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Category Archives: Israel

Some reading matter for you

1. South Sydney Herald

The August issue has been out for a week or so. I have been slack about uploading you copy, but it is a good issue. As usual there are plenty of articles that transcend the parochial, but the parochial may also be interesting. Inner Sydney/Redfern is an interesting place.

August 09 SSH — PDF

2. More from Colin Chapman.

I gave Chapman’s Whose Holy City? the thumbs up in Is objectivity about Israel and Palestine possible? Today I give you a couple of substitutes for those without access to the book.

A Biblical Perspective on Israel/Palestine from the Arizona publication EMEU goes into some depth about a more balanced evangelical perspective on the matter. It is for the theologically inclined, more so than the book. EMEU is Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding – and further from John Hagee and company it can hardly be, but it is an evangelical Christian site, remember.

‘Islamic Terrorism’ and the Palestine-Israel Conflict: Christian Response is a special issue of Encounters, a Christian mission e-zine from the USA. Not by Chapman is an article I strongly recommend as it is not too far removed from my own thoughts on the subject: Muslims – Friends or Enemies. (Dr Jonathan Ingleby, 1548 words) – a PDF file. I have added here the abridged version of Chapman’s ‘Islamic Terrorism’:  How should Christians & the West respond?

Chapman PDF

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Is objectivity about Israel and Palestine possible?

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.

 

Four from Surry Hills Library: 1

star30 star30star30star30star30star30 wandstarSM J M G  Le Clézio, Wandering Star (translated by C Dixon, Curbstone Press 2004) — “a deeply moving novel about a two young girls caught up in the turmoil of the Middle East, who aspire for peace–Esther, a Jewish girl who takes part in the founding of Israel, and Nejma, a Palestinian girl who becomes a refugee.”

This beautiful novel eschews overt politics, but is no less powerful for that – in fact perhaps all the more moving because it avoids propaganda and displays a warm but realistic empathy with both characters. Here is an extract.

Hélène

Saint-Martin-Vésubie, summer 1943

She knew that winter was over when she heard the sound of water. In winter, snow covered the village, the roofs of the houses and the fields were white. Icicles formed on the edges of the roofs. Then the sun started burning down, the snow melted, and water started trickling drop by drop from all the roofs, the joists, the tree branches, and all of the drops ran together forming rivulets, the rivulets ran into streams, and the water leapt joyously down all the streets in the village.

That sound of water might be her very first memory. She recalled the first winter in the mountains and the music of water in spring. When was that? She was walking between her mother and father down the village street, holding their hands. One arm was pulled higher because her father was so tall. And the water was running down on all sides, making that music, those whooshing, swishing, drumming sounds. Every time she remembered that she felt like laughing because it was a strange and gentle sound, like a caress. She was laughing then, walking between her mother and father, and the water in the gutters and the stream answered her, rippling, rushing.

Now, with the burning summer heat, the deep blue sky, her entire body was filled with a feeling of happiness that was almost frightening. More than anything, she loved the vast grassy slope that rose up toward the sky above the village. She didn’t go all the way up to the top because everyone said there were vipers up there. She’d stroll a little way along the edge of the field, just far enough to feel the cool earth, the sharp blades against her lips. In places, the grass was so high she completely disappeared. She was thirteen years old and her name was Hélène Grève, but her father called her Esther…

Le Clézio won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature. Definitely my top read so far in 2009

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2009 in Best read of 2009, book reviews, Fiction, Israel, Middle East, writers

 

Compass last night: Bridge Over the Wadi

logohand Given so much we see and read out of Israel/Palestine, it was good that Compass screened the documentary Bridge Over the Wadi last night. One reviewer writes:

… Although Hand in Hand is bi-lateral, this film isn’t. It’s Israeli. This will immediately scream ‘bias’ to some audiences. But hold on a minute – and I say that sincerely as I am the most sceptical of audiences on such matters. As an Israeli film, I still feel it bends over backwards to illustrate both sides. Often quite emotionally. And the sincerity of all concerned can be painfully moving to behold.

Views expressed are mostly of the children. Children educated in each other’s languages. Each other’s religious beliefs. Respecting their own culture, but partaking fully – yes, fully – in the opposite culture.

"I’m a total atheist," says one parent. "But I’m Jewish." She is not making some subtle academic point about the separation of Jewish culture and religion. As a parent who’s sent her child to Bridge over the Wadi school, she is already a ‘tolerant’ member of her community, and is consequently looked at askance by many of her neighbours. Yet her tolerance soon begins to waver. She exclaims that Arab parents must think she is "a sucker" for letting her Jewish kids say "Allah is great". We then hear from her the familiar, archetypal, emotional (if disingenuous) homilies about Exodus and about the Holocaust. She removes her child from school.

