Is objectivity about Israel and Palestine possible?

13 Aug

One does despair. The nearest I have read to an objective account is an ageing book called The Palestine-Israeli Conflict by Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Dawoud El-Alami (Oxford, Oneworld 2001) – and that achieves “objectivity” by placing side by side a Jew and a Palestinian with space at the end for “addresses in reply”.  It seems you can buy a used copy from Amazon for one cent!

So I was surprised to find an evangelical writer – albeit what I would call an “informed evangelical” – veering very close to objectivity on the question of who “owns” Jerusalem. While the opening chapters of Whose Holy City? (Lion 2004) treat the accounts of Genesis through to Judges less critically than I would – for example I don’t believe the stories of Abraham, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, are strictly in the realm of history – or no more or less so than tales of the Trojan War, Colin Chapman becomes a very reliable guide to what happened from the reign of Constantine to close to the present day. He does concede that the Book of Daniel was written some four centuries after its apparent date, and further that it is reading against the grain to use it as any kind of road-map of the future.

A former Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Chapman well understands the claims of all parties to the “Holy City”. His solution is, unfortunately, not one the current Israeli government is likely to countenance.

One very useful contribution Chapman makes – just one of many – is to unmask the currently fashionable “rapture/Christian Zionist theology” as, well, heterodox in the extreme, a Johnny-come-lately in Christian history and, frankly, a parodic interpretation of the Bible. On that see too this page of quotes and reviews of another book, Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism, Inter-Varsity Press (an evangelical publisher) 2004. I haven’t read it.

Related too is the Joint declaration by Christian Leaders on Israel’s 60th Anniversary, signed by, among many others, our own Tim Costello.

We, the undersigned, church leaders and representatives of our different denominations and organisations, join together on the 60th anniversary of the Israeli state to offer a contribution to that which makes for peace.

We recognise that today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel (Yom Ha’atzmaut). For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people’s ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust. Additionally, it is an opportunity to celebrate the wealth of cultural, economic and scientific achievements of Israeli society, in all its vitality and diversity.

We also recognise that this same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora, will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed (al-Nakba). For them, this day is not just about the remembrance of a past catastrophic dispossession, dispersal, and loss; it is also a reminder that their struggle for self-determination and restitution is ongoing.

To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy. But it is vital if a peaceful way forward is to be forged, and is central to the Biblical call to “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). We acknowledge with sorrow that for the last 60 years, while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress.

To acknowledge and respect these dual histories is not, by itself, sufficient, but does offer a paradigm for building a peaceful future. Many lives have been lost, and there has been much suffering. The weak are exploited by the strong, while fear and bitterness stunt the imagination and cripple the capacity for forgiveness.

We therefore urge all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that “will produce lasting peace and security” (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples’ shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

See also Changing Sides in the Middle East: Zionist and Palestinian Exchange Opinions about Jerusalem.


10 responses to “Is objectivity about Israel and Palestine possible?

  1. tikno

    August 13, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    For this question, usually I heard simple answers (commonly answers) like this:
    “It’s possible if both side willing to remove their ego, respect each other, love each others, etc, etc, ect (beautifully answers)”

    But… when come to implementations…, urghh… very simple to say but hard to do it. Means a lie!!!

  2. Neil

    August 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    It sure is a frustrating situation, Tikno, but then stories like this give some heart to us.

  3. Steve

    August 14, 2009 at 9:12 pm

  4. Neil

    August 14, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Looked at those, Steve, and as I said I haven’t read Sizer’s book. Have read Chapman though who seems to be saying much the same, as indeed have some Israelis and Jews I have known. The post began with a question and a note — “One does despair.” What I read in the material you refer to rather affirms that point, but I am sure people will make their own judgements.

    I do not regard criticism of Israeli policy as intrinsically anti-semitic, no more than I regard rejection of suicide bombing and other forms of terror as anti-Arab or anti-Muslim. It is rather hard to sustain the view that Zionism = objectivity though, or that criticism of Zionism = lack of objectivity. Holocaust denial, whoever comes up with it, on the other hand is absolutely beyond the pale as far as I am concerned; as a character in the Iain Banks novel I was reading lately notes, you may as well indulge in World War II denial as go down that disreputable path. However, Israel is a state and the dilemmas it has faced have been legion, but infallibility and the undoubted moral high ground have not so far as I can tell been granted to all its policies, actions and decisions, especially since 1967.

    I do share the views of that joint statement at the end of my post. Do you?

    See also my follow-up post.

  5. seismicshock

    August 15, 2009 at 7:38 am

  6. Neil

    August 15, 2009 at 8:08 am

    The point I think is who signed it rather than who wrote it.

  7. Kevin

    August 15, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Crud. It only took until the second paragraph for you to lose my support, when you said, “…albeit what I would call an “informed evangelical”…” Here’s what you did with that statement:

    You stereotyped evangelicals as unintelligent. Except for the rare occasion that they agree with you, of course. You consider those to be informed. The rest – stupid. Way to dodge a discussion without adding information. Kudos! Are you sure that you weren’t a liberal arts professor at some college?

    See, I did the same thing that you did, except I called liberal arts professors stupid. It’s an ugly way of saying things, isn’t it? We should both be better than that.

  8. Neil

    August 15, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I did not stereotype evangelicals, Kevin, but there are those who leap straight from the Old Testament to the present day with very little appreciation for what happened in between, and they are dangerously under-informed. The Left Behind series is a classic case of fiction overtaking information. Obviously the evangelicals I refer to are far from stupid. Did you examine what they said instead of scoring — or not scoring — a cheap debating point?

    Why saying ALL evangelicals are stupid is almost as bad as saying all Muslims are terrorists — and I would never say either.

    Again see also the follow-up post.

  9. Kevin

    August 16, 2009 at 2:05 am

    No, I did not read further to find out what the ‘informed’ person said. I only went for the ‘cheap debating point’. I think you’re missing the point of my comment. It has nothing to do with the data imparted by your favored evangelical. Let me put this another way.

    I was reading Tim Blair today. He’s an Australian, but he’s an informed Australian.

    Can you see the condescension in that statement, ridiculing all Australians as fools, now that it’s directed towards yourself? C’mon.

    For the record, I don’t feel that way about Aussies. And if you want to say that the author of Left Behind is writing fiction, then that’s fine. He’d certainly agree, and I found his first book too boring to finish, so can’t argue the point with you.

    …there are those who leap straight from the Old Testament to the present day with very little appreciation for what happened in between…

    So call them on it. Specifically. By name. Don’t lump them into a group called ‘evangelicals’. Unless you want to be branded with the name ‘stereotypical stereotyper’.

    Aside joke: That guy is a jerk because he is so quick to judge people. I noticed that about him right away.

  10. Neil

    August 16, 2009 at 7:05 am

    The condescension is unintended; I think too that quite a few evangelicals would know what I meant and agree.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: