Greenbelt - where faith, arts and justice meet. Unless, of course, you happen to be Israeli or Jewish or sympathetic to Zionism or cognisant of the historical quest for a Jewish homeland. Greenbelt used to be primarily an arts festival: it has become acutely political, and those politics obsessed with demonising Israel - even to the point of getting young children to 'Embrace the Middle East
' and play an interactive floor game called Occupation! - A Game of Life
"to give a glimpse of the challenges faced by ordinary Palestinians living under Israeli occupation... Roll the dice and make your way through checkpoints and challenges, permit denials and poverty".
It is insidious propaganda - quite outrageous indoctrination-by-play - which poisons the mind of young Christians and delegitimises the State of Israel. And this year the Festival also hosts the launch of Kairos Britain - an anti-Semitic/anti-Israel mis-information and propaganda network
which condemns Israel at every turn as oppressive and racist - with no mention of its right to self-defence against acts of terrorism and rocket bombardment, or even of its right to exist at all.
According to reports, Greenbelt has refused to allow any speakers - Jewish or Christian - to challenge the premises of Kairos. Young Christians will leave the Festival believing that Israel is a pariah state. This appears to accord with policies and agendas of previous years, which have been variously described as 'Israel bashing
and portraying 'an awful image of Israel
Thousands of UK Christians leave Bible Weeks and Christian festivals fired up with a resolution to campaign for justice and human rights. This is a good thing. Sadly, at Greenbelt, much of what they hear targets the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish homeland. Since Greenbelt is unlikely to invite His Grace to redress the imbalance, by way of response, here follows a guest post from Fran Waddams of Anglican Friends of Israel
When Revisionism leads to Rejectionism
This week’s Greenbelt festival sees the launch of yet another group hostile to Israel, Kairos Britain. Kairos Britain is the latest offshoot of Kairos Palestine, whose replacement theology is widely criticised as bordering on anti-Semitic and whose polemic has aroused concerns that delegitimising the Jewish state is as high on its agenda as support for Palestinians.
In fact it seems to many Christians broadly supportive of Israel, that the focus of opposition to Israel, is shifting from criticising Israeli policies and actions to questioning the very existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. For example, a friend told me that a volunteer on Embrace the Middle East’s stall at a recent New Wine festival admitted in conversation, to wondering whether Israel’s creation had not been a mistake.
And at New Wine in Newark earlier this month Embrace the Middle East’s CEO Jeremy Moodey, who has welcomed the formation of Kairos Britain, said “I affirm the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, but that right cannot come at the expense of another nation’s equivalent right, which is what has happened in Israel/Palestine since 1948.”
Whilst Moodey affirms the Jewish right to self determination, the rest of his statement raises a serious question. As Israel only became a state in 1948 (having accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan when Arab leaders rejected it) are we to infer that from its very inception, Israel has in some way compromised Palestinian rights?
A reading of the contributions and linked articles on the Kairos Palestine website might lead an uninformed reader towards such a conclusion. One is left with the impression that Kairos views Israel as a colonial insertion in the region and her Jewish citizens as alien interlopers.
Yet this narrative in which thousands of years of Jewish history in the Middle East is airbrushed out and the circumstances surrounding the birth of the modern State of Israel are fudged is not just skewed but revisionist. Israel’s friends believe that history demonstrates that Jews have a right to self-determination on their ancient homeland.
There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Holy Land, for thousands of years. Most Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by waves of persecution - an injustice that Israel’s critics, Christian and otherwise, tend to skim over. Even the more distant Diaspora communities of Europe and Russia retained powerful links to the Holy Land through the scriptures and daily worship.
The Old City of Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population from the 1840s until 1948, a fact that might surprise Christians who have only heard a narrative that erases the Jewish presence in the city prior to 1967.
From the late 19th Century on, Jews began arriving in Ottoman Palestine from Russia and Europe, buying land from Arab landlords to build new lives far from persecution. The region began to prosper and that prosperity attracted other immigrants from all over the region and beyond - Arab, Armenian, Egyptian and others.
After the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of WWI, the 1920 League of Nations conference at San Remo laid the foundations of the Middle Eastern nations we recognise today –Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq etc were founded. Delegates recognised that Jews too were indigenous to the region and had a right to national self-determination alongside other ethnic groups.
Using the Balfour Declaration for guidance, the Conference set aside some of the territory on which Jews created a nation state and penned the scriptures, for a Jewish national home. The rights of others living in that land were to be protected, and Britain was granted a Mandate to oversee the League of Nations’ provisions.
Outdated as this process may appear today, no one questions the right of, say, Syria or Jordan, also conceived then, to exist. Why then should we not call objections to Jewish national self-determination alone, ‘racist’?
Under the Mandate, Britain committed herself to facilitating a Jewish homeland, and Jewish immigration. But many British officials opposed it because Arab opposition. Some British officials even encouraged Arabs to demonstrate against the Jews, resulting in violence, for example, the attack in 1929 on the 4000 year old Jewish community of Hebron where 67 Jews were slaughtered by their Arab neighbours, many other maimed and the community ethnically cleansed from the town.
Throughout the Mandate years the British severely limited Jewish immigration to Palestine before and during the war – resulting in millions of Jews being trapped in Europe to be slaughtered by the Nazis. After WWII Britain’s inhumane treatment of thousands of holocaust survivors, now homeless refugees, turned away in old, rusting ships from Haifa and Jaffa in full view of the world’s press made sickening viewing and reading worldwide.
The Mandate years were shameful, and ought to make any British Christian think twice before lecturing Jews about justice and human rights.
Jewish people needed a home in which they could live safely. That much was clear from the Holocaust and subsequent mistreatment by the British Government. In 1947 the newly created UN took up the provisions of the San Remo conference and made a partition plan that divided up the land allotted for Jewish settlement by the League of Nations Mandate (again) into a Jewish and an Arab state.
Jewish leaders accepted the Partition, whilst Arab leaders vowed that there would be no Jewish state (and no Jews) permitted in the region. So began a pattern which continues to this day of Arab leaders rejecting any plan which would acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist.
Arab attacks on Jews began after the Resolution was passed and the day after the British slunk out of Mandate Palestine on 14 May 1948, 5 Arab armies invading the new state of Israel.
Prior to the Arab attack, many Arab community and national leaders urged Palestinians to leave their homes and villages just until the Jews had been expelled and their property taken. Many thousands took their advice despite being begged to stay by Jewish community leaders.
When Arab invasion began it seemed to spell the end of Jewish hopes for a homeland. The world looked on, expecting the Jewish forces to be overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers and weaponry. The Jordanian Arab Legion was even led and trained by British officers.
Miraculously the Arab nations failed. Jewish forces triumphed, even taking some of the land that had been allocated to the Arabs by the Partition Plan. The ensuing 1949 ceasefire line (Green Line) is often wrongly termed ‘the 1967 borders’. But they were not borders. Those have never been worked out, and can never be until Palestinian and other Arab leaders recognise the right of Jews to a national home on part of ancient Jewish lands.
About 700,000 Palestinians were displaced as a result of the conflict. Some had left on the advice of their leaders, expecting to return after the defeat of the Jewish forces and some were forcibly displaced because their continuation in Israel was perceived to be a threat to Israeli security. Arab nations refused to absorb them, preferring instead to use them as leverage against the Jewish state.
Many of Israel’s critics now clamour for the right of not only these displaced people but also of their descendants to return and reclaim houses and land. The ensuing Arab majority would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish national home; and given the endemic anti-semitism in the region, the suggestion by some Christians that the resulting ‘One State’ with Arab and Jew living side by side in a peaceful democratic state seem irresponsibly naïve at best.
In any case, where is the precedent for people displaced by a war started by their own leaders to return en masse to a country governed by those whom they treat as enemies? 8 million people were displaced during the partition of India and Pakistan 1948. No one seriously suggests that India or Pakistan should give these refugees and their descendants the right to reclaim land and property lost during Partition. Yet in some eyes, the Jewish state should be held to a different standard. Where is the justice in this?
