7FwGW9U3n> Israel stops "Rachel Corrie" anti-Dozer Pro-Palestine Protesters from
entering West Bank
Israeli authorities refused entry on Sunday to about 100 pro-Palestinian
activists, including three Americans, attempting to cross overland to the West
Bank from Jordan, according to their leader. Israel's Defense Ministry denounced
the protesters as "provocateurs and known troublemakers."
By Donald Neff
Former Israel Bureau Chief for Time Magazine
Excerpted from Fifty Years of Israel
On Dec. 29, 1977, Christians in Israel and the occupied territories protested a
new law passed by the Israeli parliament making it illegal for missionaries to
proselytize Jews. Protestant churches charged that the law had been "hastily
pushed through parliament during the Christmas period when Christians were
busily engaged in preparing for and celebrating their major festival." The law
made missionaries liable to five years' imprisonment for attempting to persuade
people to change their religion, and three years' imprisonment for any Jew who
converted. The United Christian Council complained that the law could be
"misused in restricting religious freedom in Israel."
Donald Neff has been a journalist for forty years. He spent 16 years in service
for Time Magazine and is a regular contributor to Middle East International and
the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He is the author of five excellent
books on the Middle East.
Nonetheless, it came into force on April 1, 1978, prohibiting the offering of
"material inducement" for a person to change his religion. A material inducement
could be something as minor as the giving of a Bible. Although the Likud
government of Menachem Begin assured the Christian community that the law
applied equally to all religions and did not specifically mention Christians,
the United Christian Council of Israel charged that it was biased and aimed
specifically at Christians since only Christians openly proselytized. Council
representatives also cited anti-Christian speeches made in the parliament during
debate on the law. Parliament member Binyamin Halevy had called missionaries "a
cancer in the body of the nation."
The next year Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, considered a political moderate, issued a
religious ruling that copies of the New Testament should be torn out of any
edition of a Bible owned by a Jew. Israeli scholar Yehoshafat Harkabi wrote that
he was disturbed by "these manifestations of hostility-the designation of
Christians as idolaters, the demand to invoke the 'resident alien' ordinances,
and the burning of the New Testament." Observed Harkabi: "Outside of the Land of
Israel Jews never dared behave in this fashion. Has independence made the Jews
take leave of their senses?"
Desecration of Christian property and churches-arson, window breaking, burning
of the New Testament-had long marred relations between the two communities. A
small but fanatical group of Jews wanted no Christians, whom they considered
fallen Jews, in Israel. This virulent strain of prejudice had been present since
before the Jewish state was founded.
For instance, after the capture by Jewish forces of Jaffa on May 13, 1948, two
days before Israel's birth, there was desecration of Christian churches. Father
Deleque, a Catholic priest, reported: "Jewish soldiers broke down the doors of
my church and robbed many precious and sacred objects. Then they threw the
statues of Christ down into a nearby garden." He added that Jewish leaders had
reassured that religious buildings would be respected, "but their deeds do not
correspond to their words."
On May 31, 1948, a group of Christian leaders comprising the Christian Union of
Palestine publicly complained that Jewish forces had used 10 Christian churches
and humanitarian institutions in Jerusalem as military bases and otherwise
desecrated them. They added that a total of 14 churches had suffered shell
damage, which killed three priests and made casualties of more than 100 women
The group's statement said Arab forces had abided by their promise to respect
Christian institutions, but that the Jews had forcefully occupied Christian
structures and been indiscriminate in shelling churches. It said, among other
charges, that "many children were killed or wounded" by Jewish shells on the
Convent of Orthodox Copts on May 19, 23 and 24; that eight refugees were killed
and about 120 wounded at the Orthodox Armenian Convent at some unstated date;
and that Father Pierre Somi, secretary to the Bishop, had been killed and two
wounded at the Orthodox Syrian Church of St. Mark on May 16.
Churches were again desecrated during the 1967 war when Israel captured East
Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, completing the occupation of all of
Palestine. On July 21, 1967, the Reverend James L. Kelso, a former moderator of
the United Presbyterian Church and long-time resident in Palestine, complained
of extensive damage to churches adding: "So significant was this third Jewish
war against the Arabs that one of the finest missionaries of the Near East
called it 'perhaps the most serious setback that Christendom has had since the
fall of Constantinople in 1453.'"
Kelso continued: "How did Israel respect church property in the fighting...?
They shot up the Episcopal Cathedral [in Jerusalem], just as they had done in
1948. They smashed down the Episcopal school for boys...The Israelis wrecked and
looted the YMCA...They wrecked the big Lutheran hospital...The Lutheran center
for cripples also suffered..."
Nancy Nolan, wife of a physician at the American University Hospital in Beirut,
who was in Jerusalem during and after the fighting, charged that "while the
Israeli authorities proclaim to the world that all religions will be respected
and protected, and post notices identifying the Holy Places, Israeli soldiers
and youths are throwing stink bombs in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
"The Church of St. Anne, who crypt marks the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, has
been severely damaged and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem also was
damaged. The wanton killing of the Warden of the Garden Tomb followed by the
shooting into the tomb itself, in an attempt to kill the warden's wife, was
another instance that we knew first-hand which illustrated the utter disregard
shown by the occupation forces toward the Holy Places and the religious
sensibilities of the people in Jordan and in the rest of the world."
"The desecration of churches...includes smoking in the churches, littering the
churches, taking dogs inside and entering in inappropriate manner of dress.
Behavior such as this cannot be construed other than as a direct insult to the
whole Christian world."
Desecration has occurred not only in times of war. As recently as 1995, an
Israeli soldier, Daniel Koren, 22, entered St. Anthony Catholic Church in Jaffa
and went on a shooting rampage, firing more than 100 bullets in the altar and
the cross above it but causing no injuries. Koren said his Judaic convictions
forced him to destroy all physical images of God, and admitted that he had
staged a prior attack in Jerusalem's Gethsemane Church.
Perhaps the worst outbreak of organized desecration of Christian institutions
came on Sept. 10, 1963, when hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews simultaneously
attacked Christian missions in Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem. (One has to say
"perhaps because reporting on this sensitive subject in the U.S. media has been
so poor over the decades.) At any rate, the attacks were a concerted effort to
intimidate Christians in Israel by a religious vigilante group called Hever
Peelei Hamahane Hatorati, the Society of Activists of the Torah Camp. In an
attack on the Church of Scotland school in Jaffa, Christian children were beaten
and considerable damage was caused to the school by at least 200 rampaging Jews.
Other attacks occurred at two nearby church schools, the Greek Catholic
missionary school of St. Joseph and a Christian Brothers school. In Jerusalem,
attacks occurred at the St. Joseph convent and the Finnish Lutheran mission
school. In Haifa, the American-European Beth El Messianic Mission Children's
Hostel and School was attacked. No serious damage occurred in any of the attacks
except at the Scotland school. More than 100 Jews were convicted in the attacks,
none of them receiving more than small fines and suspended sentences.
The first half of the 1980s, with Likud governments in control, was a
particularly active period for Jewish bigots. On Oct. 8, 1982, the Baptist
Church in Jerusalem was burned down. Kerosene had been sprinkled on the church's
wooden chapel, constructed in 1933. Although no one was ever charged in the
arson, the Baptist Center's bookstore had been vandalized a dozen times in
previous years, and Jews were suspected. When the Baptists sought to rebuild the
church, Jews demonstrated against the project and the Jewish district planning
commission refused to grant a building permit. In 1985, the Israeli Supreme
Court advised the Baptists to leave the all-Jewish area.
On Christmas Day in 1983, a hotel in Tiberias where Christians held meetings was
set afire, the latest in a series of attacks on a small group of about 50
Christians. Two Jews were arrested in the arson incident. Other attacks included
stones thrown through windows at the hotel while the group was meeting and
break-ins at the homes of members of the group. The anti-missionary group Yad
Le'Achim complained that Christian missionaries were offering money, clothes,
jewelry and tennis shoes to listen to Christian lectures.
