Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Palestinian State – Part 5

There are several other factors that are important to understand when looking at the origin of the Arab-Jewish conflict.

First, that although the Jewish Diaspora of AD70-135 was comprehensive, it was not total. Peters’ research uncovered that “the Jewish presence in ‘the Holy Land’—at times tenuous—persisted throughout its bloody history. In fact, the Jewish claim—whether Arab-born or European-born Jew—to the land now called Palestine does not depend on a two-thousand-year-old promise. Buried beneath the propaganda—which has it that Jews ‘returned’ to the Holy Land after two thousand years of separation, where they found crowds of ‘indigenous Palestinian Arabs’—is the bald fact that Jews are indigenous people on the land who never left” (p. 81-82).

Later, during the seventh-century advent of Islam in Arabia, Jews there began to suffer enormous persecution and many were driven out or forced to flee. This resulted in many of them returning to the land of Palestine where they joined Jewish populations that had never left. Peters also cites records from the fifteenth century onwards that demonstrate continual Jewish presence on the land. Depending on the harshness of the current political power in the land, Jews would suffer varying degrees of persecution, but one thing is clear: that Jews, in one condition or another, lived in Palestine continually from the time of the Diaspora until the twentieth century.

This challenges the popularly-held view that the only basis for the Jews’ claim to the land of Palestine are the biblical promises, and an ancient history of presence there that is separated from the current day by two-thousand years of absence. (By the way, I believe that God’s promises to them also give them legitimate rights to land, as these promises were unconditional—see Genesis 17:8, Deuteronomy 4:40, Psalm 105:8-11, etc.). The international community may scoff at the Jews’ claim to the land because of their “religious” convictions based on biblical promises, but they should recognise Israel’s claim for political reasons—because Jews have maintained a continual presence in Palestine from the time of Joshua until today.

Secondly, before the return of many of the world’s Jews to the land in the twentieth century, Palestine was not a land inhabited by “throngs of Palestinian Arabs” who were indigenous to the land “from time immemorial” and who were later driven out by the Jews. For much of this time the land was in fact a wasteland with very few inhabitants. Peters quotes many descriptions given by various visitors to the land from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth century (pp. 158-161):
- “Nothing there to be scene but a little of the old walls, which is yet Remayning and all the rest is grasse, mosse and Weedes much like to a piece of Rank or moist Grounde”—an English visitor, of Jerusalem in 1590
­- “A house of robbers, murderers, the inhabitants are Saracens… It is a lamentable thing to see thus such a town. We saw nothing more stony, full of thorns and desert”—a Franciscan pilgrim, of Nazareth in the fifteenth century
­- “An inconsiderable village… Acre [the name of a town] a few poor cottages… nothing here but a vast and spacious ruin”—Nazareth in 1697
­- “Desolate and roamed through by Arab bands of robbers”—German encyclopaedia, of Palestine in 1827
­- “The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is that of a body of population”—The British Consul, of Palestine in 1857
­- “The north and south [of the Sharon plain] land is going out of cultivation and whole villages are rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth. Since the year 1838, no less than 20 villages there have been thus erased from the map [by the Bedouin] and the stationary population extirpated.”—of Palestine in the 1860s
­- “Stirring scenes… occur in the valley [Jezreel] no more. There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent—not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings.”—Mark Twain, of Palestine in 1867
­- “I travelled through sad Galilee in the spring, and I found it silent, and, [In the vicinity of the Biblical Mount Gilboa], As elsewhere, as everywhere in Palestine, city and palaces have returned to the dust… This melancholy of abandonment… weighs on all the Holy Land”—Pierre Loti, French writer, of Palestine in 1895
­- “As a result of centuries of Turkish neglect and misrule, following on the earlier ravages of successive conquerors, the land has been given over to sand, marsh, the anopheles mosquito, clan feuds, and Bedouin marauders. A population of several millions had shrunk to less than one tenth that number—perhaps a quarter of a million around 1800, and 300,000 at mid-century”—David Landes in “Palestine before the Zionists”

Thirdly—and this is related to the second point—the idea “that Arab-Muslim ‘Palestinians’ were ‘emotionally tied’ to ‘their own plot of land in Palestine’—based upon a ‘consistent presence’ on ‘Arab’ land for ‘thousands of years’” (p. 137)—is a recent contrivance of Arabs as “an appeal to the emotions that would ‘counter Zionism’” (p. 138). In fact, Peters quotes Zuheir Mushin, the then Military Department head of the PLO (an organisation established to mobilise the “Palestinian people” to recover their usurped homes), who in 1977 said:
“Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.” (p. 137).

