Palestinian Christians took their message of Peace through mutual respect and understanding to the center of Christian Zionism, the United States. Ten days ago, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) held its Fourth International Conference on the Christians of the Holy Land, in Washington, D.C.

Palestinian Christians took their message of Peace through mutual respect and understanding to the center of Christian Zionism, the United States. Ten days ago, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) held its Fourth International Conference on the Christians of the Holy Land, in Washington, D.C.

Describing the Evangelical Zionist’s immoral and heretical interpretation of biblical prophetic and apocalyptic texts, Dr. Michael Prior concludes that the god of such revelation is a “militaristic and xenophobic genocidist, who is not sufficiently moral even to conform to the requirements of the Fourth Geneva Convention or any of the Human Rights Protocols which attempt to set limits to barbarism.”

Here follow selected excerpts from the HCEF Conference Report

One of the main speakers, Rev. Dr. Michael Prior, C.M., Chair of Living Stones of the Holy Land Trust, U.K., stated his conclusion that, “it is one of the anomalies of recent Church history that while Christians, embarrassed by past association with colonial enterprises, have supported oppressed peoples virtually everywhere else, there has been little protest against the historic injustice perpetrated on the indigenous population of Palestine by Political Zionism, a movement thoroughly at home in the colonial spirit of Nineteenth Century Europe.”

Describing the Evangelical Zionist’s immoral and heretical interpretation of biblical prophetic and apocalyptic texts, Prior concludes that the god of such revelation is a “militaristic and xenophobic genocidist, who is not sufficiently moral even to conform to the requirements of the Fourth Geneva Convention or any of the Human Rights Protocols which attempt to set limits to barbarism.”

He criticized the perspectives and actions of the World Council of Churches and of the Holy See, citing the example of the agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel that does not make any reference to Palestinian Arabs or any injustice done to them upon the establishment of the State of Israel. Indeed, the Holy See essentially silences itself by committing to remain “a stranger to all merely temporal conflicts, which principle applies specifically to disputed territories and unsettled borders.”

Dr. Prior reiterated that the performance of the mainstream Christian churches (not merely that of the Holy See) has not been a model of ethical engagement. Prior suggested that Church authorities ought to be prepared to insist that Israel (1) apologize for its injustice to Palestinian Arabs, (2) undo the damage it has perpetrated, (3) honor its commitments regarding the Palestinian right of return, (4) make appropriate compensation for the damage it has done, and (5) on the basis of confession of restitution, move towards a less ethnocratic polity. Rev. Prior also encouraged conference attendees not to be afraid of being called anti-Semitic simply because “we are calling for justice”.

Rateb Y. Rabie, HCEF President and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb where Christians believe Christ “rose from the dead”, opened the Conference by showing how Palestinian Christians have maintained their original teachings and Faith through schools, housing projects and charitable institutions, but noted that the current situation has caused an immense drain on their resources and the need for assistance grows greater each day.

The Honorable Hanna Nasser, Mayor of Bethlehem, told the Conference that while the church of Bethlehem is small in size it is the most important church, since it is the “Mother Church”. Mayor Nasser told how, at the turn of the century, the Christian population was 18% of Palestine, and now it is less than 2% and within the last 18 months 1,500 Bethlehem Christians have left for good. He attributed the declining existence of Christians to the continuing arrest, political situation, fear, and frustration. He spoke of the dying tourism industry in Bethlehem and an unemployment rate of around 70%.

Claudette Habasch, Director, Caritas International, Jerusalem, stated, “I am a Palestinian. Palestine is my country. I am one of 12 million Christians from the Middle East. That is my faith.” Describing her many roles – a mother, wife, daughter, friend, fighter, member of a community, survivor, and human who wants to live with dignity and respect – she asserted that her most important facet is that she is someone who believes in the power of Peace.

