Saturday, 31 March 2012

Is God a Delusion? John Lennox

Read more about John Lennox.

The Lennox-Dawkins Debate.

Christ Church, Virginia Water. GU25 4PT. Phone 01344 844946 for tickets

Church Leaders Open letter to Michael Oren ahead of Easter

As Christian leaders in Palestine, we were appalled by the baseless allegations you published in the Wall Street Journal on March 9. Your attempt to blame the difficult reality that Palestinian Christians face on Palestinian Muslims is a shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community.

As has been stated in our Kairos document, we Palestinian Christians declare that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.”

The Israeli occupation is the primary reason why so many members of the oldest Christian communities in the world have left the holy land, Palestine.

Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights began in 1967, the Israeli government has confiscated thousands of acres of land owned by Christian Palestinians to build settlements Israel now calls “neighborhoods.” These settlements have divided Bethlehem and Jerusalem for the first time in the two millennia since Jesus walked between these holy cities.

Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem have been hardest hit by this land grab policy.

The Israeli government has demolished the homes of hundreds of Palestinians in the occupied city and revoked the residency rights of thousands more, while promoting foreign immigration to the ever-expanding illegal settlements throughout our occupied homeland.

Your claim, Mr Oren, that the Christian population in Israel has grown is disingenuous.

In fact, the percentage of Christians in the area began to decrease in 1948 when the creation of Israel caused a large portion of the Palestinian Christian population to become refugees.

The exaggerated growth of the Christian population in Israel that you claim is due primarily to the immigration of Russian Christians whom Israel was unable to distinguish from the Jewish immigrants pouring into the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is not due to any accommodation for the indigenous Palestinian Christian population, which is victim to an ongoing displacement policy implemented by your government.

It is also misleading to suggest that the occupation does not dramatically affect the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Palestinian use of airspace, telecommunications, and critical resources like water are all ultimately subject to Israeli control. We cannot move between our cities or travel abroad without crossing an Israeli checkpoint.

Israel’s matrix of control has cost our economy dearly and it dramatically limits the opportunities available to our youth. In 2010 alone, the cost of the occupation to the Palestinian economy was almost $7 billion, 85 percent of our GDP.

Our Holy Bible says, "'Peace, peace' when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14). We seek a just and lasting peace. But to achieve peace, Mr Oren, your government must recognize the reality your occupation has created.

Our reality is one of occupation, oppression and loss. We endure your government’s assault on our natural and basic right to worship and its policy of exile and division between our communities.

Contrary to your erroneous claims, we assert that Palestinians are one people enduring Israel’s relentless occupation and suffering, together, from its oppressive practices.

We are united in our conviction that we deserve to enjoy the rights to which all people are entitled. Christian and Muslim Palestinians have struggled for freedom together for over 60 years. We intend to continue that tradition.

Ending Israeli occupation is the only way for Palestinians -- Christians and Muslims -- to enjoy a life of prosperity and progress. It is also the surest way to secure a continued Christian presence in this, our holy land.


Adv. Nabil Mushahwar, Chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association
Fr. Faysal Hijazeen, Director-general of the Latin Patriarchate Schools in Palestine and parish priest of Ramallah
Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Fr. Farah Bader, Assistant priest, Ramallah Roman Catholic Church
Fr. Johnny Abu Khalil, Roman Catholic priest of Nablus
Fr. Firas Aredah, Roman Catholic priest of Jifna
Fr. Ibrahim Shomali, Roman Catholic Parish Priest of Beit Jala
Rev. Saliba Rishmawi, Lutheran Church, Ramallah
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee
Fayez Saqqa, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Bethlehem
Fouad Kokali, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Beit Sahour
Hind Khoury, Ambassador, Jerusalem. Former PLO representative in Paris
Bassem Khoury, Architect, Jerusalem
Dr. Charlie Abu Saada, Director of Juthoruna Forum
Yusef Daher, Inter Church Center, Jerusalem
Lucy Thalgieh, Project coordinator, Wi’am Center, Bethlehem
George Saliba Rishmawi, Coordinator, Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies
Professor Gabi Baramki, Former President of Bir Zeit University, Ramallah
Issa Kassasieh, Deputy Head – PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, Jerusalem
Dr. Elias Iseed, Secretariat of the Orthodox organizations in Palestine, Beit Sahour
Khader Abu Abara, President of the Beit Jala Orthodox Club, Beit Jala
Marwan Toubasi, Governor of Tubas, Chairman of the Orthodox organizations in Palestine, Ramallah
Fr. Jamal Khader, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Bethlehem University
Salim Hodali, Head of the Diaspora Unit, Bank of Palestine
Nader Abuamsha, Beit Sahour YMCA
Dr. Jad Isaac, Head of the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem
Yousef Hallaq, Electrical Engineer, Jerusalem
Dr. Varsen Aghabekian, Management Consultant, Ramallah
Rania Elias, Director, Yabous Cultural Center, occupied Jerusalem
Wassef Daher, President of YMCA
Nader Muaddi, Palestinian Christian activist, occupied Jerusalem
Raji Zeidan, Mayor of Beit Jala
Dr. Bernard Sabella, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, occupied Jerusalem
Peter Abu Shanab, Chairperson of Holylanders, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Kholoud Daibes, Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism and Antiquities
Rif’at Kassis, General Coordinator of Kairos – Palestine
Andre Batarseh, YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Rami Saleh, Treasurer of the Palestinian Counseling Center, and Deputy Director of Jerusalem Legal Aid Center
Dr. Manuel Hassassian, Ambassador, PLO representative in London
Shawki Armali, Ambassador, PLO representative to the Holy See
Dr. Linda Tabar, Professor, Bir Zeit University
Rateb Rabie, President of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
Anthony Habash, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Bethlehem
Ibrahim Mourad, Fashion Designer
Maggie Mourad, Former instructor, Bethlehem University
Maha Saca, Director - Palestinian Heritage Center, Bethlehem
Elham Salameh, Director, social and cultural department – YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Ibrahim Matar, President, National Christian Association, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Nabeel Kassis, Former president, Bir Zeit University
Ziad Bandak, Minister, Presidential Adviser for Christian Affairs
Hanna Amira, Member of the PLO Executive Committee
Janet Michael, Mayor of Ramallah
Dr. Rita Giacaman, Director of the Institute of Community and Public Health, Bir Zeit University
Mary Sabella, occupied Jerusalem
Dr. Jacqueline Sfeir, Director of MaDad, Bethlehem
Eileen Kuttab, Director Women Studies Institute, Bir Zeit University
Zahi Khoury, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Palestinian National Beverage Company, Coca-Cola
Rev. Mitri Raheb, Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, president of Diyar Consortium
Dr. Nuha Khoury, Dean of Dar al-Kalima College, Bethlehem
Khalil Nijim, Consultant, secretary of Diyar Board, Bethlehem
Rev. Imad Haddad, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Beit Sahour
Layla Sayeh, Director of PenMedia
Michael Asfour, YMCA, occupied Jerusalem
Afif Safieh, Ambassador, former PLO representative to the Hague, London, Washington, Moscow and the Holy See
Nora Kort, President Arab Orthodox Society, Jerusalem
Anton Salman, President Anthonian Charitable Society, Bethlehem
George Saade, Bethlehem Deputy Mayor, on behalf of the Bethlehem Municipal Council
Hani Hayek, Mayor of Beit Sahour
Maher Sahlieh, Head of the Arab Orthodox Scouts, occupied Jerusalem
Fr. Hanna Salem, Latin Seminary priest, Beit Jala
Dr. Muna Mushahwar, Arab Orthodox Club, occupied Jerusalem
Fr. Raed Abusahlia, Roman Catholic parish priest of Taybeh
Fr. Aziz Halawa, Roman Catholic parish priest of Beit Sahour
Omar Harami, Palestinian Christian activist, occupied Jerusalem
Elie Shehadeh, Palestinian National Initiative, Beit Jala
Iyad Aburdeneh, Environmental expert, Bethlehem
Claudette Habash , Palestinian Christian refugee, occupied Jerusalem
Yacoub Al Yousef, Arab Orthodox Club, occupied Jerusalem
Usama Salman, Director, San Vincent Association, occupied Jerusalem
Rami Zeidan, General manager, Traveller Experience Tours, occupied Jerusalem
 Source: Maan News

