Thursday, 19 December 2013
The Shepherds’ Fields
The Shepherds’ Fields, outside the ancient heart of the town to which Mary and Joseph came to be registered, were in their day home to people living an insecure nomadic life on the edge of an inhospitable desert. In two millennia, the same thing might be said. Though the area is now built up, it is strangely quiet. Jerusalem can be seen, just five miles away, but it is inaccessible to most Palestinians. They are shut in behind ‘security’ walls which enforce the Israeli government’s apartheid laws. At dawn there is no great bustle of people going to work because for most there is no work. The great city which was the source of employment for most people is closed.
Today Bethlehem is still a place of refugee camps to which people fled in 1948. They have never been granted proper human rights and they have not been allowed to return to their homes. Generations of Palestinians have grown up here, with little work, poor education, and the supervision of impotent UN monitors.
But look more closely at the Shepherd’s Fields, and there is worse. The YMCA has a hostel whose mission is to rehabilitate boys and men who have been systematically tortured in Israeli prisons. They used to bear the marks of torture, but their captors, including the infamous G4S organisation, now resort to methods which leave no physical evidence on the body, but shatter the minds of the victims. They have often suffered what is known as ‘shaken baby syndrome’, and the shattered fragments of their minds have to be rebuilt. Innovative therapies have been developed here and at other specialist places in Palestine, to try to mend the damage.
The modern day successors of the shepherds have nowhere to pasture their flocks. Many have been forcibly ‘settled’ by the Israeli government, only to have their villages taken over time and again when Jewish settlers move in. The water for the flocks which once issued from natural springs has dried up, as Israel digs deep wells to syphon off the water close to the surface. It is then freely available to Jews, but rationed for non-Jews. What was once a free resource for the flocks must now be bought by the tanker load, and is often stolen back by Israeli authorities in order to force the herders and their animals to move from areas that the Israelis want for themselves.
Is there no saviour for these people? As the world acknowledges a former terrorist and jailbird who brought an end to apartheid in South Africa, can we recognise that the most fitting tribute to his life would be to end apartheid everywhere? And can we then bite the bullet, in the knowledge that only sanctions and divestment, which brought justice to South Africa, will bring an end to the apartheid in the Holy Land.
Tom Ambrose lives in Cambridge
Posted by Tom Ambrose on
Thursday, 19 December 2013 at 5:00pm GMT
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
As a joint UK/South African citizen I say 'hear hear' to Tom.
Tom Ambrose needs to make his mind up whether he is talking about 'Israelis' or 'Jews?" The term appears to be interchangeable depending on which emotion he is attempting to tweak. I note 'Palestinians' are never referred to as 'Arabs' in his piece. And the free use of the term 'apartheid' is not helpful in this context. This tired old 'Israel totally bad/Palestinians totally good' argument is just that - tired and old, and will assist the peace process not one jot
Thank you, Tom. The lack of response to Palestinian Christians by Christians in this country is deeply worrying.
We can go to the Holy Land (the secular states of Palestine and Israel) and as "internationals" travel in reasonable freedom. Palestinians are not free to travel in their own country.
There's a film on Bethlehem that I've not seen before currently put out by Al Jazeera which would give us all reason to think. Here's the link:
Note that in that very small area a Palestinian in Bethlehem, just 5 miles south of Jerusalem, is not allowed to travel where Jesus journeyed. Who or what forbids and impedes it? The Israeli authorities. This Advent may we wake up.
Once again the apartheid slur against Israel. Without for a moment defending every aspect of Israeli policy, I do wonder how people can seriously describe it as an apartheid state when - to cite just one piece of evidence to the contrary - it was an Arab judge who chaired the panel which in 2010 convicted a former Israeli president of rape and other sexual offences. Imagine a black man in 1980s South Africa being on the Supreme Court and sending a former white president to jail.... and then you'll see the flaw in calling Israel an apartheid state. And then, if you're sensible, you'll start to worry about how Christians repeat these slurs so easily, and whether they might just have something to do with our long history of anti-Semitism.
The situation in the Holy Land is so complex; and it is so easy to discriminate against people both Palestinian and Jew.
I remember meeting both Palestinians and Jewish young people at Bett Shahur, all crying out for the peace to live together, respecting each other.
Then later praying the Mass in the church of the Field of the Shepherds
We must pray for all the folk of the Holy Land, and that God's will be allowed to be done.
I'm increasingly fascinated by the nature of the responses to pieces which criticise the policies of the State of Israel in relation to the occupied West Bank, especially when they identify a possible anti-Semitic motivation. To take just one other example here: the piece appears to be careful to use the term 'Israeli' when making reference to the State of Israel (whose citizens include Jews and Arab Christians and Arab Moslems) and the term 'Jewish' when making reference to Jewish settlers in occupied territory outside the State of Israel - yet this distinction is immediately labelled as intellectually confused and emotionally manipulative.