She told a story about a parent whose daughter, like every child, must go through a checkpoint at gunpoint on her way to school. The parent was concerned because one day he heard his daughter describing feelings of happiness about a suicide bomber she had head about, saying that this suicide bomber was trying to “protect” her. Knowing that the suicide bombings are unjustifiable violence, the father described his disappointment that in spite of his attempts to raise her according to Christian principles, the violence around her “took over” her sense of morality. Because it came into his home daily, his daughter now identified violence as something that could protect her. Many parents are working, like this one, to raise their children and grandchildren without hate and ready for reconciliation. Even so, students ask their teachers at school, “How are we to love this enemy who constantly shells our homes?”

“I propose to reframe the debate,” said Ms. Habasch. “The situation is not about Israel and Palestine. It is about those who choose violence versus those who choose Peace.”

Any organization which is working for economic or social reform must now challenge injustice because if they don’t, according to Habasch, they do harm. “I call it applied social justice . . . As Palestinians we are well-researched and analytical. We explore the relationship between our belief in God and how we live our life.

“What is needed is to establish common ground that will allow us to join together and make an appeal for action . . . We need to mobilize people who want peace but are afraid to take action.”

Viveca Hazboun/Ninos, M.D., Director, Guidance and Training Center, Jerusalem
told attendees, “I have Israeli colleagues who are ashamed to be Israelis. I do not know any Palestinians who are ashamed of being Palestinian. Indeed, I now realize that none of us would change places with one another.”

Living in Jerusalem, Dr. Hazboun travels through the checkpoint to Bethlehem each day to see patients. Citing statistics from a clinic’s studies, she said that 45% of the people in Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition, 54% of the population is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, 56% of children are experiencing bedwetting, and 13% of the children have developed serious mental disorders and aggressive behavior.

Witnessing these kinds of problems, Dr. Hazboun confessed, “I haven’t reached the level of maturity to turn the other cheek, but I’m working on it.” Because of her Christian faith, she knows that justice will be done, whether now or in the hereafter. Speaking scientifically, she reiterated that people who think that they can make their own laws (i.e., criminals) generally have much shorter life spans. In addition, she noted that injustice goes through a vicious cycle. If we feel pain, we think we can get rid of it by causing pain to someone else. Clearly, this cycle is self-defeating. “I hope that we do not fall into the same cycle and fall into abuse when this occupation ends.”

Dr. Hazboun reiterated the importance of al-karame, or dignity, for people suffering under the occupation. “You see this karame in the eyes of children who are aching and suffering.” But it is difficult to maintain. Dr. Hazboun shared a story of a child who was very afraid and whose mother continually reassured her that they were in the safest room of the house. The child went totally mute on the day that a bullet came through the window and lodged in the wall beside her. Children are learning in very real terms that even parents are not perfect.

One of the major pains for Dr. Hazboun has been that people outside the region have virtually no means of knowing the truth because the U.N. is denied the right to investigate, reporters are the victims of violence and are kicked out of controversial areas and the call for international observers is still denied by the Israeli government. Dr. Hazboun closed by saying that there are many reasons people choose to commit violence and otherwise abuse their own maturity levels. There is only one reason that we choose not to do these things – we have a conviction against such things. She reiterated that, if we cannot create peace on a public level, we must at least continue to work toward some kind of inner harmony.

Mother Agapia (Stephanopoulos), Administrator, Orthodox School of Bethany, arrived in Palestine six years ago “with no intention of working with people in Palestine.” She intended to live an inner life and remain within the walls of her convent. “When you become a monastic, you wear a cross and carry it with you inside the monastery. I’ve learned from Palestinians what it means to carry a cross.”

Her home is at the school in Bethany on the Russian Orthodox compound. Bethany is in Area B which means that it is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control. Muslims are the majority in town; and Muslims and Christians have always had friendly relations. By May 2000, according to the Wye Agreements, Bethany was supposed to come under full Palestinian control. During the time leading up to this transfer of authority, according to Mother Agapia, there was a general acceptance between the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers nearby.

The transfer of authority never happened, and four months later, Ariel Sharon made his appearance on the Temple Mount. Describing the 2001-2002 school year, Mother Agapia remarked that it was impossible to plan a day at school because the military repeatedly put the town under curfew.

