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Middle East Issues





Presbyterian DVD Advances Anti-Israel Movement in US Churches


In early 2014, the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) produced Zionism Unsettled, a 74-page booklet that is sold through the PCUSA's website. The booklet is accompanied by a DVD that uses films, personal testimonies, and one-sided narration to persuade its audience that Zionism and the existence of Israel are the cause of the lack of peace in the Middle East.

The pervasive anti-Israel polemic throughout the eight episodes contained in the DVD (as well as the study guide it accompanies) should come as no surprise considering the purpose for which the IPMN was established. This grassroots organization of the PCUSA was “established in 2004 with a mandate from the denomination's General Assembly for the purpose of encouraging wider and deeper Presbyterian involvement with Palestinian Christians and advocating for the human rights of Palestinians under military occupation.” Sadly, the IPMN has used its mandate for pro-Palestinian activism as a pretext for demonizing Israel.

Again, this should come as no surprise. The IPMN was established the same year the General Assembly (GA) passed a resolution "to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." This resolution was based on the claim that Israel's “occupation” of Palestinian territories had “proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.” In 2006, the Presbyterians modified the resolution that singled out Israel as a target for divestment, but in 2012 they voted in favor of boycotting products manufactured in the West Bank.

The booklet and the accompanying DVD demonstrate that, in order to advocate “for the human rights of Palestinians,” the IPMN and its sponsoring organization, the PCUSA, find it necessary to negate or ignore threats to the rights and well-being of Jews to further their brand of “peacemaking.”

Zionism Unsettled was published in an effort to influence delegates to this year's GA (June 14-21), where nine anti-Israel resolutions are on the docket, most of them calling for divestment from companies doing business with Israel. One resolution goes so far as to question Israel's right to exist by calling on the denomination to review its traditional support for a two-state solution.

The Raison d'etre for Zionism Unsettled

Episode 1, titled “The Rocks of Judea,” is produced and narrated by Israeli filmmaker, Ronen Berelovich. His narration begins with the questions, “When did it all go wrong?” and “When did Jews and Arabs start hating each other?” For after all, according to the storyline presented throughout this DVD and the booklet it accompanies, Jews and Arabs lived in “unprecedented harmony” in Palestine, North Africa and Spain for 1300 years preceding the twentieth century. According to Berelovich, “It all seemed to be going just fine until the twentieth century.” “But then something happened.”

This introduction provides the raison d'etre for the entire DVD, which is to demonstrate how Zionism is the root of the lack of peace in the Middle East. After all, according to the narrative, ever since the beginning of the Zionist movement, “Jews and Arabs have been at each other's throats.”

According to this storyline, Jews and Arabs got along just fine until the beginning of the Zionist movement in 1897 with the first Zionist Convention in Basel Switzerland, and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. From the perspective of Zionism Unsettled, it was these events that brought an end to the supposed harmony and peace between Arabs and Jews.

This narrative distorts history in two ways. First, it downplays historic Arab and Muslim hostility towards Jews that has existed since the beginning of Islam. As a consequence of Arab and Islamic conquests, Jews and Arabs have not lived in “harmony” anywhere for 1300 years.

In fact, for the past 1400 years, Jews – and Christians for that matter – have been persecuted and forced to live as second-class citizens, or dhimmis, wherever Arab Muslims are dominant. For a more thorough discussion of the history of Jewish/Arab relations in the Middle East and the requirements of being a dhimmi, see this article.

The second way the narrative of Zionism Unsettled distorts history is by ignoring Jewish attempts to live in harmony with Arabs in Palestine even before the establishment of the State of Israel.

David Ben-Gurion, a leading promoter of Zionism and the future first Prime Minister of Israel, recognized the right of the Arabs to achieve their national aspirations, and in fact, believed that there was “no basic contradiction between these two national movements.” (Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, Yale University Press, 2010, p.29)

While establishing that “the Jews were determined to reestablish their statehood in their ancestral homeland,”

Ben-Gurion then proposed that Palestine become an independent Jewish state attached to an Arab federation. This, in his view, would allow the country's Arab inhabitants to avoid a minority status by being linked with millions of Arabs in the neighboring countries. “The Palestinian Arabs will not be sacrificed so that Zionism might be realized,” he argued. “According to our conception of Zionism, we are neither desirous nor capable of building our future in Palestine at the expense of the Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs will remain where they are, their lot will improve, and even politically they will not be dependent on us, even after we come to constitute the vast majority of the population.” (Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, p.29)

This one example of many demonstrates that Jews and Arabs have never “been at each other's throats” in the way that is implied in the narrative of Zionism Unsettled, because this wording implies that there has been equal and mutual aggression on the part of both parties, when in fact, that has not been the case.

The suggestion of mutual aggression is also contradicted by the past 1300 years of history in which Muslim conquest resulted in Jewish dhimmitude. It is further contradicted by the multiple attempts made by Arab nations to destroy the State of Israel even before its founding in 1948.

Therefore, the statements in the DVD about the long history of peace between Arabs and Jews are disingenuous in that they are made for the purpose of establishing the false historical foundation on which Zionism Unsettled is based.

But in an obvious move to not allow facts to interfere with the desired narrative, the eight episodes contained on the DVD take the audience on a mind-altering trip through pseudo “historical” accounts replete with factual error and omissions in order to promote the anti-Israel mission of the IPMN. While there are numerous examples worthy of discussion, there are three attempts to demonize and delegitimize Zionism and the State of Israel that are perhaps the most egregious.

Deceptive Maps

As part of the foundation for the erroneous “history” that is presented throughout, the first episode ends with a picture of four maps shown side by side that ostensibly depict the “loss of Palestinian land” from 1946 to the present. However, these maps are not accurate, and their content is deceptive and mis-leading.

Palestine in 1946

The map of Palestine in 1946 shows the vast majority of the land as Palestinian, with a very small percentage of the land being owned by Jews. This portrayal of land ownership is inaccurate for two reasons.

The first reason this portrayal is inaccurate is that prior to the British Mandate of 1922, the land was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. During this time much of the land in question was designated as miri or state land which, as explained by this CAMERA article, was farmland over which one could “gain limited rights by consistent cultivation” but not something to which one could get permanent ownership, which resided with the state or local emir.

What this means is that in most cases, even to this day, land that is claimed by Palestinians is not privately owned by them. It is land that, following the Ottoman system, the British and now the Israelis have allowed to be used for cultivation. But just as it was state land prior to the British Mandate, it is state land now.

Therefore, it is not historically accurate to depict any of the land as “Palestinian” in 1946.

The second reason the portrayal of Palestinian land ownership in 1946 is inaccurate is that ever since the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the land of Palestine has been designated as a Jewish homeland by international law. Following the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine of 1922 held the land for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” based on the recognition of “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

The Mandate for Palestine was a legally binding document agreed upon unanimously by fifty-one member countries of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. It is a binding agreement that established the legal right of Jews to settle anywhere in the geographical area called Palestine, which was defined as all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Article 6 of the Mandate states that “the Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”

Following the demise of the League of Nations, the International Court of Justice continued to recognize the validity of the Mandate, which is also preserved by Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. Article 80 “preserves intact all the rights granted to Jews under the Mandate for Palestine, even after the Mandate's expiry on May 14-15, 1948.”

Therefore, Zionism Unsettled's portrayal of any of the land as “Palestinian” land that was lost to Israel after 1946 (which is 24 years after the Mandate for Palestine) is not only inaccurate, but is disingenuous. This depiction misleads the audience in order to promote the anti-Israel position of the Israel Palestine Mission Network.

