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DON JAMES

By DON JAMES, National Development Director, Bridges for Peace Canada The physical context for Naim Ateek’s very well-attended lecture at Canadian Mennonite University was outstanding.

Marpeck Common at CMU is a stunning setting, with its high ceilings and massive windows, full of sunshine on this evening. But the presentation itself was just as stunningly lacking in fairness, because information was presented with so little of the relevant historical and other contexts.

Was there even a hint of a mention of Arab aggression, violence and terrorism throughout the 20th century and continuing in the 21st? No. Was there a mention of the centuries’ long Jewish presence and sovereignty in the land? Or the fact that Jews have not found themselves safe in so many places and require a safe haven. No. Or that the Jews were granted the right to this homeland by the international community following World War I, in the Charter of the League of Nations, an international law which has never been superseded.

This lack of context did not surprise me. The last presentation I attended at CMU was an hour-long litany of how Israel built its security barrier in order to steal Palestinian land. There was not even a mention of suicide bombers or other forms of terrorism – the obvious context for the barrier. An MCC representative was the messenger in this case.

Our evening began with the announcement of an apparently appalling act by the IDF – destroying a Palestinian school. No mention of the fact that the school was without a permit, in a Bedouin encampment that was illegal, and part of a much larger movement funded by EU countries to create “facts on the ground”, a pejorative usually reserved for Jewish settlements. The modular school buildings had been dropped there days before and the supposedly heartbroken students had never set foot in them.

Next we mourned the deaths of Gazans at the hands of the IDF – Gazans who were encouraged by Hamas to test and penetrate the Israeli border, many of whom were known Hamas members.

On to Resolution 194 from the UN General Assembly, Dec. 10, 1948. Israel is here excoriated for having agreed to the resolution in order to become a UN member and then reneged on its apparent commitments to refugee repatriation. Three contexts missing here. First, General Assembly resolutions are not binding. Second, the entire refugee situation was caused by Arab aggression against the one-day-old Jewish state, including the encouragement of many by Arab leaders to “make way for the extermination of the Jews and you can return in a few weeks to their homes”. Third, Israel received 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states and incorporated them all speedily. The Arab states which caused the Palestinian refugee problem have sought to perpetuate it, and to blame Israel for it.

Through a quote from Theodore Herzl’s diary, Ateek presents us next with a view into the Jewish heart – determined to rid the land of Palestinians, albeit it gently. In reality, the quality of the Jewish heart can be seen in the fact that the 160,000 Palestinians who did not flee or get forcibly moved in the 1948 Arab war on Israel have grown to become 1,500,000 souls today, living in Israel with full legal rights, quite likely the happiest and most prosperous Arabs in the world, outside of sheik’s palaces.

Who are the Palestinians?, Ateek asks. Descendants from ancient peoples like the Canaanites. No mention of the large percentage of them who immigrated to Israel from neighbouring countries after the Jews began to restore the land in the 20th century and create infrastructure and employment. (See “From Time Immemorial” by Joan Peters for statistics).

Illegal occupation was a big theme, of course. No coming close to the fact that you can’t illegally occupy land that was given to you by the League of Nations after WW I, along with the creation of dozens of new nations in Europe and elsewhere by similar treaties. And no mention of the wars of aggression against Israel that resulted, first in the occupation of the “West Bank” by Jordan after the 1948 war, or the occupation of the same land by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War. Nor of the Three No’s of Khartoum following the Six Day War – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel. What was Israel to do? They probably would have (foolishly) given the land to them, but the Arabs wouldn’t ask for it. Nor would they accept any of the five offers of a Palestinian state that have been made (foolishly) by Israel, Britain or the UN (1937, 1947, 2000, 2001, 2008).

Finally, we come to the context of Scripture. Here, Ateek is forthright that he has a limited context – because “only some of the Old Testament is palatable to our spirituality”. Some is “detrimental”, some “unbelievably so”, like Deuteronomy 7:1-7 where Israel is told by God to destroy the inhabitants of the land. In all Ateek’s concern for justice, there is no understanding that the God of justice has the prerogative to impose serious consequences for sin. Israel, herself, has been subject to enormous consequences for her sin, in the form of thousands of years of exile and much death.

The entire prophetic corpus of the Old Testament referring to the restoration of Israel to her land is passed over without a mention. The enormity of this omission is breathtaking, but so much of the Christian world manages it. God made a covenant with Abraham and his children, but those promises, including a land forever, have supposedly flowed nicely into Gentile genes. What a tragedy of blindness, for a generation that has witnessed the return of the Jews after 2,000 years of exile, remarkable preservation from attacking armies with far larger human resources, the blooming of the desert, medical advances shared freely with her enemies (Share a Child’s Heart, thousands of Syrian victims treated). The prophetic fulfillments go on and on. The mighty acts of God in our generation are awesome, for those who have eyes to see.

The question period produced some questions that attempted to restore balance. All were parried by the skilled and authoritative Ateek. The first question bears mentioning, in conclusion, as it raised the question of whether what was presented could be seen as anti-Semitic. Not so, just the truth, we were assured. So we are left with the question of where this remarkably unbalanced singling-out of the only Jewish state comes from, if not from a view of the Jews as evil. I hope that all who attended, and our CMU sponsors, in particular, will take an honest look inward, with the help of God’s Spirit. This is important for our spiritual health and more than that. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is still God, and He still blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse her.

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