An Arab boy goes to lunch at his Jewish classmate’s home. The boys just want to relax. Grandma, however well meaningly, interrogates him over his ‘views’ on terrorists. He squirms. This is a five-year-old child being made to feel guilty. But it is normal and reasonable from the grandma’s perspective, with her look of fear and concern…

Bridge Over The Wadi packs a tremendous emotional punch. It doesn’t offer complete answers. It does show a significant attempt to move forward in reciprocal understanding rather than mutual narrow-mindedness. My main criticism is that it still seems a little smug. It fails to give any noticeable credit to the Initiatives on which the documentary is based. It simplifies facts. For instance, considering the vast lengths Hand In Hand go to for accuracy, it seems disrespectful that filmmakers round out the numbers of pupils – applications ‘doubled’ in the second year – they actually increased very significantly. Or, suffering the little children perhaps, should they have omitted to mention that Christianity is also taught alongside Islam and Judaism?

But Bridge Over The Wadi is an impressive piece. One I recommend. It succeeds in presenting issues in a captivating way, without assuming detailed prior knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

One of the extraordinary things about five-year-olds anywhere is their sense of discovery about the world. Their unaffected and unconscious grasp of what is before their eyes. When they put their cross-border friendships before age-old enmity, the reasoning out of their mouths puts the complex negotiations of adults to shame.

That really says it all, and I agree wholeheartedly.

See also my Vodpod on the right down the page.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2009 in best viewing 2009, current affairs, education, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, Middle East, multiculturalism, peace, pluralism, religion, TV

 

Friday intellectual spot 3: Frank Furedi

Last time I quoted Frank Furedi – almost two years ago – it was with considerable reservation: Frank Furedi: The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria.

This essay is reproduced in full in Policy, the house journal of John Howard’s favourite think-tank, the Centre for Independent Studies. Frank Furedi is an interesting character, as you may see here: “founder and chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of Great Britain. The RCP has traversed one of the longest ideological journeys in British politics, moving from the hard-left through several incarnations into a broad collection of organisations on the libertarian right wing.”

Much in the essay is good; I agree that left-wing hysteria over The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was really rather silly. On the other hand, I utterly disagree with his ideologically driven dump on Tikkun and Michael Lerner. And unlike Furedi, I suspect, I have as you know actually read Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics…

I have reservations too about After Gaza: what’s behind 21st-century anti-Semitism? There is a trademark attitude here:

First of all, contemporary Western culture continually encourages groups that perceive themselves as victims to inflate the wrongs perpetuated against them. As a result, we are always being told that racism is more prevalent than ever before, or that homophobia and Islamophobia are rising, or that sexual discrimination is more powerful than in the past. It is unthinkable today for advocacy groups to concede that prejudice and discrimination against their members have decreased, and that the status of their community or people has improved. Such groups are acutely sensitive to how they are represented in the media, and to the language in which they are discussed and described. And this identity-based sensitivity is shared by Jewish organisations, too, which in recent decades have often been all-too-willing to interpret what are in fact confused and ambiguous references to their people as expressions of anti-Semitism.

Consequently, the charge that a certain statement is ‘anti-Semitic’ should not be accepted at face value. Statements and acts need to be analysed and interpreted in the context in which they were made or carried out…

Yes, but… Nonetheless I do commend this article. No matter what one thinks of Gaza – and I for one utterly condemn the use of phosphorus shells, for example, and the decades of failing policy and dubious actions that mark this region on all sides – it is a fact that a very virulent form of anti-Semitism, as vile today as it ever was, has accompanied some of the commentary on these matters and is also, to the great cost of peace, enshrined in the public policies of certain organisations and nations.

There is considerable evidence that in recent years anti-Semitism has acquired greater visibility and force in Europe. Over the past decade, and especially since the eruption of the conflict in Gaza, anti-Israeli sentiments have often mutated into anti-Jewish ones. Recent events indicate that in Europe the traditional distinction between anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment has become confusing and blurred.

So recently, during a demonstration against Israel’s actions in Gaza, the Dutch Socialist Party MP Harry Van Bommel called for a new intifada against Israel. Of course he has every right to express this political viewpoint. However, he became an accomplice of anti-Semites when he chose to do nothing upon hearing chants of ‘Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas’ and similar anti-Jewish slogans. Many people who should know better now keep quiet when they hear slogans like ‘Kill the Jews’ or ‘Jews to the oven’ on anti-Israel demonstrations. At a recent protest in London, such chants provoked little reaction from individuals who otherwise regard themselves as progressive anti-racists – and nor did they appear to be embarrassed by the sight of a man dressed as a racist Jewish caricature, wearing a ‘Jew mask’ with a crooked nose while pretending to eat bloodied babies.

Increasingly, protesters are targeting Jews for being Jews. They have agitated for the boycott and even harassment of ‘Israeli shops’, but in practice this means boycotting and harassing Jewish-owned shops, such as Marks & Spencer (some of whose stores have been barricaded by anti-Israel protesters) and Starbucks (a number of whose coffee shops have been attacked in London and elsewhere). Some protesters in Italy don’t share the linguistic subtlety of those ostensibly calling for a boycott of ‘Israeli shops’. Giancarlo Desiderati, spokesman for the trade union Flaica-Cub, has called for a boycott of Jewish businesses in Rome. A leaflet issued by his union informed Romans that anything they purchase in Jewish-owned shops will be ‘tainted by blood’.