The UN Partition Plan of 1947

The second map represents the division of the land into two states as proposed by the United Nations partition plan, which was approved in 1947. This map creates a false impression by suggesting that the land assigned to Israel by the UN plan was land that would have belonged to the Palestinians if the Israelis hadn't taken it from them during the War for Independence of 1948.

However, the Palestinians never owned this land. In 1947, all the land was part of the British Mandate, held in trust for a Jewish homeland. Prior to the British Mandate, the land was owned by the Ottoman Empire.

The narrator also does not reveal that the Arab states rejected land offered to them inthe Partition plan,preferring insteadto go to war because of their unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in Palestine.As Arab League Secretary Azzam Pasha said to Jewish Agency representatives David Horowitz and Abba Eban on September 16, 1947

The Arab world is not in a compromising mood. It's likely, Mr. Horowitz, that your plan is rational and logical, but the fate of nations is not decided by rational logic. Nations never concede; they fight. You won't get anything by peaceful means or compromise. You can, perhaps, get something, but only by the force of your arms. We shall try to defeat you. I am not sure we'll succeed, but we'll try. We were able to drive out the Crusaders, but on the other hand we lost Spain and Persia. It may be that we shall lose Palestine. But it's too late to talk of peaceful solutions.

As a result of the Arab refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish State, the division of land shown in the second map never came to pass. And yet the video produced by the IPMN describes the land as Palestinian.

It is important to note that not much has changed in almost seventy years. All efforts to negotiate for peace – no matter how much Israel offers, even to the present day – break down as a result of that same unwillingness in the Arab world to compromise on the existence of Israel as a Jewish State, so clearly stated by Azzam Pasha in 1947.

After the Six Day War of 1967

The third map ostensibly shows how the land was divided as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, showing current outlines of Gaza and the West Bank. What the map does not reveal, however, is that Palestinians never had sovereignty over any of this land.

Before the 1967 war with Israel, Gaza was occupied by Egypt and Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank – which was so named because it was on the west bank of the Jordan River in relation to Jordan.

Israel did not take the land from Palestinians, but acquired it as a result of winning a defensive war against Egypt and Jordan.

Viewers are also not told, that in spite of the fact that this land was not Palestinian land to begin with, on September 16, 2008, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an unprecedented offer of land for peace. He offered Mahmoud Abbas all of the West Bank and Gaza minus a few major settlement blocs. He offered land swaps in exchange for those settlement blocs and sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

But the Palestinian Authority refused the offer and Abbas did not return to the negotiating table.

Land Divisions as of Today

The final map shows the vast amount of the land belonging to Israel, with only Gaza and Area A of the Palestinian Authority as belonging to the Palestinians. This gives the false impression that land not in Area A is “owned” by Israel. This ignores the fact that Area B, which comprises almost twenty five percent of the West Bank is considered disputed territory and is under Palestinian administration.

Furthermore, while displaying the maps, the narrator reports that Israel “conquered” 80 percent of the land in 1948, and "conquered" the remaining 20 percent in 1967. Nothing is said about the fact that both of these wars were wars of self-defense that were precipitated by the Arabs for the purpose of destroying the State of Israel.

In other words, the wars were not started by Israelfor thepurposeofconquering land, but were fought in response to Arab aggression.

The fact that these maps are not accurate, the fact that their content is deceptive and mis-leading, and the fact that the narrative accompanying the display of the maps omits information that is essential for a true understanding of the context and history of land division in Israel demonstrate the motivation behind Zionism Unsettled, which is to demonize and delegitimize Zionism and Israel.

Manipulation of the Legacy of the Holocaust

Episode 2, titled “Historical Myths,” features Dr. Ilan Pappé, an Israeli professor of history, speaking at the National Press Club of Australia. After a brief presentation on what he identifies as common “mythologies” regarded as historical fact in Israel, there was a Q and A time. While these questions and answers all skewed toward the Palestinian narrative and reflected a decidedly negative view of Israel, there was one question that elicited a particularly outrageous response.