With Ambassador Manuel Hassassian on Press TV

Yesterday Palestinian Ambassador Manuel Hassassian and I discussed the situation for Christians in the Holy Land this Easter on Press TV. See some photos on here.

For more information see:

Palestinian Christians denied access to holy places in Jerusalem during Easter : LA Times

Jerusalem: A holy city in crisis by Jeremy Moodey

Israel Really Isn't All That Friendly to Its Christians

Palestinian Christians and Al Nakba... exile from the Holy Land by Xavier Abu Eid

Myth Of Israel’s Favorable Treatment Of Palestinian Christians – OpEd by Fida Jiryis

Friday, 30 March 2012

Will Palestinian Christians be denied access to holy places in Jerusalem again this Easter?

Last April, Maher Abukhater wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times:
As Christians get ready to celebrate Easter, Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are envious of fellow Christians from all over the world who are able to visit Jerusalem’s holy Christian sites and worship freely while they cannot.

Since Israel cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories in the early 1990s, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been required to get Israeli army permission before they can enter Jerusalem.

The situation worsened since the turn of the century and restrictions got tighter after a 20-foot concrete wall was built all around East Jerusalem barring both Muslim and Christian Palestinians from reaching their holy sites in Jerusalem and its Old City.

“For Christians, Holy Week in Jerusalem has a special spiritual connection,” said a statement issued by the Christian community in the West Bank. “The Old City, its gates and roads, the Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and the Holy Sepulchre Church, where pilgrims from all over the world journey to, are equally important to the Palestinian Christians of Gaza and the West Bank, who want to join their Jerusalemite Christian brethren in the liturgical events leading to the resurrection, the holiest celebration in Christianity.”

But West Bank and Gaza Christians reaching Jerusalem even during holidays has become a privilege, rather than a spiritual right. To get to Jerusalem, any Palestinian resident of the West Bank or Gaza of any age or religion has first to get a permit issued by the Israeli military government.

These permits do not come easily. They are usually issued to sick people trying to get treatment in Jerusalem or Israeli hospitals, or to businesspeople. Often they are given to workers because Israel can use the cheap West Bank and Gaza labor force. But for people who want to visit family members living in East Jerusalem or take a tour of the Old City or pray at their holy sites, permits become a scarcity.

“In every country that respects and implements freedom of worship, worshipers of different faiths live their faith and express their prayers without restrictions from the governing authorities,” said the Christians' statement. “In Jerusalem, and for the past decade, this has not been the case. The occupying power is denying free access to holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims on several important occasions,” the statement said.

“The local faithful … see that the restrictions made against them are violations of basic human rights and religious freedom as well as a violation of … centuries of religious traditions for the indigenous Christians of this land,” the statement continued.

Though Israel began recently issuing between 2,000 and 3,000 permits for Christians to visit Jerusalem holy sites during Christmas and Easter, the figures remain relatively small compared with the number of Palestinian Christians, and permits are issued only to older married people, not the young and single. Christians also have to apply through their churches to get the permit, a process Christians say is done on a first-come first-served basis.

“The permit system instated by Israel is in obvious violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants and treaties to which Israel is a signatory,” said the Christian community. “Regardless of the number of people from the local congregation allowed to participate in the celebrations, we reject the imposition of a permit/quota system to access our churches.”

Unfortunately for Palestinian Christians, Easter coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday. Israel usually imposes a closure on the occupied territories during Jewish holidays, which means permits are automatically canceled and people with permits will not be able to cross checkpoints into East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its territory since it annexed it after its occupation in June 1967.
I wonder if this year things will be any different?

For more information see:

Jerusalem: A holy city in crisis by Jeremy Moodey

Israel Really Isn't All That Friendly to Its Christians

Palestinian Christians and Al Nakba... exile from the Holy Land by Xavier Abu Eid

Myth Of Israel’s Favorable Treatment Of Palestinian Christians – OpEd by Fida Jiryis

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Seven Biblical Answers

This presentation is a summary of my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers published by IVP.

It was delivered at the Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding Executive Briefing in Fremont, California in November 2011.

It was also delivered at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem in March 2012.

An outline of this presentation is available here 

A set of Bible studies is also available here 

For further study, see the film With God on our Side

To purchase a copy of this presentation on DVD visit EMEU

This is why I am a vegetarian (most of the time)

Take a cow. Chop it into pieces. Sell the edible bits to supermarkets, ship its hide to a handbag factory, send leftover bones and organs to a rendering plant. Now, what's left? In most of the developed world, the answer is simple: pet food. The sinew, gristle and fat regarded as unfit for human consumption are taken away by Mr Pedigree Chum and turned into something the salmonella-resistant stomach of your average Labrador will find vaguely digestible.

But in America, they do food differently. Here, in the land of GM corn, 26 per cent obesity and a government which classifies pizza as a "vegetable", scientists have discovered a way to turn bacteria-ridden scraps from the abattoir floor into a substance called "pink slime", which is then sold to unwitting consumers of hamburgers, tacos and other beef-based junk products. The process involves sticking bovine off-cuts in a heated centrifuge, so they separate into a mixture of liquid fat and a putty-coloured paste. That substance is then treated with ammonium hydroxide (a chemical used in household cleaners and home-made bombs) to kill off salmonella and e-coli. Then it's mixed with regular beef and – hey presto! – you have "all natural" mince.

Read more here Nutrition: That's not ice cream... it's 'pink slime'

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Route of Hope : For Sufferers of Panic Attacks

Suffering anxiety attack during her early twenties, locked in her room, often with suicidal thoughts, Katie Ruth wrote her way from the pits of despair to a full recovery. Now able to face the world head-on. These poems trace her journey back. Here you will find a disarming charm and sincerity that allows grace to take you unawares. the truth is simple - God is very close and He loves us. His love is what our hearts need to be healed. Katie's poems remind us of these most essential truths and they make us smile....because suddenly we know - this is true and she has lived it. In her mother's own words: "The gift of writing enabled her to track a route of hope on the journey to recovery." If you've ever wanted proof that there's truly a light at the end of the tunnel - Katie Ruth is it!

Order here

One reviewer wrote,

"Don't let the apparent simplicity of this volume deceive you. Its spontaneous approach offers alternatives to the contradictions of modern life. So often the very devices and systems which have been implemented to ease our daily tasks, have actually become the causes of common stress.

It points to the therapeutic rewards of observing and reflecting upon the world around us - in both its grandeur and its simplicity. It encourages interest in and concern for those around us. It assigns value to ordinary events and emotions.

Most important of all, it throws down a challenge; in whom will we put our trust, to see us through, when all else has failed?"

Monday, 26 March 2012

Musalaha: Breaking Down the Dividing Wall of Hostility

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility... His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace." (Ephesians 2:14-15)

Musalaha is unique. It promotes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus. They endeavour to be an encouragement and advocate of reconciliation, first among Palestinian and Israeli believers and then beyond to our respective communities. Musalaha also aims at facilitating bridge building among different segments of Israeli and Palestinian societies according to biblical reconciliation principles.

Salim J. Munayer, the founder of Musalaha writes in their latest newsletter of a lady who has been an inspiration to him:
 When visiting Detroit this past January, I had the opportunity to visit the Henry Ford Museum.  One particular exhibit was very emotionally moving to me.  The museum houses the Rosa Parks bus that she sat in on December 1, 1955 when she refused to give up her seat for a white man.  I had the opportunity to sit in the very seat she sat in on the bus that fateful December day in Montgomery, Alabama, and as I sat there, so many thoughts came to mind.  Rosa Parks was known as a devout, law-abiding, hard-working Christian woman.  What motivated her that day, and did she think through the personal cost before making that decision?  So few people were willing to take a stand and question the injustice and powers that be, especially considering the violent repercussions that often followed in Montgomery – lynching, death threats, unemployment, and harassment, to name a few.  In her refusal to give up her seat for a white man, she insisted that she be viewed as an equal human being instead of a member of a different or oppressed race.  Her simple act of defiance had many personal ramifications, but it launched the nascent civil rights cause on a national level. 
Read more here


Saturday, 24 March 2012

Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: (March update)

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)

If that is the judgement of Jesus on anyone who causes a child to sin, what do you imagine is his view of those who torture children?

DCI-Palestine launched a new report: Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted: Children held in military detention.

The report is the culmination of four year’s work by DCI, with the support of the European Union, focusing on verifying reports of ill-treatment and torture of children in the Israeli military detention system. The findings of the report are based on 311 sworn affidavits taken from children between January 2008 and January 2012.

# Common complaints and areas of concern Number of cases Percentage of children
1   Hand ties 296 95%
2   Blindfolds 281 90%
3   Physical violence  234 75%
4   Detention inside Israel in violation of Article 76 196 63%
5   Arrested between midnight and 5:00 am  188 60%
6   Confession during interrogation
180 58%
7   Threats 178 57%
8   Verbal abuse and/or humiliation 169 54%
9   Strip searched 102 33%
10   Transferred on floor of vehicle 98 32%
11   Signed/shown documents written in Hebrew 91 29%
12   Solitary confinement 38 12%

The report found that there is a systematic pattern of ill-treatment, and in some cases torture, of children held in the military detention system, with the majority of the abuse occurring during the first 48 hours.

The testimonies reveal that most children are arrested from villages located close to friction points, namely settlements built in violation of international law, and roads used by the Israeli army or settlers. The report includes 10 recommendations, which if implemented, would reduce the level of ill-treatment, but no one should be under any illusion that the treatment documented in the report can be eliminated so long as the friction points remain and Palestinian children are treated as second-class individuals.

The full report is available on line, and hard copies are available on request.

In the last month (March 2012), DCI reported the following worrying trend:

  • There was a 10 percent increase in the number of Palestinian children held in Israeli detention facilities (now 206 children).
  • There was a 29 percent increase in the number of young Palestinian children (12-15 years) held in Israeli detention (now 31 children).
  • There has been a 53 percent increase in the number of children in detention since December 2011.
 Read the March bulletin here

What we experienced recently in a village near Bethlehem [see Child Abuse in Palestine ] is clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

Eric Liddell: More than Gold

I'm currently reading up on Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic 400 metres gold medal winner, and inspiration behind the film Chariots of Fire, in preparation for our More than Gold mission focus services tomorrow.

