A recent “The World” news broadcast produced jointly by WGBH (a Boston public broadcasting affiliate), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Public Radio International (PRI) has demonstrated that fair and accurate coverage of Israel on public radio is not an impossible standard. On the Nov. 20 broadcast, which was aired by public radio stations around the United States, Aaron Schachter reported on the American Christian right and the movement’s support for Israel and for the Israelis living in settlement communities.
What was remarkable about this broadcast was that it was straight-forward and free of editorial comment, allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. It was a refreshing change from typical National Public Radio coverage of settlers, which is generally pejorative. Regardless of the political considerations — pro and con — of settlements, journalistic standards of objectivity require these subjects to be dealt with fairly and without partisan editorializing in news stories.
Commendably, Schachter managed to do so. In addition, the context that he provided not only touched on the tension between the Jewish minority surrounded by the Arab majority, but also included the ancient history of Hebron’s “Tomb of the Patriarchs.”
For a complete transcript of the broadcast, please see below.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Host: Tony Kahn
Christian Coalition in the West Bank (8:30) The World’s Aaron Schachter reports on how the American religious organization, the Christian Coalition is visiting the West Bank to show support for the Jewish settlers.
KAHN: This is The World; I’m Tony Kahn. In the Middle East today, the Palestinian Authority welcomed a call by Israel’s new opposition Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, to restart peace talks. Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, likened Mitzna to slain, former Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who signed a peace deal with the Palestinians, nine years ago.
ARAFAT: We are ready, today, with anyone who have to be elected and our hands will be extended for the peace of the brave which I have signed with my partner, Rabin, and I hope that Mitzna will follow the same line of Rabin.
KAHN: Mitzna, though, may not get the chance. Polls show his Labor Party far behind the ruling Likud Party ahead of January’s election. Whether led by Likud or Labor, the Israeli government regards the U.S. as its closest friend. It used to be that American Jews were most active in forging that friendship but increasingly they are joined by American Evangelical Christians and those Christians tend to agree most with hawkish Israelis.
The World’s Aaron Schachter traveled with an American Christian group on a so-called “fact finding tour” through the Holyland.
SCHACHTER: It is an amazing thing to travel through Israel with a group of Americans whose knowledge of the Holyland is so intimate yet entirely gleaned from the Bible. This tour follows in the footsteps of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It began near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Biblical sacrifice of Isaac was to take place. Then it’s off to the spot where Abraham settled.
WILDER: We’re going to start today’s tour at the most important site in Hebron.
SCHACHTER: This tour group just happens to include the leadership of the Christian Coalition, the largest religious based political organization in the Unites States. The group is being led not just to holy sites, but also to spots in the occupied territories where Jews have setup towns and reclaimed land held by their ancestors. David Wilder, spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, serves as guide. As he speaks, the mid-day Muslim call to prayer echos in the background.
WILDER: This is the second holiest site to the Jewish people in all the world, second only to Temple Mount and that site that we’re talking about is called in Hebrew, "mearat hamachpelah," which means in English, the "Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs."
SCHACHTER: The Old Testament says this is the spot where Abraham chose to bury his wife Sarah nearly 4000 years ago. Some 2000 years later, King Herod built a memorial over the Tomb. It was converted in the 13th century into a Moslem mosque. Wilder says, Jews and Christians were barred from entering the building for 700 years until Israel beat back the Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War. Soon after the War, the Israeli government gave the Palestinians control of the site. The Palestinians partitioned the building. Wilder tells the tour group that history has shown Muslims never allow free worship at holy sites.
WILDER: That’s why we live in Hebron. That’s why there is a Jewish community in Hebron and that’s why that community is going to stay here forever. This is our home. These are our holy sites. These are sites that were given to us by God. This is where Abraham was. This is not only the roots of Judaism, but this is the roots of all of monotheism. We all start here and we all know what happens if you take a tree and you cut off the roots. Look it’s very simple, any place in the State of Israel that has any Jewish identity, they want to wipe out.
