Note from Ron: Richard Gibson has written a masterful response to Elias Chacour’s (Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church) anti-Israel book, Blood Brothers. I am begging you to read this! He has more external references in his article than Chacour has in his entire book, most of which is mostly biographical opinion that ignores history. Richard Gibson is in full-time ministry and is the leader of a Messianic Fellowship in the north of England.
From Bias to Bias
(Orginaly published in One16 Journal) In the wake of the book, an Evangelical anti-Zionism has developed which justifies itself by, amongst other things, claiming that Christian support for Israel is an obstacle to the evangelisation of Palestinian Muslims. Brother Andrew, for example, stated at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference 2010, ‘The justification of the State of Israel by Christians in the West is a hindrance for the preaching of the gospel in the Middle East. No hindrance whatsoever is acceptable to us as Evangelicals, or to the church at large taking the great commission seriously. Whatever hinders it is not of God; we must reject it. Whatever hinders it delays the return of our Lord Jesus Christ…’1 That increasingly popular view is not substantiated by the facts, however. Ant Greenham, who has a PhD in Missions with a focus on Islamic Studies, recently conducted a series of case studies among Palestinian Muslims who have come to faith in Christ and in none of his case studies did Christian Zionism or Christian anti-Zionism play any role in conversion. 2
Balancing out the Holocaust – the arithmetic of pain! Blood Brothers is a very well told story of personal tragedy which engages the reader emotionally. It is, however, heavily biased politically. Though Elias Chacour claims his book is intended to be a vehicle for reconciliation and peace, in reality his story is part and parcel of the standard Arab-Palestinian, anti-Zionist narrative which charges Israel with, among other things, perpetrating a ‘holocaust’ against the Palestinians, and condemns the Jewish state for allegedly visiting on the Palestinians what they suffered at the hands of the Nazis in Europe. Chacour presents the now stereotypical picture of innocent Palestinians falling victim of systematic ethnic cleansing by the Zionists. On page 49 he states: ‘By autumn of 1948, the Zionist forces were ‘cleansing’ the towns around the Sea of Galilee.’ On pages 47-8, Chacour invokes the alleged massacre of the inhabitants of the Arab village of Deir Yassin as though what was supposed to have happened there was typical Zionist behaviour. While not wishing to minimise the very real tragedy that befell the Chacour family and their village of Biram in 1948, not every Palestinian’s story is the same and none of Chacour’s numerous claims made regarding events outside his own village have been verified by historical records. Blood Brothers is based on memories of events and Chacour’s personal interpretations of those events that took place over sixty years ago when he was a young boy. The 2003 expanded edition of Blood Brothers carries a Foreword by former USA Secretary of State James A. Baker, who acknowledges that the book’s wider historical claims remain unverified by historians and are simply Chacour’s childhood memories. Some of the book’s other claims are only partially true as when he states, for example, on page 46, ‘The Zionists were to possess the majority of Palestine—fifty-four percent—even though they owned only seven percent of the land!’ Chacour omits to tell his readers the reason the Zionists owned so little land was because in 1940 the British had restricted the amount of land Jews could buy in Palestine. Although the first edition of Blood Brothers is packed with historical claims, it contains only eleven endnotes referring to external sources. Some of Chacour’s other claims are patently biased as, for example, when he states on page 61 that the true reason the European Zionists did not force all Palestinian Arabs out of the new Jewish state was because they did not know how to farm and were in need of cheap, experienced farm labour. This claim is unsubstantiated and reveals Chacour’s prejudiced viewpoint. The fact is that from the end of the nineteenth century, it had been the Zionist farmers who had transformed the land from being an unproductive, swampy, malaria-ridden wilderness into fertile farmland. Chacour inadvertently cast a doubt over his own reliability when he claimed on film that his forefathers would have heard Jesus preach3 even though, on his own admission, his father’s roots in Biram go back only as far as the sixteenth century4. In the village of Biram is the ruin of an ancient synagogue, which proves the existence of an ancient Jewish settlement on the site. The Jews who attended that synagogue were the ones most likely to have heard Jesus preach. An earthy paradise? The first edition of Blood Brothers carried the blurb: ‘Once Christian and Jew had shared the simple things of life together. But 1948 changed all that. The Zionists came, and almost a million Palestinians were made homeless.’ This picture of life in Palestine before 1948 is at best naïve. The situation in Palestine before the founding of the Jewish state was far from ideal. Before the UN resolution that brought Israel into existence, Jews had been returning to Palestine for hundreds of years. According to H. H. Ben Sasson, at the start of the twentieth century ‘the Jewish population had grown from 8,000-10,000 (in 1555) to be between 20,000 and 30,000 souls.’5 In painting an idyllic picture of harmonious pre-1948 interfaith relationships in Palestine, Chacour ignores the Islamic factor. The Jewish population grew only as far and for as long as the Muslim leaders tolerated the Jewish return to Zion. The first half of the twentieth century was a violent and uncertain time for Jews living in what was a backwater of the Turkish Ottoman Empire administered under the British Mandate. Murder and plunder were an expected reality of life for the Jews. In 1929 alone, sixty seven members of the Hebron Jewish community were massacred in a pogrom by their Arab neighbours6. Pogroms against the Jews of Safed took place in 1660, 1834 and 1929. Except for one survivor, the entire Jewish community of Safed was massacred in the 1660 pogrom. 7 In the Safed pogrom of 1929, at least 18 Jewish people were murdered. The 1920 Nabi Musa riots in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem left five Jews dead and 216 wounded, eighteen critically. These facts do not quite fit the picture that Chacour seeks to paint of an Edenic paradise spoilt by hordes of invading ‘Zionists’! On 15th May 1948, the day the modern state of Israel was founded, six Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state with the aim of driving all the Jews into the sea. 8 According to historian Efraim Karsh, some 583,000-609,000 Palestinians were displaced as a result of the declaration of war issued by Israel’s Arab neighbours9. Terrible though the tragedy of the Palestinians undoubtedly was, far more Jews than Arabs were made refugees by the conflict. In May 1948, some 850,000 Jews in Arab lands had their property and possessions confiscated and were then expelled10. Of that number, 586,070 arrived penniless in Israel and settled there. Blood Brothers appears to sugar coat the pre-1948 situation in order to firmly fix the blame for the conflicts since then solely on ‘the Zionists’. The type of reconciliation advocated by Elias Chacour appears to be a one-way street that leads to a cul-de-sac, condemning the Palestinians to be perpetual victims, unable either to acknowledge the wrong they have done or to come to terms with the wrongs done to them. 11 I find myself wondering if ‘reconciliation ministries’ ever encourage Palestinian Arab Christians to apologise to Israeli Messianic Jews for the massacres perpetrated against their Zionist forefathers, or must Israeli Messianic Jews be forever apologising to Palestinian Arab Christians? Vital statistics Despite the impression presented in Blood Brothers, Jewish people have lived in the land in significant numbers since the time of Joshua, and historian Moshe Gil states that at the time of the Muslim conquest of the land in AD634, a large Jewish population still lived in Palestine. We do not know whether they formed the majority but we may assume with some certainty that they did so when grouped together with the Samaritans. 12 In 1563, the Jewish population of Palestine was still large enough to warrant the establishment of the first Hebrew printing press on the Asian continent in Safed. In 1099 the Jews of Jerusalem had stood side-by-side with the Muslims to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders and by 1880 they once again formed the majority population in Jerusalem. 13 The Jewish population of Palestine grew ‘from about 50,000 in 1918 to over 550,000 in 1943, representing over a third of the total population of about 1,600,000 of whom 900,000 are Moslem Arabs and 125, 000 are Christians.’ 14 In the nineteen years between 1922 and 1941, the Jewish population of Palestine rose significantly. According to a 1922 census there were 16,577 Jews in Hebron, a figure which rose to an estimated 20,000 in 1941. In Nablus, during the same period, the number of Jewishresidentsrosefrom15,947 to 21,600. In Bethlehem, the figure rose from 6,658 to 7,800; in Ramleh it rose from 7,312 to 13,300; in Haifa it was 24,634 rising to 113,000; in Gaza it was 17,480 rising to 21,500; and in Jerusalem the Jewish community more than doubled, soaring from 62,578 to 138,000. 