israel palestine religion
It is horrible to see the ‘anti-Semetism card’ being played again in an attempt to silence theological discussion within the church. This is not to say that theological debate doesn’t sometimes mask blatant racism. Indeed Martin Luther was notorious for it. Even so, the debate going on in the Church of Scotland (as in so many churches around the world) is one that has to take place, as it strikes at the heart of the church’s commitment to both the Bible and to social justice!
It seems that the Zionist lobby has long been able to rely on church councils to add their blessing to the Palestinian occupation, but church bodies are systematically withdrawing their support, one by one, and it is evidently making some of the political power-players nervous.
The great danger is that if bodies claiming to represent the Jewish people continue to equate criticism of the state of Israel with an attack upon their race, this could lead to a resurgence of genuine anti-Semitism! That church needs to guard against this. In the meantime, these Jewish advocacy groups need to reconnect with the struggle for human rights for all people and not just territorial rights for the state of Israel!
Church of Scotland accepts controversial report on Israel/Palestine
by Ira Glunts and Adam Horowitz
Today the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland accepted the controversial Church and Society Council report on Israel/Palestine titled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land,’”which has been widely and angrily condemned by Jewish groups and the Israeli government as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
There was a lively debate about the theology and politics in the document, as well as about the friction the report caused between the Church of Scotland and the Jewish community. It became apparent that an overwhelming majority of the delegates favored the report when a counter-motion, which recommended rewriting the document for next year’s assembly, was almost unanimously defeated in a stand-up vote. A Church press release says:
The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly today, May 23, debated a revised version of its report, ‘The Inheritance of Abraham?’
Presenting the report Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council said: “This is primarily a report highlighting the continued occupation by the state of Israel and the injustices faced by the Palestinian people as a consequence. It is not a report criticising the Jewish people. Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to anti-Semitism. “
The revised report was overwhelmingly accepted by the General Assembly., Mrs Foster-Fulton said: “The on-going conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been an issue close to the heart of the Church of Scotland – we have a long relationship with the region and have many friends there.
“The Church has kept on thinking about ways we can contribute to a just and peaceful solution. The report we bring to this year’s Assembly has already caused no small amount of controversy. The Church and Society Council has learned a great deal from dialogue with Jewish community which followed the initial release of the report.
“We would like to thank members of the Jewish community who sat down with us and were gracious in their concern. We present a revised version today with a preface that sets the report more in context. While acknowledging that some of the original language, on reflection, was misguided, I want to affirm that the report remains robust. It offers new insights – ones that have come through the experience of those suffering the continuing injustices of occupation. I look forward to the debate and, I hope, to continuing discussion after today exploring the issues and ideas brought forward in the report.”
The recommendations for action are mild compared to the resolutions passed by the Presbyterian and Methodist conventions in the U.S. this year. There is no mention of even limited boycotts of settlement products. Neither is church divestment from companies like Caterpillar and Motorola an issue here, as it was at the church meetings in the U.S.
The controversy is mostly about the theological views expressed in the “Inheritance of Abraham” which justify the conclusion that God did not promise any land to the Jewish people. Specifically, what offended some Jews was the argument that the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament somehow supersede or invalidate the apparent bequest of the land of Israel to the Jewish people found in the Hebrew bible or Old Testament. The report concludes:
… that Christians should not be supporting any claims by [Editor's note: “Jewish or” was here in the original version] any people to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. We believe that is a misuse of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land.
After a hastily convened meeting with representatives of British Jewish organizations, the church said it had recognized that “some language in the report caused controversy in some parts of the Jewish community,” but the views expressed were “consistent with views held by the Church of Scotland over many years.”
Still the church agreed to revise the document which it had suddenly removed from its website. The new version, which was accepted today, was less critical of the government of Israel and of certain aspects of the Jewish religion, but maintained the conclusion and most of the theological argumentation which was so vociferously objected to by Jewish critics.
The new report is unlikely to mollify those who railed against the original, but most critics have been suddenly silent, choosing not to respond publicly to the revisions. However, Ben Cohen, a Jewish-American, writing in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, (paywall, 10 free articles with registration) made it clear that he is still offended:
Influenced by Sabeel’s theology, the Church of Scotland elevates the situation of the Palestinians, reinvented as Jesus’s own people, far above the grotesque plight of Christians elsewhere in the region. It’s a stance that is bound to ensure that the Church’s Jewish interlocutors remain fearful of its true intentions. The bluntly anti-Semitic phrasing of the original report may have been removed, but the delegitimization of Judaism – not simply political Zionism – remains very much intact.
