The Plight of Palestinian Christians

The following link is lengthy (pardon the pun) but well worth watching. It is an excellent update on the above topic.

https://www.vomcanada.com/index.php?option=com_youtubegallery&view=youtubegallery&listid=26&themeid=4&videoid=145294782&tmpl=component&TB_iframe=true&height=550&width=630

Below, I have used the text from the conclusion of a slightly dated but nevertheless still very relevant book by Justus Reid Weiner, ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’ (full reference listed at the end of this article).  Throughout this article, I have  included latest updates of some of the events and issues raised in Weiner’s summary.

“The plight of the Palestinian Christian Community cannot remain the sacrificial pawn in the larger game of the Middle East peace process.”

A Backward Glance

In April 2002, the Church of the Nativity was invaded by more than 100 Palestinian Muslim gunmen who shot their way inside, while attempting to evade capture by Israeli soldiers who had entered Bethlehem (West Bank – my comment) to quell on-going terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings. As confirmed by Abdullah Abu-Hadid, a senior commander in the Tanzim militia, “the idea was to enter the Church in order to create international pressure on Israel” (Raab 2003). Reporting on the event, a Jerusalem-based cleric told the Jerusalem Post that, “propaganda is all that is being heard, in part because of the many cover-ups by the Christians who don’t dare speak up. They are cowards” (Gelfond 2002:260). The cleric explained that fear of Muslim terrorists silences both the churches and the communities. A Bethlehem priest quoted in the same article confirmed the assessment of the Jerusalem cleric, noting with anger, “I would have preferred silence rather than saying that everything is okay. We are worse than cowards, we are lying.” (Gefond 2002:260)

Even if peace negotiations are resumed and successfully navigate the numerous obstacles ahead, the fate of the average Palestinian will depend on the strength and orientation of his state’s institutions. The PA (Palestinian Authority) interim governing authority has proven itself incapable of guaranteeing the protection of the basic rights of Palestinian Christians, the most significant minority under its jurisdiction. One independent report stated that “the risk is that if present structures and practices go unreformed, they will shape and even predetermine future ones in negative ways.” The importance of monitoring the PA’s record, even during the ongoing violent intifada, cannot be overstated.

Some More Recent Developments

The recalcitrance of the PA to enforce international human rights standards, along with its refusal to respect the requirements of the Oslo interim agreements has made it an accomplice and even perpetrator of gross human rights abuses. Though the international community is tempted to donate further sums to the PA following the death of Yasser Arafat (in 2005 – my comment), they appear to be under the as yet unproven assumption that the ascendency of Mahmoud Abbas will rejuvenate the peace process and reinstate respect for human rights and religious freedom under the Palestinian Authority (my insert: elected interim prime minister in 2012 by Hamas and Fatah). This attempt at showing a united front has just been strengthened, as reported in an article by Aljazeera, dated 18.1.2017: “The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has agreed to form a unity government with rival organisation Hamas, Al Jazeera has learned. The agreement was reached late on Tuesday after a three-day negotiation in the Russian capital, Moscow [‘due to America’s seeming pro-Israel new Trump administration’ – as mentioned in same article, my comment]. The two organisations will form a new National Council, which will include Palestinians in exile and hold elections. “Today the conditions for [such an initiative] are better than ever,” Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, said. The deal also includes the Islamic Jihad group, which had not been involved in negotiations for a long time.”).

In the opinion of this author, the U.S., Israel, and other members of the international community should make human rights a major issue in any future peace negotiations. By using financial incentives during this pre-state stage, the U.S., Israel and international donor communities can prevent the egregious violations of human rights partially described in this monography from accompanying the PA into the emerging Palestinian state. The leverage of the donors is significant, with over 70 percent of the PA’s budget derived from foreign sources. (Sabella 2004).

(My insert: “…in budget years 2015 and 2016, …the US Agency for International Development …sent the Palestinians $355 million…” source: http://www.businessinsider.com, dated January 2017.

Quoting from Wikipedia: “The entities that provide aid to the Palestinians are categorized into seven groups: the Arab nations, the European Union, the United States, Japan, international institutions (including agencies of the UN system), European countries, and other nations (possibly Russia? – my comment).”

[My conclusion from research into this topic: NGO’s, involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, who have greatly increased in numbers, are said to act to protect human rights in this region of conflict, as well as exerting considerable influence over such huge organisations as the UN and the EU, have been shown to have overt or more often covert political bias against one or the other party involved; more often against Israel. Nevertheless, finding unbiased facts is extremely difficult, as even a widely respected “NGO monitor” is funded and staffed largely by the Jewish community! Bias seems to be ingrained in the human psyche! End of my comment]

Financial incentives can be earmarked to train PA security personnel in human rights practices, to construct modern penal institutions, and to reform the legal system.

Clearly, the U.S. has considerable economic leverage in the region, and could use that influence to demand human rights improvements. However, the [past – my comment] President may be reluctant to impose serious sanctions against the Palestinian entity or even push human rights as an issue in the peace talks. The primary objective of the U.S. in the region is peace and the secondary objective is the fight against terrorism. To rebuke the PA or to make human rights an issue in the negotiations would cause the U.S. to lose influence with the PA [my comment: which seems to have happened under Trump, as identified previously by Aljazeera] when dealing with other, ‘more important’ issues.

However, in the opinion of this author, the PA’s adoption of sound human rights policies and practices would contribute immeasurably to the success of the peace process. Although Arafat’s commitment to these values in the agreements was vague at best, the Palestinians’ expectations regarding an improvement in their lives deserves to be met, and should not be limited to issues of pride or economics. As the international community furnishes financial resources to the emerging Palestinian state, it should reflect on its complicity in the human rights abuses that have emerged.

If the internal reforms fail and pressure from the U.S., Israel, and the donor communities does not materialize, there is one last resort for the Palestinian Christians. Since the PA is not a sovereign state even it has administrative responsibilities in designated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli military rule is still in effect in the territories. This means that, legally speaking, human rights are the responsibility of the PA on a day-to-day basis, but the ultimate legal responsibility rests with Israel (Weiner 1995). Of course, the current Israeli government …frustrated by endemic Palestinian terrorism, would appear ill disposed to shouldering this responsibility, given its policy of unilateral disengagement.

(Insert: …in the enclave [Gaza strip], where some two million Palestinians live… Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.
The UN development agency has said the enclave, run by Islamist movement Hamas, could become uninhabitable by 2020, while others have warned of frustration spilling over and leading to fresh violence.

Israel strictly controls traffic into and out of Gaza, while the enclave’s border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to keep Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials to make them.

Mike Smith (Tel Aviv), Middelburg Observer, 30 March 2017)

Therefore, the Israeli Supreme Court is the last resort for Palestinians living under the jurisdiction of the PA. The Supreme Court, long a liberal voice, has in recent years become increasingly committed to improving human rights and the rule of law, frequently demonstrating its commitment to ensuring human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, the Palestinian Christians living in the PA would be reluctant to utilize Israeli legal institutions, but, as victims, they clearly have a need for an institution of last resort, as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of Christians who have left the territories.

It seems logical that, instead of turning to Israeli courts, the Palestinian Christians should be able to turn to the PA’s justice system. This however, would be largely unproductive at the present time. The PA’s justice system has no practical autonomy from the executive branch, even though it is independent in theory. The PA President and Justice Minister can hire, fire, retire, and otherwise control all judicial employees, including judges at all levels. Two previous chief justices were ‘retired’ by the executive branch, one possibly for un unsympathetic comment made against the PA in an interview, and the second for a decision that called for the release of ten Birzeit University students who were being detained unlawfully. (Amnesty 1999:7)

The future of the Palestinian Christian community and any other religious minority living under the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance and the rejection of fundamentalist and archaic attitudes towards non-Muslims. As long as the Constitution of the PA reflects the principles of Sharia law, it seems as though the emergence of religious tolerance will remain highly unlikely. Additionally, the PA must crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad and eliminate their influence and role as the enforcers of the more brutal aspects of Sharia law [my comment: which appears even more unlikely than when this report was written, as they have now formed a threesome alliance; Fatah/Hamas/Islamic Jihad, see previous insert published by Aljazeera].

The testimonies (more found in the actual book – my comment) provided in this monograph make it pointedly clear that lawlessness and anarchy have swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years. Gangs of thugs and thieves have created what a former Palestinian cabinet minister described as “total chaos”. It is essential that the PA arrest these militants who, in their range of mafia-like conduct, frequently abuse and intimidate Christians. (Toameh 2002c)

The political conflict, or halting efforts to resolve it, can no longer be used by the international community as an excuse for evading responsibility for the gross human rights abuses the Palestinian Christian community has come to accept. Human rights standards cannot any longer be subordinated to political motives. Only when the international community is prepared to stand behind the lofty ideals enumerated in its formative instruments, with its full economic and political resources, will the perpetrators of such abuses be forced to relinquish habits of abuse and ascribe to the norms expected of all sovereign entities.”

Main body of this extract taken from ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’, written by Justus, Reid Weiner, 2005: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Prayer Call for Palestinians

bombed streetsDear praying friends,

Would you like to join me in praying for Christians who find themselves continuously surrounded by hateful, inflammatory speech, which in some cases has been part of generations of their families?