Until recently, Peters writes, “the Arabic-speaking peoples in Palestine were not motivated towards Palestinian nationalism, and that it was long after, not before, the Jews settled their new farms that the first claims of ‘Palestinian Arab’ identity and an ‘age-old’ tie to the land would be invented” (p. 170). Peters explains this fabrication as an attempt by the Arab world “to match the Jewish history by inventing an ‘identity’ for the ‘Palestinian Arabs’ that would, they reason, ‘counter Zionism’” (p. 171). She quotes an observer, Folke Bernadotte, who in 1950 said, “The Palestinian Arabs have at present no will of their own. Neither have they ever developed any specific Palestinian nationalism… it would seem as though in existing circumstances most of the Palestinian Arabs would be quite content to be incorporated into Trans-jordan” (p. 234).

The final point is one that has already been highlighted, but as I mentioned earlier, it is foundational to properly understanding the origins of this conflict. During the British mandatory period of 1917-1948, when the British facilitated the entrance of Jews to the land, there was also a massive illegal immigration of foreign Arabs that was not officially recorded, and which continued largely unhindered by the British. Peters spends five chapters documenting these figures, concluding that hundreds of thousands of Arabs illegally entered Jewish land during this time.

This illegal immigration is not the issue in itself. The issue is that these populations of Arabs later came to be called “Palestinian”—they were those who were warned by invading Arab armies to flee their homes so that they wouldn’t be harmed as the Arab world pounced to annihilate Israel, and then ended up as “Palestinian refugees” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, when in reality they never were Palestinian. Since that time, a false thousands-of-years history of attachment to the land, and a “Palestinian national identity” has been fabricated for them by the Arab world to evoke international compassion—and international condemnation of Israel. This has been largely successful. And, as we have seen, the Arab countries from which these refugees originally came have denied them re-entrance for resettlement, in order to perpetuate the myth.

In her concluding chapter, Peters passionately writes:
“What must not continue, what cannot be allowed to continue, is the cynical scapegoating of the Jewish state and the Jewish refugees therein, or the sacrifice of the Arab refugees who are, in the name of ‘humanitarianism,’ being employed inhumanely as a war weapon against Israel by the Arab world. In the face of these major problems, too many politicians and persons of influence choose to shut their eyes to the facts. Too many refrain from critical analysis of propaganda in order to preserve their illusions about the price of oil. And far too many, the overwhelming bulk of us, had never been furnished with enough data to understand what the problem really was.” (p. 409-410).

Of her work, Peters says that “in the human sense, it is about the onrushing of peoples—about flight from conquest, from persecution, from corruption, from habit, and from poverty. But in essence, it is about the flight from fact.” (p. 10).

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Testament Theology of Atonement

For all those who were at the last Timothy Fellowship (6th September 2008), and for those who couldn't make it, here is the link to Dr Noel Due's Lecture on the New Testament Theology of Atonement:

All those who have commented already about the Lecture, have mentioned how the Lord used the knowledge gained in one evening to renew their mind (in a Roman's 12:2 kind of way!). May God add His blessings to all we learned at our last fellowship.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Palestinian State – Part 4

Israel’s statehood was declared by the United Nations on May 14, 1948. The following day, the armies of Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq declared war on the new Jewish state, and launched an offensive. In what can only be described as a miracle, Israel was victorious, and even gained land in a war that should have seen her crushed by far superior opponents.

Figures are difficult to verify, and were greatly inflated by the Arab League, but around 430,000-650,000 “Palestinian Arabs” were displaced during Israel’s “War of Independence”. It’s commonly asserted that Israel drove these Arabs out of their settlements, but Peters documents that they were “invited to leave while the invading Arab armies would purge the land of Jews. The invading Arab governments were certain of a quick victory; leaders warned the Arabs in Israel to run for their lives” (p. 12-13).

Despite Jewish insistence that Arabs stay and not flee, many did flee, creating refugee situations in the areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In response, the UN set up relief programs for the refugees. Many Arabs not affected by the war came for hand-outs, and, exploiting the compassion of the UN, ended up being numbered among the refugees, and became dependant on the aid. In order not to exclude or discriminate, the UN changed the definition of a refugee from “a person normally resident in Palestine who had lost his home and his livelihood as a result of the hostilities and who is in need”, TO “one who had lived in Palestine a minimum of two years preceding the 1948 conflict”. These factors caused refugee populations to swell considerably, so that today, many of the “Palestinian refugees” are descended from Arabs who actually never were refugees from the war—or even necessarily Palestinian. Also, as you recall from earlier, vast numbers of illegal foreign Arab immigrants had been entering the land before the war because of the negligence of the British, and what becomes clear from a study of these figures is that a significant proportion of the genuine refugees themselves also weren’t Palestinian. Many of them had only recently entered Palestine, or were descended from those who had recently entered from other Arab lands during the British mandatory period of 1917-1948.

Many of the refugees were therefore in fact rightful citizens of surrounding Arab countries. The saddest fact of all about these refugees is that Arab governments of surrounding nations began deliberately denying refugees the right to return to their countries of origin—those places they lived in before illegally entering Jewish land. They did this for two reasons: first, to promote anti-Israel sentiment in the Arab and Western worlds; and second, removing the refugees from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be conceding victory to Israel, and recognizing Israel’s right to the land.

[In looking at this issue, it is important to understand the attitude of many of the leaders of the Arab world towards Israel: Israel’s borders are not the issue—the issue is Israel’s existence. Many Arab leaders have boldly declared that they wish to wipe Israel off of the map. At other times Arab leaders may tell the UN or the US what they want to hear (Yasser Arafat was a shining example of this two-facedness), but the real conviction of many in the Arab world, including prominent Arab leaders, is that Israel has no right to exist as a nation. Consider the words of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) National Charter: “Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history… Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”]

This sad political refugee game continues today. Why have not all of the “Palestinian refugees” been resettled in other Arab nations, where language, culture, and religion are familiar to them, or are very similar to their own? Why have they not been resettled in the 83% portion of territory already conceded to Arabs for the Palestinian state of Jordan? It is now sixty years since the displacement of these refugees, and still the crisis is perpetuated by Arab governments, instead of a permanent solution being found—with blame being laid on Israel for not surrendering land that they legitimately took in a defensive campaign. And, as Peters asks, “why has UNRWA [the relief program set up by the UN] spent well over a billion humanitarian-contributed dollars—mostly from the United States—to perpetuate the refugee dilemma?” (p. 32).

Even if it was true that all of the “Palestinian refugees” were Palestinian, and not illegal foreign immigrants from before the war, a better solution than them remaining in the squalor of the West Bank and Gaza Strip would have been their resettlement into Arab lands, just as—paralleling this situation—Jews fleeing Arab persecution in 1917-48 were able to be resettled in Israel. Peters documents that “for every refugee—adult or child—in Syria, Lebanon, or elsewhere in the Arab world who compels our sympathy, there is a Jewish refugee who fled from the Arab country of his birth” (p. 25). If the small parcel of land allotted to the Jews was able to support six hundred thousand Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Arab lands (in addition to all of the other Jews entering the land of Israel during that era) then surely the Arab world—rich with oil money, and vastly greater in size—could also support the refugees of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Peters spends half a chapter demonstrating not only the availability of vacant land for farming in the Arab world during this era, but also the desperate need of Arab governments for migrant labour, particularly in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt—where the refugees could easily have been absorbed, even many times over (pp. 19-32). It is unthinkable that despite this, the remainder of the Arab world has for sixty years forced the refugees to remain refugees.

Some “Palestinian refugees” have been absorbed into Arab nations, but they are generally discriminated against, and often are not granted citizenship—again, the reason for this is that Arab leaders wish for them to remain as a political tool to be used against Israel.

Contextualization or Capitulation? (Part 4)

by Dr Noel Due

The matter that underlies all we have written in the preceding entries on this topic is that of the substance of gospel communication. Contextualization applies supremely to the message that the apostolic gospel is, the communication of which is essential to biblical Christianity. In much contemporary Christian communication the emphasis on style or mode of communication has blurred the matter of content. By its nature much westernized communication (being derived from the marketing psychology of a consumerist culture) majors on allurement and entertainment in an attempt to minimize barriers to receptivity. It is only a small step from this to removing the scandal that the gospel is, and will always be, thereby denuding the gospel of its power.

