Latest posts on Christian Aid

Why 'Christian Hate?'? An introduction to the blog

Places Christians shouldn't go A quick tour of Christian Hate?'s case against Christian Aid

Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A letter to a fellow Christian

[A letter to a member of my church who has just returned from a 'tour of duty' with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). If you speak German you can read his statement here.]

Dear C.

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,



ratbert said...

this kind of discourse is typical of pro-israel logic: paint criticism of israel as engaged in moral absolutism, israelis = bad, palestinians = good. that is not it at all. this kind of misrepresentation sounds too much like the simplicity of the american media. it is not about individual goodness or badness, but collective crimes and victimizations. one nation vanquished another and engaged in ethnic cleansing over a period of decades. several decades after this began, there were violent reactions, some terroristic. a reasonable person can say: the original sin in this situation is the process of ethnic cleansing that began in the early 20th century. this fact does not justify or whitewash atrocities committed by individual palestinians. but the collective guilt hangs on zionism, much as the collective guilt of white america in the jim crow era is undeniable, even if one's parents had no direct hand in maintaining the system of indirect and direct violence.

Cyrus said...

Ratbert, thanks for the comment. You may be reminded of the 'simplicity of the American media'; that's certainly not where I get my views from, since I rarely read the media in question. Rather they have been formed in reaction against the pro-Palestinian bias of the British liberal media.

Your attempt to reassert a one-sided view of the conflict ignores:

1. the history of violence against Jews in Palestine over the two decades before Israel existed (cf also the 1941 Baghdad pogrom).

2. the open and extreme anti-Semitism of the Mufti of Jerusalem and other Arab nationalists.

3. the attack by Arab armies on the tiny piece of land allocated to the Jewish state.

4. the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Arab countries, which in its final outcome has been FAR more thorough than the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel.

So if we talk 'collective crimes and victimizations' we're still not in a one-way street, by any means.

Pretty much all of this is in the article you commented on. I particularly welcome comments from people who've read my stuff first. Is this one of the skills they teach graduate students in Madison, Connecticut?

Anonymous said...

Cyrus, perhaps you need to understand that this is the second time in history that the Jews displaced the Palestinians from their land, the first being several thousand years ago.

However, to address ourselves only to relatively recent history, attacks by Palestinians on Jews in the two decades(and more, I might add) before Israel's existence did happen. But you might acknowledge the fact, for the sake of honesty, that the Jews who were attacked were immigrants from Europe who migrated expressly to displace the Palestinians from their land.

All said and done, despite the violence accompanying the birth of Israel, the entire issue could have been resolved well before now were it not for the apathy of the western powers toward the Palestinians and the unwillingness of Israel itself to resolve the issue. Israel was unwilling to resolve the issue for two major reasons: it needed more land for more immigrants, and it needed water over which it would have no control if the land above that water was in Palestinian hands.

Islamic terrorism today has grown into a monster precisely because of the misreading of issues and the apathy displayed by the west, in the Near East and in Afghanistan. The US, in particular, has made egregious errors in places like Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan, through a mix of greed, arrogance and misplaced allegiances.

Cyrus said...

'Cyrus, perhaps you need to understand that this is the second time in history that the Jews displaced the Palestinians from their land, the first being several thousand years ago.'

Er, no, I need to understand what your evidence is for this bizarre statement.

'However, to address ourselves only to relatively recent history, attacks by Palestinians on Jews in the two decades(and more, I might add) before Israel's existence did happen. But you might acknowledge the fact, for the sake of honesty, that the Jews who were attacked were immigrants from Europe who migrated expressly to displace the Palestinians from their land.'

I might, but I won't because it's rubbish.

There were, in fact, attacks which made no distinction between immigrants and the indigenous Jewish population. And the Mufti of Jerusalem certainly wasn't interested in drawing the distinction. A Jew was a Jew.

And even if the attacks did target immigrants, is that supposed to be OK? Jews came to escape countries where they were helpless in the face of racist violence. They acquired land by buying it from its owners. They brought skills and capital which might have helped transform Palestine and the whole region, if the response to their presence had been different.

In the city where I live there is a substantial Palestinian community. If the natives started massacring them, that would be OK, would it, because nobody likes being 'displaced'?