Saturday, 23 January 2010

Christianity Explored in Swahili

I have just been woken up by the beating of heavy rain on the roof. A welcome sound because the temperature is a little cooler but more importantly the people will have some fresh water today. I am in Kiwoko, near Luweero in Central Uganda for the Kiwoko Annual Pastors Conference. This is the end of the rainy season when water reserves should be good but the bore holes are running dry so farmers are worried. The dry season will last several more months and with climate change it is hard for them to know when to plant seeds. Water is very precious here and for daily use most of it comes from rain water collected from the roof. That is why we need to use shower water to flush the toilet and brush teeth in bottled water.

We are staying with friends in the compound at Kiwoko Hospital. Craig Dyer and I are teaching around 600 pastors how to use the Christianity Explored course. We have been here a week. Today the conference ends with a prize giving ceremony for graduates of the Kiwoko Bible School with friends coming from the Kampala Evangelical School of Theology (KEST). Yesterday we also had friends from the Bible Society Uganda here. They have co-sponsored the translation and publication of CE in the Luganda language.

We will use the afternoon to visit the hospital wards and the new maternity unit then pack as we have an early start tomorrow morning. Its a six hour drive north to the Murchison Falls National Park. We are having a 24 hour safari break by Lake Albert getting close up to the wildlife.

On Monday we drive further north about three hours drive to Bweyale nearer the border with Sudan and Congo. A high proportion of the residents in the area are refugees and live in resettlement camps. With the Anglican Bishop of Masindi we will launch the CE course in Swahili. The hope is that those trained will help take CE Swahili into Sudan and Congo as well as Tanzania and Kenya.

Uganda is a country of striking beauty with abright future but with momentous demographic and economic challenges ahead. With God's help, The Church of Uganda, with its schools and hospitals, as in Kiwoko, will help its people realise their full potential, to the glory of God and the entension of his kingdom.

You can view photographs taken last year here:

Kiwoko Hospital
Kiwoko Christianity Explored

Bweyale Christianity Explored

Black Africa
On the Road

Other photographic collections

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Defamation v Anti-Defamation

Antony Lerman has just written a really helpful article in the Guardian about a new documentary by Yoav Shamir on the ADL and anti-semitism. "Shamir's documentary offers a more nuanced view than the ADL's identification of antisemitism with hostility to Israel."
How is it that so many people who care deeply and genuinely about the problem of antisemitism find themselves on the opposite sides of a barricade fighting what sometimes seems like a war to the death? How many of us who have got caught up in these often bitter battles have hoped for some way of finding a common language through which we could discuss our differences?

Perhaps Israeli film-maker Yoav Shamir's two-hour documentary Defamation screened on More4, in which he asks "What is antisemitism today?", points the way.

Zionism and the state of Israel were supposed to have eliminated antisemitism, so "Why do the words Holocaust, Nazis and antisemitism appear so often in the Israeli press?" asks Shamir. Antisemitism is on the rise, he is told. To investigate this, he uses a cool, slightly ironic, but engaged style. He spends most of his time either observing and talking with Abe Foxman, veteran head of the US Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the largest Jewish organisation combating antisemitism worldwide, or accompanying a group of Israeli senior high school students who go on the March of the Living, a trip to the death camps in Poland made each year by 30,000 youngsters.

The ADL sees antisemitism rising everywhere. From Foxman, Shamir learns that the only answer is to stamp on it hard by playing on feelings of guilt about the Holocaust. Heavy-handed and exaggerated? Privately, even some senior ADL lay supporters think so. And when Shamir tries to explore what the rise in antisemitism consists of, he finds it rather elusive. Foxman and ADL officials tell him there's been a spike in US antisemitic incidents, which are now running at 1,500 a year, but when he asks them to identify a recent local one, where the physical evidence could be filmed, most appear to be very minor.

He also learns that the Israeli students are indoctrinated with an exaggerated sense of the danger of antisemitism in Poland. "We're raised to know that people hate us," says one. Another wants to absorb the mantra he hears from his parents: "Never forgive, never forget." Before they leave for Poland they are briefed: "You will not have contact with the local people," it's too dangerous.