The use of the term 'apartheid state' is, of course, always open to genuine discussion. Does it mean 'exactly like the situation which used to exist in South Africa?'. If so, examples of where the State of Israel treats its own citizens evenly is a valid response. Or does it mean 'a society in which the majority population is treated less favourably by those in power?'. If so, this piece's references to differential access to water and justice in the occupied West Bank carries some weight.
Mr. Mullins is too disingenuous. Mr. Ambrose could have used the terms "Israeli' and Israel throughout, had he a mind. He and Mr Mullins and I know the term 'Jewish' and 'Jewish settlers' carry an emotional heft way beyond the mere words. At no point did I claim Mr. Ambrose to be 'intellectually confused' - on the contrary he knows exactly what he's doing.
'occupied territory outside the State of Israel.' Again, this is a reference to disputed territory at least since the 1967 conflict, so both 'occupied territory' and ''the State of Israel' could be argued over.
Mr Mullins offers some possible defences for the use of 'apartheid state' in references to the Israeli government. Leaving aside his unquestioning acceptance of Mr Ambrose's allegations, he fails to address what is obvious to all: Israel is not South Africa, it was not formed in the same way, historically, politically or culturally, and to fling accusations of 'apartheid state' at it is both casually insulting and intellectually lazy.
As worldwide Anglicans, think of the damage we inflicted on populations in Canada, America, Australia, NZ, Scotland, Ireland, the list goes on -- we were complicit with the ruling power there, the Crown. In Canada, the Anglican Church even had seized, occupied native territory dedicated to it as the Clergy Reserves. In Scotland and Ireland, the Anglican church was also complicit in infamous land seizures.
And as worldwide Anglicans outside of England, we're all living on occupied territory.
Pointing fingers at someone else's mess is all very well and good, but it doesn't actually make our own mess, which we still haven't cleaned up yet, go away. It just makes us look ridiculously sanctimonious because we're pretending ours isn't still there while calling for action on someone else's.
I could not agree more with your comment!
Sister Mary wrote: "Note that in that very small area a Palestinian in Bethlehem, just 5 miles south of Jerusalem, is not allowed to travel where Jesus journeyed. Who or what forbids and impedes it? The Israeli authorities. This Advent may we wake up."
Let's keep in mind what happened in the years before the Israeli authorities imposed these restrictions on movement--which certainly are causing suffering for many innocent Palestinians. Terrorists used the ease of movement between the Occupied Territories and the State of Israel to carry out multiple bombing attacks against "soft targets." I was in Jerusalem in 1995 just a couple of weeks before a bus full of passengers (on a route I frequently rode) was ripped apart by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Those attacks were widely hailed by leaders of the Palestinian National Authority, including Arafat, who repeatedly referred to the suicide bombers as "martyrs."
In fact Randal you are quite right - not so much about the role of the Anglican church in European colonisation (which was always complex and ambivalent) but about the parallel between European colonialism and the present policies of the State of Israel. Israel is a colonial settler-state, and one of the last in the world unapologetically to employ the language and methods of nineteenth and twentieth-century colonialism. It is ridiculous to suggest that we cannot criticise Israel because our own histories (and in many cases the present condition of indigenous peoples and minority populations) are far from perfect. That is to resort to an absurd and unchristian antinomianism. Rather, we should see the liberation struggle of the Palestinians (both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories) as part of the same fight for justice and dignity for all people that we should be waging at home. Concern for the treatment of Palestinians far away does not exclude the possibility of being outraged by injustice and oppression closer to home.
rjb wrote: "Israel is a colonial settler-state...."
When Christians characterize the State of Israel using the same language as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Jews may rightly wonder if they truly have repudiated their centuries of contempt for the Jewish people.
I prefer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's position: "peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity." (March 25, 1968, in an address to a rabbinical conference).
I agree with Tom and am horrified by some of these defensive comments.
I'm horrified by the one-sided anti-Israel comments. As a Christian who has many Jewish friends and colleagues, I know exactly how such statements are heard by Jews (including Jews who are sharply critical of the policies of the Israeli government): as Christian antisemitism dressed up in "progressive" clothing. Christians who easily judge and condemn the Jewish state should do some serious soul-searching.
If you read the history of Zionism, William, you will find that the early Zionists referred to the state they hoped to found as a "colony".
Stephen, the term "Israeli" could not have been used throughout. The reason is that 20% of Israeli citizens are in fact Arab, and it is not open to them to live in the settlements. The settlements are for Jews only, not Israelis.
As for the occupied territories being disputed", you display here your own political bias. Apart from Israel no other country, certainly not Britain, views the Occupied Palestinian territories as "disputed" territory. The settlement of occupied territories by the occupying country's civilians is illegal under international law.
Anyone who thinks the occupation is all about Israel's security should read the United Nations regular reports on the effects of occupation on Palestinian civilians, particularly those in Area C.
Helen, feel free to provide me specific references to "early Zionists" who "referred to the state they hoped to found as a 'colony.'" Such references can include writings in Modern Hebrew, since I have a passable reading knowledge of the language.
I will note that I have read quite a bit on the history of Zionism, given that I teach Jewish Studies in an American university.