At the end of the last blog we indicated that the issue of contextualization is as much a live one for the church inside indigenous communities as for outsiders entering them. Cultural identity is strongest where worship, law and upbringing are mutually reinforcing. Where this is the case, the conscience operates with great power (albeit aligned to cultural norms that may be well wide of biblical ones), and the conscience (reinforced by social stigma and public shame) therefore presents a critical issue for indigenous Christians inside their own communities, as for all believers in all circumstances. What traditions may be continued? What social, dietary, funerary, matrimonial, worship or commercial practices may be legitimately observed? How may extended family relationships be honoured, without compromising participation in (for example) trips to an idol shrine which may have normally accompanied them?

The conscience is not ‘free standing’. Conscience (and the related concept of shame, which may be understood as sort of ‘public conscience’) must align itself with some law by which it will operate. Neither is the conscience inviolable. It is not the voice of God within us (though God may use the conscience through which he brings conviction of sin, righteousness and judgement, for example) and the conscience needs as much redemption and rehabilitation as the other elements of our fallen humanity.

Because of its function as judge, jury and executioner in relation to our status before whichever law the conscience is aligned to (shame works the same way in the public arena), conscience needs to be the place above all others where the reality of justification by grace is deeply known. In turn, this great biblical doctrine is irreducibly related to the content of the apostolic message. The conscience, rehabilitated by grace and working in tune with Spirit, will still nevertheless always need to be tutored in the gospel and its subsequent liberty in relation to prevailing cultural norms. Of course, it will be truly aligned to the law of God, but from the love of God which grace produces in the heart, rather than from the (false) necessity to keep the law as a means of justification.

In an earlier entry we mentioned the examples of Timothy (circumcised by Paul as a matter of necessity) and Titus (whose non-circumcision was equally important and vehemently defended by Paul as a matter of necessity). This is an example of the complexity that any new community of believers faces. Peter’s capitulation on the matter of eating with the Gentiles in Antioch and the necessity for this action to be publically rebuked by Paul is another example of the same principle. At every turn and in every culture new believers are confronted with issues of conscience. How does a new Hindu convert relate to her surrounding culture? How does a new materialist Australian convert relate to his? The principles are the same, only the issues are different. In each set of circumstances the conscience will be a key player in how the gospel is contextualized, from within one’s own people group.

The pivotal point in each instance is what the action means for the content of the gospel, and for the preservation of the content of the message expressed in the cultural relationships of the believing community. Syncretism compromises content so that the form of cultural expression of Christian life may be more acceptable to the surrounding culture and belief systems. Legalism creates such barriers (because of the power of self-justification involved with it) that cultural isolation and exclusivity is the norm. The New Testament gives us examples of both trends (see Colossians for the former and Galatians for the latter). In each instance the answer is a gospel answer.

In view of all this, the reality of Christian communication will depend on how closely and fully the essential apostolic gospel is understood, not only in terms of the structures of biblical theology, but in the vibrant experience of its truth, first hand. The one who has the fire of God’s gospel burning within his or her heart, who has known the forgiveness of sins, the overwhelming grace of God and the unutterably glorious joy of knowing God as Father in the Son by the power of the Spirit, this one will not only want to communicate the truth he or she has come to know, they will seek earnestly what time or method the Lord who has called them would want to use to bring that communication of the gospel to the nations.

In all this, he or she is contextualizing a message, a word, a proclamation, indeed, a command, which comes from Jesus the Lord of heaven and earth. The method of this communication is significant in that we do not want to affirm wrong cultural assumptions. For example, one of the groups of people against whom the apostle Paul had to battle was a group he ironically called the ‘super apostles’…these ‘sold’ their word according the principles of rhetoric and to the schools of persuasion they had learned. In addition, their retinues (being healthy, wealth, well attired and adulating) could attest to the success of the product. In our own society we can adopt methods of market appeal that major on style and image, necessarily minimizing content and substance, which can reinforce cultural expectations of a consumerist mentality. In such cases the conscience may be largely untouched, and so the tendency to syncretism is accelerated.

