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Middle East Issues





Bethlehem Bible College: Anti-American, Anti-Israel, All in the Name of Love


In a video posted on Youtube on August 8, 2014, Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) reveals a palpable anti-American and anti-Israel stance through the statements of individuals who address the recent Hamas/Israeli conflict. And it's all done in the name of Christian love.

Bethlehem Bible College

According to its website, Bethlehem Bible College is a Christian college located in Bethlehem, “the very site where Jesus was born.”

(It) was founded in 1979 by local Arabs, to offer high-quality theological education and train Christian leaders for service in the local church and the local community. It aims to strengthen and revive the Christian church and support the local Christians in the Holy land…

Alex Awad

Rev. Alex Awad, the brother of Dr. Bishara Awad, President Emeritus and the inspiration behind the founding of BBC, appears in the video produced by BBC's media center. Alex is Dean of Students and full-time instructor at Bethlehem Bible College, a charter member of BBC Board of Directors, and the Senior Pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church. He also serves on the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and as a board member of Evangelical Local Council of Churches in the Holy Land.

The Video

The video, titled Bethlehem Voices on Gaza, purports to “interview people on the streets of Bethlehem regarding the war in Gaza.” It includes a 35-second introduction by Awad, followed by six minutes and twenty seconds of statements from twelve unidentified people.

These twelve speakers, who, for some reason, remain unidentified, perpetuated an anti-Israel, and sometimes anti-American, narrative through an absence of historical or political context, factual error, emotional appeals, and even threats. All of them addressed their comments directly to Americans, and appealed for US intervention in the Hamas/Israeli conflict.

All in the Name of Love

Awad, the only person to appear who was identified, introduces the video with these words:

Well first, hi everybody. We love you in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a church of Jesus Christ here in this land, and the church is the Palestinian church. This church is suffering, this church needs your prayers, and needs your help to stand with us, before the church will disappear from this part of the world where Jesus came and decided to come to Bethlehem, to this part here. So we need your prayers, we need your love. Thank you.

There is some truth in this statement. There is a church in Bethlehem, and that church is suffering and is certainly entitled to the prayers of fellow believers. However, Rev. Awad neglects to mention that one reason why Christians suffer in the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and why many young Christians leave the the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the harrassment they endure at the hands of Muslim extremists.

In the context of this video, which is flagrant in its accusations against Israel, the obvious implication in Awad's comments is that it is solely because of Israel that Christians suffer, and it is Israeli actions that are the reason for Awad's dire prediction that “the church will disappear from this part of the world.”

Christians are beleaguerred in the Palestinian territories, but are thriving in Israel. In fact according to this article, “The population of Arab Christians in Israel has increased 268 percent since 1949.” This remarkable growth in the Israeli Christian population stands in stark contrast tomanyother countries in the Middle East, where Christians have fled due to pogroms, forced marriages and conversions, destruction of property, and death.

But rather than speak the truth about the source of persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Awad chooses to blame Israel for the dangers facing the Church.

How can a statement that begins with references to Christian love be filled with words that communicate anything but the truth?

Anti-American Propaganda

While all the speakers promoted a well-worn anti-Israel narrative, some of them worked in anti-American propaganda as well. Anti-Israel propaganda will not surprise those who are familiar with the narrative perpetrated by BBC and their biennial “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences. However, the anti-American animosity expressed by several of those who spoke may come as a bit of a surprise to some, particularly in light of the fact that the video is asking a Christian American audience for support.

Surprise becomes incredulity when one learns that the anti-American propaganda being directed at an American audience is partially funded by American donations through an American organization registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The US office of Bethlehem Bible College was founded in 2007 by Executive Director, Stephen Smith, and is headquartered in New Braunfels, TX. According to its 2013 990 form filed with the IRS, its mission is to:

Promote the interests and mission of Bethlehem Bible College, West Bank, Israel. Raise and process funds to be used for the college. Find educational and spiritual opportunities for the staff and students of the college. Create and distribute newsletters to educate the public about the college.

