I'm glad to know you're safely back from the West Bank, and I've read your statement about your experiences with great interest. Based on our past conversations about the Middle East, you won't be surprised to hear that there is a lot which causes me concern - and I may say that I am not alone in our congregation.
It's a sad truth of human nature that however close up we get we can manage not to see what we don't want to see. I'm afraid the way it looks to me is that you went to Palestine believing in a profoundly one-sided propagandist account of the conflict, you have spent your time there among people who have reinforced that perspective, and you have come back believing in it all the more fervently and primed to spread the word here in Berlin. Well, sorry, but if there's one thing the Middle East doesn't need more of, and one thing less likely to contribute to the making of peace, it's more propaganda. Even if it's propaganda that calls itself 'advocacy'.
I can tell that that's what it is because, like all good propaganda, it makes the world so beautifully simple. This is a world populated by innocent Palestinians and nasty Israelis (apart from a few Good Jews who side with the Palestinians). A neatly symmetrical world where Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is 'comparable at the pyschological level' with the Holocaust - not comparable on any conceivable level of historical fact, but why let facts spoil the satisfaction of calling the Israelis Nazis 'at the psychological level'?
In this world the Israelis 'repress the dark side of their past', but the Palestinians don't have to because they don't have one. So there were no massacres of Jews by Arabs over the two decades before the creation of Israel. There was no Palestinian national leader who flew to Berlin to congratulate Hitler on his treatment of the Jews and help Himmler recruit a Bosnian Muslim SS division. There was no attack on the tiny new-born Jewish state by seven Arab armies, and no 6,000 Jews killed fighting off the invasion. There are Palestinian refugees, but Israel never had to cope with its own massive refugee problem, created by the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their ancestral homes in the rest of the Middle East. No Arab leaders bear any responsibility for keeping Palestinian refugees in misery for their own political purposes.
It's a world where there is no terrorism, no bombs set off inside cafes crowded with teenagers, no women trying to get admitted to hospital so they can blow themselves up on the ward. Where there are racist Jews, but Palestinian elections are not won by fundamentalists who justify their determination to wipe out Israel with anti-Semitic lies straight out of Mein Kampf. Where there is no President Ahmadinejad holding conferences for Holocaust deniers while developing nuclear missiles to point at Israel. Where, when Palestinian gunmen settle scores in a territory which Israel has vacated, the Israelis are still to blame. Where the only 'good' Israelis are anti-government dissenters but 'good' Palestinians aren't expected to care about Israeli victims of violence, or to hold their own leaders to account for their share in the responsibility for their people's misery.
One of the books you displayed when you gave your presentation in church was a Palestinian-produced children's book called 'The Boy And The Wall'. The book presents a Palestinian child as an innocent victim of the security barrier - which of course he is - without making any reference whatsoever to the children who have been innocent victims of suicide bombings, or those who would have been if the barrier had not been there to protect them. I can understand why such a book is produced. I find it harder to understand why you felt it was appropriate to display it in our church.
In the propaganda world the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis is so uniquely awful that in relation to it even the carnage in Iraq can be viewed positively. You quote someone as saying this:-
'A positive sign is the fact that the situation in Iraq has shown the Americans that the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is urgent for the Middle East.'
So three cheers for al-Qaida, then! I'm left wondering how many of the innocent Iraqis maimed and bereaved by bombs in markets and mosques would find this a consoling thought.
For myself I think that the conflict in Iraq primarily points to the need to resolve the conflict in Iraq. Among those suffering can be counted Iraq's ancient Christian communities, which are vanishing fast as their members vote with their feet and emigrate. But the World Council of Churches doesn't seem to have had the idea of sending people to accompany them, or anybody else in Iraq, just as they are not sending any accompanists to Sudan. Isn't that rather strange? Isn't it at least a very unfortunate coincidence that the Jewish state seems to make the WCC so much more angry than anybody else does?
So, there you are, a nice helping of pro-Israel propaganda from me, and plenty of opportunities for you to say 'yes, but what about...' Can you at least understand that what you're feeling now (if you've made it this far) is exactly what I feel about your report? Like I said, no peace ever came out of propaganda.
The fruits of propaganda are of a quite different kind. And here I'm afraid I can't avoid raising the ugly topic of anti-Semitism. I don't believe that you personally have an anti-Semitic bone in your body. But actions have consequences, unintended as well as intended. One-sided propaganda oversteps the line between legitimate criticism and demonization, creating the totally false impression that Israel is a human rights abuser without parallel anywhere in the world and that its enemies have no share in the responsibility for the violence and the suffering. That brings with it the implication that Jews' attachment to Israel is perverse and immoral. Predictable result: the real anti-Semites feel validated and emboldened. Equally predictable result of that result: rapid growth in the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe, leaving Jewish communities feeling more vulnerable than they have done for decades.
You close your report with a prayer from the Anglican church of St George's in Jerusalem:-
“God, we don’t pray for the Israelis,
We don’t pray for the Palestinians,
But for ourselves,
That we might hold them together
In our hearts.”
Amen, indeed, but I think that something is missing here (apart from prayers for victims of all the other conflicts around the world which seem to be so much harder for us to remember - we pray for the Israelis and Palestinians an awful lot more often than for the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It's a little like the prayer to be relieved of toothache, to which the answer is 'Help me out, go and see the dentist!' Here we need to do our bit by looking with both eyes, and keeping both ears open to the stories of both sides of this long and bitter conflict. For the way into our hearts leads through our ears, and there will never be a way in for those we are not even prepared to listen to.
Yours in Christ,