I’ve recently finished reading a book that my sister gave by Brother Andrew, called Light Force, which describes the story of an Evangelical Christian trying to bring about peace in the Middle East between the 1970’s to 2005. His basic idea was to encourage existing leaders of churches and congregations in areas hit by the conflict by giving churches resources and training in war torn areas in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.
Overall his eccentricity and charisma obviously made significant impact in the region, proven by him meeting with Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat and leaders of the Hamas party, as well as leaders from the Israeli side too. The book climaxed in a bizarre encounter with him and Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar asking him to be the bridge for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel via then American President Hennery Kissinger. At some points Brother Andrew swings between borderline insanity, for example offering to swap places with a political prisoner, and bringing together groups of Israeli and Palestinian Christians in “prayer camps” in the Sinai desert, taking certain personal risks which must have show the conviction of a man dedicated to his faith. His first-hand account of what happen in O Little Town of Bethlehem in 2002 when the Israelis invaded this historic town and sieged the Church of Nativity also sheds light on an atrocity that I had no idea about.
Despite Andrew often falling into the somewhat cringing narrative of the “White Western guy coming to save the Crazy Arabs”, I fully commend what this guy tried to do. Having said that, many parts of this book, particularly the beginning, were incredibly difficult to read. It took great strength for me to resist throwing it off my balcony in outrage at the naivety and ignorance of a man that God had apparently called to lead peace in the Holy-Land.
For example, constant references to Jesus’ birth being “Israel”, without specifying whether he meant the modern day “Israel” or ancient “Israel”, two totally different entities, (Bethlehem is in the West Bank, Palestine) represented a display of frequent sloppy and factually inaccurate editing. He would also make bold statements like “how could I not love God’s chosen people!” which can be interpreted to give the impression that by some divine ethnic-genealogy, all Jews possess a cuddly-bear attribute that must be stroked and fondled. This kind of one-sided narrative grants impunity to the Israelis, which is counteractive to any peace efforts.
However these were not his biggest sins. Bearing in mind the guy had first arrived in “Israel” in 1968, there is a chapter called “I want to see Living Stones”, written in 1981 where, breathtakingly, he admits for the first time to understanding that Palestinians had been driven from their home at gunpoint in 1948. See below post on the Nakba.
(Page 106) he asks a Palestinian refugee “why did Arab governments urge you to leave in 1948 until the war was over and it was safe to return” adding “this is what many Christians in the West believe”. In response the Palestinian started to cry and said “Andrew, I was there. My family were there. We were driven out at gunpoint”.
At this point I feel it necessary to defend myself from sounding facetious or nitpicky. Can someone please answer how it takes a man who has been living in the Middle East the best part of 12 years to even realise that this is the very crux of the issue in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict he is trying to solve? Why is this absolutely massive, seminal, indisputable fact not put on the front page in bold with three red squiggly lines underneath and a massive warning for readers? Unfortunately, like many books and commentary on the conflict they either fail to provide the context, or simply do not understand the conflict by which they find themselves in.
Then a horrible thought hit me that almost made me choke on my falafel sandwich… what if most Christians don’t understand this fact about the Palestinian exile? What if the lies and deception coming from the Israeli propaganda machine are so sleek and believable that even the brightest theologians and Christian intellects have bypassed this colossal revelation like our dear Brother Andrew?
In fact it’s so important I feel it’s necessary to repeat over and over again- in 1948- 800,000 (eight hundred thousand!) Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their land, forming what is now the biggest group of refugees on the Planet (5 million!). I don’t know what it is about this 800,000 number; maybe it is just too small to be a million, or too big to comprehend in terms of the population of Wales, but that’s a hell of a lot of men, women and children displaced by force. Astoundingly, just three years after the Jews faced their biggest catastrophe in the helms of the gas chambers in Auschwitz they commit this despicable atrocity and have total impunity. Is it out of shame that the world remains so silent or even outright denies this historical event? For those who think “it was a long time ago so it doesn’t really affect me”, I say read the news this week about the Israeli proposed Prawer Plan, a plan to displace 70,000 Bedouin Palestinians living in the Negev desert to make way for Israeli settlements. This colonial based ethnic cleansing continues today, and who knows when or where it will stop?