According to this document, Bethlehem Bible College received approximately $676,000 from its supporters in the United States during 2013.

While there is nothing illegal about falsely accusing the country whose citizens who give this type of support, this method of operation does say something about the ethics of those involved in this brazen endeavor.

There are two men in particular who made blatantly false statements concerning actions taken by the US in the Middle East. One of them said:

We hope our churches overseas make big pressures to the American government to stop their crime in the Middle East, and it is enough, enough for their bad policy that they took during the last twenty years, destroying a lot of cities and nations like Iraq, Syria and Palestine. (Emphasis added.)

According to this man, the US government has destroyed “a lot of cities and nations like Iraq, Syria and Palestine” over the last twenty years. Yes, the US did invade Iraq in 2003, but when did it destroy cities in Syria and “Palestine”? This statement not only reveals an ignorance of recent history on the part of the speaker, but it demonstrates an egregious anti-American agenda on the part of BBC, whose leaders must certainly know better.

A second man said, “This destruction (referring to Gaza) is American made and handed to Israelis.” Again, this statement shows a lack of knowledge of the realities concerning the American administration's position in relation to this conflict. President Obama has applied repeated and consistent pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu for an immediate ceasefire, as this article published in the Times of Israel documents.

Even if the man speaking on the video is not aware of the current tenuous relationship between Israel and the American administration, the producers of the video at BBC certainly know.

Americans are all for free speech, but it is offensive – to say the least – for a Christian organization that benefits financially from a relationship with America – to the tune of $676,000 – to produce a video containing such propaganda for an American audience.

Anti-Israel Propaganda

While anti-American remarks were limited to just a few of the speakers, every one of them perpetuated anti-Israel propaganda. One of the men who spoke said:

We try to just ask the American people to try to push their government to stop the Israeli attacks on Gaza and on the West Bank in general, because as you know, we have been under occupation for 65 years. So it's enough, we need freedom. And it's enough to kill civilians. They are not terrorists…

With no context provided, and with apparent ignorance of the fact that Israel's recent operation in Gaza was not directed at “the West Bank in general,” this appeal makes it sound like the so-called Israeli “attacks” were 1) unprovoked and arbitrary and 2) that Israel was targeting civilians.

One just needs to look at the facts to see that the implication that Israeli “attacks” were unprovoked and arbitrary is false. As can be seen in this graph, terrorists fired over 11,000 rockets into Israel since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 before the beginning of Israel's latest operation in July 2014.

Operation Protective Edge, which began July 8, 2014, was conducted for the purpose of putting an end to those attacks, and succeeded in striking 4,762 targets that included rocket-launching sites, weapon facilities and command centers.

An operation conducted for the purpose of reducing an enemy's ability to continue to shoot rockets at your civilian population is hardly unprovoked or arbitrary, as the BBC video suggests.

Israel Falsely Accused of Targeting Civilians

This speaker also made reference to Hamas propaganda that accuses Israel of targeting civilians. This statement flies in the face of well-documented facts about the identity of those killed during Operation Protective Edge. This article demonstrates that the “fatalities are disproportionately [compared to the overall population]among young males, which corresponds with the characteristics of combatants.” In addition, “only about 12 percent of the total fatalities are female, though females make up half the population.”

If the IDF was targeting civilians, one would think the number of women killed would be far more than the number of men killed – especially considering the fact that the vast majority of men killed just happen to be the age of combatants.

Israel Falsely Accused of Occupying for 65 Years

This man also made an outrageous statement when he said, “as you know, we have been under occupation for 65 years.” First of all, the comments he was making were supposed to be in reference to what was currently happening in Gaza. Gaza is not “under occupation,” unless this man considers Hamas to be an occupying force. There have not been any Jews in Gaza, much less any IDF forces, since Israel withdrew unilaterally in 2005.

Furthermore, the West Bank is not “under occupation” either, and certainly has not been for “65 years” – at least not by Israel. Prior to Israel gaining this territory after the 1967 war, the West Bank – so named because it was the west bank of the Jordan River in relation to the country of Jordan – was illegally occupied by Jordan. Israel captured the territory from Jordan after it won a defensive war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, all of whom attacked with the goal of destroying the Jewish State.