David Ben Gurion: history of the Haganah :
"At the present time we speak of colonisation and only of colonisation. It is our short term objective".
Moshe Dayan: "since the return to Zion 100 years ago a double process of colonisation and expansion of frontiers has been going on".(1967).
Expulsion of the Arabs is also a regular theme in early Zionist writings, as I'm sure you're aware, William.
Helen, neither of these quotations refers to "the state they hoped to found as a 'colony'"--which is what you originally asserted about "early Zionists." Indeed, Ben Gurion's statement makes quite the opposite point. I wonder, have you read any histories of Zionism written from other than an anti-Zionist perspective, which is wedded to equating Zionism with imperialist colonialism?
But, let's assume that you and others are correct in your identification of Israel as a "colonial settler state." What should follow from such an identification? What should happen to Israel? Should it be dismantled? What should happen to its 5 million (+) Jewish citizens? If they decline to live as a minority subject to the tender mercies of the Middle East's Arab majority (which has been so successful with pluralism and secular democracy), where should they go? Are you ready to have your country absorb them? I'd like to know--and so would my Jewish friends and colleagues.
You're playing with words William, and also making a good few assumptions.
The historical reality is that Israel was founded as a colonial settler state. Does this mean it should be dismantled? No of course not. The US was also founded as a collection of colonial settler states. Try dismantling that!
Israel is a state recognised by the rest of the world and has therefore the right to live in security. However it does not have the right to occupy another territory and settle it with its own civilians. That is the nub of the problem.
Perhaps you should acquaint yourself with the effects of the Israeli occupation on ordinary Palestinians. Take one theme, water, for example, and ask yourself what Israeli water policies have to do with security. Ask yourself how the destruction of wells safeguards Israel. You could then read a Jewish theologian like Marc Ellis to find out how distant such policies are from the morality of Judaism.
I would point out that some of the most aggressive settlers in the West Bank are not Israeli born, though as Jews they have the right to live in West Bank settlements. In the centre of Hebron for example American Jews operate a sort of rota system, living partly there, partly in America. They move freely between the West Bank and their home country.
Helen, I take words very seriously; therefore, I rarely "play" with them, and certainly not in a discussion of this sort.
No, Israel was not founded as a "colonial settler state." Asserting this tendentious identification does not make it true. The identification of Israel as a "colonial settler state" is a matter of considerable debate. Not surprisingly, anti-Zionists are quite sure about this characterization of Israel, while those sympathetic to Israel argue strongly against it.
As for assumptions, you are making a good few yourself, as is clear from your lecture to me about things I need to acquaint myself with. In fact, I'm well-aware of the issues you raise--and should point out that none of my posts here have expressed unqualified support for Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. As for Marc Ellis, I have read several of his writings--but Ellis does not hold a monopoly on defining "the morality of Judaism." Indeed, his arguments are rejected by many Jewish theologians, including others who have critiqued Israeli policy.
Helen, how many times have you been to the Holy Land? Have you ever been to Hebron?
As it happens I was in Hebron a couple of times last month, a place in which unspeakable levels of violence have been perpetrated in the twentieth century by individual Arabs on Jew and by Jews on Arabs. I’m not sure why any superficial encounter with the most visible present aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there (which most contributors to this thread will correctly expect to have included seeing the egg-stained merchandise spoilt by what had been thrown down on the market street from some homes above under the protection of the Israeli army or the check point through which only I and some of the local residents are allowed to pass) should either improve or undermine my engagement with this thread, but I guess it is a parallel set of genuine but equally selective encounters in the Bethlehem area which prompted Tom Ambrose to write his piece in the way he did. So (as I brace myself for exposure as disingenuous, or as intellectually lazy, or as at least unconsciously anti-Semitic, or perhaps the victim of anti-Zionist propaganda, for expressing this much in this way) I have to continue to pray on any Christmas Eve for peace and justice for all the citizens and occupiers of the land near which Jesus was born from present victims of violence to those who would deny that there is even any form of occupation under way.
William, rather than debate how often people have visited the Holy Land, why not study the words of Christians who actually live there - who might have some real understanding of the situation.
"We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country under Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope.
The reality on the ground is one of the Israeli occupation, and all that results from this situation: the dehumanizing effect of the Separation Wall; the effect of the Israeli settlements that ravage our land in the name of God and of force; humiliation at checkpoints; restrictions on religious liberty; and the suffering of Jerusalem where homes are being demolished or expropriated. . . .
We know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical legitimacy to the infringement of our rights. We declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights."
These are extracts from the the Kairos document - issued by the leaders of the united churches of the Holy Land, and explicitly modelled on the Kairos document sent out from the churches of South Africa during the apartheid era.
See also the "Bethlehem Unwrapped" festival at St James's Church, Piccadilly, London. http://bethlehem-unwrapped.org/
Simon S. politely asked Helen and me to pull back from the debate for the sake of Christmas. I accepted that request and agreed not to post anything else. It doesn't appear that this request applied to others. So be it. I've said "my piece" and I see how things stand here.