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Middle East Issues





Palestinian Christian Group Asks WCC to Engage in Lawfare Against Critics


A newly established coalition of Christian institutions in Palestinian society (which calls itself the National Coalition of Christian Churches in Palestine) has issued a an open letter that falsely accuses Israel of destroying the Christian presence in the Holy Land. The letter, addressed to the World Council of Churches, also portrays Christian supporters of Israel as extremists and enemies of peace and human rights in the region.

The text also includes a request that the World Council of Churches legally assail people who criticize Palestinian Christians.

Background

For the past few decades, Palestinian Christians, particularly those located in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, have worked assiduously to encourage their co-religionists in the West to regard Israel and its supporters as enemies of peace and human rights in the Middle East. They have also worked to whitewash the impact of Islamism and jihadism on life in the region. Oftentimes these groups or individuals will target a particular community of Christians. Here are a few examples of the people and institutions that engage in this behavior:

Rev. Dr. Michel Sabbah, a Catholic priest, has used his positions as Archbishop of the Latin Patriarchate, executive director of Pax Christi, and Grand Prior of the Equestrian Order of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, to promote anti-Israel propaganda in the Roman Catholic community throughout the world.

Another organization, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, led for many years by Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, targets mainline or liberal Protestants in North America and Europe with its anti-Zionist propaganda.

Lutheran Pastor Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, a well-known proponent of anti-Jewish rhetoric, also works to undermine Christian support for Israel, particularly within the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). To spread his message of anti-Zionism, Raheb previously used his position as pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Now he uses his title as President of the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem.

Another institution, Bethlehem Bible College, works to turn Evangelical Protestants in the West against Israel with its biannual “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences. At these conferences, submitting to jihadist intimidation and demonizing Israel and its Jewish citizens are portrayed as valid expressions of the Christian faith.

All of these organizations have issued a number of statements over the years that place the blame for the suffering caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict on Israel and fail to hold Arabs and Muslims accountable for their misdeeds.

After Six-Day War

One early example of this type of activism came in the aftermath of the Six Day War when a group of dhimmi Christians from the Middle East issued a document titled, “What Is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem: A Memorandum by a Group of Middle Eastern Theologians.” As stated in this article published in the Jewish Political Studies Review, the document promoted the notion that the Jews had a unique calling to be stateless witnesses to the sovereignty of God and that Israeli Jews betrayed this calling by defending themselves against their adversaries in the Six Day War.

Issuing statements like this is what dhimmi Christian communities do as part of their strategy to maintain good relations with their Muslim neighbors — they beat up on Israel and downplay the threat of jihadist violence. (For more information about this phenomenon, read this article here.)

Heads of Churches Help Palestinian Dhimmi Christians Gain Wider Audience

In order to achieve a wide audience for statements like this, the local Palestinian Christian community has enlisted institutions such as the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to get these statements a wider hearing. Both of these institutions have lent unwarranted credibility to messages prepared by a caste of professional dhimmis in Palestinian society.

Heads of Churches

The WCC remains a willing partner in this process, but the willingness of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem to assist in this strategy has diminished in recent years, particularly after it became evident that the patriarchs were merely acquiescing to the publication of statements under its name that were actually prepared by others.

Malcolm Lowe documented this process in an important article published by the Gatestone Institute in 2014. One of the most notorious polemicists to have his statements “approved” by the heads of churches was Anglican priest Michael Sellors. Lowe writes:

During 1997-2002, Sellors was Dean of the Episcopal St. George's Cathedral. Upon his retirement, he decided to stay on in Jerusalem instead of returning to his old diocese in England, where he was rumored to have a wife. His eccentric appearance and manners made him known to some as "Mad Mike." But if you have read the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, the favorite author of the late British PM Harold Macmillan, you would not be surprised by strange Anglican clerics.
 
Although Sellors no longer had a mandate, the Heads of Churches let him continue to coordinate their occasional meetings and business, while he continued to style himself “Very Rev'd.” He found lodging through the generosity of one monastery or another. Only now there were fewer restraints on his composition of messages. One hopes that one or more of the Heads of Churches scrutinized his Christmas and Easter messages, but other messages were prompted by sudden turns of event. The messages went out by what might be called the "Mad Mike maneuver." That is, they were sent to the offices of all the Heads of Churches with a note to the effect that "this will go out at midday if I do not hear from you." Never mind if, as happens to prelates with widespread dioceses, some of the Heads of Churches were out of the country.