Just over a fortnight later, on Jan. 11, 1984, suspected Jewish extremists
stacked hymnals on a piano in a Christian prayer room in Jerusalem and set them
afire. Also in the same week angry Jews protesting Christian proselytizing
caused Beth Shalom, a Christian evangelical group, to withdraw its plans to
build a multimillion-dollar hotel in Jerusalem. Beth Shalom took its action
after about 150 Jews showed up at a city council meeting with placards reading
"You can't buy me" and "I didn't immigrate to live next door to missionaries." A
leader of the protest, Rabbi Moshe Berlinger, compared Christian missionaries to
Jewish infringements on Christian rights became so bad by 1990 that on Dec. 20
the leaders of Christian churches in Jerusalem took the extraordinary decision
to restrict Christmas celebrations to protest "the continuing sad state of
affairs in our land," including encroachment by Israel on traditional Christian
institutions. Among concerns expressed by the patriarchs and heads of churches
were attempts by Jewish settlers to move into the Old City and an "erosion of
the traditional rights and centuries-old privileges of the churches," including
imposition by Israel of municipal and state taxes on the churches.
The statement added: "We express our deep concern over new problems confronting
the local church. They interfere with the proper functioning of our religious
institutions, and we call upon the civil authorities in the country to safeguard
our historic rights and status honored by all governments."
Anti-Christian prejudice helps account for the fact that the number of Christian
Palestinians in all of former Palestine had dwindled to only 50,000 in 1995.
They no longer were a major presence in either Jerusalem or Ramallah, and they
were fast losing their majority status in Bethlehem.
When Israel was established in 1948, the Palestinian Christian community had
numbered 200,000, compared to roughly 600,000 Jews in Palestine at the time. Now
the Christians are not even one percent of the population of Israel/Palestine.
Of today's estimated total 400,000 Christian Palestinians, most now are living
in their own diaspora, mainly in the Americas.
Report on Middle East Affairs
American Jews sympathetic to Israel dominate key positions in all areas of our
government where decisions are made regarding the Middle East. This being the
case, is there any hope of ever changing U.S. policy? President Bill Clinton as
well as most members of Congress support Israel-and they know why. U.S. Jews
sympathetic to Israel donate lavishly to their campaign coffers.
The answer to achieving an even-handed Middle East policy might lie
elsewhere-among those who support Israel but don't really know why. This group
is the vast majority of Americans. They are well-meaning, fair-minded Christians
who feel bonded to Israel-and Zionism-often from atavistic feelings, in some
cases dating from childhood.
Grace Halsell was an award-winning journalist and author. Her books include
Journey to Jerusalem and Prophecy and Politics. She passed away in 2000.
I am one of those. I grew up listening to stories of a mystical, allegorical,
spiritual Israel. This was before a modern political entity with the same name
appeared on our maps. I attended Sunday School and watched an instructor draw
down window-type shades to show maps of the Holy Land. I imbibed stories of a
Good and Chosen people who fought against their Bad "unChosen" enemies.
In my early 20s, I began traveling the world, earning my living as a writer. I
came to the subject of the Middle East rather late in my career. I was sadly
lacking in knowledge regarding the area. About all I knew was what I had learned
in Sunday School.
And typical of many U.S. Christians, I somehow considered a modern state created
in 1948 as a homeland for Jews persecuted under the Nazis as a replica of the
spiritual, mystical Israel I heard about as a child. When in 1979 I initially
went to Jerusalem, I planned to write about the three great monotheistic
religions and leave out politics. "Not write about politics?" scoffed one
Palestinian, smoking a water pipe in the Old Walled City. "We eat politics,
morning, noon and night!"
As I would learn, the politics is about land, and the co-claimants to that land:
the indigenous Palestinians who have lived there for 2,000 years and the Jews
who started arriving in large numbers after the Second World War. By living
among Israeli Jews as well as Palestinian Christians and Muslims, I saw, heard,
smelled, experienced the police state tactics Israelis use against Palestinians.
My research led to a book entitled Journey to Jerusalem. My journey not only was
enlightening to me as regards Israel, but also I came to a deeper, and sadder,
understanding of my own country. I say sadder understanding because I began to
see that, in Middle East politics, we the people are not making the decisions,
but rather that supporters of Israel are doing so. And typical of most
Americans, I tended to think the U.S. media was "free" to print news
"It shouldn't be published. It's anti-Israel."
