Posts Tagged ‘PLO’

Book on the Plight of the Embattled Christians of Palestine

April 13, 2019

Said K. Aburish, The Forgotten Faithful: The Christians of the Holy Land (London: Quartet 1993).

Aburish is a Palestinian, born in Bethany, and the author of several books about the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians and their persecution by the Israelis – A Brutal Friendship, Children of Bethany – The Story of a Palestinian Family and Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank. In The Forgotten Faithful he tackles the problems of the Christians of Palestine, talking to journalists, church official, charity workers, educationalists, businessmen and finally of the leaders of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi. Christians used to constitute ten per cent or so of the Palestinian population before the foundation of Israel. Now they’re down to one per cent. Much of this decline has been due to emigration, as educated, skilled Christians leave Israel to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and the indigenous Christian future in the Holy Land, the in which Christianity first arose, is uncertain.

Said states clearly the issues driving this decline early in his book – persecution by the Israelis, and particularly their attempt to wrest the lucrative tourism industry from them on the one hand, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the other. He writes

Twenty-five years of Israeli occupation have been disastrous for Palestinian Christians. In addition to the widely known closures of schools, imprisonment and torture of children, deportation of dissenters and activists, the expropriation of land owned by individuals and church-owned property, the Christians’ primary source of income, tourism and its subsidiary service businesses, have been the targets of special Israeli attempts to control them. In other words, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, the Christians have suffered more than their Muslim countrymen because they have more of what the Israelis want.

Furthermore, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism is confronting the Christians with new problems against most of which they cannot protest without endangering the local social balance, indeed their Palestinian identity. Muslim fanatics have raise the Crescent on church towers, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, the statues of the Virgin Mary destroyed and, for the first time ever, the Palestinian Christians are facing constraints on their way of life. In Gaza a Muslim fundamentalist stronghold, Christian women have to wear headscarves and long sleeves or face stoning, and Christian-owned shops have to close on the Muslim sabbath of Friday instead of on Sunday. 

These combined pressures come at a time of strain between the local Christian communities and both their local church leadership and the mainline churches of the West. The mainline churches in the West are accused of not doing enough to help them financially or drawing attention to their plight, for fear of appearing anti-Semitic and to a lesser degree anti-Muslim. The local church leaders are caught between their parishioners’ cry for help and the attitude of their mother churches and have been undermined by their identification with the latter. In addition to problems with the mainline churches, Christian evangelist groups from the United States, Holland and other countries support the State of Israel at the expense of local Christians. The evangelists accept the recreation of Israel as the prelude to the second coming to the extent of ignoring local Christian rights and feelings, a fact overlooked by Muslim zealots who blame the local Christians for not curbing their insensitive pro-Israeli co-religionists.

Two subsidiary problems contribute towards closing the ring of helplessness which is choking the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. The suffering inflicted on them by others and the direct and indirect results of the neglect of outside Christianity still haven’t induced their local church leaders to cooperate in establishing a common, protective Christian position. The traditional quarrel, alongside other disputes between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, continues and its stands in the way of creating a constructive Christian front. Furthermore, the Israelis make the appearance of favouring them against their Muslim nationals, a divide-and-rule policy which contributes towards inflaming the feelings of ignorant Muslims who do not understand the reasons behind the Israeli actions and use them to justify whatever anti-Christian feeling exists. (pp. 2-4).

The Palestinian Christian community has largely been middle class, assimilated and patriotic. They have provided the Palestinian people with a large number of businessmen and professionals, including a significant part of the membership and leadership of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO, as well as the civil rights lawyers working to defend the Palestinian people from persecution by the Israeli state and military. They have also been active establishing charities to provide for the Palestinians’ welfare. Said visits one, which specialises in rehabilitating and providing training for people¬†physically injured and mentally traumatised by the Israeli armed forces. Visiting a Palestinian hospital, he also meets some of the victims of the IDF wounded and crippled by the IDF, including a young man shot by a member of the Special Forces simply for spraying anti-Israeli graffiti on a wall.

This isn’t an anti-Semitic book, as Aburish talks to sympathetic Israeli journalists and academics, but he describes very clearly the violence and bigotry that comes not just from the Israeli state and army, but also from Jewish religious fanatics. In the first chapter he describes a group of Israeli soldiers sneering at Christian Palestinians, and how he deliberated placed himself between a group of Jewish schoolboys and an elderly Ethiopian nun going through one district of Jerusalem. The boys had first started insulting her, and then began throwing stones at her and Aburish before the local, Jewish inhabitants rushed into the street to drive them away. The churches and monasteries in that part of town are close to an area of Jewish religious extremists. They’re not usually physically aggressive, but they make it very clear they don’t like Christians being there.

Nor is it anti-Muslim. The Christians community itself sees itself very firmly as part of the Palestinians. Many Christian men have adopted the name Muhammad in order to show that there is no difference between themselves as their Muslim fellow countrymen. And historically they have been fully accepted by the Muslim community. Aburish talks to the headman of a mixed Christian-Muslim village. The man is a Christian, and historically Christians have formed the headmen for the village. The Christians also point with pride to the fact that one of the generals of Saladin, the Muslim leader who conquered Palestine back from the Crusaders, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Aburish is shocked by how extremely religious the Muslim community has become, with Friday services packed and one of his aunts traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to pray. This, like the less obvious religious revival among the Christians, is ultimately due to Israeli pressure and the failure of secular Palestinian politicians. There is no truth in politics, so they seek it instead in Islam and the pages of Qu’ran. And behind this rise in Islamic intolerance are the Saudis. Aburish recommends better Muslim-Christian dialogue to tackle this growing intolerance.

Aburish hears from the Palestinians how their land is seized by the Israelis for the construction of new, Israeli settlements, how people are shot, beaten, injured and maimed, and the attempts to strangle Palestinians businesses. This includes legislation insisting that all tourist guides have to be Israeli – a blatant piece of racism intended to drive Christians out of the tourist business through denying them access to the many Christian shrines, churches and monuments that are at the heart of the industry. Christian charities and welfare services don’t discriminate between Christian and Muslim, but they are oversubscribed and underfunded. And the churches are more interested in defending their traditional institutional privileges than in helping their local flock. They look west, and are more interested in promoting and defending the churches’ response to the worlds’ problems as a whole, while the Palestinians are also being pulled east through their Arab identity. Senior Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clergy are often foreigners, who cannot speak Arabic and may be to a greater or lesser extent indifferent to the needs and problems of their congregations. The Palestinian Christians are also hampered by the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that they have specific problems as a minority within the wider Palestinian nation, partly for fear of further antagonising the Muslim majority.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian Christians choose to remain, stubbornly refusing to emigrate while they could get much better jobs elsewhere. And all over the world, expatriate Palestinian communities are proud of their origins and connection to the land. Aburish even talks to one optimistic Palestinian Christian businessman, who believes that Cyprus provides the model for a successful Palestine. There local people have built a thriving commercial economy without having the universities and educational institutions Palestine possesses. And some Palestinian Christians believe that the solutions to their crisis is for the community to reconnect with its oriental roots, reviving the traditional extensive Arab family structure, which has served Arabs so well in the past.