SCHACHTER: The point of this tour is not just to have a group of devout Christians get in touch with their own heritage but to help them see the current situation in Israel through Jewish eyes. Hebron is now a disputed area. More than 100,000 Arabs surround about 10,000 Jews, many of whom are under constant Israeli Army protection. The tour continues to the spot in Hebron where last Friday night, twelve people were gunned down by Arab terrorists. Jewish residents of Hebron have christened this dusty clearing “The Heroes Battalion Neighborhood.” The settler families squat on the land. Wilder introduces them to the Christian leaders.
WILDER: This is one of the first families that’s coming to live here and they are living here now in this red container. That’s their home and they’ve come to live here so that there are people here.
First female (Christian Zionist): God bless you. Well, I just want to encourage you. Thank you so much. You hang in there. We are proud of you; we’ll be praying for you.
Second female (Hebron resident): Okay, thank you very much. It means a lot that you’re coming.
First female: Don’t get discouraged. We’ll go back and we’ll tell — we’ll tell everyone.
Second female: Tell everyone how important it is for us to live here.
First female: We will; we will.
SCHACHTER: The Jews here are not at all popular with most Israelis but they say that’s because many of their countrymen have lost their way. The Christians on this tour say they understand. In fact, the conservative Jews here and the conservative Christians here from the U.S. have much in common. Sandra Oster-Barris(sp), an Orthodox Jew, runs an Israel based organization called “Christian Friends of Israeli Communities.”
BARRIS: I believe that you can not look at any thing happening in Israel without seeing it from a Biblical and religious perspective as well. What we do is focus on the aspects of our respective religions that are in common and that is the Hebrew Scriptures — the Hebrew Bible. We have one vision of Messiah; they have another vision of Messiah. When he comes we’ll ask him if he’s been here before.
SCHACHTER: Jews and Christians may disagree on the Messiah but they’re utterly united in their belief that Israel’s uncooperative neighbors are not listening to the Word of God laid out clearly in the Bible. Christian Coalition pastor, Michael Brown, is on the tour.
BROWN: According to Genesis 12:3, when God gave the Covenant to Abraham, He said, “I will bless those who bless you; I will curse those who curse you and in you will all of the families of the Earth be blessed.” The Jewish people preserved the Scriptures that we hold dear. According to the Scriptures, God has a tremendous plan for Israel. This transcends politics. It transcends anything other than just the fact that we really have a deep abiding love for the nation because God loves Israel.
SCHACHTER: But politics, of course, is why the group is here. The Christian Coalition is getting more and more powerful in Washington. Dow-Jones just named it one of the most powerful groups on Capital Hill. Officials here want the Christian Coalition and others to use their power and fervor on behalf of Israel.
BROWN: They’re looking around for who their true friends are. I think they’ve realized that conservative, Bible believing Christians are their best friends out there.
SCHACHTER: David Parsons is spokesman for the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, a pro-Israel, non-denominational, Christian organization. Parsons says, Jews and Christians, who at one time clashed over social issues, have decided the troubles in Israel are worth rallying around. He estimates that upwards of 70 million Evangelical Christians and many more of other faiths raise about 100 million dollars a year to support Israelis.
PARSONS: I think it’s more main-stream than most Americans would want to admit. In Biblical prophecies, we’re told that they are a light through dark times. Does it provide us a light today in this dark period that we are in of weapons of mass destruction and mass terrorism? We think it does and everyone owes it to themselves to investigate.
SCHACHTER: Parsons says you need not be religious to accept Scripture. He says if you look at history in the last thousand years, Genesis has proven itself true. Spain, Portugal and Germany have oppressed Jews and fallen from grace; the United States has embraced its Jewish population and thrives.
Female voice: Why don’t we all pray (Voices heard in background).
SCHACHTER: The Christian-Jewish alliance may yet falter; after all some Christian conservatives believe a future conflict in the Holyland will usher in the end of time in Judgement Day. That’s not a view shared by the vast majority of Israelis (voices heard worshiping in song). For The World, I’m Aaron Schachter, Hebron.