Tales of “Passionate Longing” for Palestinian Lands
By Stuart Littlewood
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 21, 2011
Stuart Littlewood analyses a recent document published
by the Board of Deputies of British Jews which targets Christians and
appears to be “little more than a propaganda exercise to soft-soap
Christians into coming on-side for the continuing land-grab and the making
of Israel’s occupation permanent”.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BDBJ) is
targeting unsympathetic Christians with a new booklet called
It answers a growing concern amongst Jews that
Christians are too ready to dismiss Zionism as a political movement rather
than a central facet of Jewish identity.
And in a news release the Board says a survey found
that over half of respondents believed that Christians are “becoming less
sympathetic to Israel” and fewer than one in five would describe themselves
as “Zionist”. Over a quarter see Zionism as “colonialist” and “resulting in
Zionists’ influence is fading.
30-page pamphlet also takes a desperate swipe at the recent
Palestine document issued by Christian leaders. The Board
complains that it didn’t acknowledge Jewish connections with the land of
Israel. They were not best pleased either that British Methodists quoted
Kairos in their decision to support a boycott of
President of the
Board of Deputies Vivian Wiseman, in his introduction, calls the BDBJ
booklet "an eloquent defence of Zionism". The common perception that Zionism
was a creation of 19th century European Jewry fails to do it justice, he
says. “The connection with the land and the passionate longing for it go
right back to Biblical times.”
The BDBJ booklet brings together a group of liberal rabbis who write in
terms far removed from the hateful language and policies of the regime
occupying the West Bank and Jerusalem and still blockading Gaza.
“Does the rabbi acknowledge the evil work of Jewish
terror gangs in the run-up to independence? The land on
which Sderot stands was once the Palestinian village of
Najd, ethnically cleansed and its population put to flight
in May 1948 before the state of Israel was declared.”
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg explains why the land has remained central to
Judaism until modern Zionism created a political process that culminated in
the UN Partition of Palestine in 1947. But, he says, none of this justifies
the oppression or dispossession of others. According to him:
The aspiration of the
overwhelming majority of Jews is still best expressed in the words of
the Declaration of Independence: “[Israel] will foster the development
of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based
on freedom, justice and peace ... it will ensure complete equality of
social and political rights.” He adds:
Where these ideals have been
betrayed, there is cause for anguish, outcry and urgent action, not only
among Palestinians, but among Israelis, as well as Jews throughout the
world. The great majority realize that Israel cannot become the country
it aspires to be while ruling over another people.
He argues that a two-state solution is “morally imperative”, as is an end
to the building of settlements, the agreement of acceptable borders and “a
complete cessation of attacks, both military and rhetorical, against Israeli
territory and Israel’s right to exist”.
What Israel must do to
achieve such a solution, he says, is justified by the ethical ideals of
Judaism and the long rabbinic tradition of “down-to-earth pragmatism
regarding the borders of the country". What exactly does he mean by that?
Israel gets to keep what it has stolen and unlawfully colonized? Pragmatism
replaces international law?
May no-one speak against Israel’s right
to exist? Rabbi Wittenberg surely knows that while the Zionist regime keeps
expanding its borders at the expense of its neighbours that right will be
And I don’t hear him calling for a cessation of Israeli
attacks against Palestinian territory or an end to the illegal occupation.
The rabbi then lays into Kairos:
Kairos is unhelpful. It fails
to mention the violence unleashed towards Israel from before its very
inception... It does not acknowledge the effect of acts of terror
carried out in the heart of civic life, on buses, in shops, on the
streets and by thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza.
Why should it? Does the rabbi acknowledge the evil work of Jewish terror
gangs in the run-up to independence? The land on which Sderot stands was
once the Palestinian village of Najd, ethnically cleansed and its population
put to flight in May 1948 before the state of Israel was declared. Many of
them ended up in refugee camps in Gaza.
Hundreds more Palestinian
villages were similarly seized to enlarge Israel’s already generous share of
the cake. The land-grab was under way before the ink on the partition was
Have Zionists acknowledged the acts of terror their own forces
inflict daily in the heart of Palestinian civic life? They complain about
thousands of makeshift rockets from Gaza. Do they never count the
state-of-the-art bombs, rockets and shells fired INTO Gaza by their own
tanks, jets, helicopter gunship, armed drones and warships? And the
resulting mega-deaths and wholesale destruction of key infrastructure in
many cases funded by Western Christian taxpayers like me?
Wittenberg says their long history of suffering and persecution has given
the Jewish people “reason to believe that those who declare they want to
destroy us mean what they say. Hence these actions and threats have fed
those very fears in Israeli and Jewish minds which help to maintain the
political stalemate under which the Palestinian people, indeed both peoples,
No occupation, no need for resistance, no problem. What
helps to keep political trouble brewing is disinformation and
fear-mongering. Tel Aviv has recruited and trained hundreds of social media
“warriors” to spread the torrent of propaganda.
The Kairos document’s
Let’s remember that Kairos was essentially a demand for an end
to Israel’s brutal occupation and a challenge to the international community
to act. It was released in December 2009 by Christian leaders exasperated at
having “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people”,
because decision-makers contented themselves with managing the crisis
instead of resolving it.