Liddell was born in China, served as a missionary there and died in a Japanese internment camp in 1945. His  biography, a moving story of heroism and sporting excellence, has been published in Mandarin with the approval of the Chinese authorities.

According to the BBC, in July, a digitally remastered version of Chariots of Fire will be shown in cinemas ahead of the Olympics.
Although the film is 31 years old, producer Lord Puttnam believes the message is still relevant.
"Chariots of Fire is about guts, determination and belief. At the heart of the film is the quest for Olympic glory, and I find it hard to imagine anything more likely to resonate throughout the country this summer,"
At the 1924 Paris Olympics, when the motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” was first used, Eric Liddell won a bronze medal in the 200m and then even greater glory by winning gold in the 400m. Eric went on, however, to embody the Olympic ideals by the way that he lived his life.

  • Shaking hands with other competitors prior to races.
  • Coming alongside competitors who were being shunned because they were different.
  • Teaching children in school.
  • Acting as a coach or a referee.
  • Working with very poor people.
  • Rescuing victims of war.
At the core of his life Eric believed that God was his saviour, friend and companion and that everything he did should give God pleasure. As a runner he was the fastest and had achieved the highest glory, and as a Christian he found that his greatest strength came from God. It was because of this strength that he was able:
  • to be parted from his family for long periods of time.
  • to smuggle money to Chinese people who were living in parts of China occupied by the Japanese army.
  • to teach people about “loving your enemy” while they were all imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp.
Find out more about this remarkable man at the Eric Liddell Centre.
  1. A short biography of Eric Liddell
  2. Photographs of Eric Liddell
  3. Eric Liddell Quotations
  4. Eric Liddell's Edinburgh
  5. Video of Eric Liddell Winning Gold at the 1924 Olympics
  6. Recollections of Eric Liddell by People who knew him
  7. Press cuttings about Eric Liddell
  8. Athletics memorabilia belonging to Eric Liddell
  9. Chinese artefacts belonging to Eric Liddell
  10. Other Videos about Eric Liddell
  11. Eric Liddell's Rugby Career
  12. A list of books about Eric Liddell
  13. A list of films and videos about Eric Liddell
  14. Some personal correspondence of Eric Liddell

Friday, 23 March 2012

Canary Wharf at Night

"let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

On Tuesday night I spoke at St Peter's Barge in Canary Wharf, London's only floating church.

I gave a presentation on Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions.

I took these photos afterwards with the best camera in the world. The best camera in the world is of course.... the one you have with you - on this occasion my iPhone 4. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Kairos Palestine - A Moment of Truth

On the first anniversary of the launching of Kairos Palestine - A Moment of Truth, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is pleased to announce the release of a 24-page booklet that includes the Kairos document and a three-week congregational study plan.

Kairos Palestine is the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" of our time. This Confession of Faith, written in 2009 by a broad spectrum of Palestinian Christian leaders, is addressed to Palestinians, Israelis, the international community--as well as all the churches of the world. It lifts up the classical theological virtues of faith, hope, and love that lie at the heart of the Christian Gospel, and affirms that resistance to injustice and oppression is firmly grounded in these principles. It is both an anguished cry in a dark hour and a profound testament to unquenchable hope.

The study plan includes informative background material on the Israel-Palestine conflict including three maps in color. This material provides essential historical, political, and theological context for the Kairos Palestine statement. The booklet is an excellent guide for readers undertaking an individual study of the document. Church-based groups will benefit from the detailed lesson plans for a three-week congregational study, including a list of thought-provoking questions to stimulate reflection and discussion.

Find out more about Kairos Palestine here

Monday, 19 March 2012

Qatar conference defends Status of Jerusalem

“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” (Psalm 87:4-6)

The Zionist assertion that God intended Jerusalem to be the exclusive and undivided eternal capital of the Jewish people has no basis whatsoever in Scripture. God insists in Psalm 87 that Jerusalem must be a shared and inclusive city. Nations specifically mentioned as having residence rights include those living in what is today, Egypt, Iran and Lebanon. Even the hated Philistines are mentioned as “…born in Zion” on the basis of repentance and faith not race. Likewise, the vision of Isaiah 2 associates Jerusalem with the end of war, with peace and reconciliation between the nations.

“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)

The Old Testament vision of Jerusalem is of an international, shared, inclusive city of faith, hope and love.

See The Biblical status of Jerusalem. A longer version of the paper is available here.

See photos of the Conference here

There was also an exhibition of photos from Palestine. View them here

For more information on the objectives and participants see here

For an interview with the assistant General Secretary of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Mohamed Sobeih, recorded in Cairo a week earlier, see here

Naim Ateek Repudiates Antisemitism

Revd Dr Naim Ateek, Founder and president, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, refutes charges of anti-Semitism in this Huffington Post article, For a Just and Lasting Peace in God's Land
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of San Francisco, recently involved in censoring an exhibit of Gaza children's art in Oakland, has now turned its sights on two Northern California conferences concerning Israel/Palestine. These events, scheduled to take place this month in Sunnyvale and Sacramento, are sponsored by Friends of Sabeel-North America and follow on two highly successful Sabeel conferences held in 2007 in Berkeley and 2010 in San Anselmo.

Sabeel is a Palestinian Christian group calling for equality and justice in Israel/Palestine through nonviolent efforts. Its work is ecumenical and interfaith. As the founder, I have now become the primary focus of JCRC attacks. In recent weeks, JCRC has sent letters to churches throughout Northern California charging me with using "abandoned anti-Semitic Christian theologies" and urging pastors to withhold support from the conferences.

At the urging of Sabeel's American colleagues in Jewish Voice for Peace, I have decided it is imperative to make a defense against these erroneous, misleading and cruel charges.

