By Stuart Littlewood
“The political and humanitarian situation in the Holy Land continues to be a source of pain and concern for us all,” says the introduction to the Church of Scotland’s report The inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’.
It is the Church’s latest reflection on the “questions that need to be faced”.
The report was intended for discussion at the Church’s General Assembly this week and it questions the assumption many Christians and Jews that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel. Current Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, it suggests, have “sharpened this questioning”. The report goes on to examine the issues in a measured and non-inflammatory way.
The conclusion arrived at is that Christians should not support claims, by Jews or anyone else, to an exclusive or divine right to particular territory. “It is a misuse of the Bible to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land. In the Bible, God’s promises extend in hope to all land and people… These promises call for a commitment in every place to justice in a spirit of reconciliation.”
The Church also sets out the principles to which it is committed in regard to the Holy Land. But some of these appear weak. For example, while rightly stating that Israeli settlements on Palestinian turf are illegal under international law, it simply calls for a halt. Justice requires a giving-back.
Nor is calling for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority a solution when such lopsided talks are clearly immoral. Everyone who cares about human rights in the region is aware that Israel is no partner for peace and earlier negotiations were conducted in bad faith. Pigs will fly before Israel willingly ends its occupation, so the Palestinians should not be expected to bargain for freedom and for land that was already theirs while the other side has a gun to their heads.
As has been said so many times, there can be no peace under occupation.
Endless argument from entrenched positions about scripture and myth will achieve nothing. Justice can only be delivered through implementation of international law and the raft of UN resolutions waiting to be actioned.
These days return to one’s homeland is regarded as an inalienable right, but it is time-limited and must be exercised as soon as the reason for expulsion (for example, foreign occupation) ceases. The Jews were expelled by the Roman occupation in 70AD and again in 135, although some remained. An opportunity for the Jews to return would have occurred when the Roman Empire collapsed. They didn’t take it. Furthermore there is little evidence that Jews drafted into modern Israel have blood links with the original Israelites.
It is therefore unacceptable for Jews to now lay exclusive claim to the land 17 centuries later, at gun-point, when the Palestinian Arabs, including their Christian communities, have been there all the time. The right of Palestinians who were expelled by Jewish terror has not expired because the Israeli occupation continues. Also, the UN endorsed their right to return.
The Church of Scotland’s report, otherwise, seems a fair and truthful summation of the situation and the false claims. It doesn’t of course suit those like the Zionists, who find the truth ‘inconvenient’ and see it as a threat to their wobbly position. Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, is reported to have said: “The document is an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory, and closes the door on meaningful dialogue.”
The Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, said: “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful. If a document of this nature is adopted by the Church of Scotland it would mark a significant step backwards for the forces of tolerance and peace in our region.”
The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities called on the Church to withdraw the document from the forthcoming General Assembly, saying: “It reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory. The arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology is breathtaking.”
Same Old Refusal to Face the Truth
The reaction of Jewish leaders follows an all too familiar pattern: accusations of inaccuracy and bias without explaining why, backed by puerile threats of awful consequences if there’s no retraction.
In January, just across the border in England, the Zionist lobby put the squeeze on the Bishop of Newcastle, Martin Wharton. The Representative Council of North-East Jewry complained that he voted for a motion at the General Synod which supported the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), despite warnings of the Zionists’ “grave concerns… that it would encourage anti-Semitism”. His action, they said, made “any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible”.
According to the Church Times the rumpus started when Bishop Wharton agreed to speak at a conference, ‘Peace & Justice in the Holy Land’, organized by a group of people who had taken part in the EAPPI program. The chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the Revd David Gifford, said that the conference had “the potential of becoming yet another anti-Jewish meeting, creating more anxiety and distrust between the north-east Jewish community and the Church”.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews chimed in saying that the EAPPI was “partisan” and “anti-Israel”.
What does the EAPPI do that’s so objectionable to these whiners? It “brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.”
The EAPPI program was set up by the World Council of Churches. Its mission includes engaging in public policy advocacy and standing in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the illegal occupation. Few people except those who support the brutal Israeli regime would disagree with the program’s principles and objectives. And few, surely, would condemn the humanitarian work the EAPPI carries out with great courage in the face of criminal hostility.
Nevertheless its success attracts frenzied condemnation despite the fact that well-known Jewish groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestine and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition [ICAHD] strongly support EAPPI, and a number of EAPPI volunteers are Jewish.
Although Wharton had the moral high ground he caved in and decided not to attend the conference “for the sake of good relations between all the faith communities in Newcastle”. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, Seamus Cunningham, also decided not to attend. He told the Jewish Chronicle that he had become aware “that many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset”.
Perhaps he should have suggested those angry and upset Jewish people go to the West Bank and see for themselves the behavior of their brethren towards Palestinian women and children and the EAPPI volunteers.
Open Door to Zionist Lobby Extremists
What use are the many inter-faith committees and Christian-Jewish councils? They open the door for Zionist lobby extremists to meddle in Church business and bully Christians into submission. Is it really worth selling out one’s principles to appease faith fanatics? Inter-faith dialogue with the Jews has achieved precisely nothing in the struggle for justice and peace. Their purpose is to “keep talking” and stall any restorative action while the Israeli regime continues its program of expulsion, dispossession, ethnic cleansing. religious harassment and humiliation, and the establishment of irreversible facts on the ground.
So the news that the Church of Scotland responded to pressure by meeting the Zionist meddlers is disconcerting, especially when it then agreed that the report had given cause for concern and promised to re-write it.
“The Church of Scotland and representatives of the Jewish Community in Scotland and the United Kingdom, held useful discussions facilitated by the Council of Christians and Jews this afternoon, Thursday 8 May. We agreed that the drafting of the report published by the Church and Society Council for discussion at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has given cause for concern and misunderstanding of its position and requires a new introduction.” The Church also said it needs to be explicit about certain areas of Church policy, for instance:
• There is no change in the Church of Scotland’s long held position of the right of Israel to exist.
• The Church condemns all violence and acts of terrorism, where ever they happen in the world.
• The concern of the Church about the injustices faced by the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remain firm, but that concern should not be misunderstood as questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist.
• That the Church condemns all things that create a culture of anti Semitism.
But if the Church acknowledges Israel’s right to exist, should it not say on what borders this recognition is given? Besides, whether or not Israel has a legitimate right to exist surely depends on the legality of its establishment as a state, which many have challenged.
As for the things that create a culture of anti-Semitism, these include Israel’s inhuman behavior and its claim to represent all Jews when that is not the case. The support many Jews give to Israel’s occupation and the regime’s crimes against the Palestinian people is also a factor. Will the Church robustly castigate and suspend dialogue with anyone on the Jewish side who refuses to condemn Israel’s conduct (and especially any who continually make unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism against critics of the Zionist regime)?
The Church’s statement also says “there is an equal sense of concern amongst both communities for justice and peace for all the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” It’s the sort of sound-bite a mutually admiring get-together would toss around in order to look good, but the facts simply do not bear out what they say and both sides are deluding themselves if they believe it.
The other day the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem found it necessary to issue a condemnation of the savage Israeli police action that caused “horrific scenes of the brutal treatment of our clergy, people and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem during Holy Saturday last week… It is not acceptable that under the pretext of security and order, our clergy and people are indiscriminately and brutally beaten and prevented from entering their churches, monasteries and convents.”
Under Israeli occupation similar atrocities are committed every day against Christians and their Muslim brothers and sisters. Churches everywhere should have no truck with the apologists and fanatical religious supporters of a racist regime that has no shred of human decency.
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.