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Friday, December 18, 2009

Christian Israel-bashers: a seasonal round-up

At Harry's Place Adam Holland relays a seasonal Israel-demonizing epistle from Trots for Jesus, alias the United Churches of Christ and one or two more of the usual suspects from the left end of the American Protestant spectrum. Predictably enough, it equates Israel with imperial Rome and the Palestinians with Rome's Jewish subjects and specifically with Jesus. The rhetoric comes straight from Canon Naim Ateek and Sabeel. And as Adam points out:-

'To put this comparison in perspective, remember that the Roman forces in Judea are said to have massacred tens (if not hundreds) of thousands including woman and children, literally festooning roads with their crucified victims. The Roman war against the Jews included the Romans burning Jerusalem, including the temple, to the ground.

'And of course, there was that whole Christ-killing thing… The letter goes on to subtly invoke that old standby, Jewish deicide:

"What the Palestinian community faces, Jesus knew when he walked these stony hills."'

One of the signatories links to a page on the site of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, on which we find a set of four maps purporting to show the changes in the division of land between Jews and Palestinians from 1946 up to the present. In fact they're a wicked propagandist travesty, and again Adam Holland does a great job of demonstrating this. One point he could have added is the gross dishonesty of portraying the whole of Israel as "Jewish land". In reality, of course, it's the home of a million Arabs.

This is not the first time I've seen those maps. They can be found, illustrating an equally mendacious narrative of the "suffering in Palestine", on the website of Friends of Sabeel UK, the charity (I'm inclined to put that in quotes) about whose partnership with Christian Aid I posted recently.

Here they're credited, below the extremely revealing rollcall of FoSUK Patrons, as "courtesy of Tim Biles from his book A Puppy Dies". The title tells you all you need to know, doesn't it? Now it would be a pretty amazing coincidence if this were not one and the same person as the Revd. Canon Timothy Biles, who, I find, acts as Consultant and newsletter editor to a charity called the Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association. If he is indeed the originator of those maps they are no aberration. He's still at it.

Here is an extract from a book review by Mr Biles in the Advent 2009 issue:-

'But storm clouds gathered, the events of 1948 are described in graphic detail, the incursion of
Zionist forces into Haifa and northern Palestine, the forced evacuation of the indigenous population to southern Lebanon and the refugee camp of Shatila [...]'

The detail may be graphic but it is evidently extremely one-sided, at least in Mr Biles's reading of it. Where are the incursions of the Arab armies seeking to destroy Israel at birth, and fought off only at the cost of 6000 Jewish lives?

And again:-

'The author shows how the lives and fates of Palestinian Christians and Muslims are intertwined, making it clear that it is the Israeli occupation, not Islam, that threatens Christians in the land that was Palestine.'

Curious, then, that while Palestinian Christians become an endangered species the Muslim population, equally subject to occupation, is growing by leaps and bounds. But it seems that for Mr Biles and his friends nobody other than the Israelis is ever threatening. An article in the 2008 issue quotes another priest and/or his wife as saying:-

'What is ultimately striking about Gaza is the sheer disproportionality of it all – the collective punishment inflicted on 1.5 million people is against every measure of international and humanitarian law…'

I certainly understand why people returning from Gaza in the aftermath of the invasion would say this. But we get no mention of what it is that the "collective punishment" is disproportionate to, no suggestion that lobbing missiles at civilian populations is itself a form of collective punishment "against every measure of international and humanitarian law". Still less any suggestion that Hamas, the popularly elected rulers of Gaza, bear any responsibility for thus picking a fight with a vastly more powerful enemy. As so often the H-word doesn't appear at all.

Bias is one thing, lies are another. Above this article is a heading containing the claim that "Gaza is the most densely populated place on earth". This was untrue when George Galloway said it three or four years ago (which hasn't prevented him from repeating it last year) and it's still untrue, as a minute's googling will confirm. Gaza's population density (4118 per sq km - panel on the right here) is exceeded by Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar (list here). Oh, and also (comfortably) by Tel Aviv (7604 per sq km).

It's true that Gaza may move further up the league table if it continues to have one of the highest rates of population growth on earth. It's not immediately obvious to me how this is the Israelis' fault (indeed they made a temporary dent in the population by removing 8000 settlers in 2005) but I expect Mr Biles could soon put me right.

So is this Canon of the Church of England a liar or a dupe? The latter, I very much hope, but if so, I wish he'd do a bit less politicking and a bit more priesting. If the former, it's a disgrace that he's a dignitary of my Church.

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