As for the land, Kairos had this to
We believe that our land has a
universal mission... God sent the patriarchs, the prophets and the
apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission
to the world. Today we constitute three religions in this land, Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all
countries in the world... It is the duty of those of us who live here,
to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it
from the evil of injustice and war. It is God's land and therefore it
must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love...
The document emphasized that the presence of Christian and Muslim
Palestinians is deeply rooted in the land’s history and geography, and they
have a natural right to it.
It also contained some hard-hitting stuff
that must have raised Zionist hackles:
We declare that any use of the
Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are
based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people
on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of
God of its holiness, its universality and truth.
We also 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, bestowed by God...
We declare that any theology,
seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes
the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for
violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to
temporary human interests...
And to round off…
Jerusalem is the heart of our
reality... Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian
citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated,
which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes
are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has
become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle
rather than peace.
Also part of this reality is the Israeli
disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as
the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the
face of this contempt.
Rabbi Tony Bayfield begins by saying: "It is clear that Jews and Judaism
would not have survived and could not survive today without the Land of
Israel. It is clear that the treatment of Jews both in Christian and Muslim
lands creates an undeniable practical and moral entitlement."
“...why should Palestinians have to make huge sacrifices
to atone for some Europeans' crimes nearly 70 years ago?”
Does it? Jews and Judaism survived 1,800 years without the land of
Israel, and most of today’s Jews, I’m told, have no ancestral links to that
land at all. And Jews seem to like it here in the UK. They are allowed to
occupy the highest positions and even make our laws. They are not leaving in
droves for a squatter home on stolen Palestinian land.
In any case, why should Palestinians have to make huge sacrifices to
atone for some Europeans' crimes nearly 70 years ago?
nevertheless deserves credit for what he says next:
I am horrified by some strands
of Zionism which treat the Bible as an exclusive title deed written by
God. I do not regard the Torah as an extra-historical document written
by the Divine hand... It is wonderful beyond measure. But it is also
limited and flawed... It is not Judaism’s title deed to the land. Nor is
it secular history...
The newly re-established State of Israel
stands at the very meeting point of two of the largest and most powerful
tectonic plates – the Western world and the Islamic world... Israel
could, by virtue of its position in relationship to Christianity and
Islam, by virtue of its position “at the centre”, become a bridge.
Yes indeed. But the State of Palestine too stands at the meeting point
and, thanks to its more reasonable relationship with the two tectonic
plates, could make a better bridge.
“The rabbi talks about being fair-minded. What is fair or
reasonable about laying claim to the land 17 centuries
later, at gun-point?”
Rabbi Danny Rich reminds us that Judaism has its origins in that part of
the Near East bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Jordan River, the Negev
Desert and the Carmel Mountains. "It is the geographical features of this
area which formed the backdrop to the Hebrew foundation myths..."
After expulsion from their ancestral lands, he says, the centre of Jewish
life for 1,700 years was to be found in Babylon, in Spain, in France, in the
German and Polish lands, and in a number of places that were to come under
Muslim influence and/or Arab rule. "It is in this context that the Jewish
claim to its ancestral homeland is made out, and its power should not be
denied by any persons who consider themselves fair-minded."
he goes on to say:
The Jewish claim is not the
only or an exclusive claim. For millennia the Jews in the land had lived
alongside non-Jewish neighbours and for some centuries under, until its
defeat during World War I, the Ottoman Empire. The arrival of large
numbers of Jewish immigrants and the creation of the State of Israel led
inevitably to the displacement of some of the contemporary
inhabitants... It is certainly fair to say that the Palestinian Arab
claim to the land, though different in substance from the Jewish one,
has much to commend it...
The Jews were expelled by the Roman occupation in 70AD and again in 135.
These days the right of return is regarded as an inalienable right, but it
must be exercised as soon as the reason for expulsion (for example, foreign
occupation) ceases. An opportunity for the Jews would have occurred in the
4th century AD as the Roman Empire collapsed. They didn't take it.
The rabbi talks about being fair-minded. What is fair or reasonable about
laying claim to the land 17 centuries later, at gun-point?
Palestinians' right of return to their homeland is unquestionable because
the occupation has not yet ended and the UN endorsed their right.
Rabbi Rich lists Ten Hebrew Biblical Principles, which are instructive to us
all regardless of faith. "There is little evidence of these principles being
applied on either side of the divide," he observes, adding:
Any just solution will
inevitably require a sharing of the land... At one time a binational
state might have been a possibility, but in the absence of support for
it from the mainstream of either side partition seems to be the only
viable option... The borders of the two entities will need to be
negotiated to give territorial contiguity...
Is he saying we bin the first partition and start again?
...And a leading educator
Dan Rickman explains how the secular Zionist movement has converted
Judaism's religious ideals into political ones. He says:
It adopted a view that Jews had
to return to history in response to what became known as
anti-Semitism... Through this process, it was hoped, Jews would become “normalised”.