In the late 1970s, when I first went to Jerusalem, I was unaware that editors
could and would classify "news" depending on who was doing what to whom. On my
initial visit to Israel-Palestine, I had interviewed dozens of young Palestinian
men. About one in four related stories of torture.
Israeli police had come in the night, dragged them from their beds and placed
hoods over their heads. Then in jails the Israelis had kept them in isolation,
besieged them with loud, incessant noises, hung them upside down and had
sadistically mutilated their genitals. I had not read such stories in the U.S.
media. Wasn't it news? Obviously, I naively thought, U.S. editors simply didn't
know it was happening.
On a trip to Washington, DC, I hand-delivered a letter to Frank Mankiewicz, then
head of the public radio station WETA. I explained I had taped interviews with
Palestinians who had been brutally tortured. And I'd make them available to him.
I got no reply. I made several phone calls. Eventually I was put through to a
public relations person, a Ms. Cohen, who said my letter had been lost. I wrote
again. In time I began to realize what I hadn't known: had it been Jews who were
strung up and tortured, it would be news. But interviews with tortured Arabs
were "lost" at WETA.
The process of getting my book Journey to Jerusalem published also was a
learning experience. Bill Griffin, who signed a contract with me on behalf of
MacMillan Publishing Company, was a former Roman Catholic priest. He assured me
that no one other than himself would edit the book. As I researched the book,
making several trips to Israel and Palestine, I met frequently with Griffin,
showing him sample chapters. "Terrific," he said of my material.
The day the book was scheduled to be published, I went to visit MacMillan's.
Checking in at a reception desk, I spotted Griffin across a room, cleaning out
his desk. His secretary Margie came to greet me. In tears, she whispered for me
to meet her in the ladies room. When we were alone, she confided, "He's been
fired." She indicated it was because he had signed a contract for a book that
was sympathetic to Palestinians. Griffin, she said, had no time to see me.
Later, I met with another MacMillan official, William Curry. "I was told to take
your manuscript to the Israeli Embassy, to let them read it for mistakes," he
told me. "They were not pleased. They asked me, 'You are not going to publish
this book, are you?' I asked, 'Were there mistakes?' 'Not mistakes as such. But
it shouldn't be published. It's anti-Israel.'"
Somehow, despite obstacles to prevent it, the presses had started rolling. After
its publication in 1980, I was invited to speak in a number of churches.
Christians generally reacted with disbelief. Back then, there was little or no
coverage of Israeli land confiscation, demolition of Palestinian homes, wan ton
arrests and torture of Palestinian civilians.
The Same Question
Speaking of these injustices, I invariably heard the same question, "How come I
didn't know this?" Or someone might ask, "But I haven't read about that in my
newspaper." To these church audiences, I related my own learning experience,
that of seeing hordes of U.S. correspondents covering a relatively tiny state. I
pointed out that I had not seen so many reporters in world capitals such as
Beijing, Moscow, London, Tokyo, Paris. Why, I asked, did a small state with a
1980 population of only four million warrant more reporters than China, with a
I also linked this query with my findings that The New York Times, The Wall
Street Journal, The Washington Post-and most of our nation's print media-are
owned and/or controlled by Jews supportive of Israel. It was for this reason, I
deduced, that they sent so many reporters to cover Israel-and to do so largely
from the Israeli point of view.
My learning experiences also included coming to realize how easily I could lose
a Jewish friend if I criticized the Jewish state. I could with impunity
criticize France, England, Russia, even the United States. And any aspect of
life in America. But not the Jewish state. I lost more Jewish friends than one
after the publication of Journey to Jerusalem-all sad losses for me and one,
perhaps, saddest of all.
In the 1960s and 1970s, before going to the Middle East, I had written about the
plight of blacks in a book entitled Soul Sister, and the plight of American
Indians in a book entitled Bessie Yellowhair, and the problems endured by
undocumented workers crossing from Mexico in The Illegals. These books had come
to the attention of the "mother" of The New York Times, Mrs. Arthur Hays
Her father had started the newspaper, then her husband ran it, and in the years
that I knew her, her son was the publisher. She invited me to her fashionable
apartment on Fifth Avenue for lunches and dinner parties. And, on many
occasions, I was a weekend guest at her Greenwich, Conn. home.