I particularly am thinking of Christians living in the Palestinian Territories, surrounded by but also filled with hatred for the Jewish State of Israel. Many of these Christians have put politics above the word of God. It is understandable in a way, for they are afflicted by severe poverty, often surrounded by bombed-out ruins from the last conflict with Israel and still vividly remember the bombings and the lost relatives and friends. The older ones among them may remember the houses and lands they once owned, which were taken by Israel; either assigned to them by international treaties or simply claimed. It is a potent recipe for hatred but anathema to a viable spiritual life in Christ! A tall order to ask them to forgive and even love their enemies! Matthew 5:44 (KJV) “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Nevertheless, no more difficult than to ask a victim of rape to forgive his/her abuser! It still stands and God asks us, by calling on His help, to obey His command, just like all His other commands.

I suggest therefore we pray as follows:

1) For God to reveal to Palestinian Christians the truth of His word about the need to forgive, no exceptions given.
2) That they would understand that they can only do so effectively by trusting in His Spirit’s help to do so.
3) For them to be given a sound mind, as in 2 Timothy 1:7(KJV) For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
4) For Scripture-based, Spirit-led teachers to teach rightly how to walk as a disciple of Christ.
5) For Palestinian Christians to make God their provider Matthew 6:25-34 (NET) “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”
6) For protection from other Palestinians who see forgiving their enemies as treason and may well want to kill those who profess and practice forgiveness towards their enemies.
7) For peace to come to this people group and for a desisting in making alliances with terrorist groups, which has been reaping destruction and devastation for its people.

Bless you for praying in faith!

Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation?

Written by Aaron Trank, Jews for Jesus, San Francisco (Extract from an article of the same title, see further info at the end of this article)

reconciliation between jews and palestinians

The command for unity in the church is not bound by racial, socio-economic, or political borders. But how do we have unity with those whose ideologies are seemingly irreconcilable with our own? How can we be obedient to scripture’s instruction to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3)?

This is a hard question to answer in light of the two competing political nationalisms that hit close to home for many Jewish believers around the world, as well as for many Arab Christians throughout the Middle East: Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism.

I’ve wrestled long and hard with this topic. While I don’t claim to have the answers, I do trust that the path I’ve walked has brought me to solid footing. Let me begin by telling my story.

 

Affirm the Right to Self-Identify

Self-identification has always been important to me, as it has for every Jew for Jesus who has struggled for the right to identify as a Jewish person. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Messianic Jew who hasn’t had to fight for his or her identity! The labels we claim are important to our identity. Even though Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus”) is often quoted to undermine personal identity, Paul’s intent was to root our identity first and foremost in Messiah, not to erase racial, gender, national, or socio-economic distinctions. Hence, we are free to maintain our Jewish identity and culture as long as our identification doesn’t interfere with our unity with the body of Messiah.

Because of my background, it hurts my heart when people undermine the personal identity of others—even if I don’t like the way people choose to self-identify. History only moves forward: as culture develops and changes we must face these changes with honest reflection. The past cannot be undone! There are Arabs (both Christian and non-Christian) who choose to self-identify as Palestinians, just as there are Christians of Jewish origin who choose to self-identify as Messianic Jews. As a member of one minority group whose self-label is challenged by the majority, I choose to affirm the self-identification of individuals in other minority groups even when (or perhaps especially when) I don’t understand the emotional weight that their identity holds in their hearts.

You might ask, “Doesn’t affirmation of Palestinian identity promote the cause of Palestinian nationalism?” I’m not sure if it does or not! My rationale is based on principle, not on pragmatics. How can I affirm Palestinian identity while also believing in the future restoration of national Israel under the Messiah? By refusing to allow personal cognitive dissonance on this issue of the land of Israel, the Jewish people, and the Palestinian people to fuel any reductionist thinking. I hold firm to Jesus himself, knowing that he will make all things new and will reconcile all things to himself when he comes again. Until then I know that I don’t know, and that’s okay.

 

Affirm Israel’s Existence and God’s Heart for Justice Simultaneously

The nation of Israel never existed in a vacuum of ethnic uniformity: even when Moses led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt they were accompanied by God-fearing gentiles. We see God’s heart for all mankind in his command to the leaders of Israel regarding how foreigners and sojourners were to be treated: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). We also see God’s heart for all mankind in the construction of the temple. Solomon grasped the greater vision and even exclaimed when the temple was dedicated: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel … when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place …” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).

We should care about the Palestinians living as neighbors to Israeli Jews because God cares about them. We should be concerned for their well-being because God cares. Let our love for Israel never cause us to slip into reductionist thinking! Israel has a right to exist: as a people and as a sovereign nation, but Israel will be held accountable before God for her treatment of Palestinians. We must develop thinking that affirms Israel’s existence while affirming the need for justice and equality for Palestinians.