World Council of Churches Corrupted (and Corrupting) Role

The World Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization that allowed itself to be used as a pawn by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, has done essentially the same thing in reference to the Arab-Israeli conflict. (The Soviet Union's infiltration of the WCC was documented in a number of sources including a U.S. State Department Report issued in the 1980s that can be found here. It makes for very interesting reading in light of current events.)

One example of the WCC being abused by Palestinian dhimmi Christians took place in 2013 when the WCC issued a statement to its approximately 350 member churches under the title “Prayer from the Jerusalem Churches” which can be found here, but is apparently no longer present anywhere on the WCC's website. (It can, however, be found on the Wayback Machine at archive.org.)

Lowe reports that the prayer “contained five paragraphs beginning with the words ‘We, the churches in Jerusalem...'” so that “‘anyone reading a prayer with such a title and such wording would assume that it came from the Heads of Churches.'” Lowe continues:

Indeed, the American Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) called it a prayer from the Heads of Churches when it passed the prayer on to its members. Only, a sharp-witted Elder of that church decided to check it out. (I am in possession of the subsequent correspondence, but will suppress most names.)
 
The relevant representative of the PSUSA eventually replied to the Elder, quoting verbatim from a letter from Yusef Daher (the WCC official mentioned earlier). The prayer, wrote Daher, had been “prepared by” a “committee of Bishops,” some of whose names Daher specified. Not all the people named by Daher, however, were bishops, and only one was a Head of Church, namely, Arab Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan.
 
The Elder then wrote back, pointing out that messages from the Heads of Churches usually come with signatures on behalf of the three historic Patriarchates and the Custos, etc., not just the name of Munib Younan (the latter is usually the eleventh in the list of thirteen). In response, he was forwarded a second letter from Daher.
 
The wording of this second letter is somewhat confused, but its basic point seems to be that the earlier mentioned committee of Bishops includes members appointed by all thirteen Heads of Churches. However, instead of saying that the prayer had been prepared by the committee, as in his first letter, Daher now merely claimed that the prayer was introduced to" the committee and "modified by some of them." Whereas his first letter had ascribed authorship to the committee, now he was admitting that it was written by someone else. (Emphasis added.)
 
Since all the people specifically named by Daher as belonging to his committee of Bishops were people whom I had met at one time or another, I asked one of them what he could say about this story. He told me that he had had nothing to do with writing the prayer; it had merely been sent to him by Daher with a request for comments, but he had made none.
 
From this response, we also learn that the prayer was neither prepared by" the committee nor introduced to it (as if the committee had sat in session about it), but just sent to members of the committee individually. The only significant element in Daher's two different accounts that has not (yet) been refuted is the claim that the prayer was modified by some of them.
 
So what we have here is a repeat of the "Mad Mike Maneuver." Something was written by somebody and sent to various people, then put out in the name of "the churches in Jerusalem," whether or not the people contacted had even reacted to it. These people were at first portrayed as its authors, but then, when questioned further, Daher admitted that they were not. (Emphasis added.)
 
Daher had something to do with its composition, maybe aided by a native English speaker, but who beyond that? The only contribution of “the churches of Jerusalem” was “modifications” by some people to whom the prayer was sent, if even that is true. Still, the WCC disseminated the prayer all over the world and maybe none of its recipients, with the exception of the Elder, ever realized that it did not come from the Heads of Churches.
 
Very clever. Just don't be taken in again next time.
Kairos Document
 
Interestingly enough, the Heads of Churches were able to keep themselves at arm's length from the Kairos Document, issued by Palestinian Christians in 2009. This text portrayed Israeli Jews as polluting the Holy Land with an insistence on remaining a sovereign people in the face of groups like Hamas that seek to deprive Jews of their state.
 
The Kairos Palestine Document got a fair amount of traction, with churches in the West issuing a number of laudatory “responses” to the text — responses which fail to address some of the more troublesome aspects of the text, documented here.
 
Nevertheless, the polemics of the Kairos Document exceeded the upper limits of decorum from the perspective of the bishops in Jerusalem. One church patriarch, Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, initially signed the document but later asked that his name be removed from the text for fear of damaging his relationship with Israeli leaders.

Lowe reports that aside from Younan, the other heads of churches “played no role in the origins of this document. Some of them were taken by surprise when it appeared. They were, however, put under political pressure to toe the line propounded by the document. Four days later, consequently, they issued a brief statement of their own.” The statement they issued was not an endorsement of the Kairos Document, but in fact could be interpreted as a mild rebuke. Lowe reports:

[T]he statement contains nothing that would offend people of goodwill anywhere. It calls, on the one hand, for political and religious leaders to increase their commitments to achieving peace. On the other, it urges Palestinian Christians to focus on building up the local Christian community. Indeed, the statement can be read as a mild rebuke to the authors of the document: Palestinian Christians should put their main effort into strengthening their own community rather than engaging in worldwide political agitation.

In recent years, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem has issued a number of peacemaking statements, but they lack the polemical and anti-Jewish overtones of documents put forward by the community of professional dhimmis in Palestinian society. (Some of these statements can be found at the website operated by the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.)

The upshot is this: The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have increasingly refrained from allowing themselves to be used as a pawn in the propaganda war against the Jewish state.

NCCOP – A Dhimmi Front Group

All this provides some context to the recent establishment of group that calls itself “The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine” (NCCOP).

It is an impressive-sounding name, but the first time anyone has heard of the organization came when it recently sent the previously mentioned open letter to the WCC appealing for support in the face of what they claim is the “catastrophic collapse” of Christianity and “our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.”

The signatories of this text are not the bishops who were previously invoked in previous attacks on Israel, but Christian institutions of varying degrees of influence in Palestinian society.

Some of the signatory organizations, such as Sabeel and Bethlehem Bible College, are pretty well known both inside and outside of Palestinian society. Other signatories, however, are relatively obscure laity-run “civil society” institutions such as the Arab Catholic Scouts Group in Jerusalem and the Senior Citizen Charitable Society.

The presence of what can be politely called second- or third-tier civil society institutions on the letter hints of an effort to pad the list of signatories to make it look like the text has more support from the indigenous Christian community than it really has.

The goal of the NCCOP is to get Western Christians to publicize an anti-Israel text much the same way the Heads of Churches used to. And to a certain extent, it has achieved that goal. The text has appeared on a number of virulently anti-Zionist websites (such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA). Christian Today (not to be confused with Christianity Today), has also promoted the text.

Balfour Declaration Denounced

The approximately 1500-word statement begins with a denunciation of the Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917, describing it as “a political declaration from a Western Empire, based on a twisted theological premise.” The text goes onto declare that the people living in the area where Israel was established “paid the price for atrocities committed in Europe.”

All this ignores the fact that Palestinian leaders, most notably the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, allied himself with Hitler during the Holocaust, recruited Muslim soldiers from Bosnia who were responsible for murdering Jews during World War II. It also ignores that Mizrahi Jews were subjected to atrocities at the hands of Muslims and Arabs before and after Israel's creation — demonstrating that Jews could not live safely as a minority in either Europe or the Middle East. Both of these facts add to the credibility of the Balfour Declaration as a good thing. The Jewish people needed a national home promised to them in the Balfour Declaration because they were unable to live in safety in either Christian- or Muslim-majority societies.

In its text, the NCCOP suggests that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is facing an imminent “catastrophic collapse” and implies that all of the Holy Land exists in what the authors of the NCCOP refer to as Palestinian territory. However, with the exception of Bethlehem, the most important Christian sites are all in Israel, and not within territory that might become part of a future Palestinian state.

The deceptive assertion that Christianity is about to disappear from the Holy Land also ignores the fact that in the territory that has been part of Israel ever since it became a state in 1948, the Christian population has steadily increased due to the freedom of religion and protection of holy sites guaranteed by the Jewish State.

According to the Statistical Abstract of Israel, published by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics in 2016, the Christian population of Israel in 1949 was 34,000. By 2015, the most recent year reported, the Christian population had grown to 165,900, of whom 130,000 are Arab, or indigenous, Christians. These numbers demonstrate a dramatic growth, both numerically and percentage-wise. There is no other country in the Middle East where such an increase is evident.

When considering the population of Christians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, this previously published article on CAMERA's website provides some badly needed context:

A decline in the Christian population in the West Bank that took place under Jordanian control was reversed in the years after the Six-Day War.
 
