“The Israel Palestine Mission Network and their allies,” writes the Reverend Chris Leighton, Executive Director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, “have once again mounted initiatives that advance an extremist posture with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse. Their agenda threatens to polarise our community, betray relationships with our Jewish colleagues, and ultimately undermine our credibility as ‘peacemakers.’”
How, exactly, have they done this? They have published a study guide for Presbyterian congregations about the roots of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. Reverend Leighton’s objections? Depicting Zionism as inexorably leading to ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide. “To suggest,” he writes, “that the Jewish yearning for their own homeland . . . is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent is to deny Jews their identify as a people.” Really?
People do not need a homeland in order to have an identity as “a people.” Theodor Herzl, a self proclaimed atheist, declared that the cure for anti-semitism was the establishment of a Jewish state. The best place to establish this state was in Palestine. The rationale was quite simple: God gave them the land. It was theirs to reclaim. Anyone living there who was not Jewish was an interloper and could justifiably be removed, which is exactly what happened. Zionism, expressed in the Zionist project of “returning” to “their land” led to ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide, even though Reverend Leighton doesn’t think so. In fact, he goes on to state that “to suggest that the Jewish yearning for their own homeland . . . is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent is to deny Jews their own identity as a people.”
My overall reaction to Reverend Leighton’s open letter to the Presbyterian Church is this: I am shocked at what he has deliberately or inadvertently missed or misinterpreted.
Following are some questions I have for Reverend Leighton.
How can anyone morally or legally “give” a land to people who do not live there? The fact that Britain’s Lord Balfour “gave” it to them, was a political move that was and is seriously morally flawed.
What happened to the indigenous population? The Palestinian people call it The Nakba (the Catastrophe). They were mercilessly attacked by Irgun, the Stern Gang and other well-armed Jewish terrorists. Are you aware that over 700,000 Palestinians fled for their lives into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt’s Gaza Strip? Or that over 10,000 Palestinians were literally slaughtered? Pretty much the same thing that happened to American Indians when the Europeans arrived.
What has happened to the Palestinian people since the birth of Israel in 1948? This is well-documented. Within Israel, Palestinians are denied the same rights of citizenship enjoyed by Jewish citizens. For a reference, read Hatim Kanaaneh: “A Doctor in Palestine: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel,” available from Amazon or from your local bookstore. Another is Nur Masalha: “The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory,” also available from Amazon.
What about life in the West Bank as Palestinians experience it: The checkpoints, the delays, villages shut off from their farmlands, olive orchards bulldozed, harassment, arrests of children? Imagine this scene, if you will: A family (mother, father, 5 year old son) finally are allowed through a checkpoint. Mom and dad step into the turnstile, but 5 year old Hamid lags just a step behind and finds himself alone and bereft. What if that was your son or grandson? How would you feel? I know how I would feel, especially if a soldier told me that Hamid would just have to wait his turn again, which could, and often does, take several hours. Even if it only took five minutes, would that really matter to you?
And what of the Bedouin of the Negev, who have their homes and villages bulldozed over and over and over again (even though they are Israeli citizens) because they didn’t have building permits. Why didn’t they have then? They were denied. How would you feel if you or your relatives suffered that over and over again.
But let’s return to the most fundamental question of all, the Zionist’s position that they should have Palestine as theirs because their ancestors came from there over two thousand years ago, a land that God gave them. How in the world do you, Reverend Leighton, justify this? Because my great-grandfather Martin Gerard came from France, does that permit me to return to his birthplace of Hartzviller, France and claim a piece of property as mine by right? Absurd, isn’t it? Why is the Zionist’s claim not absurd? Because the land was given to them by God? Then what is supposed to happen to the people who already live there?
Without answers to these questions, Reverend Leighton, your open letter to the Presbyterian Church is embarrassing. It lacks the core of Jesus’s message of taking care of the least of these, of loving kindness and compassion for a people who are, very clearly, the victims far too long of contempt, persecution and despair. A people, let me add, who have never given up. The only way to “save” Israel, is for it to stop in its tracks and treat its Palestinian citizens and neighbors with the same respect that it demands others treat its Jewish citizens. If it does not, it will continue to face boycott, divestment and sanctions, just as white South Africa did. You and I are both seminary graduates. I see no justification whatsoever for the position you take in your open letter to the Presbyterian Church. It does no on any good, including you.
The link to Rev. Chris Leighton’s “Open Letter” is http://www.icjs.org/featured-articles/open-letter-presbyterian-church-0