 

Pray for the Church in the Middle East

Never has the Biblical command of Psalm 122:6 been more relevant: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We’ve probably heard this passage quoted so many times that it might seem trite for me to bring it up here. But I think it is very appropriate since we must pray not only that Jerusalem would have peace from her enemies, but that Jerusalem would have peace from within. Jerusalem is a city of diversity but the diversity is so fragmented that even the Old City is broken into quarters!

It is a dishonor to the name of Messiah that this secular division across racial and geopolitical boundaries also occurs within the body of Messiah in that region. If our hearts harbor hate, then I pray for conviction. If our hearts have already been seeded with love, then I pray that those seeds will sprout.

Let me leave you with this thought. If the apostle Paul were alive today and he were writing to the churches in the Middle East, I think he would reiterate his words given to us in Ephesians 4:3-6:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Amen.

Category: Havurah Volume 17 Number 01.

A few thoughts regarding the turmoil in Europe

My heart goes out to the people in Europe at this time, especially the countries at the epicentre of the latest terrorist event in Paris.

I sense great turmoil in the minds and hearts of Europeans, especially so as at the same time they are being flooded by refugees seeking asylum. As it has been revealed that some terrorists have managed to slip in under the guise of asylum seekers; this creates enormous conflict in the minds and hearts of the host nations.

In the midst of all these fluctuating emotions and opinions, Christians in particular need to draw aside and hear from the Spirit of God who certainly is not silent regarding these events! He always has and continues to want to speak to His people (John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me).

Whenever Jesus, after His crucifixion and resurrection, appeared to His disciples His first words were always: “Peace be with you”, bringing that peace to those who would receive it. Without that peace first, we cannot possibly hear Him over the chatter of our anxious minds (John 20:19;  14:27) .

My heart also goes out to the refugees finding themselves in Europe, in search for hope and a better future. It is possible that the recent tide of goodwill amongst some of the host nations could turn, in view of the recent events. This would add stress upon stress for them; already depleted by existential anxieties and now new suspicions and possible closedness coming from some of their hosts, with some hostile sections gaining greater momentum.

In this scenario, I pray for my Christian brethren; in particular amongst refugees. The call to a walk of faith never ceases, despite circumstances (2 Corinthians 4:18 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”). The Eternal Unseen is of course the God which Christ revealed and His many promises of His ready help in times of need. Through steady faith, we receive His promises, just like Abraham and many others. Without faith, we cannot please Him (Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”).

May Christians continue to look to Him in these very difficult times, seek His peace, put their trust in His many promises and be strengthened in body, mind, heart and spirit!

Psalm 27:13-14 “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.

Some more promises to claim!

As we continue to pray for the latest prayer issue (refugees in and heading for Europe), we all have heard of many of those refugees abandoned in desert areas (the sea of course is another type of “desert area”), often due to people smugglers’ dodgy cars (or boats) braking down, or abandoned in “holding camps” awaiting ransom money from relatives and friends which never is paid. Their prospect is certain death.

We have a promise from the Lord Himself which we can claim on their behalf:

“Is. 43:16: Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea
And a path through the mighty waters…

and

Ia. 43: 19b) I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.”

2 Cor. 1:20 tells us that: ”For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God”.

As for the latter part of this Scripture, let’s pray that the glory due to God by acting on the above promises, would indeed go to Christ alone, the God Who Provides (Jehovah Jireh [Gen. 22:14]).

Let’s continue to have confidence that He hears us for, as we know and need to remind ourselves; “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), and that the “eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12; Psalm 34:15), and, again, “the prayer of the upright pleases Him” (Proverbs 15:8).

Thank you on behalf of those who can’t or have lost the will to call on God themselves!

Prayer Points for The Refugee Situation in Europe (2015)

Father God, we lift up the refugee situation in Europe.

As wars and the threat of terror posed by many rogue terror groups increases all across the Middle East and the African Continent and as wars and rumours of wars become the norm (Matt. 24:6), we pray that the hearts of Europe’s leaders and its inhabitants would not grow cold (Matt. 24:12).

We pray especially for organisations that profess your Name to show leadership in caring for the stranger (Lev. 19:34; Ex. 22:21 and others).

Once again, we thank you for the leadership shown by such organisations as the UNHCR in trying to advocate on behalf of refugees.

We ask that you would soften and humble the hearts of those who act as advisers and policy makers to the EU, that they would recognize that the problems posed by the continuous floods of refugees seeking a new home in Europe are very great and that godly wisdom is the only lasting solution to this problem. May they show willingness to consider the welfare of individuals involved before economic considerations.

Some very damaging and impacting decisions have already been taken, due to a hardening of hearts, at the expense of further loss of life amongst fleeing refugees. Such measures have increased the hardship of the most vulnerable and eroded the notion of justice and mercy in Europe.

May the call to justice and a love of mercy go out all over Europe, especially across the Body of Christ. (Micah 6:8)