic representation in Palestine they hoped to limit inter-community conflict. The Zionist’s refused, despite an undeserved parity of representation, because it was a step too soon. They were, at the time, less than 25% of the populace. The Arab’s were unsupportive because it was less than they’d been promised and less than their superior numbers deserved.

Fully remembering must include that history and the stories people have shared and believed and the challenges those stories face when confronted by other, conflicting stories. No one story will ever be adequate but through sharing their stories the peoples of the land may come to better mutual understanding and that may lead to better solutions than are available at present. This is not a job for career politicians; their agenda is power and, if possible, wealth. It is a task for the polity, you and I. Primarily, it is a task for the peoples of the land, but in our global village we must lend a hand. We can start by demanding of our governments that they cease funding and arming war.

A second step would be to recognise both Israel and Palestine as nation states with the borders of ‘Mandate Palestine’.  Many will respond that this is impractical, how can two states occupy the same land?  Others will point out the impracticality of the ‘two-state solution’ given the expansion of illegal settlements. Two nations already occupy the same land, the question is how they do so in peace and justice.

Pursuit of Peace

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace and the effect of righteousness will be quiet and confidence for ever” (Isaiah 32:17).

Those who ‘pursue peace’ without regard to righteousness and justice are running after wind. When they ‘catch’ it, their hand is empty. If simple people can see this we must surely tell our leaders that they are like ‘the emperor’ who had no clothes. They may fool themselves, for how long will they continue to fool the people?

When we keep speaking truth and serving justice there will be no need for others to fear us. Those who ‘need to be feared’ because of their own weakness will be exposed as  those most in need of love.

Zionism is colonialism

The demand by some that critics of Israel’s policies and practices stop using the term “Zionism” is a scarcely veiled and rather illiterate attempt to close down discussion on the very real issues of justice and human rights in Palestine. The definition of Zionism that is advanced by way of argument sounds reasonable But it is deceitful. To claim that Zionism is simply about the right of Jews to a safe and secure home ignores the reality that it has been achieved by the ethnic cleansing of the original population, the Palestinians. No one with a grasp of European history should deny that European Jewry at the end of the 19th century had every justification in wanting somewhere safe to live. But, if emigration Palestine was, for them, the journey to security, for Palestinians it was a European colonialist invasion.

The point must be made that it is not Judaism, nor Jews, nor Palestinians, nor Muslims that is in the dock; it is Zionism. Not because of what Zionism claims to represent but because of what Zionism actually is. There are many critics of socialism because of what happened in Stalin’s Russia and many critics of capitalism because of what happens in Europe. Reasonable critics would, I believe, accept that demonising those two perspectives because of the behaviour of extremists is as nonsensical as blaming all Muslims for the actions of IS, all Christians for the the Rwanda genocides and all Jews for the behaviour of Zionists. Zionism does not equate to Judaism and using any other term simply makes comprehension of the problems more difficult than it already is.

Simply, if, as it is claimed, Zionism is the reasonable desire of (some) Jews for their own ‘Jewish nation’  in Palestine then it surely must be obvious that Zionism required and requires non-Jews living in Palestine to be expelled (or live as second-class semi-citizens). Support that if you will but don’t profess the moral high ground, don’t pretend to be non-racist and please do not insult the crucified and risen Jesus by calling yourself  Christian.

I shall continue to be anti-Zionism – although NOT anti-Zionist – and if that costs me jail time, I’ll be in good company!

That ‘most moral army’

What follows is a quote from Ilan Pappe’s 2006 book, ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. It need not be assumed that all the outrages were on the one side, Pappe records both. My purpose in this extract is to point out that the Israeli military was not then, as it is not now, a ‘moral army’. It is a body of men and women whose failings were and are covered up by the politicians and the generals. When they cannot be obscured they are excused. This is from the chapter, Occupation and its Ugly Face (p.210)

‘The perpetrators can only talk, it seems, shielded by the safe distance of years. This is how a particularly apalling case came to light just recently. On 12 August 1949, a platoon of soldiers in the Negev … captured a twelve year old Palestinian girl and locked her up for the night in their military base near the kibbutz. For the next few days she became the platoon’s sexslave as the soldiers shaved her head, gang-raped her and in the end murdered her.  Ben-Gurion lists this rape too in his diary but it was censored out by his editors. On 29 October 2003, the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, publicised the story based on the testimonies of the rapists; twenty-two soldiers had taken part in the barbaric torture and execution of the girl. When they were brought to trial, the severest punishment the court handed down was a prison term of two years for the soldier who had done the actual killing’.

An enduring peace will not be possible for Jews and Palestinians until the leaders of the western nations face up to the historical realities and those responsible are held accountable.  Jews, the majority of whom live outside Israel are at risk, not only because of antiSemitism, but because of genuine anger at Zionism’s Ugly Face.  Crying ‘antiSemitism’ when faced with hard truths does nothing to solve the problem and undermines any claim of morality, democracy and even civilization.

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