Two accusations have been leveled against me. The first claims that I said, "Judaism is tribal; Christianity is universal. Judaism is wrong and was superseded by Christianity." The second claims that I said, "Jews killed Jesus."
When I discuss the question of tribalism vs. universalism, I am talking about the lively debate within the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament to Christians). There was a dynamic debate in these Scriptures that moved religious thought from exclusivity to inclusivity, and this phenomenon pre-dated the coming of Jesus Christ by several hundred years. It was not a Christian vs. Jewish construction.

I point out the genius of the Hebrew prophets in understanding God as an inclusive God. These prophets see God as the God who cares not only about the Israelites, but also about other people and other lands. You can find this inclusiveness in the Psalms: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it." In this view, no matter where one lives, one is still in the presence of God.

It is important to point out that Judaism, as it developed, was not superseded by the Christian faith but continued as a living and valid faith worthy of our full respect. Today, this faith is distorted by the exclusivist reading of extremist settlers who say, "We are interested in divine rights and not in human rights." They are selectively reading certain biblical texts that give Jewish people a higher and prior claim to the land and negate the rights of the Palestinians. Such a theology does not lend itself to peace. We choose biblical texts that promote peace for all, and many of these are found in the Hebrew Bible.

JCRC accuses me of saying that the "Jews killed Jesus," but I never use the word "Jews" in that context. I said that Jesus suffered "at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago." This is a careful and precise statement. In all of my preaching on this topic, I have never singled out Jews as killers of Jesus. I always refer to the Roman authorities in collusion with religious leaders. And I certainly have never suggested the abhorrent idea that Jews bear collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Likewise, my words that relate the events of the crucifixion to modern reality are clear and specific. I place the responsibility on the Israeli government. There is no mention of "the state of Israel." My words do not delegitimize the state, which is made up of the Israeli people. They critique the "government of Israel" and its policies, which constitute the greatest obstacles to peace.

I do not believe it is right for me or for any Christian to refrain from using the crucifixion imagery that is part of the essence of our faith and is deeply meaningful for our worship and spirituality. This imagery genuinely informs our involvement on behalf of the oppressed everywhere in the world, and Israel-Palestine is no exception. I believe I need to use the imagery whenever it is appropriate and at the same time oppose anyone who abuses it by invoking it against Jews today.

The imagery of the cross as an instrument of cruelty, torture and suffering preceded Jesus' crucifixion. When I use this imagery, I am using it in the way Jesus, a Jewish Semitic man, used it. I am not using it in a novel, anti-Semitic way.

Gustavo Gutierrez, the Latin American theologian, used a picture of the crucifix for the cover of his book on liberation theology. He could not find any better image to express the suffering of his people. To my knowledge, no one has called him anti-Semitic or accused him of using Christ-killer imagery. We can also point to Jewish artist Marc Chagall's paintings of the cross. To him the crucifixion of Jesus symbolized the martyrdom of Jews everywhere.

It is important for everyone to be exact and careful when speaking about Palestine and Israel, but it is wrong to construe every criticism leveled at the government of Israel as an attack on Jews or Judaism. There are people who want to silence any criticism of Israel, and they force the impression that the state of Israel, the government of Israel, Jews, Judaism, Israelis, Zionists and Zionism are all synonymous terms and an attack on one is an attack on all. This is wrong and dangerous. Israel is a state like any other. When it governs justly, it should be commended. When it does not, it needs to be confronted and challenged.

Racism, prejudice and discrimination still exist in the world, and the Jews have endured the longest continuous manifestation of this racism. I have written that we, as Palestinians, should face Israel candidly and say that we are appalled by the Holocaust, that we should open our hearts "and with a new, magnanimous attitude we should say to the Jews, 'We will accept you and share the land with you. You have suffered for so long. Come share our land. This is God's land. We will live in it together as brothers and sisters.'"

I write this response in a spirit of humility and passion to see a just and lasting peace in our land and in every place where oppression and injustice dominate life.
This was originally published on the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem website.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Jesus Confronts Racism

This ‘sermon’ is just 1 minute 48 seconds but it sums up the last 35 years of my full time Christian ministry. If I never preached another sermon, this is the one I’d want you to remember me by.

It is taken from the closing scenes of the film With God on our Side and is intended to challenge genuine racism and anti-semitism rather than the chicken-little version that conflates legitimate criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians with anti-semitism.

See also

When a Jew has to defend a Christian

Vicar is not anti-Semitic: Church Times

A Sheep in Sheep's Clothing

I concur wholeheartedly with John Stott who once said,

“Away then with anti-Semitism! It has been an appalling scandal in the history of Europe, and even the Christian church has been implicated. Christians should be ‘pro-Semitic’, in the sense that we recognize how the people of Israel have been highly favoured by God. We Gentiles are their debtors, Paul wrote (Romans 15:27). We owe them a huge spiritual debt, especially in their bequest to the world of both the Scriptures and the Christ."

A Sheep in Sheep's Clothing?

Seamus is a sheep. He used to be known as Shaun but changed his name following a recent visit to the Holy Land (and that is another story).

He is really excited to know that his adventures will be published shortly in a special photo album.

When I caught up with him, I asked him what he would say to those who claimed he was really just a wolf in sheep's clothing. Strangely, he wouldn't open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

For the record, over the years, this sheep's blog has however:
  • lamented the suffering of Christians under Islamic rule here and here
  • repudiated suicide bombers and terrorism here and here.
  • repudiated holocaust deniers here, here, here and here.
  • repudiated anti-Semitism here, here and here.
  • repudiated racism and the British National Party (BNP) here.
  • distinguished anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism here.
  • advocated a diplomatic solution to resolving tensions with Iran here and here.
  • advocated for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by peaceful means based on the implementation of international law here, here and here .
To clarify my position in my book Zion's Christian Soldiers, I wrote the following:

"It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself."

But then again, what else would you expect of a sheep in sheep's clothing? On a daily basis I count myself truly blessed (Matthew 5:11) and honoured to follow the Good Shepherd (John 15:18-19).

I concur wholeheartedly with John Stott who once said,
“Away then with anti-Semitism! It has been an appalling scandal in the history of Europe, and even the Christian church has been implicated. Christians should be ‘pro-Semitic’, in the sense that we recognize how the people of Israel have been highly favoured by God. We Gentiles are their debtors, Paul wrote (Romans 15:27). We owe them a huge spiritual debt, especially in their bequest to the world of both the Scriptures and the Christ."