Shamir shows us that the threat of another Holocaust looms large both for the wealthy, elderly ADL supporters who go on international missions with Foxman and for the Israeli high school students. The former stand at Babi Yar in Kiev, where tens of thousands of Jews were massacred in 1941, and one woman says: "The worst thing standing here is that it could happen again today." The students go to Auschwitz and believe the Israeli secret serviceman who tells them they're in "hostile country" and can't go out from their hotel in the evening because neo-Nazis will attack them.

The ADL works very closely with the Israeli government in spreading the notion that the "new antisemitism" – extreme and unfair hostility to Israel – is the principal danger today. When Shamir asks whether there is any possibility that Israel's actions may lead to antisemitism, Foxman says: "It's nonsense." This orthodoxy is displayed at a conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Israel. So, when Dr David Hirsh, from Goldsmiths, University of London, and founder of Engage, who agrees that there is a "new antisemitism", bravely speaks of the iniquity of settlements and occupation and their role in making people hate Israel, he's suddenly treated like a pariah. Professor Dinah Porat, who runs an antisemitism research centre at Tel Aviv University, tells him: "I don't get it, unless you were being ironic." Shamir concludes: "Speaking with Dr Hirsh made me realise it's hard to say anything different."

Read more here

Sir Gerald Kaufman M.P. "Israelis who authorized the use of white phosphorous in Gaza should be tried for war crimes,"

"Israelis who authorized the use of white phosphorous in densely populated Gaza should be tried for war crimes," British Labour Party legislator Gerald Kaufman said Friday, after entering the Strip with 60 European parliamentarians.

The lawmakers are visiting Gaza to draw attention to the territory's "evil blockade" by Israel and Egypt, said the Labour legislator. Kaufman also spoke in support of attempts by pro-Palestinian groups in Britain to arrest Israeli politicians and army officers once they step on British soil.

"We have had a fuss in our country about the inability of certain Israeli politicians to visit Britain for fear of being arrested," said Kaufman, frequently an outspoken critic of Israel. "Anybody who uses white phosphorus should be arrested and should be tried for war crimes."

Source: Jerusalem Post

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Israel's Seige of Gaza "Morally Indefensible" says Foreign Office Minister

Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant MP yesterday labelled Israel's siege of Gaza "morally indefensible", in a parliamentary debate on the Goldstone Report.

Responding to comparison's made by Jeremy Corbyn MP of Israel's policy towards Gaza and the UK police tactic of "kettling" protestors via mass detentions, Bryant stated that it was "morally indefensible to 'kettle' the Palestinian people."

Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since the summer of 2007, preventing freedom of movement for the Palestinian people and allowing the delivery of only the most basic of humanitarian goods. Reconstruction materials, desperately needed in the wake of a conflict that damaged or destroyed 50,000 homes, have largely been prevented from entering the territory.

The Goldstone Report, commissioned to investigate the December to January fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian groups, labelled the siege "collective punishment" and a potential war crime.

Bryant was offering the government's response to a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on the publication of the report, secured by Martin Linton MP.

Linton, Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, cited a number of the atrocities documented in the report, such as the Israeli bombing of al-Fakhoura Street with mortar shells that killed twenty-four people, attacks upon private industry and the apparently deliberate shooting of civilians. He called upon the UK government, as a signatory of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to bring the culprits to justice.

"The inadequacy of Israel's own investigations has meant that the report attaches enormous importance to the principle of universal jurisdiction," said Linton. "If soldiers are not punished for such casual cruelty, if generals do not investigate, if the Israeli Government spokesman, Mark Regev, simply denies on television that anything of this kind ever occurred, it eats away at the moral fibre."

Bob Marshall Andrews MP defended the Goldstone Report from criticisms that it was one-sided in its focus upon Israeli actions. Demanding that the evidence of the UN Mission be brought before a UK or international court, he dismissed allegations of bias.

"The Goldstone Report centres on Israel and the actions of the Israeli army because 1,440 people have been injured and killed-including 400 children-by that army," said the MP for Medway. "It is hardly surprising that Goldstone concentrates on such matters. Do I not accept that some of the evidence in Goldstone is questionable? Of course I do. I have been a criminal barrister for a long time. Of course I know that all evidence needs to be tested. That is why the report needs to be tested in a proper arena; it needs to be tested in a British court. Brought before such a judicial test, it may well be that some parts of the report will be found wanting. Frankly, I disagree -the report is a devastating indictment, in its form, its content and the nature and background of the man who wrote it."