She was liberal-minded and praised my efforts to speak for the underdog, even
going so far in one letter to say, "You are the most remarkable woman I ever
knew." I had little concept that from being buoyed so high I could be dropped so
suddenly when I discovered-from her point of view-the "wrong" underdog.
As it happened, I was a weekend guest in her spacious Connecticut home when she
read bound galleys of Journey to Jerusalem. As I was leaving, she handed the
galleys back with a saddened look: "My dear, have you forgotten the Holocaust?"
She felt that what happened in Nazi Germany to Jews several decades earlier
should silence any criticism of the Jewish state. She could focus on a holocaust
of Jews while negating a modern day holocaust of Palestinians.
I realized, quite painfully, that our friendship was ending. Iphigene Sulzberger
had not only invited me to her home to meet her famous friends but, also at her
suggestion, The Times had requested articles. I wrote op-ed articles on various
subjects including American blacks, American Indians as well as undocumented
workers. Since Mrs. Sulzberger and other Jewish officials at the Times highly
praised my efforts to help these groups of oppressed peoples, the dichotomy
became apparent: most "liberal" U.S. Jews stand on the side of all poor and
oppressed peoples save one-the Palestinians.
How handily these liberal Jewish opinion-molders tend to diminish the
Palestinians, to make them invisible, or to categorize them all as "terrorists."
Interestingly, Iphigene Sulzberger had talked to me a great deal about her
father, Adolph S. Ochs. She told me that he was not one of the early Zionists.
He had not favored the creation of a Jewish state.
Yet, increasingly, American Jews have fallen victim to Zionism, a nationalistic
movement that passes for many as a religion. While the ethical instructions of
all great religions-including the teachings of Moses, Muhammad and Christ-stress
that all human beings are equal, militant Zionists take the position that the
killing of a non-Jew does not count.
Over five decades now, Zionists have killed Palestinians with impunity. And in
the 1996 shelling of a U.N. base in Qana, Lebanon, the Israelis killed more than
100 civilians sheltered there. As an Israeli journalist, Arieh Shavit, explains
of the massacre, "We believe with absolute certitude that right now, with the
White House in our hands, the Senate in our hands and The New York Times in our
hands, the lives of others do not count the same way as our own."
Israelis today, explains the anti-Zionist Jew Israel Shahak, "are not basing
their religion on the ethics of justice. They do not accept the Old Testament as
it is written. Rather, religious Jews turn to the Talmud. For them, the Talmudic
Jewish laws become 'the Bible.' And the Talmud teaches that a Jew can kill a
non-Jew with impunity."
In the teachings of Christ, there was a break from such Talmudic teachings. He
sought to heal the wounded, to comfort the downtrodden.
The danger, of course, for U.S. Christians is that having made an icon of
Israel, we fall into a trap of condoning whatever Israel does-even wanton
murder-as orchestrated by God.
Yet, I am not alone in suggesting that the churches in the United States
represent the last major organized support for Palestinian rights. This
imperative is due in part to our historic links to the Land of Christ and in
part to the moral issues involved with having our tax dollars fund
Israeli-government-approved violations of human rights.
While Israel and its dedicated U.S. Jewish supporters know they have the
president and most of Congress in their hands, they worry about grassroots
America-the well-meaning Christians who care for justice. Thus far, most
Christians were unaware of what it was they didn't know about Israel. They were
indoctrinated by U.S. supporters of Israel in their own country and when they
traveled to the Land of Christ most all did so under Israeli sponsorship. That
being the case, it was unlikely a Christian ever met a Palestinian or learned
what caused the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is gradually changing, however. And this change disturbs the Israelis. As
an example, delegates attending a Christian Sabeel conference in Bethlehem
earlier this year said they were harassed by Israeli security at the Tel Aviv
"They asked us," said one delegate, "'Why did you use a Palestinian travel
agency? Why didn't you use an Israeli agency?'" The interrogation was so
extensive and hostile that Sabeel leaders called a special session to brief the
delegates on how to handle the harassment. Obviously, said one delegate, "The
Israelis have a policy to discourage us from visiting the Holy Land except under
their sponsorship. They don't want Christians to start learning all they have
never known about Israel."
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