(To be continued…)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Palestinian State – Part 3

Managing the entrance of hundreds of thousands of Jews into the land was a huge task, especially during WWII when many of those seeking entrance were refugees fleeing Nazi death camps. Sadly, Peters documents that it was a task largely mismanaged by the British:
~­ The British kept strict quotas on Jewish refugees entering the land—much stricter than necessary. The land was able to support many more people than the number of Jews who were eventually allowed to enter. At times, the British went to great lengths to keep unwanted Jewish refugees from entering the land, including forcing ships at Palestinian ports full of Jewish refugees to turn around and take the refugees back—which for many, resulted in their extermination in death camps. There are reports of the British even firing on such ships to ward them off.
­~ The British kept official records only of Jews entering the land, and not also of foreign Arabs. It should have been a priority for the British to record both, because of their concern of overcrowding, and because the land had suddenly become an attractive destination for foreign Arabs because of the injection of western funds, infrastructure, and as a result, employment. Peters shows that vast numbers of Arabs did illegally enter the land during this period (this turns out to be a critical piece of information missing from the current popular understanding). In time, these illegal immigrants swelled the land’s population significantly, causing the British to place even greater restrictions on the number of Jewish refugees allowed to enter the land. This really was a tragic situation, because many Jews were obviously in desperate need of a place to live—unlike the illegal foreign Arab immigrants, who were generally just seeking better fortunes. Here the fault falls equally on both the Arabs, who should have respected the Jewish need of land, and the British, who should have recorded and controlled the entrance of both Jews and Arabs, and not so freely allowed illegal foreigners to enter the land, reducing the number of Jews able to find refuge from the horrors of WWII.
­~ The Palestine Mandate designated the boundaries of the land given to the British and approved by the UN as the Jewish national home. The narrow strip of coastal land that Israel occupies today is only a small fraction of what was set aside for them. Why? Surrounding Arab powers took great issue to the British giving this land to the Jews (even though it was rightfully England’s, taken from the Turks in WWI, and was for hundreds of years of little interest to the Arab world). So to appease the Arab powers, the British gave 83% of the Palestine Mandate—land that had been set aside for Israel—to the Arabs. That piece of land is today known as Jordan. Incredibly, today there is great uproar from “Palestinians” who demand a “Palestinian State”. But one already exists—Jordan. And it comprises more than three quarters of the land that was originally reserved for the Jewish national home.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Palestinian State – Part 2

You need to know at least a brief history of the land called Palestine as a background to Peters’ book:

In AD70 Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans, and for the next sixty-five years, Jews fled the land of Israel in droves (this in itself is a remarkable fulfilment of a number of prophecies—Daniel 9:26, Zechariah 13:7 and Luke 21:20-24, etc.). During their reign, the Romans gave the land the name Syria Palaistina, which is where the name Palestine came from and has since stuck. (The name the Bible gives this land is Judah, but I’ll use the name Palestine or simply the land to avoid confusion). Muslims, seeking to expand the rule of Islam, invaded the land and took it from Byzantine (Roman) rule in the seventh century. It was ruled by a number of different powers during the Middle Ages, including Crusaders invading from Europe who sought to expand the “Holy Roman Empire” (which by the way wasn’t holy or Roman). In the sixteenth century, the land passed to the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire, who ruled it until WWI. During the Great War the land fell to the British as they pushed back the Turks.

With the land now in the hands of England, Jews, who had lived scattered across the world since the Diaspora, pursued the idea of returning to the land to re-establish a national home. This goal won the support of many, and in 1917, England issued the Balfour Declaration, which proposed the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. In 1922, the Palestine Mandate was approved by the League of Nations (which later became the UN), designating the boundaries of the Jewish homeland and entrusting the facilitation of the process to the British. All of these events turned out to be invaluable to the Jewish people, as it provided a refuge for many Jews to flee the Holocaust of WWII, and the opportunity for a new start for those who lost everything—property, wealth, and family—to the reckless anti-Semitism of the war.

By the way, these events are remarkable from a Christian’s perspective. In many Old Testament passages, God painted a clear picture about the regathering of Jews to Israel in the last days. Humans were certainly involved in the process, but ultimately it was God who was responsible for the events of last century:

I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. Ezekiel 20:34