I have been meditating on these verses from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians this week. I can identify in a small way with how he felt.

"We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! ... When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment." (1 Corinthians 4:10-14)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Early Morning at the Bethlehem Checkpoint

We made this video at about 5:00am at the checkpoint between Palestine and Israel in Bethlehem.

Walk with me through the Israeli Checkpoint in Bethlehem. Remind you of anything? Men fortunate enough to get a visa to work in Israel (often building the Settlements) have to endure this humiliation daily between 5:00am and 7:00am each morning and then again each evening since they are not allowed to stay in Israel overnight.

Peter Nevins Walks the Separation Barrier

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Christian Peacemaker Teams, Hebron

Last week we visited Hebron and met members of the Christian Peacemaker Team.

For more information see CPT

Jonathan Kuttab on Christ at the Checkpoint

Jonathan Kuttab is chairman of the Board of Bethlehem Bible College and a human rights lawyer with Al Haq. I interviewed him briefly at the recent Christ at the Checkpoint conference.

Hythem Shadid on Syria

At the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem I met up with Hythem Shadid. His family are from Syria so I asked him about his hopes and fears for Syria.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Isam Ghattas on Caring for Refugees in Jordan

Isam Ghattas serves with Manara International, caring for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan.We met at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem.

Evan Thomas on Christ at the Checkpoint

During the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem last week I very much appreciated meeting Evan Thomas, Pastoral Elder of Beit Asaph Messianic Congregation. I asked him what it had been like to participate in the conference.

Christ at the Checkpoint - A Messianic Response

I am delighted that the following statement has been released by Messianic leaders following the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. Before releasing the Conference Statement and Manifesto, the organising committee invited local Messianic leaders to read and comment on it. The Messianic participants similarly shared this response with the Conference committee before releasing it. In so doing the two groups demonstrated their commitment to one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. To God be all the glory.

Brief Response to “Christ at the Checkpoint” from Messianic participants
Posted on March 13, 2012

As Messianic Jews and supporters of Israel who attended the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference we were warmly welcomed. We participated in a personal capacity, clearly stating we did not claim to represent any other individuals, groups or organisations.

We gave presentations on God’s continuing purposes for the Jewish people and the land of Israel, assured by His covenant promises to our forefathers; the need for reconciliation to develop a deeper fellowship and partnership in the Gospel with our Arab brothers and sisters; and the building of a Messianic Jewish theology and practice of reconciliation and peace-making.

The aims of the conference organisers were clearly stated on their website, which were to

• Empower and encourage the Palestinian church.

• Expose the realities of the injustices in the Palestinian Territories and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace.

• Create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum.

• Motivate participants to become advocates for the reconciliation work of the church in Palestine/Israel and its ramifications for the Middle East and the world.

Also on the agenda was promotion of non-violent resistance to the administration of Gaza and the West Bank, and the development of Palestinian Evangelical Christian theologies.

However, at no point was it assumed that we were in agreement with these aims, but rather it was expected that we had different views which needed to be heard. We were free to challenge in informal discussion and platform dialogue the differing theological and political understandings of the place of Israel in Scripture, the purposes of God, and present political realities. We reflected the concerns of the Messianic community as expressed in recent statements from the UMJC/IMJA/MJAA and Israeli Messianic groups, highlighting areas of both agreement and disagreement on the ongoing election of Israel (the Jewish people) and the promises of the Land.

We did not feel compromised in any way, but were able to freely express our own points of view, and were treated with respect. The conference organisers have issued a manifesto affirming their aims and positions, which was commended to the conference participants at the end of the conference. Some of us were shown this statement during the editorial process, out of respect and appreciation for our involvement, and out of acknowledgment of the bridges that were built during the conference. While a few of us offered advice on the composition of these documents, we do not in fact endorse all the points that were finally presented. Nor were we asked by the organizers to endorse them.

The impact of the conference has yet to be assessed. But those of us who took part were particularly impressed with the genuine attempts to meet with Messianic Jews and Christian supporters of Israel, and begin a dialogue. Our hopes and prayers are for continuing attempts at peaceful engagement with one another in fellowship, prayer and discussion, and for true reconciliation to be achieved through the atoning love of the Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel and Prince of Peace.

We hope and pray that our willingness to accept the invitation to participate in the conference has opened a door for us to strengthen genuine relationships with our Arab brothers and sisters. We trust that in the context of such relationships we will be able to address in greater depth the serious issues that concern the messianic body, both of a theological nature and existential threats and attacks against the nation of Israel.

Ephesians 4:1-4. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling.

Romans 12:18-20. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

This brief response summarises our positive engagement with the conference and its organisers. More detailed personal responses are available from the individuals named below.

Richard Harvey
Wayne Hilsden
Dan Juster
David Loden
Lisa Loden
Evan Thomas

Monday, 12 March 2012

Read the Conference Statement and Manifesto here

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Christian Zionism: Cairo Cathedral Lecture

Jayson Casper has written a report about a lecture I gave in the Anglican Cathedral in Cairo recently. Here is a link to the original article together with Jayson's personal reflection.

Rev. Stephen Sizer, a renowned expert on Christian Zionism delivered a series of lectures in Egypt at Cairo University, the Anglican Cathedral, and other venues.

This article is a summary of his presentation delivered on February 15, 2012.

According to Sizer, Christian Zionism is the view that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of our moral and political support.

Sizer opened with a brief history of Zionism, tracing its first political sponsor to Napoleon, who wished to wrest Jewish banking favor away from the British Empire in their struggle for supremacy. Britain eventually emerged triumphant, and then engaged Germany in the lead up to World War I, as both sides solicited Jewish favor in exchange for their support for a return of Jews to Palestine. The Belfour Declaration in 1917 was the pinnacle of Britain’s promise, set in the context of many geopolitical maneuvers with both Jews and Arabs.

The Christian element of Zionism received a great boost with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976, who believed the state of Israel represented the fulfillment of prophecy. During this time Rev. Jerry Falwell emerged as the leading advocate of Christian Zionism, and promised 70 million evangelical Christian votes for supporters of the cause.