Cohen also slams Mondoweiss:
Just as the original version relied heavily on the work of marginal Jewish anti-Zionist figures in staking its moral and theological orientation, so does the new one. Within the Jewish community, the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss is regarded with a mixture of derision and contempt; nonetheless, the Church of Scotland want [sic] to persuade us that it’s an authoritative source on both the political and religious aspects of Judaism. Readers will search in vain for a quote from a mainstream Jewish thinker, whether that’s the Rambam, Rashi, or U.K. Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks
The reference to this site relates to the fact that the current version of the “Inheritance of Abraham” includes a long quote from a 2012 post written by Marc Ellis, which is part of his ongoing “Exile and the Prophetic” series. (see p.8 of revised report and original post.)
The Ellis addition appears to substitute for the ideas of the Jewish writer and activist Mark Braverman, whose thoughts have been largely excised from the current version of the church document. The deleted excerpts of Braverman’s ideas include a critique of Jewish “exclusivism” and “exceptionalism,” in addition to an admonition to Jews to “repent for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949.” Also, the necessity of Christians to acknowledge “wrongs done to the Jewish people” does not appear in the present document. (See pps. 6,7 in original)
Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY.
With President Obama now at a safe distance, the takeover of Palestinian lands continues as before.
It is tragic to think that only four years ago in Cairo Obama had spoken of Palestinian statelessness as ‘intolerable’. On this visit he spoke only of settlement construction being ‘unconstructive’.
Clearly the US is not going to stand in the way of Netanyahu’s program of annexation and ethnic cleansing. How ironic for Bethlehem’s Christians that a new ‘via dolorosa’ should appear during Easter week.
Israel to build settlements on Palestinian lands in Bethlehem
A military order has been issued by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank for the illegal confiscation of Palestinian lands and orchards, leaving dozens of families without their main source of livelihood and without the ability to build homes.
A military order has been issued by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank for the illegal confiscation of Palestinian lands in the Khirbit Ed-Deer area, west of Nahhalin village, in the Bethlehem District, in order to build 70 units for Jewish settlers and public buildings, the Palestine News Network (PNN) had reported.
PNN quoted the deputy head of the Nahhalin village council Jamal Najajra stating that the lands in question are dozens of Dunams, located near the Beit Illit illegal settlement which is built on lands that belong to the residents of Husan, Nahhalin and Wad Fokeen, and are planted with olive trees.
Najajra added that Israel intends to build 70 units for Jewish settlers in addition to a number of public buildings.
He said that the new planned constructions are meant to connect the Beit Illit settlement with the Gavot settlement by illegally confiscating Palestinians orchards, leaving dozens of families without their main source of livelihood and without the ability to build homes.
Najajra added that the village council has contacted attorney Ghayyath Nasser so that the necessary appeals in Israeli courts can be filed.
Najajra also said that this is not the first time Israel has decided to annex Palestinian lands in the area. Israel previously confiscated lands in the Al-Jamjoum area, the Salem Valley, and Ein Fares where Israel dumps waste-water coming from the Beitar Illit settlement, PNN reports.
Traditional Christian theology stresses that there is only one mediator between God and humanity – Jesus Christ. Bishop Michal has discovered a second – the Israeli government!
Senior churchman says Christians and Muslims need military permission to pray
The retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michal Sabbah, has pointed out that Christians and Muslims living in the Holy Land “have needed military permission to pray since 1993″. Archbishop Sabbah was speaking in the context of another high-profile visitor to Israel – Barack Obama who won’t make a difference to the conditions for Palestinians.
“All world leaders visit us,” he told Italian news agency AKI, “they come and go, but our reality has not changed. We keep living in the same conditions.”
In the run up to Easter Week, a very special time for Christians, the Patriarch pointed out that access to their holy places will be limited, difficult and in the control of the Israelis.
“It is impossible for any external pressure to change anything,” he added. “Israel alone decides whether to go forward with peace or maintain the current deadlock. Even when we want to pray here, we cannot go directly to God; we have to pass through the Israeli army to get permission.”
So many in the ‘West’ forget that the native Christians of Israel are almost all Palestinians.
The numbers of Christians in the ‘Holy Land’ though is getting smaller all the time. This is not because of tensions with their Muslim neighbors but on account of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine that affects Christian and Muslim alike. The only difference is that Christians tend to find it easier to emigrate.
Palestinians add national meaning to Palm Sunday in Jerusalem
By Amira Hass
A Christian pilgrim holds a Polish national flag as others hold palm fronds during the traditional Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem’s old city, March 24, 2013. Photo by
The traditional Palm Sunday procession, marking the beginning of Easter week for Catholic and Protestant Christians, was tinged with Israeli-Palestinian politics in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Thousands of Christians gathered at noon in the courtyard of the Bethphage Greek Orthodox Church on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus is said to have begun his entrance to Jerusalem five days before his crucifixion. Many carried palm or olive branches as they made their way to the Old City.
In Bethelehem, meanwhile, mostly Palestinian worshipers gathered in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, traditional site of Jesus’ birth, clutching olive branches and bouquets as they sung in praise.
