A BIAS THICKER THAN FAITH:
CHRISTIANS WHO PUNT FOR THEIR PERSECUTORS
Juxtapose two movements of people and lo, the wildest of peculiarities pops up in the window: an anti-Israel Christian element. How a peculiarity? Because there’s one part of the Middle East where a Christian can be a Christian without being hounded, and it happens to be Israel. Population movements tell half the story, though not nearly the absorbing half. In 1949 Israelhad a Christian population of 34000; today the number is 168000, and growing. From the Palestinian side the arrows point the other way. Christians have poured out; perhaps 70 percent who once lived in theWest Bank now live abroad. Bethlehem, Christianity’s cradle, provides stark confirmation. In 1950 the city was 80 – 90 percent Christian; today that fraction is down to no more than 20 percent. So in Muslim Palestine Christians run the gauntlet, while inIsrael they practice their faith freely. Yet churchmen aim their missiles where?
Behind the numbers lies a human tragedy in phantasmal form. Out of Gazaand Ramallah come leaks and whispers, hole-in-the wall fear-ridden testimonies, tearful stories told behind locked doors. Who knows the totality of fear, cruelty, theft, assault, or homicide perpetrated on reclusive Christian pockets? Who cares to know? When Muslim-Christian strife rocks another country it’s all over the wires, but from the interfaith tinderbox of Palestine, a land bristling with media workers, we hear nothing. When did a flare-up last break out of Mahmoud Abbas’ embargo and find its way into the media? Fear and self-preservation also account for the silence. Clerics fall back on reaching out to their persecutors, trusting that love will triumph. Meanwhile they try to cosy up by looking for ways to condemn Israel. But the policy has failed even well-connected clerics. There was the Greek Orthodox priest, a one time ally of Yasser Arafat, who ran a Christian TV station from Bethlehem. Eventually he got fed up with what was happening to Christians, and went public with a dossier that he had previously delivered to Arafat and later Abu Mazen. In it he gave 70 detailed cases of attacks on Christians: beatings, sexual harassment, and scores of land theft cases. After going public he fled abroad.
In the West meanwhile irate churchmen compete with secular activists to bring Israeli leaders to book for the type of crimes committed by maniacal tyrants and Apartheid architects. Asserts the Archbishop Emeritus Tutu: ‘Israel does ‘things that even Apartheid South Africa had not done.’ The Presbyterian Church of America, helping Tutu’s claim go down, alludes to what those things might be, though what they actually are remains up the Church’s sleeve. It – Israel commits ‘horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people.’ If you want the Presbyterians to be specific you are there and then booked into the Zionist camp. These Presbyterians are worth more than a minute of our time. For one thing they blame Jews for getting blown up by suicide bombers. ‘Occupation is the root of terrorism.’ The root of terrorism outside of Israel, where the suicide bombing tally would be in six figures, is different, and we are not surprised; the dead are Christians and Muslims, not Jews. But we don’t ask the Presbyterians about that; Occupation accounts for Jewish dead. Point out that Arabs murdered Israelis before they occupied anything – before they had a state to call Israel – and you’ll be met with a dry look. Point to the genocide laced charter document of Hamas and you’ll raise a chuckle. And you dare not tackle the Presbyterians, or Christian Aid, on their resolve to obliterate Israel by moving refugees around: (We insist) on ‘the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.’ Ah – where subterfuge treads irony follows hard on its heels. Who are these refugees but Arabs living in countries where Christians are fair game; where religious cleansing has all but wiped out Christendom’s ancient footprint. Don’t ask the Presbyterians to join the dots: (a) the free-for-all cleaning out of their brothers in Christ and (b) Palestinian refugees who have witnessed if not taken part in that religious cleansing. Remember who holds the exclusive Victim rights. If the rights holder proved to be a persecutor it would harm the brand irreparably.
Are there no Christians willing to blow the whistle? To be sure there have been stirrings that augured well. In March 2012 theBethlehemBibleCollegeheld the largest Christian conference in theMiddle East. Our ears prick. The plight of Christians in the region was the main agenda item surely. But no – evangelicals from all parts of the world gathered not to defend their faith but to promote a new Muslim state. They came to support ‘a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ a code easily cracked by looking not at the meaning of the words, but at what the words mean. To the Russell Tribunal they meant finding Israel guilty of Apartheid crimes; to the ‘Christ at the Check Point’ (CATC) conference ‘finding a just solution’ is the code for supporting the Palestinian bid for statehood, peace with Israel be damned. In supporting the bid CATC participants attacked their brothers – Christian Zionist groups that supportIsraelout of a belief that the return of Jews to theHoly Landis a condition for the return of the Messiah, and final redemption. They denounced Christian Zionism as ‘an exclusive theology of the land that marginalizes and disenfranchises the indigenous people;’ quite at odds with their in-flavour theology that God’s promises toIsraelare null and void. After that it was the turn of the Jews. Participants heard that Israelis have no connection to the people of the bible. Mitri Raheb, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, denied the connection between modern Jews and those of the Bible: ‘I’m sure (he said) if we were to do a DNA test between David, Jesus and I Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born…the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu (together) you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.’ An architect of that first CATC was cleric Stephen Sizer, the vicar who on a trip toTehranmade a defense of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.
So evangelicals, straining not to see fellow Christians under the whip, follow the star toBethlehemto help the Victim in its cradle. And even as the Catholic’sMiddle Eastfootprint is being wiped out the Pope utters hardly a peep. Perhaps then we must look outside the Church, to the King of Human Rights kings. The United Nations would surely act… One would think. But when last did the UN Human Rights Council vote to condemn a Muslim country for abuse of Christian people? When did the Security Council hold an emergency debate over the perilous plight of Christians inGazaand theWest Bank?
These, are they not, glaring ambivalences? Christianity under the whip, yet people of the church clamber to help Christian persecutors and punish Christian-protectingIsrael. Can men of the cloth, even pooling their faith, justify the perversity? Can they square the circle of anti-Israel activism mixed with indifference to Christendom’s plight hard onIsrael’s borders? What if, in good faith and without bad conscience, they cannot? And if goaded to action what would matter most to men of the cloth: attackingIsraelor defending Christians?
Steve Apfel is Director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg.