Today marks the second day of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference organized by Bethlehem Bible College, a Christian institution of higher learning located in the West Bank.
The conference began yesterday afternoon, Monday March 7, 2016.
CATC conferences, which have been held every even-numbered year since 2010, are promoted to Evangelical Protestants from North America and Europe as events where they can formulate a Christian response to the Arab-Israeli conflict and bring peace to the Holy Land. Sadly, the biennial conferences have proven to be a font of anti-Israel propaganda over the years.
The topic of this year's CATC conference is religious extremism, which at first glance seems like a good thing. Muslim extremists have been doing a lot of bad things lately. ISIS has been cutting people's heads off and selling women and girls into sexual slavery in Iraq and Syria.
People who have declared allegiance to ISIS have gone on murderous rampages in both Europe and the United States.
In Africa, another group, Boko Haram, has also killed people and sold women and girls into sexual bondage.
Closer to the conference venue, Muslim extremists have also encouraged Palestinian young people to stab Israeli Jews. They have done this by falsely telling people that Israel is attacking, or is going to attack, Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Pretty much everywhere people look, people, Jihadists especially, are doing bad things to people in the name of their religion. To legitimize their actions they point to passages in the Koran, the Hadiths and in the biography of Mohammed, Islam's founding prophet who is regarded as an example that all of humanity should follow.
Muslim extremists are not the only people who do bad things in the name of their faith. Jewish extremists have committed terrible acts such as murder and arson, but most Israelis find these acts reprehensible and the government works to punish them.
Israeli officials do not appear on television calling on young people to engage in acts of murder. It does happen however in the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. Palestinian elites name streets and soccer tournaments after the perpetrators of terrible attacks done in the name of Islam.
If the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference highlighted the problem of Islamic extremism in Palestinian society in an honest and contextualized way it would go a long way to educating Christians about a significant obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It would put the Palestinian leaders on notice that a vocal and prominent sector of the people they lead is using its collective voice to highlight a problem that the PA needs to confront. It might convince them to put an end to the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement that has been broadcast on Palestinian television for quite some time.
Enter Mustafa Abu Sway
To address the issue, conference organizers invited a well-known Muslim scholar, Mustafa Abu Sway, to speak about the issue of Islamic extremism. The title of his talk as it appeared in the conference schedule prior to the conference was Is Islam a Violent Religion? A dialogue with a Muslim Leader.
Abu Sway is a professor
of Islamic Studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. He is also a member of the Islamic Waqf Council which oversees the management of the Haram Al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, which includes the Al Aqsa Mosque, a regular scene of antisemitic incitement.
Abu Sway did not appear in person at the conference, but participated in a pre-recorded interview with CATC director Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac. During the interview that was shown today, Isaac asked Abu Sway if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was mainly a political or religious conflict. In response the scholar stated the conflict was caused by Palestinians not enjoying freedom of movement, not being able to access their holy sites in Jerusalem and because of Israel confiscating land. The way to achieve an end to the conflict, Abu Sway stated was to end the occupation which in turn will restore the humanity of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Isaac pressed the issue by stating that some will still argue that the problem is that Palestinians are taught to hate the Jews. Isaac also quoted an unnamed Israeli figure who asserted that the Palestinians have been trained from the time their children to hate the Jewish people.
Abu Sway dismissed this out of hand. I know that you have spin doctors from the Israeli side who shift the blame, he said. "They say that there are no partners for peace even though President Mahmoud Abbas has adopted non-violence, said 'No more armed struggle, this is it. The venue for us is the United Nations.' He adopted this peaceful way and nevertheless he has been described as a non-partner. Its shifting the blame.
We never, we never, I can tell you we never taught our kids to hate, Abu Sway said, adding that the deaths of Palestinians as the hands of Israelis, home demolitions feed [Palestinian] anger."
Abu Sways response is evasive and dishonest. In particular, his defense of Mahmoud Abbas as a peace partner who has chosen the way of peace and non-violence ignores the Palestinian Authority Presidents campaign of incitement against Israeli Jews.
And Abu Sways assertion that the Palestinians "never"taught their kids to hate flies in the face of mountains of evidence proving otherwise
. Palestinian television shows regularly encourage children to hate Jews. Antisemitic incitement is a huge problem in Palestinian society.
Not A Surprise
Abu Sway's failure to address the issue in a forthright manner is not a surprise. Previously, he has worked assiduously to downplay the issue of Muslim antisemitism. In a refereed academic study published in 2015 by Al-Zaytouna Center for Studies and Consultations headquartered in Lebanon, Sway deceptively portrays Hamas' well-documented hostility toward Jews as a deviation from normative Muslim theology and scripture.
Sway writes that the Koran affirms the oneness of humanity and that almost everything else is a social' construct, including colonial anthropological racial categories. The Koran, Sway reports, declares different skin colors as positive signs from Allah and invites people to celebrate these differences. No one is superior because of her genome.
This is a red herring, and an obvious one at that.
Islamic hostility toward Jews is not rooted in skin-color, but in religious identity.
Islamic supremacism over Jews is rooted in the Muslim doctrine that Allah cursed the Jews for their unbelief, disobedience and for distorting scripture handed to them from heaven. (They are also cursed for asserting that they killed Jesus.) The Koran is filled with anti-Jewish invective and curses.
For example, Sura 2:88 states that Allah has cursed the Jews because of their unbelief. And sura 5:64 of the Koran states The Jews say: Allah's hand is fettered. Their hands are fettered and they are cursed for saying so. And the well-known sura of 9:29 calls upon Muslims to fight against those who have been given the scripture but who believe not in Allah nor the last day until they pay tribute or the jizyah.
This Koranic call to force Jews (and Christians) to submit to Islamic supremacism has historically manifested itself in the well-documented oppression of Jews in Muslim-majority environments, a reality that Sway deceptively denies.
Full Rights for Jews Under Shariah?
Shariah, or Islamic law, Sway reports in the study, treats Jews as People of the Book, who have their own rules and precepts, including citizenship, protection and full civil rights
. [Emphasis added. ]In another article
, Abu Sway reports that "Islam softens the otherness of Jews and Christians qua 'People of the Book, and entrenches their rights in the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet. Respecting the right of the Jew and Christian to freedom of religion is an Islamic imperative (Quran, 2:256)."
This is, to put it politely, balderdash.
First off, Sura 2:256 (which says that there is no compulsion in religion) came early on in Mohammad's career, was abrogated by other passages in the Koran which came later in Mohammad's life. These passages, which assert Islam's supremacy over other religions, are much more hostile than Sura 2:256.
On the larger point, no one with the slightest knowledge about the status of Jews (and Christians) in Muslim-majority environments can honestly ignore the mistreatment they endured as a result of their religious identity.
Under Islamic law (or Shariah) extolled by Sway, Jews and Christians (who are referred to as dhimmis) are not allowed to build their homes or houses of worship higher than those of their Muslim neighbors.
In many instances Jews were forced to wear insignias denoting their status as non-Muslims and were forced to wear bells in public baths. They were forbidden to ride horses or camels because these animals were considered noble and therefore reserved only for Muslims.
Muslims who murdered Jews were given a less severe punishment than if they had murdered a fellow Muslim. And when Jews walked in the street in Muslim-ruled territories, they were expected to give way to Muslims. They could not testify against Muslims in court. By accepting these rules, Christians and Jews, obtained protected status.
In order to maintain this status, Jews and Christians were also historically required to pay a poll tax (jizyah) for the privilege of practicing their faith.
Scholar Mark Durie reports that collection of this tax took place in a ceremony during which the Muslim ruler would ritually strike the people paying the tax on the neck or head with a sword to remind them that they were paying for the privilege of keeping their head on their shoulders. The goal was to humiliate and debase the people who refused to convert to Islam.
As part of the treaty of protection (or dhimma, from which the word dhimmi is derived) between Muslim rulers and subject populations, non-Muslims promised not to agitate for freedom and equality in the countries they lived in.
Dhimmis who agitated for equality and freedom lost the protection afforded to them by this treaty and became legitimate targets of violence, or jihad. When Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrian Christians agitated for their rights in the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s, they were massacred in huge numbers. Muslim Anger over the improved status of Christians in the Anatolian Peninsula was also a factor in the Armenian Genocide that cost 1.5 million people their lives between 1915 and 1922.
The upshot is that whatever rights Jews (and Christians) had under this treaty of protection did not inhere in their status as human beings, but were accorded to them by Muslim rulers and as such, could be withdrawn at their whim. This placed Jews and Christians in a precarious situation in Muslim countries where they were the low-cost, no-cost targets of discrimination, abuse, violence and murder.
Despite all of this, Sway reports Jews enjoy full civil rights under Shariah.
Who is he kidding?
Al Aqsa Offers Decent, Moderate Narrative
In an interview at Duke University in posted on Youtube in February 2015, Abu Sway suggested that Al Aqsa Mosque is not a source of incitement and invective when in fact it is and everyone knows it.
During the interview, Sway told the all-too-credulous student interviewer, When we talk with youngsters, violence is not part of the picture and I say that our own local mosque, the Grand Mosque, the Al Aqsa Mosque, the narrative that comes from the pulpit is a decent, moderate narrative. (This assertion is similar to the one he made in the CATC video that Palestinians "never, never, never" taught children to hate."
