This week Benjamin Netanyahu made the following claim:
Israel is the cradle of our common civilization. It's the crucible of our
common values. And the modern state of Israel was founded precisely on these eternal values. And this is why Israel's more than 1 million Muslims enjoy full democratic rights. This is why the only place in the Middle East where Christians are completely free to practice their faith is the democratic state of Israel. And this is why Israel, and only Israel, can be trusted to ensure the freedom for all faiths in our eternal capital, the united city of Jerusalem.
This brought to mind a conversation I had decades ago with the late missionary, Ralph Winter. What Ralph is most famous for was transforming evangelical missions into what is now known as World Christianity. What this meant in practice was instead of following the colonial model they would work with indigenous churches and cultures. Ralph had just returned from Lebanon just a short time after the Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed. His assessment of the region was shocking. He told me one of the most unfree places he ever visited was the state of Israel and how in contrast the Palestinians promoted religious freedom much better. Here religious freedom is not the ability of outsiders to proselytize but how free the people who lived in those countries could worship as they see fit.
Another definition for the lack of religious freedom is when the dominant religion has a hegemony over the minorities. From a standpoint of the law there may be freedom but the majority abuses their "preferred" status on the minority. Case in point, my home town of Fort Collins Colorado and the so-called war on Christmas. I was involved with the Jewish community here and found how hurtful the assumptions of the majority culture was and how the minority was described. As Dan Kaplas put it:
You have this arrogant minority that wants to go to the point of stripping away Christmas trees and colored lights. I mean, this sounds like something out of the old Soviet Union.
Since then my family and I have been one of only a handful of evangelicals in any of the cultural outreach activities that the Jewish community had in Fort Collins. Remember this when we fast forward to this Spring when the same evangelicals just love the Jews in Israel while they ignore them in their hometown.
When I visited it I found that Israel also had a facade of religious liberty and is warning to those who want the U.S. to be a "Christian" nation instead of a secular one. First stop Nazareth. I was on a Christian Zionist tour very similar to the one Glenn Beck is organizing for his Restoring Courage tour, aka let's start the Apocalypse now. The tour guide appeared to be a Messianic Jew but I really have my doubts. There was much talk about how Christians and Jews should be natural allies, allusions to the metaphor in Romans about how Gentiles were grafted into the Jewish people and lots of jewelry of a combined fish and Star of David. As we went on the tour I asked for examples of mixed villages where this "love" between Jews and Christians was evident.
What I discovered after the fold:
Even in Israel proper, the Jewish communities are on the hills and control all the water. (While oil is the most precious resource in the Gulf the control of water in Israel determines who is in charge since Canaanite times.) In addition to "the" wall there are often walls around these communities much like our gated communities in the U.S. and having the same purpose. In contrast to this, the Arab communities were in the valleys and the Christians and the Muslims are all mixed up together. As we entered Nazareth Illit (as the name implies it's on the hill overlooking Nazareth) the guide pointed to the courthouse and proudly stated that there are both Jewish and Arab judges and how Arabs too get socialized medicine to the underwhelmed Republicans on the tour. When I got into Nazareth itself I discovered how little this really meant.
Before we visited Nazareth we visited the village of Cana and one innocent sentence by the tour guide started my journey into being an anti-Zionist. Israeli police were stacked up just outside the village. When we entered Cana all the businesses were shuttered and there was a peaceful demonstration. "What's that?" queried one of the people on the bus. "Oh, that's just Land Day. You see Israel lets people protest for their brothers in the West Bank." Little did I know they were protesting for themselves. Later in tour before arriving at Yad Vashem the guide mention how the JNF planted trees all over Israel and how this was making the country "green". The real, more sinister, reason is below. That seemed to satiate the curiosity of everybody save me and this is what I found when I returned to my hotel that evening:
Land Day (Arabic: يوم الأرض, Yom al-Ard; Hebrew: יוֹם הַאֲדָמָה, Yom HaAdama), March 30, is an annual day of commemoration for Palestinians of the events of that date in 1976. In response to the Israeli government's announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of dunams of land for "security and settlement purposes", a general strike and marches were organized in Arab towns from the Galilee to the Negev. In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Arab citizens were killed, about one hundred were wounded, and hundreds of others arrested.
Scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recognizes Land Day as a pivotal event in the struggle over land and in the relationship of Arab citizens to the Israeli state and body politic. It is significant in that it was the first time since 1948 that Arabs in Israel organized a response to Israeli policies as a Palestinian national collective. An important annual day of commemoration in the Palestinian national political calendar ever since, it is marked not only by Arab citizens of Israel, but also by Palestinians all over the world.
I later found out the Israeli Interior Ministry asked for attendance records of Arab teachers that day to figure out whether they were involved in the protest, not unlike what Governor Walker tried to do in Wisconsin.
The Alternative Information Center reported that “Dr. Orna Simchon, director of the [Israeli] Education Ministry’s northern district, sent a letter to Palestinian schools in the region on Land Day, demanding to know whether classes were held that day and if not, why. They were also asked to immediately report the attendance records for the day, including lists of teachers who had and had not come to school”
As you can see from the bolded text, the narrative that the settlements and security walls were not a result of the violence of the Second Intifada and that the Arab citizens of Israel are really happy is one giant lie. It was already part of the plan in 1976. As this Middle East Report shows, the Israeli Palestinian population with Land Day commemorates their deep disappointment not with the occupation in 1967 but rather the ethnic cleansing of 1948. (This is where in my opinion the Obama Administration is missing the boat. We're debating 1967 while all of MENA is discussing 1948 and the ongoing Nakba.)
As Claude Levi-Strauss said of Australian totems, the Galilean landscape is "good to think with." Yet it can no longer assist Palestinians in Israel in achieving their political objectives.The sight of bulldozers scraping Galilean hilltops to build new settlements is a painful reminder of the limit and failures of past attempts at resisting the state's imposition of identity and expropriation of lands. This is one of the many contradictions facing Palestinian citizens of Israel: that which nourishes and sustains their sense of identity and belonging - the land and its fruits - is beyond their control. The state that granted Palestinians nominal citizenship robbed them of their land, fractured their identity and ruptured their embodied belonging to the Galilean landscape.
Before I start let's look at a map of the original UN partition and note specifically how Nazareth and the Lower Galilee were assigned to Palestine and not Isreal.
We arrived and had a tour of a reconstruction of a 1st century Nazareth village and had an Arab Christian guide. Expecting to finally see a mixed rather than segregated village I innocently asked about how many Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived in Nazareth. Instead of geography I got a history lesson instead.
I was told that prior to 1948 Nazareth was majority Christian. But during the Nakba the surrounding villages were ethnically cleansed during Operation Dekel. (The amazing reason why Nazareth itself was spared is below.) They fled to Lebanon and to neighboring towns who weren't ethnically cleansed. Half of the populations in the two largest Arab towns in Israel, Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm, are made up of internally displaced refugees. This changed Nazareth from majority Christian to majority Muslim. I got the same story in Bethlehem. They were majority Christian also but internally displaced Muslims became the majority of the town. Our Christian guide in Bethlehem pined for the "good old days" of the Ottomans! He said that the Christians had always gotten along with the Muslims and they still do. In addition to this the prison err security wall has made life miserable for them so that the Christian mayor of Jerusalem predicted in a decade or two that there will be no Christians left in Bethlehem.
At this point, someone usually raises the point that the number of Christians has increased in Israel. But the devil is always in the details. The tour sponsors gave a false impression that there is a nascent revival of Messianic Jews in Israel. In reality, there are less than 15,000 Messianic Jews and they are mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union. (More on the Messianic Jews later.) Likewise, the growth in gentile Christians has also come from immigration during the 80s and 90s mostly from mixed marriages with Jews. The indigenous Christians have cried out [pdf] to their brothers and sisters in the West to largely deaf ears.
One of the dirty little secrets of the '48 war was that both sides rejected the UN proposal. In May of 1948 the UNSC queried the Israelis about the relationship between occupied land and the proposed borders. Here is their response. Note particularly what I bold.
Question (a): Over which areas of Palestine do you actually exercise control at present over the entire area of the Jewish State as defined in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947. In addition, the Provisional Government exercises control over the city of Jaffa; Northwestern Galilee, including Acre, Zib, Base, and the Jewish settlements up to the Lebanese frontier; a strip of territory alongside the road from Hilda to Jerusalem; almost all of new Jerusalem; and of the Jewish quarter within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The above areas, outside the territory of the State of Israel, are under the control of the military authorities of the State of Israel, who are strictly adhering to international regulations in this regard. The Southern Negev is uninhabited desert over which no effective authority has ever existed.
Question (b): Do you have armed forces operating in areas (towns, cities, districts) of Palestine where the Arabs are the majority, or outside Palestine?
Answer to Question (b): We consider the territory of Israel as a single unit with a Jewish majority. As indicated above, the Government of the State of Israel operates in parts of Palestine outside the territory of the State of Israel; parts which, with the notable exception of Jerusalem, formerly for the most part, contained Arab majorities. These areas have, however, been mostly abandoned by their Arab population. No area outside of Palestine is under Jewish occupation but sallies beyond the frontiers of the State of Israel have occasionally been carried out by Jewish forces for imperative military reasons, and as a part of an essentially defensive plan.
The truth was the Palestinians weren't normal refugees fleeing the ravages of war. Rather there was a systematic destruction of their villages. I'll continue with a tale of two cities, Nazareth and Saffuriyya. Sigh. Saffuriyya is ethnically cleansed even on Wikipedia. Note the redirect of my link above.
The map below is a Google Earth image where I overlaid the map above and locations of destroyed and ethnically cleansed villages (the green and yellow houses). The dotted blue line is the border Israel allegedly "accepted". Saffuriyya was destroyed while Nazareth was not. The second map pulls out to show the context of how systematic the ethnic cleansing was.
Before I get to Saffuriyya I want to give the amazing story of how Nazareth was spared due to the righteous acts of one man, Ben Dunkelman.
[Dunkelman] led the 7th Brigade and its supporting units as it moved to capture the town of Nazareth. Nazareth surrendered after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written agreement, where the town leaders accepted to cease hostilities in return for solemn promises from the Israeli officers, including Dunkelman, that no harm would come to the civilians of the town.
In his autobiography Dual Allegiance, Dunkelman noted what happened next.
[less than a day later] Haim Laskov [came] to me with astounding orders: Nazareth's civilian population was to be evacuated! I was shocked and horrified. I told him I would do nothing of the sort -in view of our promises to safeguard the city's people, such a move would be both superfluous and harmful. I reminded him that scarcely a day earlier, he and I, as representatives of the Israeli army, had signed the surrender document in which we solemnly pledged to do nothing to harm the city or its population. When Haim saw that I refused to obey the order, he left.
In less than 12 hours Dunkelman was rewarded for his humanity by his superiors appointing someone else to be military governor of Nazareth.
Two days after the second truce came into effect, the Seventh Brigade was ordered to withdraw from Nazareth. Avraham Yaffe, who had commanded the 13th battalion in the assault on the city, now reported to me with orders from Moshe Carmel to take over from me as its military governor. I complied with the order, but only after Avraham had given me his word of honour that he would do nothing to harm or displace the Arab population. [....] I felt sure that [the order to withdraw from Nazareth] had been given because of my defiance of the evacuation order.
Eventually, David Ben-Gurion let the protection order stand and Nazareth was never evacuated. Unfortunately for Saffuriya and many other Arab villages there weren't enough Ben Dunkelmans to go around.
On 15 July 1948, Israeli aircraft bombed the village of Saffuriya. Most of the villagers fled northwards toward Lebanon. Only about 100 elderly remained. Many settled in Nazareth in a quarter now known as the al-Safafira quarter because of the large number of Saffuriyya natives living there.
From the Land Day paper I quoted above:
We next visited the destroyed town of Saffuriyya, now a Jewish farming community known as Tzippori, as well as an acclaimed Roman-era archaeological site. Before 1948, Saffuriyya had been a very prosperous town, larger and wealthier than Nazareth.
Saffuriyya's pomegranates, olives and wheat were famous throughout the Galilee. Just as famous was the stubbornness of the inhabitants, who were
among the few townspeople to resist the approaching Jewish forces in 1948 militarily. Even after Saffuriyya was overrun and destroyed, some families defiantly continued to live among the ruins, although many fled to Lebanon immediately after the town fell, ending up in the refugee camps of 'Ein Hilweh, Sabra and Shatila. A sizable number of Sauffuriyya's displaced reidents eventually sought refuge in Nazareth's new northernmost neighborhoods of upper and lower Saffefreh.
Remember my guide's comments approaching the Holocaust Museum about planting trees?
Approaching Tzippori/Saffuriyya, we pulled off the highway onto an uneven field of spring wildflowers. Climbing a steep hillside, we parked our cars in a clearing surrounded by pine trees. I asked where the town had been.
Smiling sadly, Kamal responded, "We're standing in the heart of it." My husband looked shocked and asked to see traces of the old houses. Kamal and Karim beckoned for us to follow, and soon we came across some old building stones and a square, hollowed-out piece of grayish limestone - an old grape press-half-hidden by weeds and dried pine needles. Karim looked wistfully at the stone press, which was probably still in use when he was born in January 1948, but which now lay forgotten under the detritus of the pine forest planted by the Jewish National Fund in the 1950s to dissuade Palestinians from returning to resettle and cultivate their destroyed village. "This is not unusual," said Karim. "We could show you the remains of so many Arab villages covered by pine forests." Pushing the dead pine needles off of the press, Karimadded that, for Palestinians in Israel, pine trees had come to symbolize loss and exile, just as olive groves represented Palestinian rootedness and community.
Pine trees may have provided cover up but it cannot escape cameras or satellites. Here's a picture of the new pine forest with a photograph of Saffuriyya in the foreground.
Here's the view of the village as seen from space.
Here's a before and after video of the village on YouTube.
So, maybe, this was just an embarrassing episode that's merely in the past of Israel. Unfortunately, not so. Remember Nazareth Illit? it was a development town looking over Nazareth. Originally it was promised to just have government buildings like the courthouse mentioned by our guide. Such promises were not kept and a Jewish settlement formed there.
While the Christians and Muslims live in peace in Nazareth it's not the case for Christians and Jews in Nazareth Illit.
Christmas is another opportunity
Nazareth Religious War:
Arab Christians are demanding the city put Abchicarutia firs for Christmas, as set by the municipality Hanukkah menorahs. But the mayor, Shimon Gipsu, adamantly refuses. "As long as I'm on duty, not placed in the city of Christmas trees or any other non-Jewish motif," he said.
Although Nazareth's population includes 15% of Arabs, mostly Christian, the current mayor since his election is openly Judaize the city.
Gipsu is encouraging Jewish immigration to the city in different localities, has been elected a slight decrease of 1.2% in the Arab city.
But Gipsu refuses. "Nazareth is a Jewish city, and Jewish symbols," he says angrily. "The percentage of Arabs who live in it is less than 15%, so there is no reason to turn it into an Arab city."
Unlike the faux war on Christmas in my hometown this one appears real, but you'll never see it on Fox News.
Christians and Muslims are not the only religious minorities that are oppressed. So also are the Messianic Jews I mentioned above.
The Center’s report has shown that a staggering 54% of Israel’s Arab population lives in poverty, as compared to 15% of the Jewish population. According to the report, over 150,000 Arab families, including some 400,000 children, live below the poverty line.
Over the decades, however, Jewish-Arab relations in Israel have been marked by mutual suspicion and resentment. From 1948 until 1966 Arabs here lived under military rule. A 2003 government report acknowledged discrimination by state institutions, and a recent report on poverty published last year by Israel’s National Insurance Institute indicated that 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Arabs.
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer on Tuesday presented figures showing that the poverty rate in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors has gone up by more than 50% in the past decade, while remaining unchanged at around 13% among the general population.
There is no doubt that part of the difference between the salary of Arab workers in the labor market and the salary of others stems from discrimination,” said Fischer.
Furthermore, of the 40 towns in Israel with the highest unemployment rates, 36 were Arab towns. The total employment rate for Arabs is 68%.
I've seen some grousing by Christians on the recently Focus on the Family diaries. My friendly advise: Get. over. it. My takeaway from my visit to Israel is the combination of religion and politics is the dumbest idea ever conceived by humanity. I saw what it was like when the roles got reversed. It's easy for progressives to speak truth to power. The hard part is to eschew power for truth. It's not the responsibility of the minority to make things better but the majority. As such, Christian believers should be the strongest proponents of the separation of church and state. The genius of the American system is the realization that the problem is not that the "wrong" religion is in charge but rather that "any" religion is in charge. It's simply too tempting to convert by force when persuasion fails us.
Israel is a sovereign state and they can decide to be Jewish one if they so desire. But that shouldn't keep us from being critical of them or any other nation that denies religious liberties including our own. It's my prayer on this Memorial Day that there are more Ben Dunkelmans both here and in Israel.