Alwyn Knight of CPT writes to Ardie Geldman, following a visit by CPT to Geldman’s Efrat home. Knight writes "on behalf of the group" and repeats claims made by "a spokesperson for the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions," that "sewerage works for Efrat, … is being built – we understand – on land confiscated from local Palestinian farmers." Geldman refutes this claim, and many others: "the pipes you describe are not sewerage pipes. They are rainwater and irrigation water drainage pipes … The land in question was filled in by the army, and to prevent flooding these drainage pipes were installed. So, contrary to what you were told and what you did see with your own eyes, the land you visited is not owned by Palestinian farmers, the pipes you saw are not sewerage pipes, and the city of Efrat has nothing to do with this project."
From Alwyn Knight, CPT. Monday, September 24, 2007
I was a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team delegation which visited you a few weeks ago. We are all back in our home countries now, trying to make sense of our experience of a fascinating, but at times, depressing, two weeks spent in Israel and the West Bank. I was asked to write to you on behalf of the group, and what follows has their approval, but remembering your experience with an earlier group, it is not our intention to place anything on the web.
First of all, we did appreciate your hospitality, though in a sense it also brought home to us some of the issues we would have liked to raise with you. I think it was the ice you had so thoughtfully placed on the table!
Most of us come from suburban North America – the United States and Canada – and Europe, and the tree-lined streets, front gardens and lawns of Efrat reminded us of the communities from which we had come. In an arid landscape, only profuse quantities of water make that possible. That contrasts with our experience of staying in the homes of Palestinians, who were also hospitable, but who are facing a serious water-shortage. In fact some of us had stayed the previous night with a Palestinian family who are facing precisely that problem; so we took water with us – to cover at least our drinking-water needs. We understand that water is now a major issue in many parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, a few days after meeting you we visited a village in the South Hebron hills which is so short of water that it will almost certainly have to be tankered in.
And before we met you we had visited the Palestinian village of Artas, in the company of villagers and Palestinian and Israeli activists, to see what will be the sewerage works for Efrat, which is being built – we understand – on land confiscated from local Palestinian farmers. You will no doubt be aware of their concern that spillage from the plant might pollute their land and their own water supplies, apart from the destruction of many of their fruit trees, and the loss of land which is essential for their livelihood. I have seen a video of the uprooting of the trees. It is heart breaking. We have been shown maps of the route of the wall/fence which show that they not only annex a great deal of Palestinian land, but also give Israel control over some of the main water aquifers. Interestingly, from our point of view, that presentation was by a spokesperson for the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. I have seen similar presentations by ICAHD’s convenor, Jeff Halper, here in London. Our impression of Palestinian agriculture is that it is sensitive to the natural availability of water, and that with little heavy industry, the West Bank makes modest demands on natural water supplies. We were shocked, therefore, to be told about the comparative water use by Israelis and Palestinians (something like 330 litres per day for Israelis, 60 per day for Palestinians, according to B’Tselem) , and wonder how that can be justified – and sustained.
I use access to water as an example. I came first to this region as a member of the Ecumenical Accompaniment programme of the World Council of Churches. Its ‘statement of principle’ would, I am sure, meet the approval of CPT as well. It states: ‘We do not take sides in this conflict…but we are not neutral in terms of principles of human rights and international humanitarian law. We stand faithfully with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized….’ We have seen abuses of human rights, as, for example, on the day we met you, when we watched as a Palestinian shopkeeper in Hebron had his shop front welded shut by the military because it was deemed to be a security threat to the – illegal – settlement near it. I am sure that Israeli rights are abused in the course of this conflict, but our impression is that the impact on Palestinians is much greater, starting with the Naq’ba, continuing with the ‘occupation’. We have seen the desperate poverty – now – of many in Hebron; farmers cut off from their land by walls and fences; whole communities encircled by the wall; freedom to travel – even within the West Bank – severely restricted, with disastrous consequences for social life and the Palestinian economy; young men unemployed and embittered. We are not naïve enough to believe that the Palestinian Authority does not have a case to answer for, but the statistics alone show the imbalance of power, which is reflected in the comparative figures for the casualties of this conflict.
Although these and many others are on the face of it political issues, for many of us on the delegation, they are theological issues, too. Christians have not always had an honourable record in dealing with the Jews, and part of that record was to rather hi-jack the Hebrew Bible and suggest that it was merely a preparation for the New Testament, and the story of Jesus. That is being addressed now by many contemporary theologians and commentators, and we are beginning to see the Hebrew Bible in its own right. For many of us who preach and teach, that has been a revelation, and a source of inspiration. You will know, I am sure, that the Exodus story is seen as a paradigm of God’s concern for the liberation of all oppressed people, and has been a major source for the Liberation Theology movement, which began in Central and Southern America, but which now has exponents in many parts of the world. It’s interesting that a story of liberation can inspire and fill with hope people across the centuries, and in very different cultural settings. That, of course, includes Sabeel, the Palestinian liberation theology movement.
I didn’t keep notes of our meeting, and I am relying on my memory, but in making a distinction between the Law and the Prophets, I seem to remember that you gave priority to the Law. What is interesting about the Christian use of the Hebrew Bible is that we turn rather more often to the Prophets, many of whom have a contemporary ring to their messages; and to the general principle of liberation from oppression rather than the gift of a particular piece of land.
Of course, most of us approach the text without the tragic history of persecution which Jews have experienced, and that must make a difference. But we cannot alter our view that the prophetic challenge to Israel – then, and now – is to remind Israel (and the Christian community!) that obligations go with being ‘God’s people’: spelled out in regard for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the widow and orphan. We are conscious of our failure as Christians to address the needs of the ‘poor’ in our own communities, and some of us come from countries where indigenous people have been treated very badly. Are we still looking to Israel to be a ‘light to the Gentiles’?
I do remember you speaking about your fear. We saw it too in the eyes of many of the young men and women we met who serve in the Israeli military, particularly at checkpoints. Some treat Palestinians with dignity, others with a brutality which we can only assume comes from the over-reaction of fear. And yet, our own experience of living and working with Palestinians has been so different, and we believe those who say that despite the suffering of the last sixty years, most Palestinians want a peaceful settlement, with Israelis and Palestinians living as neighbours. What has been particularly interesting is to hear both Israelis and Palestinians say that the one state solution is the only one that makes sense, given the facts on the ground. I know you discounted that as a possibility, but perhaps it is worth aiming for.
I hope you don’t mind me writing to you in this way. We did appreciate your willingness to meet us. It might seem churlish not simply to say ‘thank you’ for your hospitality, and move on, but we had so few opportunities to meet with Israelis in communities like Efrat, and we had so many questions!
With our best wishes,
On behalf of CPT
Ardie Geldman’s response:
October 18, 2007
We recently marked the end of the cycle of Jewish holidays that dominate virtually the entire first month (Tishrei) on the Jewish calendar. If you think "holidays" implies free time (to sit down and write, for instance), not in this case. Traditional Jews all are extremely busy with additional synagogue attendance, festival meals, and family outings. Today the observant Jewish world is back to routine, and as I promised, I am attempting to respond to your letter of September 24. I apologize for this taking so long. Due to my real-life work obligations, I have only been able to compose this response in stages; I hope all the stops and starts haven’t affected its readability.
To reiterate from my previous communication, I truly appreciate your serious comments, though I take full advantage of my right to disagree with much of what you say.
My experience over the years, indeed over many years and with many similar groups, has taught me to have few, if any, expectations of saying anything, or bringing any facts to bear upon these weighty issues, that are likely to change your, or your CPT colleagues,’ opinions. I accept this Sisyphusian task solely on the basis of my conviction and beliefs.
I refer to your first observations, including your use of table ice as a symbol of water deprivation within Palestinian areas. I make no claim to expertise on the topic of water use. Likewise, I am obligated to question your own expertise. I can only assume that your comments are based on your decision to accept the Palestinian narrative on this matter over the Israeli narrative, including the belief that the sole reason your Palestinian hosts live with a serious water-shortage is due, as you suggest at the end of your fourth paragraph, to the disproportionate (and implicitly unfair and immoral? I only ask.) consumption of water by Israelis. The "profuse quantities" of water that you contend we in Efrat use in order to maintain our "tree-lined streets, front gardens and lawns" are neither "profuse," nor do they come at the expense of water available to Palestinians.
If you choose, you can read articles that address the highly contentious water issue, but offer a different perspective.
They are at:
http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=12 , in particular
Likewise, you can either accept or challenge the accuracy and truthfulness of these articles.
I do believe that if among the many millions of dollars donated to the corrupt Palestinian Authority since the signing of the Oslo Accords, just a relatively small sum would have been used to upgrade and improve the water and sewerage infrastructure within the Palestinian areas, the Palestinians’ water situation would be much better than it is today. Having been moved by your observations, I checked with a local Palestinian I am acquainted with in the nearby village of Abdullah Ibrahim, a village that had no running water prior to Israeli administration beginning in 1967. He assures me that I can have water at his home at any time with all the ice I want.
You go on to state that you "visited the Palestinian village of Artas, in the company of villagers and Palestinians and Israeli activists, to see what will be the sewerage works for Efrat, which is being built – we understand – on land confiscated from local Palestinian farmers." The way you construct that sentence implies to me that you have no doubt that what you witnessed were, in fact, Efrat’s sewerage works, but concede that it only your understanding that the land upon which this sewer system is being built is confiscated Palestinian farm land. Factually, neither is the case. In response to your letter, I met with the mayor of Efrat, Mr. Eli Mizrahi who presented me with a different set of facts concerning what you witnessed. That particular area of land, although used in recent years (only), by local Palestinian farmers, is not legally owned by them. I know that many Palestinian farmers make claims of ownership to land, particularly, in the presence of foreign visitors. In some cases these claims are true. Many, many Palestinians do legally own and can prove ownership through deeds and other legal records. Over the last 40 years, the Israeli Supreme Court has many times ruled on behalf of Palestinian land owners in cases of dispute with Israel’s Military Lands Administration.
However, many claims by Palestinians have no legal validity, unless one enforces the belief that any member of a disadvantaged population has the right to claim ownership of any parcel of land he or she wishes to claim just by virtue of belonging to a disadvantaged population. I must tell you that this emotional but irrational position is precisely the implication of many groups I have met with.
I also have had the opportunity to view the documentary film on YouTube to which you refer. The trees I was able to identify in the film were all quite young, suggesting that this land was only recently turned into orchards. According to Mr. Mizrahi, at the time these trees were planted, nobody stood in the way of Palestinian farmers from using that land. But the area you visited includes land across which the separation barrier is being built by the IDF. The reason this action is not being challenged in Israeli courts, as other Palestinian claims of land confiscation have in the past, is because no resident of Artas can prove that he or she owns this parcel of land. Yes, some Palestinian farmers have been using this land in recent years, but this fact alone does not establish the basis for ownership.
The issue of land ownership, like water consumption, is also very complex. I am certainly no expert on this matter either. So, again, I refer you to an article, "Land Ownership Who," by the Rev. Timothy B. Smith, pastor of the Sonoma Springs Presbyterian Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Among the things that Rev. Smith points out: "Having done some reading on property issues in Palestine prior to the creation of the State of Israel, I find that clarity about a number of matters is not common in the public mind. One fact seems perpetually ignored by decidedly pro-Palestinian activists these days: that the vast majority of Palestinians just prior to the creation of the State of Israel were similar to sharecroppers or tenant farmers. They did not own the land. They were renters."
I have attached Rev. Smith’s full article above. (I hope it opens.) I have never met nor communicated with Rev. Smith, but I do know that he is neither Jewish nor Israeli. He is no "Zionist propagandist," that’s for sure. As far as I can tell, his intention is to present an objective, non-partisan historically-based review of this equally contentious subject.
Regarding "the sewerage works for Efrat," the pipes you describe are not sewerage pipes. They are rainwater and irrigation water drainage pipes such as in the photo from a similar project I have attached (above). The land in question was filled in by the army, and to prevent flooding these drainage pipes were installed. So, contrary to what you were told and what you did see with your own eyes, the land you visited is not owned by Palestinian farmers, the pipes you saw are not sewerage pipes, and the city of Efrat has nothing to do with this project.
I have in my possession a letter, in Hebrew, from the Corporation Counsel of Efrat, Mr. David Rotem, dated July 9, 2007 and addressed to Israel’s Channel 10 television station threatening to sue the TV station if it does not offer a public retraction of the report it broadcast on July 3, 2007 making claims similar to those you address and using on the air, the same documentary film you were shown and that I viewed on YouTube.
My position is that in this specific case, your delegation, as delegations that visited the same site before you and others that came after, was manipulated for political ends.
In the eyes of Palestinian nationalists and their supporters, Israel is guilty of having maliciously destroyed Palestinian towns and villages in order to create the state, and after 1967, to build so-called "settlements." Among those Arab villages claimed by Palestinians to have been destroyed by Israel is one called Sarafand. The history of Sarafand is discussed in an article that appeared in the The Jerusalem Post of Tuesday, October 9. The quote I bring here is a bit long, but please bear with me, as it relates to the idea of "Naqba" that dominates the Palestinian narrative:
"Take the example of the (Israeli) Tzrifin army base, which has a "user entry" marker in Google Earth. On the ‘official’ Google Maps layer, there is a marker for a place called Sarafand Al-Amar, ‘one of the Palestinian localities evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war,’ according to the place marker’s blurb. A little Web research will tell you that the Tzrifin base is located more or less at the site of this abandoned Arab village. Open and shut case, right? Colonialist Jews throw out poor Palestinian farmers, and establish and arm base where olive trees once grew! That’s what you’d get if you relied on Google Earth for your geo-historical information.
However, here is the story on Sarafand Al-Amar from the Hebrew language entry for Tzrifin (http://tinyurl.com/2kuhaz) in a loose translation: "Tzrifin (called Sarafand originally) was established (as a military base) at the end of the 1930s by the British. On the morning of May 16, 1948, a day after the State of Israel was declared, the British left the base and invited in soldiers of the Arab Legion (who had been waiting for the signal in the village, which was right next to the base) in through the front gate- whereupon they proceeded to fire on nearby Rishon Lezion. The base and the town were conquered by soldiers of the Givati brigade on May 18-19."
Palestinians and their supporters are quick to use the phrase "ethnic cleansing" in cases such as this, in which they misleadingly accuse Israel of having destroyed completely peaceful and innocent villages in 1948. Show me one army in history that did not attack and, if deemed necessary at that time, destroy hostile enemy villages. In contrast to Sarafand and other hostile Palestinian villages from that period, friendly villages such as Abu Gosh near Jerusalem, or Sakhnin in the north, as well as many others, were never attacked and today are parts of the State of Israel.
I have no idea as to the extent, if at all, you or any of the members of your delegation are aware of the "other" refugee problem caused by the war in 1948 in which Israel won its independence. Again, from a recent article in the Jerusalem Post (October 7), though it has been extensively documented elsewhere, one learns that "Shortly after the November 1947 Partition Plan was passed by the UN, a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms took place in several Arab countries. By May, 1948, the situation of Jews in these countries became untenable. The Arab invasion of Israel triggered a massive movement of populations in opposite directions. Jews fled to Israel and Arabs fled to the countries bordering on Palestine. In making their case, the Arabs have consistently refrained from acknowledging the mass exodus of some 800,000 Jews from Arab countries. Jewish communities had lived in the Arab world long before the advent of Islam – and before the Arabs gained their identity as a people."
Alwyn, please note the difference in the fates of both groups of refugees. While the Jewish refugees who had fled to Israel were first housed in makeshift refugee camps, they eventually made their way into the mainstream of Israeli society. The pathos of the Palestinian situation is due in no small part to the fact that so many have been left to live the squalid UN built and run refugee camps to this day in Lebanon, Jordan, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, solely to instill hate against Israel among the camps’ unfortunate residents, and to keep up international political pressure against Israel. I can’t even begin to number the times I have been asked by well meaning but ignorant members of international delegations why Israel continues to keep the Palestinians in refugee camps!!!!!!! Why do they ask this? Because this is what they were told during their visit to such a camp.
The coup de grace is the number of large, beautiful, Palestinian almost-mansions situated just across the road from the Deheishe Refugee Camp, located outside Bethlehem, with their Mercedes and BMWs parked in front. The same can be seen in parts of Beit Jala and Beit Sahur. Although, for security reasons, I no longer have access to the area near Deheishe, I remember it well, but I do still see such large homes and expensive cars in Beit Jala when taking the Walaja route from Efrat to Jerusalem. Pardon my cynicism, but when was the last time an international peace delegation was taken for lunch in one of these almost palatial Palestinian homes? Is there any knowledge concerning what these wealthy Palestinian businessmen are doing to improve the lot of their less fortunate brethren who live virtually under their noses?
One more point on refugees. So far, I have referred to Jewish refugees who fled to Israel to escape persecution and worse in the Arab countries in which they were born. The current crisis in Sudan, mainly the Darfur region, has resulted in much tragedy, including homeless, torture, starvation, untreated illness, and death. Is anyone in your delegation (perhaps yes) aware of what the State of Israel is doing on behalf of refugees from Darfur? I am not talking about fundraising. Solely for humanitarian reasons (yes, cynics are likely to say for public relations reasons, and they can say whatever they want) Israel has accepted as temporary residents a few thousand Darfurian refugees who against all odds, made their way to Israel on foot from Sudan and crossed over our border seeking safety. In contrast, Egyptian soldiers, on the other side of that border, have fired upon and killed some of these fleeing refugees. I really don’t know what is happening to all of them.
I have in front of me yet another newspaper article (I read the newspapers a lot), from Israel’s Ha’Aretz (sorry, I lost the date, but it is from September) telling of some 35 adult refugees from Darfur who recently began a Hebrew-language course in the Negev city of Arad. Another 35 children are enrolled in local schools, while the adults commute to work in hotels at the Dead Sea. Teachers in Arad are volunteering their time. One of the teachers said, "We live in the city (of Arad), we’re part of what goes on here and the reality is that 70 refugees now live in Arad. Whether they will be here for another week or for the rest of their lives, we still need to help them." There is another article in Ha’Aretz, from October 3, a full page article, that tells the story of Adam. (By the way, Ha’Aretz, if you don’t know, is an extremely left-wing mass-circulation daily Israeli newspaper that is more critical of Israel’s "occupation and abuse" of Palestinians than most non-Israeli newspapers. Rarely does Ha’Aretz, according to my familiarity with it, look to say anything nice about Israel.) "Four years ago, Adam fled from his Darfur village when the Janjweed attacked. At 18, in Israel, he is close to finishing high school and dreams of studying physics and computers." He still hopes one day to return to his family in Darfur, but in the meantime, here in Israel, Adam, a non-citizen alien national has completed his matriculation exams in math, English, history and Jewish law (!), and hopes to graduate this year with a full matriculation certificate.
October 11th’s Jerusalem Post reports on three Israeli doctors who recently traveled to Amman, Jordan to screen 40 Iraqi children, from a few months to 14 years old, suffering from heart disease. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Iraq. The doctor’s belong to an exclusively Israeli organization called "Save a Child’s Heart" that provides heart surgery for children from developing nations regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion. The mother of one Kurdish child examined in Jordan, Mustafa, who was diagnosed with a case of crossed arteries and will be brought to Israel for surgery, stated: "Israel is a good country. It’s a country that has mercy on other people."
I must bring to your attention such stories, and there are many similar others, including the story of the Vietnamese Boat People who Israel picked up at sea in the 1970s at the order of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and who virtually all became fully-integrated Israeli citizens. I must bring them to your attention because they are quite unlikely to appear on the websites of Christian Peacemaker Team or Interfaith Peace Builders. I have yet to find anything at all positive written about Israel on those websites.
Compare this, for example, to the immigration policy and actions of the United States of America in the case of Cuban and Mexican refugees, or refugees from anywhere, for that matter. I say this not to denigrate the U.S. and win brownie points for Israel. I say this only to, yet again, provide examples that should (but I know won’t) end any and all absurd charges that Israel is an "apartheid state."
You draw a direct line from the Naqba to the "occupation." The issue of the Naqba is also extremely arguable. I believe that, at the end of the day, individuals who viscerally support the Palestinian cause will only accept the Palestinian version of the events of 1948, while those who viscerally champion Israel’s cause view those same events quite differently. Each side brings to bear its set of historians and historical facts, so to take this matter up here, I think, is pointless. The only comment I wish to contribute, however, is that had the Palestinians heeded the decision then of the United Nations for a side-by-side, two-state solution, as did the leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine, which is the very same solution today’s "moderate" Palestinians call for (in contrast to those who openly call for wipe away the entire State of Israel), much suffering and countless lives would have been spared. To repeat the late Abba Eban’s oft repeated observation about Palestinian leadership, "it never loses the opportunity to lose an opportunity." This was true in 1937, 1947, 1967, and 2000. And what will be in 2007? My personal position, Alwyn, is that having attempted so many times through violence to erase the reality of Israel’s existence, the Palestinians and the Arab states who serve as their interlocutors are not in a position to dictate terms to Israel. Any long-term agreement that is arrived at will be the product of negotiation and compromise on both sides. And if we give land and financial compensation to the Palestinians, what do we receive in return: a promise from them to stop blowing themselves up on our buses?
Regarding the store you saw being welded shut in Hebron, I am simply without any background on that specific case and cannot knowledgeably comment. All I can tell you is that the exact same tactic, times 10, was recently used in Hebron against a small coterie of Jewish families who inhabited a few stores in the "Triangle Market" on the border of the long-established "Abraham Our Father" Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, in buildings whose legal ownership by Jews going as far back as the 1930’s is undisputed. Nonetheless, the IDF very forcibly evicted these Jewish residents, including young mothers and their children, in response to a lawsuit brought against this group by a politically left-wing Israeli organization.
As I write to you, I am staring at a photograph in the newspaper (Ha’Aretz, October 17, 2007) of Mr. Yosef Ezra, age 75, currently a resident of Jerusalem. But Mr. Ezra was born in Hebron. In his hands he is holding the original registration documents for the Hebron land and houses owned by both his family and Magen Avot, an umbrella organization of Sephardi seminaries (yeshivas) in the city. These homes are the very stores from which Jews have been unjustly evicted. In the article, Mr. Ezra says, "I never waivered my rights and those of my family, to these properties. But until we get this property back, I and descendents of other families from Hebron have allowed the Hebron settlers to maintain and use them."
I question on what basis you deem an "illegal settlement" a group of Jews living together in property legally owned by Jews, from which Jews were violently expelled during the murderous riots in 1929 by Arabs, who only by virtue of squatting assumed possession (not ownership) of this property. Unlike both Jews and Arabs who lost property in 1948 due to the war, something that happens in every war, the Ezra family, and other Jewish families, lost property in Hebron due to an Arab pogrom long before the war. Their homes weren’t abandoned, under force or otherwise; they were stolen. There is nothing "illegal" about Jews living on that property today.
I come from Chicago. I believe that the Chicago Police Department does not officially maintain a policy that sanctions physical abuse and oppression. Yet there have been many documented cases of such abuse by police in Chicago as well as other American cities (London as well?), including some more infamous incidents spontaneously documented by private citizens on video cameras in Los Angeles and New York. Similar additional incidents, one may reasonably assume, have taken place but were never documented. Each and every case, whether documented or not, is shocking and unpardonable. No case of gratuitous physical abuse or cruelty is excusable or justifiable. On the other hand, it is irrational to blame an entire police force or city administration for the episodic violent behavior of some officers. Nevertheless, when speaking to pro-Palestinian groups in Efrat, I often hear the entire Israel Defense Forces or, in some cases, the entire State of Israel impugned for maintaining a policy of deliberate and systematic violence against innocent Palestinians. True, your own comments do not include such an across-the-board censure, but your words clearly give significantly greater weight to the phenomenon of abuse against Palestinians by Israel, while you totally ignore the fact of daily violence and abuse of Palestinians by Palestinians, not to mention Israel’s daily foiling of ongoing terrorist efforts by Palestinians against Israelis, perhaps the tail end of the second Intifada.
A long book can (and should) be written about the significance and implications of the "imbalance of power" you address. I also "stand faithfully with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized." So do my neighbors and friends. But suffering from poverty, oppression and marginalization does not entitle people to take the lives of others by using whatever means are at their disposal, including their own bodies. Over the years, I have heard far too much mere lip service paid by peace delegations to the terror and human abuses inflicted by Palestinians against Israelis as well as against other Palestinians. Typically, someone from the delegation makes a short, general statement, which takes about 5 seconds, about how the group unequivocally denounces terrorism by anybody against anybody, and then proceeds to denounce, in great detail, alleged actions by Israel against Palestinians. For reasons such as this, such groups have lost all credibility among those of us on the other side of the dispute. That is too bad, for this renders meaningless all efforts at authentic dialogue.
The cruelty and repression in Palestinian areas that is generally ignored by political Leftists who support Palestinian nationalism includes the abuse of women, the press, and Christians. An extensive article appearing in the Jerusalem Post of Tuesday, October 2, 2007 by Lela Gilbert, an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., reviews anti-Christian persecution in various locations around the world, including Egypt, Iran, Nigeria and the West Bank and Gaza. Regarding the latter, she states, "As in the rest of the Middle East, the Christian population in the Palestinian territories continues to decline because of discrimination and persecution, particularly since Hama’s rise to power….Although there are claims that the dwindling of Christian population in PA-controlled territories (from 20% just after WWII to merely 1.7% today!) is a result of the Israeli security fence and checkpoints, the exodus of Christians began during the first Intifada. It became more severe during the second Intifada’s epidemic of suicide bombings and the security precautions that followed….The flight of Christians is primarily due to ‘social, economic and religious discrimination and persecution within Palestinian society in the West Bank and Gaza.’"
A few years ago, certain more outlandish critics of Israel finally reached a new low and let loose the ultimate affront by charging Israel with treating the Palestinians "like the Nazis treated the Jews." In response to this there is little one can say, apart from acknowledging such a statement’s stupidity. Such a grotesque comment reveals either one’s abysmal ignorance, or one’s willingness, when reason fails, to stoop to gratuitous name calling.
Following is a description of actual Nazi behavior that appears in an article from the International Herald Tribune of October 6th. The article reports on the historical field research currently being carried out in the Ukraine by Patrick Debois, a French Catholic priest. Debois has taken it upon himself to interview surviving Ukrainian witnesses in order to uncover the true extent of the atrocities committed against Jews in this country during WWII because, with the exception of the 1941 slaughter of nearly 34,000 Jews in the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, much of that history has gone untold.) It is true, Alwyn, that some Israeli soldiers, against all military orders, are guilty of humiliating and sometimes even physically abusing innocent Palestinians at checkpoints, Palestinians who have been waiting in line for hours to travel to visit relatives, attend to medical needs, or transact business. Again, I contend, such behavior on the part of our soldiers is inexcusable and warrants appropriate punishment. This, taken from the article, in contrast is what the Nazis did: "Vera Filonok said she watched from the porch of her mud hut in 1941 as thousands of Jews were shot, thrown into a pit and set on fire. Those who were still alive writhed ‘like flies and worms,’ she said." And these atrocities took place beyond the death camps where millions of my people, including my own relatives, met their end. Please tell me how any critic of Israeli policy who seeks legitimacy and credibility can resort to such a contemptible comparison.
I have lived in this area for the past 25 years, and I am witness to the daily, regular travel of Palestinians on roads traveled by Jews. I daily witness Palestinians shuttling their produce to market in Palestinian taxis as well as in private cars and trucks. If I did not know better and were to rely solely on your description, I would have no choice but to imagine that most (you do not use the word, but your tone gives the impression) Palestinians are at all times restricted in their travel throughout all of Judea and Samaria. And that the extreme level of poverty you refer to is characteristic of most of Palestinian society. This is very far from the case; witness the wealthier sector of Palestinian society I refer to above. Furthermore, what was the fate of the millions (billions?) of dollars contributed by nations around the world, including Israel, to improve the quality of life for Palestinians? I think we know very well how most of that money was stolen and squandered by a corrupt Palestinian leadership, starting with Yasser Arafat and on down.
Towards the end of your letter you speak of theology. I understand your need, as a committed Christian, to understate the behavior of the Church and most (though obviously not all) Christians towards the Jews. To merely say, as you do, that "Christians have not always had an honourable record in dealing with the Jews," sounds like an attempt to sweep the "tragic history of (our) persecution" under the rug. Whatever abuses Israel is guilty of in its treatment of Palestinians but pales in comparison to what Christians and Muslims have done to Jews during the last two-thousand (!) years. We must at the very least affirm the historical facts as they really are before attempting to move on, if that is the objective.
Taking up the Palestinian cause, along with other Third World causes, in a demonstration of unprejudiced love of all humanity, in my book, does not reconcile two millennia of unfounded Christian hatred, persecution and murder of Jews, especially and ironically, since we Israelis (read: Jews) again find ourselves demonized within the narrative of the contemporary liberation movement. Does not Sabeel, the Palestinian liberation theology movement, compare the Palestinian people to Jesus and the State of Israel to the Romans? Just sixty years after six-million (can anyone really envisage that number in their heads?) Jews were murdered for no reason other than being Jews, we are again being vilified, although this time it is, they say, not anti-Semitism, just "anti-Israelism," as if that makes it kosher.
Christianity, which rejected the ritual laws of the Torah, only sees in the Prophets their concern for morality. Reform Judaism, in a vain effort to fit into Western Christian society, reduced Judaism to nothing more than a code of ethical behavior.
Here I offer my final quote from an external source, thankfully in this case, not just another newspaper article. I refer you to a book entitled: "The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are," by Norman Podhoretz. I quote:
"To offer one last summation of what a close reading of the texts revealed: the classical prophets did not…elevate morality over ritual; they did not constitute a party of the ‘spirit’ in opposition to a rigidly legalistic priestly ‘establishment’, and they did not feel of give expression to a ‘tension’ between ‘universalism’ and ‘particularism.’ Furthemore, the fact that the early Christians read back a forecast of the career of Jesus, down even to the small details, in some of the classical prophets did not make the prophets themselves premature Christians or heralds of Christianity. And if the ‘Christological’ interpretations of the classical prophets was based on a religiously driven selective and distorted perception of the texts, there was just as much misrepresentation behind the politically driven ‘liberological’ construal of them as the fathers of certain modern notions of social justice, or as protesters speaking ‘truth to power,’ or as dissident intellectuals.’" Pp. 314, 315.
Podhoretz goes on: "Suppose that, instead of being all the things I have just said they were not, what they really were doing was fighting with all their might against idolatry in order to keep their people faithful to God because they believed with all their hearts and all their souls the He had, out of an inscrutable love, chosen the children of Israel as the instrument through which His Law would be revealed and ultimately accepted by every other people as well." P. 315
In light of your comments about the prophets, I think we best just agree to disagree over their mission and the meaning of their legacy. Yes, social justice is part of it, but by no means is social justice all of it.
Regarding our obligations as Jews as "God’s people," this includes abiding by of all 613 commandments found in the Torah, both the written and oral Law. There is no such set of obligations for non-Jews. Our challenge and our struggle, and mostly our failure throughout history, is to succeed in abiding by all of them. This Sabbath, in synagogues throughout the world, we read from the book of Genesis. In Genesis 12:2-3 we read: "I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you I will curse." The Hebrew text is written in the future tense. Hence, I submit, the Jewish people, as God envisions us, is still a work in progress. We still have a long way to go. Hitler almost put an end to this process, but apparently God would not let this happen. And immediately following the Holocaust, the State of Israel was born. Hmmmmm?????
Your final comments, namely those suggesting a one-state solution reveals to me, on the one hand a great level of idealism and a true striving for peace, but on the other, a failure to recognize, or perhaps the decision to purposely ignore, some two thirds of the basic text of Genesis through Deuteronomy. You refer, towards the end of your letter, to Israel as merely "a particular piece of land." I have had other liberal Christians make similar comments to me. With all due respect, I don’t get how they don’t get it. Even with an interpretation of Biblical text that places an emphasis on human rights and social justice, how in the name of intellectual honesty can one read out or ignore the chapters and chapters of Biblical text that are precisely about the People of Israel and the nation they are to set up in the Land of Israel? Israel, to a religious Jew, and Christian I would hope, is not just some nameless, particular piece of land. Israel is not Duluth, Minnesota! For some reason or reason, again, inscrutable, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel are inseparably linked through an eternal covenant with God. Just read the text, its there.
Beyond the theological argument for a separate and Jewish State of Israel, there is the practical argument. I would be quite curious to meet the Israelis you allude to at the end of your letter who "say that the one state solution is the only one that makes sense, given the facts on the ground." Alwyn, if there is one glaring point of consensus among all Israelis today (except, perhaps, for some fringe Leftist extremists like Jeff Halper to whom perhaps you are referring), it is that the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees in a non-starter in peace negotiations. This is simply because the implied mass immigration of some hundreds of thousands or more Palestinians to Israel would simply bring about, though demographics, the demise of Israel as a Jewish State. From your words I sense that such a consequence is not critical. Perhaps I misunderstand your position, but in any event, a one state solution is not under consideration at any level.
Finally, you state: "we had so few opportunities to meet with Israelis in communities like Efrat (Thanks for recognizing us as community and not a "settlement"), and we had so many questions. Why was this so? Who built your program and why was it structured the way it was? Do you not think that a less biased and more politically balanced itinerary would have provide your delegation with a more realistic and more meaningful understanding of what is goes on here on the ground?
I hope that giving vent to my own passion and conviction did not in any way offend you or your colleagues. There is no doubt in my mind that we share the same goal of peace and co-existence in this part of the world. With God’s help, we will get there.
Ardie Geldman, Efrat
Further response from Ardie Geldman, November 8, 2007
Pursuant to our recent correspondence, I wish to add my discovery of the following in yesterday’s weekly supplemental magazine to the Thursday Jerusalem Post. In it appears a regular column entitled "My Working Week" in which "regular Israelis" are profiled regarding their jobs and careers. Never is anyone famous chosen. I feel the need to share with you a quote from yesterday’s interview with Dr. Ilan Wright, pediatrician, 42, married with 3 children, and who works for an HMO called Kupat Cholim Leumit in the city of Netanya. She was asked 11 questions by the interviewer. The ninth question and her response are as follows:
Q: What has been your most moving moment at work?
A: I once treated a 10-year old girl from Gaza who needed a bone-marrow transplant. The Palestinian Authority refused to pay for her treatment, and so she was going to be discharged from the hospital, which would have been a death sentence for her. Her mother pleaded with me to delay her discharge until she could call on some of her connections in Israel. I managed to help her, and in the end funds were put up to continue the treatment. I then had to intervene to get permission from the army for her siblings to enter Israel from Gaza so they could be tested to see if they were suitable donors. One of her brothers proved to be a perfect match. The transplant was successful, and the girl is alive and well today. I have seen her several times since. She is a beautiful girl.
Alwyn, you note in your letter to me that you "had so few opportunities to meet with Israelis in communities like Efrat." I cannot but speculate, having reviewed so many of the agendas of international peace and liberal Christian delegations to our country, that you also had few opportunities to meet with Israelis like Dr. Wright, or to hear the many stories similar to the one she tells here. Why, for example, considering that such stories are not uncommon, do we not see such stories posted on the Christian Peacemaker Team website following the visit of a delegation such as the one you were with? Clearly, Alwyn, an injustice is being done here, and I am not referring to the Palestinians.
Perhaps the story of Dr. Wright is just one small example of the Jews efforts to be a blessing onto the nations.