Contrary to what Abu Sway would have his listeners believe, the Al Aqsa Mosque has been a powerful source of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and anti-Western incitement. In 2010, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmed Hussein gave a sermon in the mosque itself in which he declared that the Jews are the enemies of Allah.
Hussein, by the way, has endorsed the use of human beings as bombs. He made this endorsement in 2006, soon after he was appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
In January 2012 he declared that it is Muslims' destiny to kill Jews. He said this from the podium at a Fatah ceremony. In the televised speech, he spoke of how the rocks and trees will call out to Muslims to tell them where the Jews are hiding during their jihad against Israel. This is not some random cleric ranting about the Jews, but the religious official who is in charge of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Palestinian Media Watch has an entire page devoted to Hussein's incitement.
All this demonstrates that the imam who oversees the Al Aqsa Mosque is not giving a decent, moderate narrative. Not by a long shot.
He promotes hate.
Other Sheiks at Al Aqsa
Jerusalem's Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmed Hussein is not the only person who has used Al Aqsa Mosque as a place to promote hate, hostility and violence.
It happens a lot, despite what Abu Sway reports.
In May 2014 there was a rally in support of Hizb Al-Tahrir, (a pan-Islamist organization) on the Temple Mount during which speakers (who were standing on a balcony of the mosque itself) addressed a huge crowd calling on them to liberate Al Aqsa Mosque from Israel and the filth of the Jews.
A few months later, in October 2014, Sheik Omar Abu Sara gave an impromptu speech in Al Asqsa Mosque lamenting that his fellow Muslims could not even agree on liberating Jerusalem from the defilement of the Jews.
And in a speech given in Al Aqsa in November, the same sheik described the Jews as the masters of all vile traits and that these traits were registered in the Koran. He continued: I say to the Jews loud and clear: The time for your slaughter has come. He also prayed that Allah hasten the day for the slaughter of the Jews. Readers who watch the video to the end will discover that he had an audience of several dozen people who said amen when he called for the destruction of the Jews.
Later that month, Ali Abu Ahmad asked Allah to establish a caliphate that will liberate Jerusalem from the Jews and to annihilate the United States.
And on January 16, 2015, the same sheik defended the attacks against in Paris that took place earlier that month.
These sermons were all made before Abu Sway's interview at Duke University was posted online in February 2015. Since then, there have been some very ugly sermons given in the mosque. For example, in June 2015, Sheik Khaled al-Mughrabi gave a lesson (broadcast on Al Aqsa's Youtube channel) in which he invoked the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to prove that the Jews plan on conquering the world beginning with the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The upshot is that Al Aqsa Mosque is, in the words of Steve Stalinsky from MEMRI, an extremist megaphone that proffers a steady stream of calls for jihad and martyrdom, venomous attacks on Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims, and praise for al Qaeda, Islamic State, or ISIS, and other jihadist groups. Stalinsky adds that Calls for the destruction of the U.S. and the West, including promises that Islam will take over the world, are other common themes [preached at the mosque].
By portraying Al Aqsa Mosque where antisemitic and anti-Israel invective has been broadcast for years as a place where a decent, moderate narrative is heard from the pulpit, Mustafa Abu Sway is downplaying a huge obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
In 2013, David W. Porter, an official in the Church of England warned that Christian peacemakers cannot risk leaving unexamined those things that do not make for peace.
This is what organizers and speakers at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference have done on a regular basis since they began hosting the event in 2010.
Through the years, conference speakers have subjected Judaism, Zionism and Israel to intense scrutiny while giving Islam, Islamism, Jihadism and Palestinian leaders much lighter treatment.
The same speakers who decry Christian Zionism for their unreflective support for Israel have demonstrated a persistent refusal to reflect on the misdeeds of the Arabs and Muslims for whom they advocate.
There are a two days left to the 2016 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.
Hope springs eternal and wonders never cease. The remainder of this years conference may be a time when Palestinian Christians really start to confront those things in Palestinian society that do not make for peace and engage in the self-criticism that their manifesto calls for. Maybe they will highlight the incitement and corruption engaged in by the Palestinian Authority. Maybe they'll send a letter or start a petition condemning the PA for the use of torture
against its political enemies. Maybe the Christians who organize and attend the Christ at the Checkpoint conferences will go to Manger Square to protest the Palestinian Authority's praise for the government of North Korea
, one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Maybe they will call on their Muslim neighbors in the West Bank to do the same. Miracles do take place.
But if Mustafa Abu Sways presentation this morning is any indication, its not going to happen at Christ at the Checkpoint 2016.
Not this year.