The book was published a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, and I’ve no doubt that things have changed since then. But not for the better. There have been recent magazine articles by National Geographic, among others, that report that the Palestinians are still suffering the same problem – caught between the hammer of the Israeli state and the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism. Christian Zionism, however, has become stronger and exerts a very powerful influence on American foreign policy through organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Netanyahu’s vile Likud is still in power, and Israeli politics has lurched even further to the right with the inclusion of Fascist parties like Otzma Yehudat – Jewish Power – in the wretched coalition. And some British churches maintain a very determined silence on the problems of the Palestinians. According to one anti-Zionist Jewish blog, the Methodist Church has passed regulations at its synod preventing it or its members officially criticising Israel. Because of the church’s leaders was friends with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I am very well aware of the long, shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and how real, genuine Nazis have also criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and claimed that they’re just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to provoke further bigotry against the Jewish people. But Israel is oppressing the Christians of Palestine as well as the Muslims, but we in the West really don’t hear about it. And I’m not sure how many western Christians are really aware that there is a Christian community in Palestine, or how its members largely identify totally as Palestinians. Certainly Ted Cruz, the American politico, didn’t when he tried telling a Middle Eastern Christian group that they should support Israel. He was shocked and disgusted when they very firmly and obviously didn’t agree. He made the mistake of believing they had the same colonialist attitude of western right-wing Christians, while Middle Eastern Christians are very much the colonised and know it. Hence the fact that according to Aburish, many Palestinian Christians look for theological support to South American Liberation Theology and its Marxist critique of colonialism. And they also supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, as a secular Arab state that would allow them to maintain their religious identity and culture.

The book’s dated, and since it was written the Christian presence in the Holy Land has dwindled further. Aburish describes in strong terms what a catastrophe a Palestine without indigenous Christians would be. He writes

The growing prospect of a Holy Land Christianity reduced to stones, a museum or tourist faith without people, a Jerusalem without believers in Christ, is more serious than that of a Rome without a Pope or a Canterbury without an archbishop. It is tantamount to a criminal act which transcends a single church and strikes a blow at the foundations and the very idea of Christianity.

I thoroughly recommend this book to every western Christian reader interested in seeing an alternative view of the religious situation in Palestine, one of that contradicts the lies and demands of the right-wing press. Like an article by the Torygraph’s Barbara Amiel back in the 1990s, which quoted a Christian mayor as stating that the Christian community welcomed the Israeli occupation. His might, but as the book shows, most don’t. Or that scumbucket Katie Hopkins telling us that we should support Israel, because it represents Judaeo-Christian values and civilisation, a claim that would outrage many Jews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Controversy as US Envoy Handed Photo of al-Aqsa Mosque Replaced by Jerusalem Temple

May 28, 2018

This is a short piece from RT reporting the outrage that erupted last week after David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador in Jerusalem, posed with a photograph he’d been handed of the city. However, the photo had been altered so that the al-Aqsa mosque – the Dome of the Rock – had been removed and replaced with the Third Temple. This was condemned by the secretary-general of the PLO and Ahmad Tibi of the Palestinian joint list, who said ‘This madman wants to bring peace. Good job you didn’t put your embassy there!’

The Americans have apologised, and said that Friedman didn’t know what was on the photo when he posed with it. They have also stated that they support the status quo about the Haram al-Sharif/ the Dome of the Rock. Achiya, the organisation to which the man belonged, who gave the photograph to Friedman, have also distanced themselves from the stunt. They’ve said that the photograph was the man’s own action, and nothing to do with them.

However, Paula Slier, the reporter on this issue for RT, also says that this is particularly controversial as the ambassador, Friedman, is a supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and has gone on record as saying that the Palestinian territories seized by Israel should not be known as the Occupied Territories. She also points out that Friedman’s acceptance of the photo was also going to be extremely controversial as it came at the same time there was both regional and international criticism of the Americans’ decision to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This might look like a simple, minor stunt – a straightforward case of somebody photoshopping a picture to suit their nationalistic fantasies, rather than reality, but it’s actually extremely dangerous. Jewish extremists and the Christian Zionist right in America are both looking forward to the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, and the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. For the Christian Zionists, this will be a step towards an apocalyptic war with Islam, which they equate with the Battle of Armageddon at the End Times, which will culminate in Christ’s return to Earth. There were several attempts in the 1980s by the Israeli extremist organisation, Gush Emunim, to bomb the al-Aqsa mosque in preparation to what they hoped would be the rebuilding of the Temple. As the mosque is this third holiest in Islam, this would almost certainly have set off a global war.

In fact, as I understand it from reading Steven Runciman’s History of the Crusades, the mosque isn’t quite on the precise site of the Temple. When the Caliph Uthman conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century, he was aware that his followers would want to build a mosque wherever he prayed. So he decided to respect the site of the former Temple itself, and prayed instead in its rubbish dump. And this is the site the mosque actually occupies.

Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem has done nothing but inflame Palestinian and Muslim opinion, and seemingly encourage the dangerous fantasies of Israeli nationalists and Christian Zionists hoping for the imminent end of the world. It’s a threat to world peace that should never have been taken, no matter what support Trump, or his predecessors thought they should give to Netanyahu and his wretched regime.

New Book Repeating the Anti-Semitism Smears against the Labour Party

October 10, 2016

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Shami Chakrabarti cleared the Labour party of institutional racism, and that most of the people smeared as anti-Semites have similarly been cleared and reinstated, the allegations keep being repeated. Browsing through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s on Friday, I came across a book repeating the allegations. Written by David Rich and published by Biteback, the book’s title told you precisely how it was biased: The Left’s Jewish Problem, with the word ‘Jewish’ on the cover surrounded by a stylised Star of David. The blurb for it on its back cover stated that the Labour party having to conduct three investigations into anti-Semitism after the election of Jeremy Corbyn was no accident. It then went on to allege that the ‘left’ and in particular the Labour party was deeply contaminated with anti-Semitism. This was, it declared, due to the anti-apartheid campaigns launched against Israel, which saw members of the Left ally themselves with radical Islam.

I was half tempted to buy it, simply to rip it to shreds, but I decided against it on the grounds that it would annoy me too much. Plus, I didn’t want to give Rich my money for his twaddle. But I shall try and give a brief refutation of his allegations here.

Firstly, the smears have been made not because the Labour party does have an anti-Semitism problem, but because of the desperation of the Blairites in the party and the Israel lobby to hang on to power by any means they can. Which basically means smearing decent people, Jews as well as gentiles, as anti-Semites when they are nothing of the kind. Norman Finkelstein, one of the leading Jewish American critics of Israel, and the author of several books, has made the point that the Israel lobby has always responded to criticism by smearing the critics as anti-Semites, even when they’re not. And those labelled as anti-Semites in the recent allegations within the Labour party are either critics of Israel, or those unfortunate to be labelled as such simply because they’re members of Momentum. Like Rhea Wolfson, whose bid to join the NEC was blocked by Jim Murphy, a leading member of Labour Friends of Israel and the head of the Labour party in Scotland. He recommended that Wolfson’s party should not support her bid, because, as a member of Momentum, she was linked to an anti-Semitic organisation. This was despite the fact that Wolfson herself is Jewish. Mike pointed out the monumental absurdity of the claim when he stated that anti-Semites don’t usually support a Jewish candidate for political office getting into power. They don’t. In fact, they’re bitterly opposed to it. That’s part of why they’re anti-Semites. And it’s one of the reasons the allegations against Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn are stupid and malign.

Rich is right about some of the opposition to Israel having emerged from the anti-apartheid movement. In the 1960s and 1970s Israel did indeed form a close alliance with White South Africa, as they were both pariah states, where Western settlers ruled as a privilege minority over non-Western indigenous population. The alliance also shocked many Israelis, who did not want to see their country allied to and compared with a nakedly racist state. Israel too has also developed its own form of apartheid in its treatment of the Palestinians, who are subject to repeated restrictions on the personal and collective freedoms in the name of security, and where the constant goal of the state itself has been their cleansing from Israel and the Occupied Territories.

The claims of an alliance with radical Islam is rather more complex. Some idiots have indeed supported ISIS as supposedly anti-imperial forces, rather than the sadistic, intolerant murderers they really are. But the numbers who have seem far smaller than the impression given by the Right. There’s a piece over on Guy Debord’s Cat, where he takes apart the claim that there was an attempt at one left-wing meeting to pass a motion of support for ISIS. In fact, out of all the hundreds of people attending the meeting, there was only three who proposed and supported such a motion. They were roundly defeated by everyone else. Nevertheless, the Cat described how this was seized on by the Conservative press and magnified so that instead of only three, it seemed that the majority of people attending the meeting supported the proposed endorsement of ISIS.

One of those blogging about supposed anti-Semitism on the Left and in the Labour movement is Adam Lebor. The extreme Right-wing Canadian blog, Five Feet of Fury, linked to his a few years ago when it posted up a piece about how anti-Semitism is supposedly rife on the Left. His blog on its masthead explicitly stated that it was dedicated to exposing this anti-Semitism. If I remember correctly, about twenty or so years ago Lebor was a supporter of the Palestinians and anti-Israel, anti-imperialist activist. He authored a book that was reviewed in the ‘books’ pages of the Financial Times’ ‘Weekend’ supplement. This described his meetings with a series of radical Islamic preachers and leaders, whom he did support as the enemies of imperialism. One of these was a vile individual he met in London, who told Holocaust jokes throughout his interview with Lebor. I think Lebor himself is Jewish. His interviewee’s behaviour was disgusting, and reading I wondered why Lebor persisted in talking to him and supporting him, rather than simply walking out there and then. Assuming this is the same person, it seems to me that in the intervening period he has had too much of the real Muslim anti-Semites, and this has tainted his entire attitude towards the Left and those who shared his former opinions.

However, that does not mean that everyone who supports the Palestinians is an anti-Semite, or, if they’re Jewish, a self-hating ‘un-Jew’. Nor does it mean that they are allied with radical Muslims. And there is much more to this latter claim than first appears.

I think both Lobster and Guy Debord’s Cat have posted pieces about the deliberate tactics Israel adopted to marginalise, isolate and destroy the credibility and influence of the secular wing of the PLO. This was done with the intention of leaving the more extreme, Islamic faction in overall control of the Palestinian territories, so that the Israelis could present themselves on the world stage as being locked in a battle with radical Islam. It’s a battle the Israelis themselves orchestrated in order to get as much support as possible from the West as part of the War on Terror. And Norman Finkelstein once again has pointed out that while terrorism goes back to the 19th century, the term was used most commonly after 1970 to describe Arabs and Muslims by the Israelis.

As for the narrative that the European Left are allied with radical Muslims, this was all formed at least about twelve years ago. I remember reading a review in the Spectator of a book set a few decades in the future, in which the remains of the European Socialist organisations had united with the Muslims to begin a new Holocaust against the Jews. It’s a vile, malicious fantasy, of course, and the fact that the Speccie gave a review of the book without calling it such shows how mendacious and vile Boris Johnson’s mighty organ was. The lie couldn’t really be run against Labour when Tony Blair was in charge, because of his strong links to the Israel lobby. It also couldn’t really be used against Ed Miliband, as he’s Jewish. I dare say, however, that some were probably willing to try. We’ve seen how they’ve smeared other Jews since. But they had their chance with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, who threatened the Blairites’ continued hold on power and that of the Israel lobby, with whom the Blairites were deeply intertwined.

And so these vile stories were taken off the shelf, dusted off, and decent men and women with proud personal histories of fighting racism and anti-Semitism were libelled, all because they took their commitment to combating racism and imperialism sufficiently seriously that they dared to criticise and question Israel.

Shami Chakrabarti in her report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party showed Labour doesn’t have a ‘Jewish problem’. It is the Conservatives, Blairite entryists and Israel lobby, who have a problem with the grassroots Labour membership, as they’re rejecting Thatcherism on the one hand and the Neoconservatives abhorrent colonialism and imperialism on the other, an imperialism that is also intimately bound up with Israel’s cleansing of the Palestinians.