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December 15, 2009

License and only License: Words of Evasion and Dishonesty from Palestinian Christian Leaders

If anyone had any doubt whatsoever about the intellectual, spiritual and theological bankruptcy of Palestinian Christian leaders such as Naim Ateek, Michel Sabbah, Mitri Raheb, and now sadly enough, Munib Younan, they need only look at the most recent “peacemaking�? statement issued by these (and other) leaders.

The document (“A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering�?), issued in Bethlehem on December 11, 2009, includes all the shop-worn tropes offered by these leaders for the past decade: The conflict is all Israel’s fault, the Palestinians are innocent. Israelis sin, Palestinians make mistakes. Palestinian violence is justified, Israeli violence is not. And yes, the fighting will miraculously come to an end once Israel ends the occupation. (Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan used to steer clear from such craziness, but apparently, not anymore.)

In sum, the document is a tour de force of dishonesty, self-pity and blame that has been the hall mark of Palestinian Christian commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict for the past decade.

This should come as no surprise. The enablers of these pastors in the United States – mainline denominational leaders and activists in these churches – have given these pastors no reason to change their tune, but have instead publicized and defended statements like this as part of their “peacemaking�? efforts in the Middle East.

One of the most obvious aspects of the document is the refusal of its authors to attribute any consequence to Palestinian behavior.

For example, the pastors condemn the security barrier built to stop suicide attacks from the West Bank. They also lament the Israel’s attack against Hamas in the Gaza Strip during last winter, making no mention of the years’ worth of rocket attacks into Israel from this territory. They also bemoan the checkpoints that make it harder for Palestinians to participate in Israel’s economy.

Is this suffering real? Yes. Of course it is. But at what point will leaders of the Palestinian Christian community start to address the role Palestinian violence played in bringing about the construction of the security barrier, the attack on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the checkpoints?

Apparently, not any time soon. The document obliquely acknowledges Palestinian violence in the following passage:

Some political parties followed the way of armed resistance. Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it.

Since when does blowing up kids waiting in line at a discotheque, qualify as “legal resistance�?? Moreover, the violence directed at Israel by Hamas is not intended to “end the occupation�? but is instead motivated by a refusal to tolerate the notion of Jewish statehood on land previously governed by Muslim rulers.

Instead of addressing this reality in a meaningful manner, these churchmen assert that the “roots of ‘terrorism’" are in “in the evil of the occupation.�? They also “call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.�?

This is a virtual restatement of the divestment resolution passed by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2004 which stated the occupation had "proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict." In response to this resolution, Rabbis for Human Rights wrote that the PC(USA) “ignore[d] the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among some of our Palestinian neighbors.�?

The same thing could be said to these Palestinian Christian leaders five years later. They have learned nothing.

From the standpoint of the authors, the biggest problem with the notion that Israeli withdrawals will lead to peace is that Israelis and the American people are insufficiently stupid to believe it. They know better.

A few facts of history: Israel made an offer at Camp David in 2000, Arafat said no and refused to make a counter-offer, and then lauded the Second Intifada as it began a few weeks later. Then, a few months later, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters and again Arafat said no, the Second Intifada continued.

Moreover, Israel has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the 1990s (Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip).

The Christian leaders who signed this document insult the intelligence of Israelis who have lived through the history they ignore. These pastors who signed this document abuse the goodwill of Christians in the U.S. who have lionized them as prophets and peacemakers for the past decade.

The upshot is this: The pastors who have dominated Palestinian Christian discourse for the past two decades are not up to the task of encouraging the Palestinian people to accept responsibility for their actions.

Yes, they have mastered the lingo that will elicit expressions of support and sympathy from mainline Protestant leaders in the U.S. who for the past 40 years had presided over an unrelenting decline of their own churches, but they have failed to address their own countrymen in a meaningful manner about the strategic and moral decisions they face and the mistakes they have made.

Posted by dvz at December 15, 2009 12:05 PM


My article on the History News Network website [linked to below] describes the status of Jews in the Middle East under traditional Muslim rule. The Jews were at the bottom of the social barrel, below the Christians [fellow dhimmis] and harassed by Christians as well as by Muslims. This status is illustrated with a number of quotations from writings before the mid-19th century Ottoman reforms [tanzimat]. This oppressed status of Jews was blatantly true in Jerusalem.

Posted by: Elliott A Green at December 15, 2009 01:28 PM

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