“Rather than being awoken by the call to prayer or the church bells, we would hear the armed personnel carriers and Israeli jeeps driving through town calling out, ‘Curfew’ from their loudspeakers.”

It became impossible to feel that the school was a safe place for the sisters, the 300 local girls, and the 12 boarding students. “The effects of curfew are powerful. In broad daylight, there is not a soul in the street, but I know that the girls are in the building, even though I can’t hear them.”

The crisis is escalating as fewer and fewer parents can pay any tuition, and the Israeli economy is also in a downward spiral. The maintenance work that the school has contracted is incomplete because workers and materials can’t get through the checkpoint.

“It is edging toward anarchy . . . there are now settlers placing bombs in front of school yards.”

The girls from the school now play “checkpoint,” where students acting as Israeli soldiers make a Palestinian stand for an hour in the playground while they “check” her papers. There is now a nursery rhyme that students sing that mimics the curfew call that they hear from the Israeli jeeps. Parents come into the school in tears because, despite their message about non-violence and Christian love, their children are coming to see suicide bombing as an accepted retaliation. She remarked that Christ’s entryway into Jerusalem (the road from Bethany) is now covered with mounds of dirt and cement blocks to prevent the road’s use by Palestinians.

Christian Zionism came to the United States in the 1880s with the Bible Prophecy Conference Movement, and in this same time frame, William Blackstone developed the first American Zionist lobby. In other words, noted Wagner, the Christians Zionist lobby existed before the Jewish Zionist lobby. Blackstone’s movement was financed by the likes of John D. Rockefeller and had Supreme Court justices as signatories. Its aim was to create a state for Israel in Palestine in order to help Jewish settlers escape the pogroms in Russia. Thus, long before Theodore Herschel, Christian Zionists were advocating the Zionist cause. Indeed a British politician used the phrase “A land of no people for a people with no land” in 1839!

When Israel was created in 1948, the Christian Zionist movement in the U.S. was revived. It is, according to Wagner, a very pessimistic theology – not a theology of hope.

The 1967 war increased the momentum of the Christian Zionists who believed that the following things were necessary to urge along the “Rapture”: (1) Jews needed to recapture Jerusalem. (2) The temple needed to be rebuilt. Indeed, many Christian Zionist groups are funding the yeshivas in order to move toward this rebuilding of the temple. (3) The rise of the “antichrist”, described as a ten nation coalition must occur.

For now, Christian Zionists describe the enemy/antichrist as Islam. During the Cold War, it was Communism and the USSR. Wagner distinguished between evangelicalism, which is a movement that emphasizes the Bible, a personal relationship with Jesus and a commitment to mission (among other things). Fundamentalism is a branch that has spun off from evangelicalism.

Regarding the specific influences of the Christian right on Presidents, Wagner stated that Jimmy Carter had the support of the Christian Right when he was elected. “Pro-Israel voters put him over the top in the 1976 election.” But in March 1977, when Jimmy Carter inserted into a speech that his administration supported the rights of Palestinian people to a Palestinian homeland, he began to lose his right wing Christian constituency.

Ronald Reagan, on seven separate occasions, stated that he supported the views of Armageddon and that he was a Christian Zionist in world view. James Watt, his Minister of the Interior, sold land on the West coast of the U.S. because he knew that Jesus was coming back and, so, we need not be too worried about the environment.

The 1980s election of the first Likud government in Israel brought about new language for Zionism. The West Bank was now referred to as “Judea and Samaria”. Christians began to visit the Holy Land at the request of the Likud government, and Jerry Falwell was given his own Lear jet by the Israeli government. The potency of America’s Christian right can be seen in the fact that when Israel, in 1981, bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, the Israeli government contacted Jerry Fallwell before contacting President Reagan to explain their decision.

Christians Zionists send money to support Israel in ever increasing amounts. The strength of this movement fell away a bit during the Clinton years, but it is completely back in place in the George W. Bush administration. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, has the ear of the President, and AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) cultivates this relationship. More than 200 organizations had Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaking at their events in the U.S. and the movement appears to be growing.

Rev. Wagner stressed that if Americans want to counter the strength of this movement, they must reach out to Evangelical brothers and sisters. They must partner with mainline Christian churches. They must educate Muslims that the Christian Right only represents a small, heretical movement of the Christian church. They must reach out to Palestinian Christians as their best allies. They must be sharper in Biblical analyses and expose the human rights violations committed in the cause of Zionism. We must assert that our cause is both just and biblical and expose the Christian Zionist cause as racist, heretical and ethnocentric. It is not a truly Christian movement since it does not recognize that every person is created in the image of God and deserves the respect and dignity required by the Christian faith.

Michael Tarazi, Esq., Advisor to the Palestinian Authority
In 1988, reported Michael Tarazi, Israel was recognized on 78% of historic Palestine, and it was agreed that the remaining 22% would become the Palestinian state. Statehood has not happened for Palestine, and according to Tarazi, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the perceived obstacles of Jerusalem, the settlements, and the refugees are not really obstacles. On the subject of Jerusalem, Tarazi defined the Israeli position that Jerusalem is the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people. He also reiterated that under international law, Israel does not have a right to any part of East Jerusalem.

With this in mind, though, Tarazi was confident that there were enough options available to reach a compromise on Jerusalem. Option A would make it an open city where anyone could come into the city without a passport and, upon leaving, would have to show a passport to enter either Israel or Palestine. Option B would create a shared city with one representative municipal council. Option C would be a shared city with divided sovereignty over particular areas. Indeed, Tarazi said, there are options even beyond these with regard to how we can share Jerusalem.

With regard to the settlements, Tarazi noted that there are currently about 400,000 settlers in over 200 settlements. Half of these settlers are in East Jerusalem. Israel generally asserts that this is just too many people to move and that they should be allowed to annex the territory of the settlements and the water beneath the settlements and the agricultural land near the settlements.

They offer, in exchange, other Israeli land which in every case is less appealing than the land for which is it offered. “They want East Jerusalem in exchange for areas in the Negev Desert.”

Even so, according to Tarazi, there are options that could resolve the issue of the settlements. Option A asserts that most settlers live in settlements not out of religious conviction or extremist views but because they had extraordinary financial incentives provided by the Israeli government. They received such things as special mortgages, subsidized education, and tax benefits for moving to the settlements. So, it is reasonable to assume that after 35 years of providing incentives for people to move into the settlements, the Israeli government could, over the course of a transition period, incentivize these same settlers to move back to Israel. Option B is that these settlers could become permanent residents of the Palestinian state, as many Arabs are currently permanent residents of the Israeli state. They would carry green cards and have the same rights as permanent residents of Israel. Option C is that the settlers could become Palestinian citizens. There is no inconsistency for Palestinians in the idea of a “Jewish Palestine.” Palestine has never been a place that was only for Jews or Christians or Muslims. Rather, it has always been defined simply by the fact that Palestinians (of many faiths) live in it.

The issue of the Palestinian refugees creates a concern for Israelis. In general, the response of the government is “Don’t talk to me about 3 million Christians and Muslims coming back into the Jewish state.” Tarazi asserts, “I understand the concern. I don’t share it. I don’t share it because it means that a Jewish state reserves the right to discriminate against Muslims and Christians. There is no denial that these refugees are, indeed, from this land. There is only the statement that they are not wanted. We do have to address this Israeli fear – not because it is legitimate, but because it is there.”

Knowing that being a refugee means the denial of the ability to create one’s own identity, Tarazi suggests four options. Option A is that Palestinian refugees would stay where they are. Many Palestinians would choose this option because they have very stable and happy lives where they are. “Queen Rania of Jordan will probably not step down from her throne to return to Israel.” Option B is for the refugees to go to a third country (or countries). Canada, among others, has offered to help absorb refugees. Option C is for the refugees to be allowed to return to the newly created Palestinian state. The state would acknowledge that it is not the land on which the refugees lived for centuries (which is in Israel), but that they are welcome to create new homes and lives within Palestine. Option D is that the refugees would have the right to return to their own land in what is now Israel.