Following the 1967 war, the UN passed Resolution 242, which identifies the West Bank as administered territory, whose ownership is disputed. The final status of this territory will – according to this resolution – be determined in some future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But until then, the West Bank is disputed territory, not occupied territory.

Israel Falsely Accused of Committing Genocide

A second speaker invoked a threat against Israel in the midst of accusing it of committing “genocide” against women, children and the elderly. He said:

Enough is enough. The suffering is going to be extended to their land if they keep going the way they are going, destructing the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza. This is not a war, this is genocide being taken by the Israeli army against women, children, the elderly. And I'm betting them that they are not touching Hamas or the fighters over there.

Just as the previous speaker did, this man refers to the oft-used Hamas propaganda that accuses Israel of targeting civilians. As was said before, this statement contradicts well-documented facts about the identity of those killed during Operation Protective Edge. Contrary to this person's misunderstanding, the statistics show that a disproportionate number of those killed were in fact Hamas fighters.

If Israel intended to commit “genocide” as this speaker alleges, there would be far more civilian casualties than the number claimed even by Hamas and the UN, which is somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600.

American Christians Demonized

An American woman is featured twice in the video and what she says may be the most outrageous of all because she makes a shameless melodramatic appeal that demonizes Americans while ignoring all facts. With great emotion, she said:

The Palestinian people are very dear and very warm-hearted people and we in the United States have demonized them and said all kinds of negative things about them because we say we want to support the Israelis. But both people are hurting, the Israelis and the Palestinians. And we need to love them both and treat them as human beings.

There is no doubt that there are Palestinians who are “dear” and “warm-hearted” people. However, it is a completely subjective accusation that cannot be backed up with facts to say that Americans have demonized Palestinians out of a desire to support Israelis. This kind of statement utilizes emotional manipulation to delegitimize Americans who support Israel for valid theological, historical and/or moral reasons.

This woman's second statement included the following exhortation: “The churches in the United States need to wake up to the fact these are a people who have hearts, who have feelings, who need our support also.”

Besides the fact that this is another shameless, emotionally manipulative appeal, the speaker is apparently ignorant of the significant number of pro-Palestinian Christians who actively promote the Palestinian narrative in American churches.

Furthermore, the fact that there are Christians who support Israel's right to exist does not mean that these Christians do not recognize and care about Palestinians as fellow human beings.

Palestinian/Arab Christians Who Tell the Truth

There was one thing all the comments presented in this video had in common – that actions taken by America and Israel are the cause of the suffering of the Palestinian people. Not one speaker so much as hinted at the reality that their own leaders have responsibility for the difficulties faced by the Palestinian people.

However, in contrast to those who contributed to this video, there are Palestinian Christians who are willing to testify concerning the difficulties for Christians living as a minority under Muslim control. Pastor Nihad Salman, a pastor in Beit Jala, spoke about the impact of high unemployment on Christians in the West Bank. He said that because Christians comprise only one or two percent of the population in the territory, they are affected psychologically.

You are afraid. And we have many times when people are afraid of what is happening in the Arabic Spring. Will the Muslims you know, take over? If it is true or not true. Whatever the outcome of that... what will happen? Will after Saturday come Sunday? So this is the type of thing that makes Christians want to run away.

Salman's use of the terms “Saturday” and “Sunday” is a reference to the well-known hostility of Muslims towards Jews – the Saturday people – and Christians – the Sunday people. The fear that this pastor is expressing is the fear that after the Muslims are finished with eliminating the Jews, they will then come after the Christians.

As current events in the Middle East demonstrate, Christians will indeed be persecuted, raped, crucified, beheaded, and expelled by Islamist groups in power in the region. It is happening right now in Syria and Iraq at the hands of those who identify themselves as the Islamic State.