After his death in 2007, Rev. John Hagee received his mantle, promising 50 million evangelical Christians would stand side-by-side with the 5 million Jews of Israel. Today, Sizer estimates 25% of US Christians identify with Christian Zionism, though this contrasts with only 5% of Christians worldwide.

Sizer identified five primary theological underpinnings of Christian Zionism, including:
  • Jews are to be restored to Greater Israel
  • Jerusalem is the eternal Jewish capital
  • The Jewish Temple is to be rebuilt
  • Antipathy towards Arabs and Islam
  • There will be a war of Armageddon
Theology, he noted, drives behavior. Sizer then illustrated how Zionist Christians:
  • Contribute money to support settlements and help Jews emigrate to Israel from Russia and elsewhere
  • Lobby the US government to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
  • Support the Orthodox in their effort to rebuild the Temple
  • Oppose the peace process as it compromises ownership of the land
  • View politics through the lens of a coming war between Russia, China, Arabs, and Europe against Israel
The consequence of Christian Zionism, Sizer noted, was the destruction of the church in the Middle East. Historic Arab Christian communities are being squeezed by the competing powers of Zionism and Islamism, finding no place for themselves. Many are immigrating.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warned that the holy sites of the Middle East could be transformed into a Christian theme park, in which the only Christian witness is carried by tourists and pilgrims.

Sizer closed his remarks by quoting from the 2006 Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, signed by the heads of the Latin, Syrian Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical Lutheran churches in Jerusalem. Highlights include:
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.
We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption, and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!
We call upon Christians in churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.
We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.
We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.
With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.
During a question and answer session afterwards, Sizer explained how Israel would like to have three separate achievements, but can only have two. These include:
  • Democracy
  • A Jewish State
  • The Occupied Territories
Israel can succeed in being a democratic Jewish state if it gives up the territories to an independent Palestine.

Greater Israel can succeed in being a democracy should it incorporate the inhabitants of Palestine as full citizens with equal rights, if it gives up its Jewish nature. Or, Israel can remain a Jewish colonial state, but only at the expense of giving up its democratic nature.

Sizer’s presentation was warmly received by the majority of attendees, many of whom were less than familiar with this largely American religious phenomenon. The only issue taken with Sizer was his acceptance of the term, Christian Zionism. Some angrily rejected the coupling as an oxymoron – Zionism is not Christian at all.

Now read Jayson's personal reflection

Friday, 9 March 2012

Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 Statement and Manifesto

Christ at the Checkpoint: Hope in the Midst of Conflict: 2012

A major breakthrough in the evangelical world took place in Bethlehem through a gathering of over 600 international and local Christians, including renowned evangelical leaders. Organized by Bethlehem Bible College, the conference, under the banner “Christ at the Checkpoint,” addressed the issue of how to find hope in the midst of conflict. The conference exceeded all expectations.

For the first time, a broad spectrum of evangelical believers met literally at the “checkpoint,” and engaged biblically on issues that have historically divided them. Subjects included, Christian Zionism, Islamism, justice, nonviolence, and reconciliation. These themes were intended to create an ongoing forum for Christian peacemaking within the context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. These issues were discussed in the form of inspirational messages, Bible study, interactive workshops, panels and site visits.

Defying the temptation to despair, Palestinian Christians demonstrated renewed hope to continue to stand against the injustice of occupation nonviolently and forms of Christian Zionism that marginalize them. They also acknowledged the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders.

Speakers included John Ortberg, Bishara Awad, Chris Wright, Doug Birdsall, David Kim, Tony Campolo, Lynne Hybels, Munther Isaac, Shane Claiborne, Joel Hunter, Ron Sider, Salim Munayer and Colin Chapman. Participants from 20 nations and a sizeable delegation of university students including Wheaton College and Eastern University, were moved by the testimony of Palestinian men and women who shared the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis caused primarily by the continuing occupation.

A unique aspect of the conference was the presence and presentations by members of the Messianic community including Richard Harvey, Evan Thomas and Wayne Hilsden, who provided an integral contribution to the dialogue.

Conference organizers challenged the evangelical community to cease looking at the Middle East through the lens of “end times” prophecy and instead rallied them to join in following Jesus in the prophetic pursuance of justice, peace and reconciliation.

Conference Organizers:

John Angle, Alex Awad, Bishara Awad, Sami Awad, Steve Haas, Munther Isaac, Yohanna Katanacho, Manfred Kohl, Salim Munayer, Jack Sara, Stephen Sizer

The Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto

1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.

2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.

3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.

4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.

5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.

6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.

7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.

8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.

9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.

10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.

12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.

The Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 Statement and Manifesto were endorsed by the Conference Organizers and commended to the Conference participants in the final session.

The Crisis in Syria

The Revd Nadim Nassar was interviewed by the Church of England Newspaper this week about the crisis in Syria. I commend his insightful perspective.

Nadim Nassar is the only Syrian-born cleric in the Church of England and co-founder of the charity Awareness Foundation, encouraging diverse society without fear and compromise. Here, Father Nadim speaks of the situation in the country, which has now been unresolved for almost a year.

Fighting in Syria has taken place since March 2011, what is the issue that is still causing such problems in Syria?

Well at the moment they are fighting about power – the regime is trying to maintain the power and the opposition is trying to gain the power. But it did not start like this, it started by demonstrating against the unacceptable extent of corruption. Things went very slowly and the President did not respond in the same speed that the opposition wanted. Then things escalated and became nasty and a power struggle. This is how things got worse and worse.

What needs to be done and do you believe it is possible for the conflict to end?

It is possible, but I think the only way is for the opposition and regime to sit down and put their cards on the table and discuss all the issues at stake. The regime belongs to a sect in Islam called the Allawite so it actually only represents the sect. Syria has a lot of minorities and a large minority of Christians. If the regime falls they don’t want the Islamic fundamentalists to jump to power. Everybody is concerned about having secular state that welcomes the minorities.

Will it be possible for the regime and the opposition to communicate, after the amount of time they have been fighting?

The regime is saying they are ready to talk but at the moment but the opposition are saying ‘we don’t talk with killers’ after all this bloodshed. The only way out – I lived through it in Lebanon and I lived through it in the Middle East and I know – if we want to learn from history there is no way out other than sitting and talking and making the transition of power speedy but peaceful. Christians are very much capable of facilitating such talks because they are very active in Syrian society.