This point was evident in statistics compiled in a 2012 report compiled by the Diyar Institute, an anti-Israel propaganda organization headquartered in Bethlehem.
 
In 1961, the Jordanian Census reported that there was a total of 45,000 Christians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Israeli Census taken in 1967 indicates that there were 40,000 Christians in these areas, yielding a decline of 5,000. This decline was reversed under Israeli control.
 
In 2008, the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an anti-Israel organization, pegged the Christian population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at 48,000—an increase of approximately 8,000 people from the low in 1967.
 
This increase more than offsets the decrease that has taken place in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which has never had many Christians and where forced conversions have been reported.
 
All of this prompted the Diyar Institute—no friend of Israel—to report in 2012 that the number of Palestinian Christians “has grown ever so slightly in the past 50 years.” It made this statement in its 2012 text, “Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, Facts, Figures and Trends,” edited by Rania Al Qass Collings, Rifat Odeh Kassis and Mitri Raheb.

In this document, the figures show an increase in the Christian population for almost every locality/district in the years between 1967 and 2007/8.

For example, the population of the Bethlehem District went from 14,406 in 1967 to an estimated 22,440 in 2007/8, the population of Ramallah and surrounding towns increased from 10,597 in 1967 to an estimated 12,750 in 2007/8, and the population of the Jenin District grew from 1,045 in 1967 to an estimated 2,951 in 2007/8.

In other words, the CCCOP's assertion that Christianity is on the verge of catastrophic collapse in the “Holy Land” is not sustainable. Christians are leaving the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip (right now there are approximately 1,300 Christians in that area, maybe less), but the population is much more stable in the West Bank, in part because of Israel's presence in the area.

How else can we account for the increase between 1967 and 2012 that was admitted by the Diyar Institute?

Practitioners of Apartheid: Is it the Jews or the Arabs?

In an effort to demonstrate that Israel is destroying Christian presence in the Holy Land, the NCCOP urged the WCC to recognize Israel as an apartheid state. Apartheid is defined as a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. That this kind of system is not practiced in Israel is demonstrated by the fact that 20 percent of the Israeli population is composed of Arab citizens who enjoy equal rights and opportunities to education, jobs and health care.

The reality of life for Arab citizens of Israel stands in sharp contrast to the official policy of the Palestinian Authority towards Jews, which has declared that all territory under the control of the PA will be Judenrein. On a visit to Cairo in July 2013, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared that “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands.”

In other words, it is the Palestinian Authority that wishes to enforce an apartheid state, not the State of Israel. No Jews will be allowed in a future Palestinian state, while Arab citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights under Israeli law.

Arab Muslim Persecution of Christians – Even in Israel

Father Gabriel Naddaf is a prominent example of a non-Jewish citizen of Israel, who is an outspoken advocate concerning the benefits of living in the Jewish State. Naddaf is a Greek Orthodox priest who identifies as an Aramean and serves as the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Yafia, near Nazareth. Through his work in the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, he encourages Christian Arab and Aramean citizens to contribute to Israel by serving in the IDF.

Naddaf has paid a heavy price for his public alignment with Israel. He is regularly harassed and threatened by Arab Muslims who fear that any loyalty to Israel will divide and weaken the Arab sector of the population. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has also condemned efforts to recruit Christians into the IDF, describing it as an attempt to divide the Palestinian minority in Israel.

As a result of his stand, Father Naddaf has been slandered in social media, denounced by Arab members of the Knesset, censored by his church, and threatened physically. At the end of 2012, he challenged a boycott against him and had to be accompanied by Israeli Police officers – who were there to ensure his safety – as he attempted to enter a church to pray.

In December 2013, Naddaf's son was severely beaten by members of the Hadash party, led by MK Mohammad Barakeh. But even this did not discourage the Naddaf family from their commitment to support Israel. Today, Naddaf's son serves in the IDF, and Naddaf continues to speak publicly about how proud he is to live in the Jewish State. When he testified before the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014, he said:

In the Middle East today, there is one country where Christianity is not only not persecuted, but affectionately granted freedom of expression, freedom of worship and security…It is Israel, the Jewish State. Israel is the only place where Christians in the Middle East are safe.