Marshall-Andrews also joined demands from numerous MPs that the government does not seek to reverse UK legislation that currently allows courts to issue arrest warrants for individuals suspected of war crimes. Following the much-publicised case of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who cancelled a recent trip to London over fears of arrest, the government has suggested that it plans to change the procedure through which warrants are issued.

Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, Richard Burden MP, said that government messages in support of Israeli politicians had already effectively vetoed the issuing of such warrants under a re-designed system. Addressing calls from Andrew Dismore MP for the Attorney General to have to approve the issuing of warrants, Burden stated:

"My Honourable Friend is saying that a better way of operating the law of universal jurisdiction would be to involve the Attorney-General at an earlier stage in determining whether there should be an arrest, does he think it was wise for that same post-holder-the Attorney-General-to go to Israel and give a guarantee in advance that, as far as the British Government are concerned, no Israeli leader would be arrested if they came to the UK? Is not that rather prejudicing her office?"

In response Bryant said that the government remained committed to the idea of universal jurisdiction, but admitted that colleagues were examining how it was applied in the UK.

Responding to the debate for the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey MP referred to a delegation to Gaza organised by the Council for Arab British Understanding which he joined in the immediate aftermath of Israel's invasion. The Foreign Affairs Spokesman said that he was struck by the price paid by the civilians of Gaza, in the businesses that were destroyed and the homes that were levelled.

"If anyone tells me that they think this was correct action, fair action and along the lines of international law, I cannot accept it," Davey said.

Conservative spokesman Brooks Newmark MP said that Operation Cast Lead had caused "an immense and continuing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip."

Bryant, the Minister for Europe, said in response that Israel could not justify any action in the terms of defence.

"Israel has an absolute right to protect itself," said the Minister. "However, that does not give it carte blanche to use any means that it wants, and nor does it allow it to stray beyond the bounds of what is morally right or what is legally right under international law-or, for that matter, under its own law."

CAABU's Parliamentary Officer Graham Bambrough welcomed the comments made in Westminster Hall.

"Tuesday's debate allowed a number of MPs to demonstrate their feelings over the Goldstone Report and the actions of Israel during Operation Cast Lead. I only hope that the UK government will act upon the report's key findings and help bring an end to the culture of impunity that has existed within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for far too long. If those parties named by the UN Mission refuse to carry out their own credible inquiries into alleged abuses of international law, then the global community, led by countries such as the United Kingdom, must take concerted action."

A full text of the debate can be read via the parliament website.

Monday, 11 January 2010

With God on Our Side

With God On Our Side takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God's chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel's security as a whole.

This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn't favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians."

The title for our film, “With God on Our Side” was inspired by the verse:

…while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, "Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies'?" He said, "Neither. I'm commander of God's army. Joshua 5:13-14a (The Message)

We believe this verse is still true today, that God does not take sides with certain people groups, nations or agendas. Rather He is for all people. Throughout history, those who have claimed God was on their side have used it to justify atrocities done in the name of Jesus. We believe once again certain Christians are approaching the people in the Middle East claiming God is on their side in a way that disregards human rights and gives unilateral support to a secular State, elevates one people group over another while using the Bible as justification. We believe there is a better way, a way of justice, peace and love for Jews and Palestinians. One that is inclusive, not exclusive. That is the heart of God.

For the latest news see With God On Our Side

Richard Bewes on Revival

Richard Bewes on Revival from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Yesterday I interviewed Richard Bewes about his experience of revival in East Africa and the signs of genuine revival today. Foir more information see 

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Katie Reads Poems on Premier Radio

Katie was interviewed today by Tony Miles on Premier Christian Radio about her new book "A Route of Hope". You can listen to the interview and hear Katie read some of her poems here

At least 10% of the profits from the book are being donated to Umthombo and their work among homeless street children in Durban, South Africa.

Priced £4.99, you may pre-order copies from Katie or from Amazon

For more information see Katie's website

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Deep Freeze

Check out some short videos of the snow in Virginia Water and attempts to clear the church car park with leaf blowers. There's also a chance to go for a walk around Wentworth with Dilly.

Photo source: NASA via the BBC

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Are Israel and apartheid South Africa really different?

