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

Last evening, Nov. 7th 2017,  people gathered at London’s Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the Balfour Declaration of 2nd Nov. 1917, as ‘Partners in this great Enterprise’. Christians and Jews together celebrating the creation of modern Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. Maybe some of my readers will be upset by that description but if we are honest it is difficult to put any other interpretation of the facts.

Gathering inside, a mighty congregation; well, actually not so mighty. One member of ‘Raised Voices’ commented that there didn’t seem to be many people going in. I’d calculate no more than 2000 including performers, (a 600 member choir from Denmark?), in a venue that can hold over 5,000.

Outside? A very mixed bunch. Handing our leaflets was difficult, especially when RAH security backed by a massive police presence insisted we could not hand out leaflets on private property. When I was able, most people refused, were not interested in a Palestinian Christian viewpoint. Some, did take leaflets and some, a very few, seemed genuinely interested in a different perspective; they were mostly younger people.

There were pro-Israel demonstrators outside as well, including the couple from Ireland who’d ‘entertained’ us on Saturday, (not sure whether they’re sectionable, but probably harmless). One woman and her friend became quite aggressivly verbally angry when she read the banner I was carrying. The text ran as follows: ‘Biblical Christians reject imperialist, exceptionalist, Zionism. Exceptionalism is racism, “There is no distinction …” If God will not, we must not.’

What infuriated her, I believe, is that I was, ‘standing on her ground’ – ‘Bible-believing’ Christians take all God’s word seriously, and that means Zionism, the rest of us must be ‘liberals’ who don’t really believe anything and can’t really be Christian. So when I say I am a bible-believing Christian she refuses to believe it, I must really be a ‘toy’ of the ‘Muslim extremists’ who were chantinf ‘Free Palestine’ just a few metres away. More to say maybe, later, but now it’s time for a little relaxation and a coffee.


Jane Corbin BBC2

I have now managed to watch the documentary by Jane Corbin, and I cannot make up my mind. Is she criminally ignorant or criminally biased?

She is virtually explicit in saying that Jewish terror was in response to Arab violence, but that was not the case, this is very poor journalism. The Haganah, a Jewish para-military organisation, was formed in 1921, ostensibly to protect Jewish settlements from Arab attack. Irgun, an extremist offshoot was operative from as early as 1931. That is not to suggest that all Arabs were quiescent at the massive Jewish immigration, but most only became concerned as the numbers multiplied.

Corbin claims, as do most, that the Zionists accepted the UN partition plan whereas the Arabs did not. First, why should the Palestinian Arabs accept partition of theirown land. By Ben Gurion’s own admission to the UN, by 1947 they had only purchased 7% of the land. But second, the Zionists did not ‘accept’ the partition, they simply ensured that the Arabs took the blame. Zionism, as is clear from the history, especially 1967 on, never intended to settle for less than ‘Eretz Israel’ all the land.

Jane Corbin claims, as do most others, that upon the declaration of the Jewish state on 15th May 1948 the Arab nations invaded. That seems to me the ‘personification’ of casuistry! Arabs, as Palestinians represented 66% of the population, it was their land, how could they invade it? As to the other Arab nations, I’ve covered their history elsewhere. Here it is simply worth pointing out that they were all relatively recent creations, despite a long history, and most had British troops stationed withing their borders. To act before British forces left Palestine would put them in danger of being at war with Britain. That would not have seemed sensible.

So much wrong with this programme, so one final comment. It is not necessary to justify Hamas but to point out that, had Israel taken its opportunities for peace, had Israel responded democratically to Palestinian concerns it is likely Hamas would never have been created. Formed in 1987-8, 40 years after the loss of 78% of Palestinian land, Hamas, regarded by some as a creature of Israel’s policy of ‘divide and rule’ is the violent mirror image of Israel’s military but without their tanks, guns, missiles and planes.

Poor journalism that I have come to expect from the BBC.

A Sad Centenary

This day, 2nd November, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the letter from Arthur Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 1917, to Lord Rothschild as representing British Jewry. It is an indictment of Britain’s present government and many opposition members of parliament that they will be celebrating this event.

There is little for which to be proud. A degree of protection for Jews? Maybe, but at what cost. Might the Nazi holocaust have been averted had Zionism not been on the rise? That question may be impossible to answer, but it is well known that Nazis and Zionists wanted much the same thing: Jews out of Europe.

The Nazis didn’t much care where they went, it was Zionism that focussed on Palestine. Not because it was the best place in terms of space and population but because it was the only place that would have attracted the bulk of European Jewry, who, in the main, were not interested in Zionism.

Britain’s part in this, dating back to 19th century evangelicalism and beyond, should not be underplayed and should certainly not be celebrated. Apologising for the ‘sins of the fathers’ may seem pointless. It is unless it is accompanied by genuine action to put right the wrongs committed in our name. Britain and America together share major responsibility for the mess that is the Middle East. It is our duty to help people of goodwill – and they are there – to begin putting things right. If our leaders will not then we, the people, must.

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 …

The State of Israel was founded and has been sustained on deceit, terror and racism, (I expect many will disagree but the facts are well established). With ‘Balfour’ round the corner, what is there to celebrate?

Are Jews safer? Than what – Bergen-Belsen? Of course they are; but, if their own reports are to be believed, they are not safe. They don’t seem to feel safe; in London, Paris, not even in Jerusalem. That they are better protected than 80 to 150 years ago is beyond question and is right. But, in establishing a Jewish state on another people’s land, in the process killing many, expelling a multitude and producing the largest and longest refugee crisis in modern times, ‘Jewsishness’ lost its soul. In becoming Zionism, as Zionists insist, Judaism became a contradiction.

Atheistic men used a promise from a god in whom they didn’t believe to justify Judaism’s right to land occupied and possessed by Arabs, the Palestinians. They claimed a messianic ‘right of return’ in the absence of the ‘messiah’ contrary to Rabbinic teaching that had sustained the community for over 1700 years.

The part played by Christians in this disaster cannot be under-stated. Evangelical Christian support for Zionism and Zionists was crucial in moving it from being a tiny and rejected minority view to becoming what is now the centre ground. Many Jews at the time suspected that what has happened would happen. That Jews outside of Israel would be suspected of favouring the ‘Jewish’ state over their own home nation. Oddly too, considering that Christians are supposedly ‘Gospel’ (good news) people, a version of Zionism is now ‘mainstream’ for many Christians. Criticize Israel and you are likely to land in hot water with the leadership.

What is to be done?

Despite the seeming negative tone above, let’s look at the positives.  Whatever we may think about its beginnings, the state of Israel exists. Similarly, many of our modern nation states seem to have been put together rather in the manner of a three-year old playing with his older brothers’ left-over Lego bricks.

What we need is a more just, a more even-handed approach, and that cannot be left to our leaders, whether in government or church. A solution is needed that brings justice for Palestinians, including the many millions of refugees, without creating further injustice for innocent Jews. There will be some; there are; who claim that there are “no innocents on the other side”. That won’t do. It will be wiser, more generous, more hopeful, more truthful, more just, for all to accept some of the blame. There are some, no doubt, who must be held to account, although how that should happen must be carefully thought through. There is no point laying up more trouble for the future.

And it does mean that we should demand from the media and from our leaders, whether in church or government, that they be less one-sidedly strident in criticism of Palestinians, and more functionally critical of Israel, which is by far the more powerful agency in the situation. By ‘functional’ I mean not just talking the talk. We have been quick enough to punish the weaker party when they seem to support terror, but we have done nothing when the stronger party acts provocatively.

Hearteningly there are people of peace on both, (or is it all) sides, and their voices need to be heard. Let us find them, make space for them, and give them the support they need. The centenary of Balfour should be a time for reflection, not celebration, a time to determine to work with what is best in Judaism, in Christianity, in Humanity, for peace with justice.

Mistaken Identity

Well here it is, my new book. It feels odd writing that, as if it’s not the first. It is, available here in print and here on kindle – quite why they don’t show up in the same place I don’t know, but getting all the formatting details right has been an exercise in endurance. If you decide to buy it and read it comments and corrections will be appreciated.

What’s it about?

Much or the discussion about Israel has had as a background the notion that the Jews are ‘God’s Chosen People’. Given my experience in Israel-Palestine I wanted to explore the ‘chosen people’ idea without, as far as I could, preconceptions. I have tried, within my limited ability, to write the story of God’s people from the Bible, seeing how it links in to the kingdom good news that Jesus brings. It challenges the system of Christian Zionism, but also I believe challenges Christians to think seriously about our place and our mission in God’s world.

P.S. Sorry you have to pay for it; kindle-Amazon is a business, and the print version has to be printed, packaged and sent. In the unlikely event I become rich – we’ll have a party!  Be blessed.

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