Life for Christians in Palestinian Territories

In contrast to the freedom of worship and protection for Christians in Israel attested to by Father Naddaf, life for Christians in Palestinians territories is quite difficult. In fact, Christians living under Muslim rule suffer extreme danger and persecution, particularly since the finalization of the Oslo Peace Process of 1993.

In his article, “Palestinian Crimes against Christian Arabs and Their Manipulation against Israel,” Justus Reid Weiner, a human rights lawyer and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, states:

As a result of the Oslo peace process, the Palestinians were able to establish their own quasi-government. Under this regime the Christian Arabs in these territories have been victims of frequent human rights abuses including intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycott, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion.

Attorney Weiner also points out:

The human rights crimes against the Christian Arabs in the disputed territories are committed by Muslims. Yet many Palestinian Christian leaders accuse Israel of these crimes rather than the actual perpetrators. This motif has been adopted by a variety of Christian leaders in the Western world. Others who are aware of the human rights crimes choose to remain silent about them.

According to Weiner, the crimes committed against Christian Arabs by their Muslim neighbors result from a way of thinking that dates back to the earliest days of Islam. He observes:

Traditionally, Christians and Jews were given an inferior social status known as dhimmitude in Islam. The dhimma is a legal contract of submission that was imposed upon the indigenous non-Muslim populations in regions conquered by the spread of Islam. Although Jews and Christians were not forced to convert to Islam, they were not treated as the equals of Muslims.
 
As dhimmis, Christians living in Palestinian-controlled territories are not treated as the equals of Muslims. They are subjected to debilitating legal, political, cultural, and religious restrictions. This has become a critical problem for the Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslim groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have built a culture of hatred upon the age-old foundations of Islamic society. Moreover, the PA has adopted Islamic law into its draft constitution.

In their attempt to gain the support of the WCC, the NCCOP conveniently omitted these facts, choosing instead to blame Israel for the destruction of Christian presence in the Holy Land Israel. In so doing, the NCCOP ignored a considerable amount of documented evidence to manipulate the emotions of Christians in the West.

The Call to Legally Challenge All Those Who Disagree

As part of its appeal for support from the WCC, the NCCOP urged the worldwide organization to take a “theological stand against any theology or Christian group” that supports Israel, and to “publicly and legally challenge Christian organizations” that discredit the work of the NCCOP.

In other words, the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine wants the World Council of Churches to harass anyone who does not adhere to their anti-Israel hatred, even to the point of asking the WCC to sue their critics. Such a request is simply astonishing. The goal of NGOs like the WCC should be to promote free speech in un-free societies, not hinder discussion in Western democracies.

The call to take a stand against Christian Zionists was followed by a request that the WCC support the NCCOP “in combating the foundations of extremism and that you seek our counsel when acting against religious extremism so that you do not jeopardize and harm our standing here.” (Emphasis Added.)

Because this request immediately follows the appeal to stand against Christians who support Israel, it is clear that the NCCOP is referring to Christian Zionism as the form of religious extremism that must be combated. In a part of the world where Christians continue to be the victims of Muslim extremism, and Israel is the only country in which Christians can be safe, it is ironic, to say the least, that Palestinian Christians – who themselves are victims of the human rights crimes described by Justus Reid Weiner – would identify Christians who support Israel as extremists.

This skewed way of thinking, and the urging to seek their counsel when acting against so-called Christian “religious extremism,” can only be explained by understanding the dhimmi mentality that results from centuries of living as the victims of crimes committed by their Muslim neighbors.

As a result of this mentality, which Australian scholar Rev. Dr. Mark Durie describes as a “curse,” Palestinian Christians portray Israel and Christians who support the Jewish State as the threat to Christian existence in the Holy Land, rather than identify Islamist extremism as the danger it is to both Jews and Christians. And in a further attempt to protect themselves in the Muslim-dominated society in which they live, they caution the World Council of Churches to ask for their advice before taking any action that might make their life more difficult. This underscores an important aspect about Christians in Palestinian society: They are not free to speak the truth about the problem of Muslim supremacism and its impact on the society in which they live.

Given that the WCC has endorsed and publicized a number of statements issued by Palestinian Christians in the West Bank — such as the Kairos Document — it is likely that in the months ahead, this text will receive even more support (than it already has) from the ecumenical organization. This is too bad, because in addition to promoting a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the part of Christians in the West, the text also encourages the WCC to legally harass people who are critical of the narrative put forth by Palestinian Christians.


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