As in previous years (see NGO Monitor reports for 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and well-known charities have been exploiting the Christmas season to demonize Israel and work against peace.
Groups such as the World Council of Churches, Sabeel, Kairos Palestine, PAX Christi, Wi’am, Christ at the Checkpoint, and Amos Trust are again using religious and holiday themes to demonize Israel. These groups draw comparisons between the historic times of Jesus and current times, in attempts to equate the actions of the Israeli government and evil regimes of the past.
These holiday messages and “Christmas alerts” generally omit any reference to Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens, placing sole blame on Israel for the ongoing conflict. These groups condemn the security barrier near Bethlehem, while omitting the wave of Palestinian terror originating from this area.
The abuse of Christmas messages is part of a broad international campaign of political warfare targeting Israel in some churches and related charities. Many of these groups promote theological “supersessionism,” which claims that “the church has permanently replaced Israel in God’s plan.”
With this abuse of holiday and religious symbols, these NGOs and charities that claim to promote moral agendas are not offering messages of peace and good cheer. Rather, their messages of intolerance exacerbate an already polarized and violent conflict.
Exploitation of Religious Themes in Attacking Israel
Kairos Palestine is an NGO that promotes the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, drafted by a small group of Palestinian Christian clergy. The document characterizes terrorist acts as “armed resistance” and “Palestinian legal resistance,” denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, seeks to mobilize churches worldwide in the call for BDS, and compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime.
The 2016 “Christmas Alert” distributed by Kairos Palestine alleges that “2000 years ago, Bethlehem and Palestine suffered a harsh and unjust Roman military occupation. Today, Palestinians suffer the brunt of a 50 year-long Israeli military occupation.” It also includes multiple articles on Palestinian children, including from the anti-Israel NGO calling itself Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P)1. The Alert accuses Israel of committing physical and psychological violence against children, while making little reference to Palestinian violence and omitting Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens.
- Rifat Odeh Kassis, who is also a DCI-P leader, wrote the introduction for the Kairos Alert, accusing Israel of “extrajudicial executions” and of denying basic rights to Palestinian children arrested under charges of “usually, stone throwing,” which can be lethal.
- H.B. Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote a prayer for the children, referring to Israel as the children’s “jailors” and as “those who obstinately want us to remain in war, death, under occupation and humiliation.” Sabbah blames Israel for the conflict, and claims that “No one incites” the children. Sabbah is also an author of the 2009 Kairos Palestine document.
- The document refers to terror attacks as having “allegedly” taken place, and, without evidence, accuses Israel of arresting and killing Palestinians.
- The holiday booklet contains an “imagined letter” from a Palestinian child killed in Gaza, exploiting suffering to promote conflict. The letter praises the work of Zochrot, a highly politicized Israeli NGO that supports a “One State Solution” or a “de-Zionized Palestine,” and refers to Israel as having an “ethnicized and racialized Zionist” system.
- An article prepared by the Society of St. Yves accuses Israel of violating international law and committing “psychological violence” against Palestinian children.
- In one activity, a typical nativity scene is deconstructed to reflect the “situation in Bethlehem today.” This includes actions such as removing the olive tree, to remember olive groves that have been destroyed “to clear the group for settlements, to build the separation wall or in attacks on local people.” Children are then told to replace the tree with a “separation wall.” Later steps include removing the shepherds and livestock, as “The wall and neighbouring settlements also prevent shepherds in Bethlehem from going to their fields.”
- Children are told to remove Mary and Joseph from the scene, as “Mary and Joseph were Jews.…the main entrance of the wall surrounding Bethlehem includes a massive checkpoint like we see at airports and ferry terminals. The Israeli authorities have ruled that Israeli Jews are no longer allowed to enter Bethlehem.” At the end of the activity, the baby Jesus lies alone next to the “separation wall.”
- Another activity involves children building a home out of blocks and dividing into groups to act out a scene of Israeli soldiers destroying the home of olive farmers. Describing the stage at which the house is destroyed, the booklet writes: “Another group of people, the soldiers, decided that actually they didn’t want the house to be built there, they had more power than the olive farmers.” (Emphasis added.)
- The publication refers to the separation barrier as the “Apartheid Wall.”
Sabeel claims to be an “ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians,” which “encourages Christians from around the world to work for justice and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Sabeel is active in anti-Israel political campaigns, including church divestment campaigns, and supports a “one state” formula, meaning the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
Sabeel’s 2016 Christmas Message, written by Naim Ateek, makes comparisons between the historical times in which Jesus lived and current times to demonize Israel:
- “The Caesars and emperors always pass laws that disrupt and even ruin people’s lives… Those who pass laws against the occupied, sit in their comfortable offices and do not care about the consequences of their actions upon the poor and oppressed. In the conflict over Palestine, not only Zionist leaders and Israeli officials took decisions that negatively affected our Palestinian people, even more drastically, western Christian leaders destroyed Palestine and its people through their outrageous and immoral resolutions such as the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the unjust 1947 Partition Plan, to name only a few.”
- “Seemingly powerful Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers feel threatened by the nonviolent acts of the humble and meek whose only weapons are truth and justice…It can lead them to violent and cruel action against others. They can go to extremes in order to do away with the threats. This is the way King Herod behaved…Israel’s intelligence agency, assassinated many Palestinians because it perceived them as threats. This is the way of empire. This is the way people of power behave. They do not see human beings, families and children, they only see obstacles that need to be eliminated.”
Wi’am is involved in BDS, supports the Kairos Palestine document, and often distorts the context of terror. This year Wi’am released a Christmas Smile Proposal to raise money to fund a Christmas event. The proposal claims that:
- “In Palestine, the unjust measures on the ground embodied by the Apartheid Wall, confiscation of land, and illegal settlements limit our mobility, deny us access to our natural resources, and cripple our fragile economy. Many families are unable to meet the basic needs of their households and are faced with an uphill struggle to bring joy to their children.”
PAX Christi, established in Europe in 1945 as a “global Catholic peace movement,” promotes the Palestinian narrative of the “Nakba” [catastrophe] and urges the international community “to hold Israel accountable for its statist crimes of oppression and collective punishment.”
- PAX Christi UK published a pack of greeting cards for sale during the Christmas season. One is called “Madonna of the Wall” and portrays an image of Mary painted on the “Separation Wall.”
World Council of Churches
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a collective of “347 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories.” The WCC has established several highly biased and politicized subgroups, including Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). It also promotes the Kairos Palestine document.
- WCC’s 2016 Christmas greeting was made by children in Bethlehem. The document describes “the limitations and even threats to their lives through the ongoing occupation with its walls and wires.” In the video greeting, there are several images of EAPPI activists and Israeli security personnel, as well as a drawing in which the nativity scene takes place in front of the “Separation Wall,” flanked by Palestinian flags.
Christ at the Checkpoint
Christ at the Checkpoint was founded by the Bethlehem Bible College. The bi-annual Christ at the Checkpoint Conference regularly features representatives from highly politicized NGOs and employs rhetoric accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” erecting an “apartheid wall,” and enacting a “crucification system” against the Palestinians.
- Released a video telling “the story of Christmas from Bethlehem.” In it, individuals explain that Mary and Joseph would not be able to enter Bethlehem today “because the big wall is close to Bethlehem. He’ll want a permit from Israel.” Jesus is also compared to modern-day refugees.
- DCI-P is a political advocacy NGO that support BDS campaigns against Israel. Several current and former board members of DCI-P have strong ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.