Akiva Eldar in Ha'aretz, a couple of days ago, wrote this provocative article asking once again whether the aprtheid practiced by Israel is really any different to that attempted in South Africa.

The day after the murder of the settler Meir Hai about 10 days ago, Major General (res.) Amos Gilad was asked to comment on the claim by settlers that the attack was able to take place because roadblocks had been lifted on West Bank roads. The security-political coordinator at the Defense Ministry told his radio interviewer that the policy of thinning out internal roadblocks has greatly contributed to the West Bank's impressive economic growth. According to Gilad, who until recently was coordinator of activities in the territories, the improvement of the Palestinians' economic lot has contributed substantially to Israelis' security.

An army man, who is not suspected of belonging to a human rights organization, thus upsets the simplistic and most accepted formula: restrictions on Arabs means more security for Jews. The Supreme Court ruling last week to lift the ban on Palestinians using Route 443 shows that members of the judiciary also no longer stand at attention when they hear the magic word security. Nonetheless, the judiciary members, like politicians and the media, still find it hard to let go of their paralyzing dependency on this term. This is intentional: If discrimination is not mandated by security considerations stemming from the threat of Palestinian terrorism, how can we diagnose this regime as segregationist? If it is not diagnosed as such, there is no need to treat it.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which appealed against the ban on Route 443, dared suggest the word apartheid and was reprimanded for it. In her ruling, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote that "the great difference between the security means adopted by the State of Israel for defense against terrorist attacks and the unacceptable practices of the policy of apartheid requires that any comparison or use of this grave term be avoided." A similar argument was voiced during the days of Israel's military administration over its Arab citizens, which was lifted in 1966, and which is today considered a dark period in the country's history.

Beinisch herself is a co-author of about a dozen rulings that exposed the malicious use of the segregation regime in an effort to take over Palestinian land. In some cases, most notably one concerning the separation fence near Bil'in, she wrote that the invasive route set by the army was inferior from a security point of view to the route proposed by experts at the Council for Peace and Security. In another case the state admitted that the person in charge of planning the fence did not inform government lawyers that the route had been adjusted to the blueprint for expanding the settlement of Tzofin. Were it not for human rights organizations and conscientious lawyers, who would prevent shortsighted politicians from annexing more and more territory "for security against terrorism"? asked Beinisch.

One of the myths among whites in South Africa was that "blacks want to throw us into the sea." Many of apartheid's practices were formally based on security, mostly those involving restrictions on movement. Thus, for example, at a fairly early stage, black citizens needed permits to move around the country. During the final years of apartheid, when the blacks' struggle intensified as did terrorism, its practices became more severe.

To avoid the rude word apartheid, Beinisch pulled out the well-known argument that apartheid is "a policy of segregation and discrimination based on race and ethnicity, which is based on a series of discriminatory practices designed to achieve the superiority of a certain race and oppress those of other races." Indeed, systematic segregation (apartheid) and discrimination in South Africa were meant to preserve the supremacy of one race over others.

In Israel, on the other hand, institutional discrimination is meant to preserve the supremacy of a group of Jewish settlers over Palestinian Arabs. As far as discriminatory practices are concerned, it's hard to find differences between white rule in South Africa and Israeli rule in the territories; for example, separate areas and separate laws for Jews and Palestinians.

Last Wednesday, Israeli policemen blocked the main road linking Nablus and Tul Karm. Dozens of taxis with Palestinian workers on their way home from another day on the job in the settlements were told to park on the side of the road. Cars with yellow license plates passed by. There was no roadblock for security inspections; it was just the memorial ceremony for Rabbi Meir Hai. Just as long as they do not say that there is apartheid.
 Source: Ha'aretz

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Viva Palestina Convoy Arrives in Gaza

One month, thousands of miles, ten countries, one ship and a four flights later, Viva Palestina has begun to enter the besieged Gaza Strip.

"We are all emotional to see that all of Gaza are out to greet us! Our Viva Palestina convoy is symbolic!  It shows the Palestianian people just how much the people of the West do care. " We come in peace to deliver humanitarian aid and we hope that our convoy (and convoy's like ours) will help to build pressure on the Israeli government to break the siege."
Kevin Ovenden, convoy leader 

Tony Gratrex, a member of our church family, is one of the drivers on the Viva Palestina Convo.

For further information see Viva Palestinia

Reading Palestine Solidarity Campaign.