What effect has the fighting had on the day-to-day life of the people?

It is affecting everybody. It is making life very, very difficult. Life in some cities just does not exist. In some places it is difficult to have electricity, water and food, not everywhere but a lot of areas are affected by the fighting – and the bloodshed continues, which is very sad.

You said Christians are a minority, how many Christians are there in Syria?

Christians make up 12-13 per cent. This is not a tiny minority, it is a major minority. The Christians are usually well-educated and have good businesses, but they don’t want the bloodshed and of course the Christians are not trying to jump to power, but at least we can help facilitate discussions, dialogue – anything that can stop the dialogue.

Is there religious freedom, then?

Yes, people in Syria are usually free to worship but whatever you do religiously you do it in the worship place. Do not take religion onto the street because the street belongs to everybody. For Islam and all religions, if you want to worship you are welcome to worship, but do not mix the street with religion.

So this conflict is not about religion?

It does have a religious element because the majority of the Sunni Muslims are fighting are finding it difficult to accept that the minority would rule Syria. Plus what is really fuelling all this is the corruption – that is the background to all that is happening in Syria.

What are Christians in Syria doing about the conflict?

It is very difficult for them to do anything. We need to facilitate and for outside to put pressure on the different sides of the conflict to talk.

Is there anything people in the UK could be doing to help the situation?

I urge all Christians to pray for the situation in Syria and also what I want is the UK and the government and Europe to put pressure on everybody in the regime and the opposition to sit down and talk, to sit down and try to resolve the situation through dialogue, not through confrontations.

So the UK government is not doing enough?

They are not pushing enough for dialogue. There is support for the opposition, but how to support is very important. I want to see the bloodshed stopped and support for the country, not the government. I do not care about the power struggle, what concerns me is the country and the people, and to stop the bloodshed. That means putting pressure on all sides to sit down and talk.

What future do you see for Syria?

I hope to see a future which is cracking down on corruption, building institutions and of course a secular state that accepts diversity and respects minorities, and for people in Syria to live freely.

Christ at the Checkpoint: Hope in the Midst of Conflict

Daoud Kuttab writes:

For the second year running a unique event took place in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem this week. Christian evangelicals that many consider as most ardent supporters for Israel (often more so than many Israelis) were guests of a Palestinian Christian gathering.

The “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College, hosted over 600 evangelicals from around the world, but primarily from the US. Among the leading evangelicals attending this Palestinian-sponsored event were Rev. Joel Hunter, the spiritual adviser to US President Barack Obama, theologian Tony Compello, social activists Ron Sider and Lynn Hybels, British pastor Stephen Sizer, community leader Shane Claiborne, Messianic leader Wayne Hilsden and Asian reverend Sang-Bok David Kim.

Before it opened at the Jacir Palace InterContinental Hotel, the conference (both organisers and guests) was the subject of multi-pronged attacks. Speakers were pressured not to attend with hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, with accusations that by participating they are giving legitimacy to an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic gathering.

Two rabbis who work on interfaith issues at the Wiesenthal Centre scathingly attacked the conference as potentially shaking up the foundations of the most effective supporters to Israel. Writing in The Jerusalem Post, rabbis Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein said that the conference is “taking dead aim at Israel’s single largest and most reliable supporter: Tens of millions of evangelical Christians who have stood with the Jewish state since day one.”

They concluded that if the conference achieves even some of its aims, “the consequences will be disastrous for Israel and world Jewry”.

Those articles and more produced a level of intellectual terrorism not known within Christian circles that believe in dialogue amongst fellow believers.

Perhaps the hardest hit group were Christian leaders of Jewish origin. Messianic Jews intending to attend were severely targeted and accused of giving legitimacy to an anti-Israel event. They came nevertheless and said that they felt welcomed and respected.

The conference was not an anti-Israel event by any means. Its power derived more from challenging some current theological interpretations than from being a political discourse.

Most of the sessions included debates over rather complicated terminology (for example, of strict dispensationalism — a system of prophetic theology in which Israel is greatly featured as part of God’s will in the end times) or answers to questions (like do Palestinian Christians cause a problem to Christian Zionism, what is the biblical theology of the land, is the opposite of Christian Zionism replacement theology, how does theology affect policy).

Not that the conference ignored the Palestinian reality. Opening the conference, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Mayor of Bethlehem Victor Batarseh welcomed the international guests and impressed on the 600 international guests the Palestinians’ aspiration to live in freedom and peace alongside Israel. Fayyad talked about the importance of nonviolence and the need to support peace with justice.

The speakers were disarming. An olive branch was extended especially to Israeli messianic leaders and it seemed to produce an unusually warm atmosphere.

Besides attending the conference, most of the international guests were given alternative tours that including visits to various Palestinian communities affected by the Israeli occupation, including families whose land is off-limits because of the Israeli wall and Christian Palestinian families who are suffering because of the continued Israeli occupation.

Most of the participants who attended the conference appeared to have reached the conclusion that it is unacceptable to mix theology with politics and to try to use some isolated texts from the Bible to justify Israeli actions. But what the conference seems to have done is to strengthen and sharpen various arguments that debunk the myths that many consider is the stereotypical position of Christian evangelicals.

In addition to theological discussions, the conference gave participants a unique perspective on Palestine and Palestinian Christians. To many evangelicals, the conference provided a powerful human aspect that makes it impossible for them to continue to divorce some interpretations of Christian theology from their effect on real people, in fact on people who share similar biblical beliefs.

Hardcore evangelicals, televangelists and generally Christian Zionists will undoubtedly continue exhibiting clear bias vis-à-vis Palestinians and be in favour of some messianic solution to the conflict, that does not include any Palestinian, whether Christian or Muslim. However, the ability to deny the suffering and to claim that “we didn’t know” is becoming increasingly more difficult.

The “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference was streamed live and participants will no doubt return to their churches in the West with a different message: that to have peace is to have justice and that peace and justice are the cornerstone of the Christian faith, irrespective of the theological spin Christian Zionists have tried to put on it.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. -