For now I want to return to the subject of Christian’s role in the peace efforts here in Palestine. I was really encouraged to come across a person called Reverend Dr Stephen Robert Sizer in an interview with Alan Hart, found below. This heroic intellect highlights the lunacy and powerfulness of the Christian Zionist lobby, particularly in America. He warns that this specific group of around 50 million “believers” think that the end of the world will end in a clash of civilization, and actively try to bring about Armageddon via Zionism, an entirely political ideology that is justified by selective religious interpretations.
More importantly, Dr Rev highlights that no senior member of the church has publically used the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the displacement of Palestinians from their land, nor has a single serving American politician ever criticised Israel. He explains the financial and cultural links between the Jewish lobby and the Church which often prevent the Church from publically acknowledging the human atrocities that have been occurring in Palestine for over 70 years. The question must be asked, has the church been bought to be silenced as well as the politicians?
He also touches on a very scary but realistic scenario that the most holy place in Jerusalem for Muslims, the Al-Aqsa (dome of the Rock) mosque could be a target by Jewish Fundamentalists. This is backed up by the fact that this holy site has had over 100 armed attacks in it, but not once has an Israeli Prime Minister or chief Rabbi condemned these armed attacks. He also states that the Israelis have been quietly excavating underneath the mosque, in what could be an attempt to make it collapse, with unimaginable repercussions from the Arab world…
Then I stumbled across an interview in the same series with the Palestinian refugee and ex-Bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Abu El-Assal. Despite his high profile and prominent position, this legend was frequently subject to travel bans, harassments at checkpoints and even death threats on his first day as Bishop. In the interview, available below, the Bishop describes the situation for the Palestinians as “genocide in slow motion”, and mocks Christian Zionist Fundamentalists who think that God is a “Real Estate Manager”, urging them to “wake-up before it’s too late.”
In this series there is also an interview with Ilan Pappe, an Israeli born Jewish intellect who now lives in exile in Britain for criticising Zionism. He blames Israeli foreign policy on the “new wave” of anti-Semitism that has been noted in parts of Europe and America. He says that Jews in America can play a role can play a very significant and crucial role in changing the reality on the ground, and that they must speak out about the truth of the crimes of the Zionist state in order to protect themselves. He also makes the vital distinction between Jew and Zionist, reiterating that the problem is not with Jews or religion but with the potent ideology of Zionism that seemingly has no limits to its audacious and dangerous mechanism.
All interviews are around 20 minutes long and I really urge anyone who considers themselves Christian or interested in theology or religion to take the time to watch them. A more depth documentary that explains more of the historical context can be found in a documentary called “With God on Our Side” which I posted (below) a few weeks ago.
I will finish by saying that it’s my belief that the church, as an institution, has a vested interest in what happens in the Holy Land, after all, it’s where everything began, right? The church is also privileged to have a congregation that listens to its leaders and can debate such issues in public. If the church really cared about the future of the Holy Land they would not let these atrocities continue to take place. The church could turn this issue into an electoral issue overnight if it so wished. Am I pessimistic enough to say this will never happen? Never. But I do think that with all the abundance of readily available information on the internet today there is absolutely no excuse for ignorance like our friend Brother Andrew in the 1980’s.
Until the church, politicians, Israelis, the Jewish community, or anyone else involved in the luxury of sitting in an office of responsibility actively acknowledges that the modern state of Israel was created out of ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Palestinians and continues today (see “Prawer Plan”), all conversations, road maps, peace deals are an insulting waste of breath to the Palestinians who have lived through four generations of living hell. The starting point of peace is honesty, otherwise are we not just rearranging the furniture in this crumbling house? This issue will not disapear by putting fingers in ears and praying for the best. It takes courage and wisdom to speak out and say “we will not tolerate this ethnic cleansing in the twenty first century”.
In the mean time there is no time to waste, as day by day the situation gets worse and worse with each settlement being built or land being stolen on the West Bank by the Israelis, making the (generally preferred) “two-state” solution impossible. In Gaza conditions are already reaching breaking point in the world’s largest open air prison, with 1.5 million trapped in limbo, not able to break out of a state of constant siege and living with 18 hour power cuts a day, with a man-made humanitarian disaster waiting to happen. I believe that every day, week, month, that passes with the church staying silent is a day the world sleep walks closer and closer to unimaginable perils, which should be on their conscience ticking day and night.
Link to the whole series by Alan Hart: