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beitlahem apartheid wall graffiti
beitlahem apartheid wall graffiti

so palestine is buzzing about pope benedict xvi’s visit. all i can say is that i’m staying as far away from al quds and beit lahem as i can until he leaves. my friend from beit lahem came to spend the weekend with me and on her way out of town thursday night she told me that the israeli terrorist soldiers were near rachel’s tomb and aida refugee camp painting over the anti-colonial graffiti with gray paint for the pope’s visit. when i was in beit lahem two weeks ago people i know were in aida refugee camp building a stage next to the apartheid wall for a program they were organizing for the pope’s visit. they were building it for the second or third time as the israeli terrorist soldiers came in and destroyed it a couple of times. and now it seems that they will not be allowed to host the pope there in that venue at all. the israeli colonial terrorist government has made it forbidden as ha’aretz reported:

A Palestinian official says the Palestinian Authority has scrapped plans to host Pope Benedict XVI next week on a stage near the West Bank separation fence.

Palestinian say they had hoped that receiving the pope next to a towering cement wall and military watchtower inside the Aida refugee camp would highlight their suffering under Israeli occupation.

But Palestinian lawmaker Essa Qaraqie said Thursday that the location had been changed to a United Nations school after Israeli military officials forbade them to erect the stage near the barrier. The pope’s convoy will, however, still pass close to the barrier.

the pope is al quds at the present moment and when he arrived he listened to a speech by war criminal shimon peres. and i kept thinking: would jesus be willing to sit there and listen to the words of a man with so many thousands of palestinians’ blood on his hand when jesus himself was palestinian? but it seems to me that the pope, not surprisingly, does not care about what jesus would have done. i am also struck by the massive hypocrisy coming from the pope himself given that he keeps saying this is not a political visit, but a spiritual one. spiritual visits do not include meeting with heads of state in the first place let alone make speeches in a political context as the pope did today. here is part of the pope’s speech:

Mr President, the Holy See and the State of Israel have many shared values, above all a commitment to give religion its rightful place in the life of society. The just ordering of social relationships presupposes and requires a respect for the freedom and dignity of every human being, whom Christians, Muslims and Jews alike believe to be created by a loving God and destined for eternal life. When the religious dimension of the human person is denied or marginalised, the very foundation for a proper understanding of inalienable human rights is placed in jeopardy.

Tragically, the Jewish people have experienced the terrible consequences of ideologies that deny the fundamental dignity of every human person. It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honour the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude. Sadly, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found, and to promote respect and esteem for the members of every people, tribe, language and nation across the globe.

During my stay in Jerusalem, I will have the pleasure of meeting many of this country’s distinguished religious leaders. One thing that the three great monotheistic religions have in common is a special veneration for that holy city. It is my earnest hope that all pilgrims to the holy places will be able to access them freely and without restraint, to take part in religious ceremonies and to promote the worthy upkeep of places of worship on sacred sites. May the words of Isaiah’s prophesy be fulfilled, that many nations shall flow to the mountain of the house of the Lord, that he may teach them his ways, that they may walk in his paths — paths of peace and justice, paths that lead to reconciliation and harmony.

of course the pope understands nothing of justice when he talks about nazi germany and does not mention an nakba. of course his reference to peace and justice fall on death ears when he is standing among the war criminal colonists who are the reason there is no peace or justice here. for instance, these same white, european settler zionist colonists who terrorize palestinians have turned beit lahem, and the rest of palestine, into a prison. a new report details this city that i love so much, which he will visit this week:

The UN has voiced concern over Israeli measures in Bethlehem that have rendered only 13 per cent out of 660sq km of the West Bank city’s land at the service of Palestinians, much of it fragmented.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says in its May report, released on Thursday, that Israel’s separation wall, settlements and road closures have affected Palestinian livelihoods, development and residential expansion in the Bethlehem governorate, both in the urban and rural areas.

In its finding, OCHA said Israeli measures such as the continued expansion of illegal Jewish settlements and construction of the barrier have severely reduced access to East Jerusalem and weakened the historic, religious, economic and cultural connection between Bethlehem and the holy city.