For years the Jerusalem procession was attended mainly by non-Palestinian pilgrims, but in recent years the Christian communities in the West Bank and Gaza have made their presence felt, encouraged to do so by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
This year the Palestinians stressed their presence by carrying placards bearing the name of an Arab community, the distance of the community from Jerusalem and the word “Palestine.” Many waved small Palestinian flags, marching among groups of pilgrims from the Philippines, Ethiopia, Germany, Italy and other countries.
One banner, which caused Hebrew and Arab speakers to smile sadly, was a large replica of an entrance permit ostensibly issued by the Civil Administration that read: “The purpose of the permit: Christian holiday. Valid: March 19-May 11. Name: The Palestinian People. ID number: 1948.”
PLO officials hoped the banner would raise awareness among Christians regarding the difficulties Christian Palestinians typically encounter when wishing to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem.
According to the PLO officials, in many communities only half the requests by some of the 50,000 Palestinian Christians were approved, at most.
The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, however, said it rejected, on security grounds, only 192 of the 19,000 requests it received.
Hopes are running high world-wide that the new Pope will bring sweeping changes both within the church and to the church’s relationship with other religious and political bodies. At such a critical juncture for the future of Palestine, the leaders of both Fatah and Hamas in Palestine will be keen to establish a positive relationship with the new Pontiff.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, was somewhat of a failure when it came to Palestinian rights. While the Vatican was always supportive of Palestinian statehood, Pope Benedict made an unfortunate statement in 2006 about the history of Islamic violence that put a lot of Muslims offside. Moreover, being German and growing up in the Nazi era, Benedict was constantly on the back foot with regards to Israel.
Hopefully the new Pope will bring in a new era, but we must not count our chickens before they hatch. It is worth remembering that it is not the Pope but the Curia who control the church, and the Curia has not changed (not yet, at any rate).
The New Pope and Palestine
By: Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse
What concerns people the most is the political direction that the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics will take on issues such as women’s rights, relations with other faiths and foreign policy.Electing the leader of the world’s Catholic faithful is always an unpredictable affair. The choice of Argentina’s cardinal, now Pope Francis, has lived up to the mystery.
Palestinians and peoples of the Middle East have been searching hard in the new pontiff’s history to try and figure out where he will stand on the issues that are of concern to them.
Two issues were prominently talked about in this regard. The Jesuit background of the new pope was quickly picked up as a sign that the new leader of the Catholic Church will pay attention to socio-economic issues and not just theological ones.
In the Middle East, Jesuits are known to have established schools of higher education and other projects supporting the poor. His coming from a non-European country (apparently the first time in a millennium) also ensures, many believe, a more internationalization of the Vatican.
The Palestinian leader who congratulated the new Pope was naturally quick to invite the Holy Father to visit the birthplace of Christianity. The congratulatory cable to the Vatican included an invitation to the pontiff to visit Bethlehem. Pope Benedict, as well as Pope John Paul, had visited the Holy Land, including an important visit to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
The Vatican has generally been supportive of Palestinian rights and the need to end the occupation of Palestine. But equally the leaders of the Catholic Church have placed tremendous efforts to improve relations with Israel and also with world Jewry.
A recent agreement between the Vatican and Israel was signed that resolved a number of issues regarding Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem and the status of priests in Jerusalem and the area. Some felt that Vatican gave too much to the Israelis, especially allowing them control over the Last Supper room.
The compromise in which the Vatican will retain a symbolic seat on the table was seen as too much of a compromise to an occupying power that took sovereignty by military control.
The Vatican’s auxiliary bishop in Jerusalem, William Shomali, a Palestinian, told the National — an English language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi — that he hoped the new leader would continue with the church’s policy of addressing the difficulties facing Christians in the region, especially in countries such as Iraq, where many have been forced to flee because of sectarian fighting.
Bishop Shomali also expressed optimism that Pope Francis’ Argentine nationality could help breathe new life into the Israel-Palestinian peace process because, he said, Argentina “was a friend of the people of the holy land.”
But perhaps the most important issue of interest in the region is the possibility and potential of Catholic/Christian relations with Muslims. Pope Benedict caused a rift in relations with a statement in 2006 in which he quoted an anti-Muslim thinker’s statement on Islam.
The head of Islam’s leading higher educational institute, Al-Azhar, was quick to welcome the new Pope Francis and has called for change. “We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope,” said Mahmud Azab, an adviser to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar.
Arab Christians, while dwindling in numbers, are still an important influential group on Arab nationalism and intellectualism. Christians in areas such as Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine will be looking closely as to what the Catholic Church under Pope Francis will say and do in order to stem the migration epidemic and to encourage remaining Christians to stay in their countries.
Palestinian Christian leaders have been insisting that the emigration problem is turning holy sites and churches into dead rather than living stones. The need to encourage and empower this dwindling group is much bigger than their percentages in society.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. Active in media-freedom efforts in the Middle East, Kuttab is a columnist for The Jordan Times, The Jerusalem Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon, and has co-produced a number of award-winning documentaries and children’s television programs.
Read more: www.al-monitor.com…