Another Arab/Palestinian Christian who is not afraid to tell the truth is Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth. He speaks publicly about how proud he is to live in Israel, “insisting that “Israel is a shining example of human rights in the Middle East.” He has also made a public call to fellow Arabic-speaking Christians to fully integrate into Israel's Jewish society and to join the Israeli army.

As a result of his stand, Father Nadaf has been slandered in social media, censored by his church, and threatened physically. At the end of 2012, he challenged a boycott against him and attempted to enter a church to recite a prayer and light a candle. He was accompanied by Israeli Border Police officers and supporters, who came to ensure his safe passage into the church. In December 2013, his son was severely beaten by a member of the Hadash party, which is made up of Jewish and Arab members, led by MK Mohammad Barakeh.

The beating of Father Nadaf's son is not an isolated case. In fact, it is typical of the tactics used by Muslims to intimidate minority populations. According to prolific writer Lela Gilbert, author of Saturday People Sunday People: Israel Through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, speaking to United with Israel on 12/8/13:

Christians are fleeing Muslim lands in record numbers; in fact there are predictions that, in the years to come, there may be none left in the Middle East. And since terrorist threats against ‘Zionists and Crusaders' never cease, even the safety of Israel's thriving and growing Christian community can no longer being taken for granted. For these reasons and more, a number of Israel's Christians have chosen to take action. Not only do they want to serve in the IDF, but they also are forming a political party and seeking reforms in Israel's educational system, insisting that its curriculum include Christian history alongside that of Judaism and Islam. Their courageous leader, Father Gabriel Nadaf, is an articulate Greek Orthodox priest who has lived with death threats since the beginning of his mission. The cowardly attack on his son isn't surprising and embodies the dangers faced by these brave believers. Their oppressors can't bear to see them shake off the age-old habits of ‘dhimmitude' and step out into their true heritage as empowered Israeli Christians.

In light of the difficulties Palestinian Christians face on a regular basis, and in light of the horrific persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries throughout the Middle East, it is rather disingenuous for Awad and BBC to imply that Israel is the reason the Palestinian church is suffering and declining in numbers - especially when the number of Christians in Israel has increased so dramatically.

A Dhimmi Mentality

Why is it that Awad and Bethlehem Bible College feel the need to demonize Israel and America as they ask for support from their co-religionists in the United States? Shouldn't it be possible to request prayer and raise support without employing egregious anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda?

Apparently not, if one has an inherited dhimmi mentality. A dhimmi is a non-Muslim who lives as a barely tolerated minority in Muslim-dominated lands. For 1400 years, non-Muslims who wanted to survive under Muslim rulers have been forced to accept a dhimma pact, which imposes humiliating conditions on non-Muslims in exchange for their lives.

Dhimmis – those who live under this pact – are required to have a humble demeanor and gratitude towards Muslims for having spared their lives. Those who agree to the pact must recognize Muslims as superior, and demonstrate respect for Islam. Jews and Christians have lived in this state of dhimmitude for centuries; forbidden by the dhimma pact to criticize Islam, the Koran, or Mohammed under the penalty of death.

This ever-present threat of death has had a significant psychological impact on generations of people who have lived in this environment. As a result, they have learned to downplay the threat of danger, and are unwilling to speak about it. As this article demonstrates, the biennial “Christ at the Checkpoint” Conference, which is sponsored by BBC, promotes a dhimmi narrative. And by demonizing Israel and America, Awad and all the speakers in BBC's recent video are doing the same thing.

In the video, it is quite obvious that none of the speakers are willing to say anything critical about their Muslim rulers. They are unwilling to assign any responsibility for the problems facing the Palestinian Church, or for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, on their leaders. Instead, these Christians feel compelled to place all the blame on America and Israel. In so doing, they demonstrate a classic dhimmi mentality.

Without this mentality, they would be able to ask for support and prayers without feeling the need to demonize America and Israel – the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population grows and thrives.

Without being ensconced in so much propaganda, their plea for prayers, help and love would go a lot farther.

And without all the deceit, Awad's references to Christian love would sound a bit more genuine.


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