How Not to Help Palestinians

Note: The following piece was originally published at The Philos Project on February, 25, 2015.
A group of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank – along with allies in the United States – has engaged in a propaganda war against Israel for the past several years. The message these activists have broadcasted to Evangelical Protestants in the United States and to the world in general is described as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Peace.” That slogan, or variants of it, are getting some traction. In its most recent issue, Sojourners, a magazine that caters to progressive Evangelicals in the United States, a cover story about the growing support for Palestinians included a headline that was a variation of that slogan: “Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Jesus.”

It’s a nice adaptable slogan, but a close examination of the story spun by the “pro, pro, pro” crowd reveals just another case of false advertising. The narrative these activists tell is not pro-anything, but is actually anti-Israel, anti-Palestinian, anti-Christian and yes, anti-Muslim.

The people who engage in “pro, pro, pro” activism tell an untruthful story that demonizes Israel, denies Palestinians moral agency and responsibility and makes it harder to see the real causes of Christian suffering in the Middle East. It also undermines the efforts of reform-minded Muslims to transform how their faith is practiced. The story is anti-everything these activists purport to hold dear.

These days, the handbook for the “pro, pro, pro,” crowd is Dale Hanson Bourke’s The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers, published by InterVarsity Press in 2013. It’s a compendium of misinformation that misleads its readers about the true nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For example, while Bourke provides a lot of detail about Palestinian refugees who left their homes during the 1948 war that led to the establishment of the Jewish state, she does not explain why the Jewish refugees fled. She merely tells her readers that many Jews who live in Israel come from other countries in the Middle East, omitting any reference to the pogroms, threats and massacres (such as the Farhud in Iraq in 1941) that made life intolerable for Jews in Middle Eastern Arab countries after Israel’s creation.

By omitting this information, Bourke deprives her readers of the information they need to understand why a Jewish state is necessary (and why Christians are suffering so terribly in the region). Jews simply cannot live in safety as a minority in Muslim-majority environments. History has shown that, if Jews are to live with any dignity and freedom in the Middle East, they must have a state of their own in which they are the majority.

Bourke does not make a single reference to the word “dhimmi,” which points to the mistreatment and oppression that non-Muslims (Jews, Christians and others) endure in Muslim-majority environments. This is emblematic of the intense focus on Israel embraced by the “pro, pro, pro” crowd, which has effectively abandoned Christians (and moderate Muslims) to their jihadist oppressors in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.

Bourke also errs in her treatment of the United Nations which, like the “pro, pro, pro” crowd, has abandoned religious and ethnic minorities to their fate in the Middle East. Bourke’s book asks why Israelis leaders regard the UN as biased against the country they govern. What she omits from her text is that the UN’s bias against Israel is not merely asserted by Israeli leaders, but acknowledged by credible observers throughout the world, including officials from the Obama Administration and even the United Nations itself. In August 2013, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moonsaid, “Unfortunately, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias and sometimes even discrimination.”

Moon’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, also admitted (in 2006) that Israel was held to a higher standard than its adversaries. He said that “supporters of Israel feel it is harshly judged by standards that are not applied to its enemies – and too often this is true, particularly in some UN bodies.” Bourke’s book omits all of this, but portrays concerns about the UN’s bias against Israel as being only a concern on the part ofIsrael and its supporters.

“Pro, pro, pro” activists justify their intense scrutiny of the Israelis by saying that because they are the more powerful party to the conflict, Israelis must be subjected to more intense scrutiny. But if these activists are going to advocate for the creation of a Palestinian state, they have an obligation to determine whether or not the Palestinian people and their leaders will be able to live in peace with Israel once that state is created. Sadly, while there is ample support to indicate that Palestinians cannot live in peace with a Jewish state, Palestinian Christians and Evangelical activists are loath to confront this evidence.

Leaders in both Hamas (which controls the Gaza Strip) and the allegedly more moderate Palestnian Authority, which controls the West Bank, routinely broadcast anti-Semitic imagery in the media outlets they control, inciting hostility on the part of their own citizens toward the people with which they need to make peace. To her credit, Bourke acknowledges that Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction, but she makes no reference in her text to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, the man who, despite promoting vicious anti-Semitism in Palestinian society, is regarded as a hero by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Christians cannot be pro-peace if they are not pro-truth. Sadly, this is a lesson that activists in the “pro, pro, pro” movement must learn.

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