When asked how significant the Holocaust was in the Israeli psyche, Pappé conceded that it was important historically because of the obvious trauma of the event. However, for Pappé, the more notable legacy of the Holocaust is the “very important role” it plays in the psyche of Israelis because of how “it is constantly manipulated.” He said:

The most destructive aspect of the manipulation of the Holocaust in Israel is the clear association that is being made between what the Nazis did to the Jews and what the Palestinians represent. In fact, every way you look at it in Israel, if it's the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, the educational system, the way the Holocaust is memorized in schools, there is a clear connection between the Nazis and the Palestinians; namely you don't want it to happen again because you are facing another potential destructor. And I think this is really corrupting the soul of the Israeli Jew in a way that not only makes peace impossible, but really does not allow for a normal society to develop and prosper.

Aside from the incongruent nature of a statement that implies that the most developed and most prosperous nation in the Middle East is unable to “develop and prosper,” Pappe fails to mention two important issues:

First, Pappé fails to address that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, the father of Palestinian nationalism, sided with the Nazis during World War II and assisted in the murder of Jewish children in Europe during the Holocaust.

Second, Pappé fails to address how the Palestinians manipulate the Holocaust in their polemics against Israel.

On those rare occasions when leaders in the Arab world acknowledge that the Holocaust actually happened, it is for the purpose of linking that event with the alleged suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israel. For example, in April 2014, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “denounced the Holocaust as the ‘most heinous' modern crime.” However, in the same speech, he compared “Palestinians to Holocaust victims, saying the two suffered from ‘injustice, oppression and [were] denied freedom and peace.'"

This attempt to create a parallel between what happened to the Jews under the Nazis and current hardships experienced by Palestinians – which as this article explains, are primarily due to the actions of Palestinian leaders – is outrageous. The Nazis systematically dehumanized and annihilated six million Jewish men, women and children simply because they were Jewish. The Jews targeted by the Nazis went through a whole lot more that a denial of “freedom and peace.”

Furthermore, there is absolutely no moral equivalency between methodical genocide on the part of the Nazis and the measures Israel takes to thwart suicide bombers who target innocent civilians. But rather than acknowledge what actually happened to the Jews – instead of minimizing it by referring to it as “injustice” and “oppression” – Abbas exploits the tragedy of the Holocaust as part of a deliberate strategy to demonize and delegitimize the actions of the Jewish State.

If the same standard is applied to the Palestinian manipulation of the Holocaust as is used to judge Israel's remembrance of such a traumatic event in the Jewish psyche, shouldn't Pappé and the producers of Zionism Unsettled consider the possibility that the Palestinian soul may be corrupted and that their contrived narrative may be a major obstacle to peace?

But Ilan Pappé says nothing about the blatant manipulation of the Holocaust for the political purposes of the Palestinians. Instead, this devastating event in Jewish history is used to shift the focus from the annihilation of Jews to the purported oppression of Palestinians by Israelis, who are portrayed as the new Nazis.

Consistent with the raison d'etre for the entire DVD, Pappé presents Israel, and Israel alone, as the reason for the lack of peace in the Middle East.

The Old Apartheid Canard

Episode 3, titled “The Triumph of Zionism” and produced and narrated by Ronen Berelovich, introduces a popular allegation used by those who seek to demonize Israel – that Israel is an apartheid state. Jeff Halper of Hebrew University makes a clear connection between apartheid South Africa and the Jewish State when he asserts that Israeli settlement blocs in Areas A and B of the West Bank divide Palestinian areas into “little tiny islands,” which he calls “Bantustans.”

He says:

Israel has created massive settlement blocs, seven settlement blocs, not just discrete individual settlements but seven blocs that are consolidated, that then divide those areas A and B into islands, create Israeli corridors in between, and those settlement blocs will then be annexed to Israel. So Israel will essentially occupy 90% of the country and the Palestinians will get 10% of the country in little tiny islands.

Halper supports his correlation between Palestinian areas that are divided by the existence of Israeli settlements and the creation of Bantustans for black residents of South Africa by alleging that all development of infrastructure and roads in the West Bank is being done for the purpose of connecting the settlements to the rest of Israel in order to control the land.

According to him:

Israel is building, with American, almost total American support, a three billion dollar system of bypass roads and highways throughout the occupied territories that then link them [the settlements] physically into Israel so that you create in the country…one urban fabric where the settlement blocks are an integral part of the metro area of Israel itself…one highway grid…one electrical system…one water system.

The implication is obvious – that all development is solely for the benefit of the settlements and for the sake of Israeli control in the West Bank. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Israel's development of infrastructure and roads benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike.

One example of how Israeli development benefits Palestinians is demonstrated by the hundreds of kilometers of new water mains that have connected hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns to Israel's newly built water system. However, Israel does not just build water lines to deliver water to Palestinians, but as CAMERA has documented, Israel supplies Palestinian communities with water from Israeli wells.

There are some Palestinian villages and towns that do not receive Israeli water, but as this article points out, some villages and towns that are not hooked up to the new system have refused the service for political reasons, believing that acceptance of Israel's offer of a new water supply would legitimize Israel's presence in the West Bank.

Israel also supplies the Palestinian Authority with electricity via the Israel Electric Corporation, in spite of the fact that the PA does owes the corporation a substantial amount of money. In contrast to what happens when individual consumers don't pay their bill, the electric company has continued to provide that electricity, rather than turning off the power as they would in the case of Israeli settlers who do not pay their bills.

Palestinians continue to have electricity, even though the PA owed the Israel Electric Corporation NIS 1.167 billion as of December 25, 2013.

In opposition to Halper's allegation that Israel developed infrastructure in Areas A and B of the West Bank that only serves the settlers, the facts reveal that Israel supplies water and electricity to Palestinians whether or not they want the water, and whether or not they pay their electric bill.

Halper also states that Israel constructs road systems that connect settlements to the rest of Israel in order to create “one urban fabric.” Implicit in his statements is the accusation that these roads are only for the use of settlers – or in other words, Jews. Indeed, prior to the comments from Halper, Ronen Berelovich had already stated that there are “roads for Jews only.”

However, as CAMERA has demonstrated, “this charge of what could be called “road apartheid” is false – there are no “settler-only” (or “Jewish-only,” as other sources often charge) roads.”

There are roads that are restricted to Israelis for security reasons, but all Israelis use these roads – not just settlers, not just Jews, but Israeli Arabs as well. Therefore, the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state because it only develops infrastructure and roads for the purpose of connecting settlements to the rest of Israel is clearly unfounded.

What Next

The 221st General Assembly of the PCUSA will convene June 14-21 in Detroit. One of the nine anti-Israel resolutions on the docket includes the denomination's Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee's recommendation that three corporations—Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions – be added to the denomination's divestment list. The reason – they are not in compliance with the GA's policy on socially responsible investing, which is another way of saying that these companies do business with Israel.

In 2006, the GA established criteria for divestment which include: violence by Israelis or Palestinians against innocent civilians; Israeli military occupation of any territory beyond its borders as of 1967; the demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of agricultural land and confiscation of Palestinian property (which is interpreted to include building in the settlements); the construction of the Separation Barrier beyond the 1967 “Green Line” and the construction of Israeli settlements and Israeli-only roads in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The DVD that accompanies Zionism Unsettled provides the false narrative required to support these criteria. By attempting to persuade its audience that Zionism and the very existence of the State of Israel are the cause of lack of peace in the Middle East, the IPMN feeds the necessary ideological foundation for the MRTI to make yet another case for divestment from Israel at this year's General Assembly.

One can only hope there will be enough delegates present who have not only taken the effort to be informed on the issues, but who will have enough backbone to stand against such virulent demonization and delegitimization of Zionism and Israel.


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