Believing that there are enough options to come to reasonable agreements, Tarazi then presented the bad news: the Israeli government is unable to view Christians and Muslims as having an equal right to live in the Holy Land. Of course, there are notable exceptions to this assertion, but by and large, it is true.

There is a “disillusioned Israeli left” who feels betrayed by Palestine’s refusal of Barak’s offer, and while most Israelis do say that they want a Palestinian state, this is primarily because they are desperate to find a way to get rid of the 3 million Palestinians who threaten their demographic concerns. They worry that the Palestinians will request such things as equal passports and would prefer a Palestinian state so that Palestinian people won’t ask to come back to Israel.

Tarazi showed maps that reveal the current (and continuous) Israeli strategy. (He noted that these maps were delivered to Condoleeza Rice in early October). Essentially, the maps revealed that the location of settlements and settlement roads effectively cut off Jerusalem from the South and leave no ability for the Bethlehem towns and cities to expand.

The Israelis have said from the beginning of the occupation that these settlements would be built in this manner, and Israeli academics like Professor Jeff Halper have affirmed that in the case, for example, of one new settlement, there is no need for it based on housing needs of the Israeli population. So, this settlement will consist of such things as shopping malls and hotels rather than homes. Of course, the settlement is necessary if the intent of the government is to annex East Jerusalem by having a wall of settlements around the city that “will have to be annexed” in any final status negotiations.

Tarazi also commented on the “security fence” being built by the Israeli government. When first hearing the idea, Tarazi said he thought, “Great. Build a wall on the Green Line. But, of course, the wall is being built within Palestinian territory.” He gave the example of Qalqilya in the South, most of which was taken by Israel in the 1948 war, is now facing a complete loss of its agricultural land to the Israeli government. This pattern of taking away the livelihood (agricultural land and water) of the Palestinians and constructing walls (or Israeli-access roads) has become quite predictable. B’tselem now reports that 42% of the West Bank belongs to colonies/settlements.

With all this, Tarazi asserts that the Israeli government believes in a Palestinian state that has: no agriculture, no industry, no meaningful access to Jerusalem, not enough land for its population, and no access to water.

If this continues, he said, there will soon be no point in talking about a two-state solution. The only two other options are (1) a one-state solution with equal opportunity for all citizens, or (2) ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the second option is no longer out of the realm of possibility. There are billboards now in Israel reading “Transfer = Peace”, “No Arabs. No terror.” And “Land of Israel for the People of Israel.” Also unfortunately, ethnic cleansing would be accepted by most of the world if it occurred in the form of “transfer” and was claimed to be the result of security needs. The fact that the international community would likely not intervene in such a transfer is only a sign of the truly bad news.

In contrast, Father Labib Kobti, a Palestinian Roman Catholic priest, working in the United States, told the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report, ” Our task is to help make Paradise on Earth”.

The three events of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s Fourth International Conference on the Christians of the Holy Land were attended by over 700 people from 17 states and 12 countries. Attendees pledged fifty new Child Sponsorship Scholarships and 250 additional Child Sponsorship Scholarships were pledged by the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. Attendees also agreed to work on forming HCEF Committees in 5 cities (Charlestown, SC, Austin TX, Lexington, KY, Toronto, CA and Montreal, CA.). Committees in two other cities have been reinvigorated. A total of 15 North American cities have active or soon to be active committees committed to informing American and Canadian Christians about the Christians of the Holy Land and providing them spiritual and material support. Descendents of the first Christians who heard the words spoken by Jesus Christ now have the support of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and mainline American Protestant denominations. All major Christian denominations have committed themselves to maintain Christianity in the land of its birth.

Most of this article was excerpted from the HCEF Conference Report. For the full report of the Conference plus a report: “As Muslims, Jews and Christians coming from the Holy Land we have met at Lambeth Palace under the leadership of The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.” and other pertinent information, please visit: http://www.hcef.org