Zionism depends on the fact that Jewish identity is as people, i.e.
based on the “People of Israel” and is not an identity based on
He mentions the differences between some ultra-orthodox groups who reject
Zionism, the majority who have accommodated to it, and the religious Zionist
movement which has adopted it within its own religious framework. "Whilst
all these strands are sharply divided, they are in agreement on the ultimate
goal which is the restoration of the Temple, and the coming of a Messianic
age of peace and harmony for all the peoples of the world."
concept of Jews as the Chosen People, he says, should be understood as the
mission of Judaism to create social justice for the world, a “repairing of
Mr Rickman ends by saying he has tried to focus on “what
can and must unite Israelis, Palestinians and people of all faiths in our
mission to “repair the world” through a shared recognition of Israel as the
Zionist, forget “repairing the world”. Repair thyself
There is much in the BDBJ booklet that Christians might find appealing.
But the fine words of these good rabbis have little to do with how the
Zionist regime actually conducts itself in the Holy Land. And the notion
that we should all unite under the Zionists’ mission to “repair the world”,
given their track record, is too much to swallow.
“Do we know what Jewish national aspirations really are?
No-one, it seems, is prepared to discuss the true extent of
the Zionist project for a Greater Israel and its impact.”
Zionists complain that the Kairos document contained no
acknowledgement of Jewish national aspirations or the ties between the
Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Do we know what Jewish national
aspirations really are? No-one, it seems, is prepared to discuss the true
extent of the Zionist project for a Greater Israel and its impact. No-one,
it seems, is prepared to admit that the Israeli regime doesn‘t want peace
until it has seized all the land and resources it needs to fulfill that
What room will then be left for the Palestinians’ national
Rabbi Rich asks how the Hebrew Principles – “these
Prophetic ideals” – might be applied in the 21st century to find a just
solution. “First, it is to appreciate that there are two narratives, one
Jewish/Israeli and the other Palestinian/Arab, and, while they may differ
both in ‘fact’ and in interpretation of events, each story must be
recognized in any proposed resolution.”
Alan Wiseman’s notes that all
contributors to the booklet call for an understanding of other people’s
The two sides can carry on swapping narratives until the
cows come home – theological chit-chat hasn’t brought a solution nearer.
Calling for more sounds like another ploy to buy time for the Zionists to
establish more irreversible “facts on the ground” and advance their borders
The rabbis surely have urgent work to do elsewhere,
like putting Israel’s own house in order. They could start on its political
parties, such as Kadima, which claims a national and historic right to the
Land of Israel “in its entirety” and pledges to keep Jerusalem and the
settlements, and the ruling Likud Party (mission statement: "the
Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but
not as an independent and sovereign state” and “Jerusalem is the eternal,
united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel”). Any future
Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, without an army or control
of its airspace.
That is the uncompromising reality of Zionist
ambition, and it is not the path to peace.
They could also address
the moral sickness that grips the Israeli military and leads to incidents
An Israeli army officer who
fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old
Palestinian girl and then said he would have done the same even if she
had been three years old was acquitted on all charges by a military
and many others before and since.
A few days ago the Israeli Prime
Minister’s Office announced 500 more Jews-only housing units on Palestinian
land in a deliberate expansion of illegal settlements, giving yet another
middle-finger salute to the international community.
Mr Netanyahu and his ministers are on, it’s not to make peace or “repair the
world”. It would seem, therefore, that the BDBJ booklet we’re discussing is
little more than a propaganda exercise to soft-soap Christians into coming
on-side for the continuing land-grab and the making of Israel’s occupation
A taste of “social justice for all”
Since the Zionists arrived in the Holy Land with their "Greater Israel"
programme and started bulldozing homes and thieving the land, the Christian
population has plummeted from 20 per cent to less than 2 per cent. Many who
could afford to, have left due to the military occupation and its mindless
restrictions on education and business, and the blocking of access to the
The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem’s residency permit has
been revoked by the Zionist regime for the last six months, making it
impossible for him to carry out his duties properly. The UK Foreign Office,
the British ambassador and the US State Department all intervened to no
avail. The Archbishop of Canterbury on his last visit was allowed only two
hours in Gaza. Priests of other denominations are seriously hampered by a
minefield of administrative obstacles and so are worshippers.
Muslim brothers and sisters it is far worse.
Is this Mr Rickman’s
idea of mutual understanding and respect, the Zionist mission to create
social justice for all?
And the Church of England’s response? Norwich
Cathedral gave the Zionist booklet a platform by advertising a seminar. I
went along. And I came away wondering why the Church seems so accepting of
the evil that stalks the Holy Land. Is it to appease its partners in the
much hyped interfaith relations programme whose activities, as far as I can
tell, haven’t made a scrap of difference and may even have cut enough slack,
in the name of Jewish-Christian understanding, for the escalation of
atrocities committed recently?
Surely the Church understands that, in
the pursuit of justice, interfaith dialogue is no substitute for the
enforcement of international law and the long-overdue implementation of UN
We categorically reject
Christian Zionist doctrines as a 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.
These are the conclusions of churchmen who have to confront the every-day
shock and horror.
expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors
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