150,000 Arabs did remain within Israel after the War of Independence, were granted Israeli citizenship and today enjoy far superior human rights than their brothers and sisters in Arab lands. On the other hand, no Jews were permitted to remain within areas taken by the Jordanian forces including the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jews were forced from land they had owned for generations or had purchased from Arab landlords was expropriated, for example, in Gush Etzion, and were denied access to Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron during the entire questionable Jordanian annexation of the West Bank.
Then, there were the ‘Silent Refugees’, the 800,000 Jews forced out of ancient communities across the region by pogroms and forced expulsion. Their losses in money and property far outweigh Palestinian losses. Where is Kairos’ or their UK supporters’ concern for their rights of return or calls for compensation for their huge losses?
Then there is the question of the circumstances leading to Israel’s taking of the West Bank in 1967. Again, it would be hard to understand from reading Kairos Palestines’s website along, that this would never have happened had Arab nations once again believed that they could oust the Jewish state by force.
Arab aggression continued after 1949. In 1964, 3 years before the 6 Day War, Yassir Arafat launched the Palestine Liberation Organisation whose Charter states that "Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the time of the British mandate is an integral regional unit" and sought to eradicate ".. the existence and activity" of Zionism.’ In other words, Arafat wanted the whole of the Holy Land - including Israel.
In 1967 Egypt’s President Nasser precipitated war against Israel as he expelled UN peace keeping forces in the Sinai and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The circumstances leading up to this war are usually glossed over by Christian critics of Israel. And desperate attempts at revisionism have tried to shift the blame for the War onto Israel.
But there was no question of such revisionism during the Spring and Summer of 1967. I well remember newspaper, radio and TV reports of Nasser’s belligerent, anti Jewish rhetoric, and the build up of troops in the Sinai newspapers throughout May of that year. There was no doubt then in anyone’s mind what Nasser intended and what would happen to Israel if he were to succeed.
Once again aggression from Israel’s neighbours backfired spectacularly, as Israel outmanoeuvred Egypt, Jordan and Syria, defeating them in the 6 Day War of June 1967. After the 6 Day War, Israel offered to return all lands captured in return for recognition, The answer from her warlike neighbours came in the Khartoum Declaration of September 1967 – No recognition of Israel, no conciliation with Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. So another chance to build a Palestinian state was lost.
Israel therefore gained land in the West Bank in a war of self-defence in 1967, and is entitled to retain ultimate control over that land until its inhabitants stop waging war against Israel from it. Which they have not.
So why isn’t there a State of Palestine? There’s been plenty of opportunity, beginning with the Peel plan of 1937, any time between 1949 and 1967, post 6 Day War, and again in 2000 and 2008. Palestinian leaders ‘never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ to have their own state. Why?
Maybe there was no will to create another Arab state for Palestinians prior to 1967? Or perhaps – as statements from Arab leaders suggest – the price – which would be to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East - is a step too far? Neither Kairos Palestine nor her UK supporters seem to want to address this question, particularly as it applies before 1967. One wonders why.
History shows that heaping blame on Israel alone for the failure of the Palestinians and their allies to create a viable state prior to 1967, with all the ensuing consequences, while ignoring Arab aggression and rejectionism is grossly unjust. Yet this is exactly what Kairos Palestine and its Christian UK supporters do.
Revision of Middle East history is leading to a gradual ‘creep’ of Christian thinking on Israel towards a position way beyond criticism of Israel’s actions towards undermining the very legitimacy of her existence - drawing ever nearer to the position of some of Israel’s and the Church’s most vicious enemies. This is deeply worrying.
This creep has the potential to go far beyond the much vaunted position of Christians being ‘critical friends’ of Israel into unjustly singling out Israel’s Jews as perpetrators of a unique sin against justice and human rights. Such Christians are part of the problem, not the solution.