OCHA said that 66% of the Bethlehem governorate is designated Area C, where Israel retains security control and jurisdiction over building and planning.

“The barrier route in the Bethlehem governorate reaches 10km into the West Bank and if completed, it will cut off from the urban centre, approximately 64sq km of some of the most fertile cultivated land in the governorate as well as 21,000 Palestinians residing in villages west of the planned route,” the report says.

There are approximately 175,000 Palestinians living in the Bethlehem governorate.

Since 1967, some 86,000 Israelis have been settled in the governorate and they live in 19 settlements and 16 settlement outposts.

but visits to palestine can never be apolitical because one if confronted by politics at every turn. and again i wonder would jesus sit by silently if he saw the apartheid wall? the confiscated land? the ethnically cleansed population? and ghassan bannoura reported today that in al quds the palestinian press office was shut down by the israeli terrorist colonists:

In Jerusalem, where the Pope is expected to visit on Tuesday, the Israeli police closed down a Press office that was set up by Palestinians in the city to provide Press services for local and international Media.

The police came to the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem where the center was located and closed it down, organizers reported.

Ahmad Al Ruwidi, the head of the center, told reporters that the center was set up to distribute information and nothing more. He added that the center was just set up for the Pope’s visit and was not going to be a permanent press office.

and as proof of the pope’s unwillingness to adhere to the principles of justice as practiced by jesus christ he walked out of a meeting with palestinians today who expressed their concerns about life under colonization:

Pope Benedict XVI left an interfaith meeting in Jerusalem early on Monday following a harshly worded attack on Israel by an Islamic judge, according to Israeli news reports.

The chief Islamic judge of the Palestinian Authority, Sheikh Tayseer Rajab Tamimi, had criticized Israel for “murdering women and children in Gaza and making Palestinians refugees, and declared Jerusalem the eternal Palestinian capital,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

Following his remarks, and before the meeting had officially ended, the pope reportedly left, although Israel’s Army Radio said that the pope shook Tamimi’s hand before leaving.

Tamimi was apparently not actually on a list of speakers for the event, but took the podium anyway. According to Father Deferico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See’s press office, Tamimi’s remarks were “not previewed by the organizers of the interreligious meeting.”

some of these issues were discussed on al jazeera’s “inside story” with shiulie ghosh last night with her guests sean lovett of vatican radio, bethlehem’s mayor victor baterseh, and nihad awad of the council for american islamic relations:

one thing missing from the program, however, was a discussion of what a christian spiritual journey means to the holy land. does it mean abiding by the teachings of jesus? does it mean behaving according to what he preached? jesus was a prophet who preached about social justice and freedom. not exactly what the pope is doing here so far. here, for example are some readings of jesus’ beliefs, values, and preachings in an article by virigina smith from the american catholic magazine:

Luke records what amounts to an inaugural address opening Jesus’ public life. Like presidential speeches in our own time, this one laid out Jesus’ priorities—where he could be expected to concentrate his efforts in the days ahead. Reaching back into that honored prophetic tradition of commitment to social justice, Jesus spoke to his hometown neighbors, reading in the Nazareth synagogue from the writings of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Is 61:1-2).

Jesus’ commitment to the disenfranchised was foretold at his birth by the visit of the shepherds. These are not the majestic magi of Matthew’s Gospel. Neither are they the well-groomed figures of many Christmas cards. To the contrary, they represented one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. In making them the first to acknowledge Jesus, Luke is indirectly highlighting those who will benefit most from the coming of God incarnate. There would be others.

Years later, when John the Baptizer sent his disciples to establish Jesus’ true identity, Jesus replied, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Lk 7:22b).

and while “inside story” touched on the dwindling population of palestinian christians, they did not get into the context of why in enough detail. an article electronic intifada by jonathan cook from a couple of years ago outlines the main issues with this population being ethnically cleansed by the colonial zionist entity’s policies:

There are no precise figures, but the Israeli media suggests that Christians, who once constituted as much as 15 per cent of the occupied territories’ Palestinians, are now just 2 or 3 per cent. Most are to be found in the West Bank close to Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, Ramallah and neighbouring villages.

A similar pattern can be discerned inside Israel too, where Christians have come to comprise an ever smaller proportion of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In 1948 they were nearly a quarter of that minority (itself 20 per cent of the total Israeli population), and today they are a mere 10 per cent. Most are located in Nazareth and nearby villages in the Galilee.

Certainly, the continuing fall in the number of Christians in the Holy Land concerns Israel’s leadership almost as keenly as the patriarchs and bishops who visit Bethlehem at Christmas — but for quite the opposite reason. Israel is happy to see Christians leave, at least of the indigenous Palestinian variety.

(More welcome are the crazed fundamentalist Christian Zionists from the United States who have been arriving to help engineer the departure of Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, in the belief that, once the Jews have dominion over the whole of the Holy Land, Armageddon and the “End Times” will draw closer.)

Of course, that is not Israel’s official story. Its leaders have been quick to blame the exodus of Christians on the wider Palestinian society from which they are drawn, arguing that a growing Islamic extremism, and the election of Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority, have put Christians under physical threat. This explanation neatly avoids mentioning that the proportion of Christians has been falling for decades.

According to Israel’s argument, the decision by many Christians to leave the land where generations of their ancestors have been rooted is simply a reflection of the “clash of civilisations”, in which a fanatical Islam is facing down the Judeo-Christian West. Palestinian Christians, like Jews, have found themselves caught on the wrong side of the Middle East’s confrontation lines.

Here is how the Jerusalem Post, for example, characterised the fate of the Holy Land’s non-Muslims in a Christmas editorial: “Muslim intolerance toward Christians and Jews is cut from exactly the same cloth. It is the same jihad.” The Post concluded by arguing that only by confronting the jihadis would “the plight of persecuted Christians — and of the persecuted Jewish state — be ameliorated.”

Similar sentiments were recently aired in an article by Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily republished on Ynet, Israel’s most popular website, that preposterously characterised a procession of families through Nazareth on Eid al-Adha, the most important Muslim festival, as a show of strength by militant Islam designed to intimidate local Christians.

Islam’s green flags were “brandished”, according to Klein, whose reporting transformed a local troupe of Scouts and their marching band into “Young Muslim men in battle gear” “beating drums”. Nazareth’s youngsters, meanwhile, were apparently the next generation of Qassam rocket engineers: “Muslim children launched firecrackers into the sky, occasionally misfiring, with the small explosives landing dangerously close to the crowds.”

Such sensationalist misrepresentations of Palestinian life are now a staple of the local and American media. Support for Hamas, for example, is presented as proof of jihadism run amok in Palestinian society rather than as evidence of despair at Fatah’s corruption and collaboration with Israel and ordinary Palestinians’ determination to find leaders prepared to counter Israel’s terminal cynicism with proper resistance.

The clash of civilisations thesis is usually ascribed to a clutch of American intellectuals, most notably Samuel Huntington, the title of whose book gave the idea popular currency, and the Orientalist academic Bernard Lewis. But alongside them have been the guiding lights of the neocon movement, a group of thinkers deeply embedded in the centres of American power who were recently described by Ynet as mainly comprising “Jews who share a love for Israel”.

In fact, the idea of a clash of civilisations grew out of a worldview that was shaped by Israel’s own interpretation of its experiences in the Middle East. An alliance between the neocons and Israeli leaders was cemented in the mid-1990s with the publication of a document called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. It offered a US foreign policy tailor-made to suit Israel’s interests, including plans for an invasion of Iraq, authored by leading necons and approved by the Israeli prime minister of the day, Binyamin Netanyahu.

When the neocons rose to power with George Bush’s election to the White House, the birth of the bastard offspring of the clash of civilisations — the war on terror — was all but inevitable.

Paradoxically, this vision of our future, set out by American and Israeli Jews, is steeped in fundamentalist Christian religious symbolism, from the promotion of a civilised West’s crusade against the Muslim hordes to the implication that the final confrontation between these civilisations (a nuclear attack on Iran?) may be the End Times itself — and thereby lead to the return of the Messiah.

If this clash is to be realised, it must be convincing at its most necessary confrontation line: the Middle East and more specifically the Holy Land. The clash of civilisations must be embodied in Israel’s experience as a civilised, democratic state fighting for its very survival against its barbarian Muslim neighbours.

There is only one problem in selling this image to the West: the minority of Christian Palestinians who have happily lived under Muslim rule in the Holy Land for centuries. Today, in a way quite infuriating to Israel, these Christians confuse the picture by continuing to take a leading role in defining Palestinian nationalism and resistance to Israel’s occupation. They prefer to side with the Muslim “fanatics” than with Israel, the Middle East’s only outpost of Judeo-Christian “civilisation”.

The presence of Palestinian Christians reminds us that the supposed “clash of civilisations” in the Holy Land is not really a war of religions but a clash of nationalisms, between the natives and European colonial settlers.

Inside Israel, for example, Christians have been the backbone of the Communist party, the only non-Zionist party Israel allowed for several decades. Many of the Palestinian artists and intellectuals who are most critical of Israel are Christians, including the late novelist Emile Habibi; the writer Anton Shammas and film-makers Elia Suleiman and Hany Abu Assad (all now living in exile); and the journalist Antoine Shalhat (who, for reasons unknown, has been placed under a loose house arrest, unable to leave Israel).

The most notorious Palestinian nationalist politician inside Israel is Azmi Bishara, yet another Christian, who has been put on trial and is regularly abused by his colleagues in the Knesset.

Similarly, Christians have been at the core of the wider secular Palestinian national movement, helping to define its struggle. They range from exiled professors such as the late Edward Said to human rights activists in the occupied territories such as Raja Shehadeh. The founders of the most militant wings of the national movement, the Democratic and Popular Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine, were Nayif Hawatmeh and George Habash, both Christians.

This intimate involvement of Palestinian Christians in the Palestinian national struggle is one of the reasons why Israel has been so keen to find ways to encourage their departure — and then blame it on intimidation by, and violence from, Muslims.

In truth, however, the fall in the number of Christians can be explained by two factors, neither of which is related to a clash of civilisations. The first is a lower rate of growth among the Christian population. According to the latest figures from Israel’s Bureau of Census Statistics, the average Christian household in Israel contains 3.5 people compared to 5.2 in a Muslim household. Looked at another way, in 2005 33 percent of Christians were under the age of 19, compared to 55 percent of Muslims. In other words, the proportion of Christians in the Holy Land has been eroded over time by higher Muslim birth rates. But a second factor is equally, if not more, important. Israel has established an oppressive rule for Palestinians both inside Israel and in the occupied territories that has been designed to encourage the most privileged Palestinians, which has meant disproportionately Christians, to leave.

This policy has been implemented with stealth for decades, but has been greatly accelerated in recent years with the erection of the wall and numerous checkpoints. The purpose has been to encourage the Palestinian elite and middle class to seek a better life in the West, turning their back on the Holy Land.

Palestinian Christians have had the means to escape for two reasons. First, they have traditionally enjoyed a higher standard of living, as city-based shopkeepers and business owners, rather than poor subsistence farmers in the countryside. And second, their connection to the global Churches has made it simpler for them to find sanctuary abroad, often beginning as trips for their children to study overseas.

Israel has turned Christian parents’ financial ability and their children’s increased opportunities to its own advantage, by making access to higher education difficult for Palestinians both inside Israel and in the occupied territories.

Inside Israel, for example, Palestinian citizens still find it much harder to attend university than Jewish citizens, and even more so to win places on the most coveted courses, such as medicine and engineering.

Instead, for many decades Israel’s Christians and Muslims became members of the Communist party in the hope of receiving scholarships to attend universities in Eastern Europe. Christians were also able to exploit their ties to the Churches to help them head off to the West. Many of these overseas graduates, of course, never returned, especially knowing that they would be faced with an Israeli economy much of which is closed to non-Jews.

Something similar occurred in the occupied territories, where Palestinian universities have struggled under the occupation to offer a proper standard of education, particularly faced with severe restrictions on the movement of staff and students. Still today, it is not possible to study for a PhD in either the West Bank or Gaza, and Israel has blocked Palestinian students from attending its own universities. The only recourse for most who can afford it has been to head abroad. Again, many have chosen never to return.