Here, there is an almost effortless conceptual leap from criticising Israel to targeting Jews…

Anyone who has lived as I have through more than six decades can only shudder at things like that and totally reject them.

I would draw your attention again to Rabbi Brant Rosen: Israel and Gaza: Speaking About the Unspeakable; Gaza: The Arrow Cannot Be Taken Back; Over 1,000 Rabbis Can’t Be Wrong. Good posts all, even if I would question the title of the last one. 😉

Might I also humbly submit that important as they may be Israel and the Middle East are merely part of the world, not nearly as important in themselves as one would think from all the attention given them – by me as much as anyone I suppose. Yes, there are all sorts of reasons for that, some of them substantive and some of them quite delusional. You can sort that one out! More people have died of cholera in Zimbabwe, for example, than died in the last month in Gaza, very much the outcome of a mindless implementation of failing remedies for what were originally just causes. Tibet is “occupied” just as much as Palestine is. Standing up for human rights and democratic values in Russia is more than a little dangerous. And so on… One could go on…

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2009 in current affairs, human rights, humanity, intellectual spot, Israel, Middle East

 

We would all do well to read this

opendtheme2_logo Via Arts & Letters Daily just now comes The politics of ME, ME, ME by Keith Kahn-Harris and David Hayes.

This is not just a question of people with too much time on their hands beavering away at the keyboard on controversies that affect nothing – if it were “only” this, there would be little to worry about. The problem goes deeper. It is partly that so much of this activity is harmful and wasteful, in a context where intelligent citizens working in a spirit of constructive dialogue could in principle perform a useful role in clarifying issues and arguments and offering usable ideas to those seeking solutions to the conflicts concerned.

Even worse, this kind of internet politics is also engaged in by opinion-formers, major institutions and “the brightest and best” more generally. In the Jewish community – a world with which one of us is very familiar – those who are most committed and influential in what they view as the defence of Israel have, over the last few years, increasingly come to adopt the same style of politics and mode of address. They include (in the United States) high-profile intellectuals such as Alan Dershowitz and lobbying organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and (in Britain) organisations such as Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (Bicom). Pro-Palestinian activists, while usually less organised, also engage in these struggles with just as much fervid and driven commitment…

At root, these struggles can involve vital issues, but in the hothouse of the internet, they so often disintegrate into thousands of fragments – from the interpretation of an ambiguous phrase to the reliability of a single news item. The result of an internet war of attrition that produces an impenetrable fog of confusion – and must reinforce the indifference and alienation of the non-involved.

The latter point is vital, even though it may be of sublime indifference to the super-motivated partisans. The ultimate puerility of internet combat over the middle east means that the larger and most important issues – and the possibility of keeping in sight the big picture, a vision of a better future for the region – fade from view…

Don’t be satisfied with that gobbet. Read the whole essay.

The tools for a different kind of politics exist. What is needed is the will to turn away from self-obsessed and point-scoring politics to a politics that is actually about something. What is needed is a politics that reconnects individuals with each other, a politics that looks outwards as well as inwards, a politics that is not all about "ME".

Update

Yes, I have noted the cognitive dissonance on many a left/secularist site, as has Atheists and Secularists for Gaza. I can think of one utterly egregious example, but I never link there any more…

Worth a look at that post though.

Everyone, myself included, needs, however, to mull over the main post above before next committing themselves to print on the matter.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2009 in blogging, Israel, Middle East, politics

 

Quote(s) of the week 3 2009 – and more

So, after 22 days the news is Israeli ceasefire begins in Gaza. Better than not having a ceasefire, but that’s about all that can be said about it, 1,000 + people in Gaza not caring any more, because they are no longer on this troubled planet. What it has been like may only be guessed from this blog: Gaza Strip, the untold story by Sameh A. Habeeb: “A Photojournalist, Humanitarian & Peace Activist in Gaza Strip”. That is the source for my quote of the week, on the subject of Bush and Cheney, dated Saturday 17 January. I leave it as is. This entry was in fact written by Dr. Akram Habeeb, Sameh’s father, “Writing from the Occupied Gaza Strip.”

As a Gazzan who is not affiliated to any political party; yet much concerned about what is taking place in my hometown, I meticulously track every piece of news related to the ongoing horrendous carnage which is perpetrated by the Israelis against the innocent civilians in Gaza….

History will witness that these two men had not done any good for the good Americans who elected them. They have successfully denigrated the image of America and the Americans in the Arab and the Muslim worlds. We in Palestine and in the Muslim world believe that Bush’s legacy would be a real burden for his successor, president elect Obamma. However, we strongly believe that Obama’s administration would do its best to regain the prestigious image of American in the Arab and the Muslim worlds, we are full of hope that the new administration would play the role of the objective peace broker in the Middle East. Hopefully it would be very real and realistic vision different from Bush’s vision!

Partitions made in the late 1940s were none of them terribly happy. The other big one, in India, led to even more suffering and remains unresolved in areas like Kashmir and in the uneasy relations between India and Pakistan. There are in fact more Muslims still in India than in Pakistan. In Palestine the issue was complicated by 1) uncertainty about what Palestine actually is and 2) inevitable dispossession, ongoing.

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