But in the case of the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, Israel found it even easier to close the door behind them. It established rules, in violation of international law, that stripped these Palestinians of their right to residency in the occupied territories during their absence. When they tried to return to their towns and villages, many found that they were allowed to stay only on temporary visas, including tourist visas, that they had to renew with the Israeli authorities every few months.

Nearly a year ago, Israel quietly took a decision to begin kicking these Palestinians out by refusing to issue new visas. Many of them are academics and business people who have been trying to rebuild Palestinian society after decades of damage inflicted by the occupying regime. A recent report by the most respected Palestinian university, Bir Zeit, near Ramallah, revealed that one department had lost 70 per cent of its staff because of Israel’s refusal to renew visas.

Although there are no figures available, it can probably be safely assumed that a disproportionate number of Palestinians losing their residency rights are Christian. Certainly the effect of further damaging the education system in the occupied territories will be to increase the exodus of Palestine’s next generation of leaders, including its Christians.

In addition, the economic strangulation of the Palestinians by the wall, the restrictions on movement and the international economic blockade of the Palestinian Authority are damaging the lives of all Palestinians with increasing severity. Privileged Palestinians, and that doubtless includes many Christians, are being encouraged to seek a rapid exit from the territories.

From Israel’s point of view, the loss of Palestinian Christians is all to the good. It will be happier still if all of them leave, and Bethlehem and Nazareth pass into the effective custodianship of the international Churches.

Without Palestinian Christians confusing the picture, it will be much easier for Israel to persuade the West that the Jewish state is facing a monolithic enemy, fanatical Islam, and that the Palestinian national struggle is really both a cover for jihad and a distraction from the clash of civilisations against which Israel is the ultimate bulwark. Israel’s hands will be freed.

it is also worth remembering of the context in which the new testament was written as david wildman, a priest with the methodist church, does in an electronic intifada article:

The New Testament was written in a context of Roman colonial rule, discrimination, and military occupation in Palestine. It also took place in the midst of an active armed resistance movement (the Zealots) against colonialism and occupation. So, if we want to understand fully the meaning of biblical texts for today, it is helpful to listen to Palestinians who are facing the same dynamics of military occupation, colonial control of their land and apartheid-like discrimination.

One of the goals of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries is: “Seek Justice, Freedom and Peace.” This is at the heart of the United Methodist Church’s priority to end poverty. It expresses the kind of solidarity needed today: “We will participate with people oppressed by unjust economic, political and social systems in programs that seek to build just, free and peaceful societies.” Instead of blaming the victim, or offering charity to the victim, this goal challenges us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and follow their lead in demanding justice. The call by hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations for nonviolent action of boycott, divestment and sanctions embodies such a demand for justice.

One unjust system that we must confront today is the US use of the veto at the UN. Since 1970, half of US vetoes blocked the international community from criticizing Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. One third of US vetoes blocked international criticism of apartheid regimes in southern Africa. Thus the US has repeatedly used the veto to protect military occupation and colonial rule from international criticism and sanction at great cost to civilians in southern Africa and Palestine. The 2008 United Methodist General Conference declared, “The United Methodist Church call[s] upon the United States, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to accept the authority of Security Council resolutions, to refrain from vetoing resolutions, and abide by Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, as well as all other relevant UN resolutions and International Court of Justice rulings, that provide a framework for bringing this conflict to a just and permanent end.”

Just as the anti-Apartheid movement turned to boycott and divestment as nonviolent, moral, economic measures by churches, universities and trade unions to end unjust corporate support for South African Apartheid, so too churches and activists today are taking up nonviolent, moral actions like divestment to end corporate support for Israel’s longstanding violations of international law.

wildman makes the link between the bible, what christianity teaches, what jesus preached and fights for boycott, divestment, and sanctions as a response. as a way to end colonial rule in palestine. just as jesus fought against roman colonial rule in palestine. and this is not what jesus would do. it is what he did. clearly, the pope just doesn’t get it.

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