15 Who is a Palestinian? Before 1948, everyone who lived in Palestine – both Arab and Jew – was a Palestinian. Few who are now called ‘Palestinians’16 can trace their family line in the land back more than a few generations. In articles 6 and 7 of the PLO’s Palestinian National Charter a ‘Palestinian’ is defined arbitrarily in the following ways: Article 6: The Palestinians are those Arab citizens who were living normally in Palestine up to 1947, whether they remained or were expelled. Every child who was born to a Palestinian Arab father after this date, whether in Palestine or outside, is a Palestinian. Article 7: Jews of Palestinian origin are considered Palestinians if they are willing to live peacefully and loyally in Palestine. Questions of History There are questions of history that few readers of Blood Brothers will bother to ask as they are captivated by a tragic personal story, therefore accepting all the suggested facts of history. For example, Chacour’s claim that the Zionists deported a million Palestinian Arabs from their homes is simply false. The Arab Liberation Army (ALA) ordered the depopulation of Arab villages so they could turn them into military positions from which to launch their attacks against the fledgling Jewish state17. The destruction of Biram, Chacour’s home village in what was known as ‘the Hiram Operation’, therefore, may well have been an attempt to stop insurgency and a military offensive by the ALA. What is apparent is that Blood Brothers is a political book with a veneer of being above politics, which claims to be a story told as a vehicle for reconciliation and peace. In fact, it is a heavily politically biased book that tells a story of Palestinian pain in order to off-balance the impact of the Holocaust. Although innocent civilians had to watch the destruction of their village and separation from loved ones, most of those villagers live today as citizens of Israel having received some form of compensation for property loss. Heartbreaking though this may have been for those concerned, this cannot be described as ethnic cleansing18. However, as in all wars, there were injustices for which there has not yet been any compensation. There is no comparable correlation with what the Nazis did in the industrialised murder of six million Jewish men, women and children and what happened to Palestinian Arabs in 1948 and following. The Syrian Prime Minister in 1948–49 wrote: ‘Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.’ 18 George Kazoura, an Israeli Arab, recalls that his family left their home not because ‘the Zionists’ had ordered them out but through fear of the rumours they heard. They returned to their home over a month later to find someone else living there, who refused to believe the returning family actually owned the house and did not leave. 19 Peace and Reconciliation or Ecumenical Crusade for the Holy Land For Evangelicals, the assumed definition of a Christian in Blood Brothers should be problematical. Chacour is a Roman Catholic Melkite priest and vice president of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center20. He expresses no evangelical convictions nor does he relate a conversion experience. It seems that many European Protestant Evangelicals, who would not consider the Roman Catholic Church or the various Orthodox denominations to be authentic expressions of biblical Christianity apply a different standard when it comes to the Middle East. Such evangelicals seem to adopt an elastic definition of a Biblical Christian which includes Catholics and Orthodox in the Middle East. In many ways this could be seen as stealth ecumenicalism as such flexible definitions slowly but surely filter through and back to the home countries of such Evangelicals. Is Chacour a real peacemaker? In a talk at Calvin College in America, the author of Blood Brothers made a revealing less-than-peacemaking remark about the Jews, implying their persecution was their own fault: ‘I don’t know why Jews frighten everyone among whom they live, it’s their problem I think.’ 21 Elias Chacour, the Vatican- approved Catholic Archbishop of Israel, says ‘We do not believe anymore that the Jews are the Chosen People.’ 22 Chacour’s theology appears to be just as politicised as that of the Christian Zionists he criticises. References 1. http://www.christatthecheckpoint.com/ lectures/Br_Andrew.pdf. 2. http://www. stfrancismagazine.info/ja/pdf/2010/116- 175SFMFEB2010.pdf accessed 12/11/11. 3. http://vimeo.com/9496852 at 10 mins, accessed 12/11/11. 4. Ibid, at 24:59 mins, accessed 12/11/11. 5. H.H. Ben-Sasson, Toledot Hayehudim Bi-Mei Habeinayim (Tel Aviv, 1969), pp 239-240. Quoted in Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, (JKAP Publications, 1984), p.178). 6. Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism, (Schoken, 1989), p.256). 7. Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, (JKAP Publications, 1984), p. 178. Norman Finkelstein’s assault on Peters’s scholarly integrity has been refuted by Erich and Rael Jean Isaac in ‘Whose Palestine?’ (Commentary, July 1986), quoted in Edward Alexander & Paul Bogdanor, The Jewish Divide Over Israel (Transaction Publishers, 2006), p.155-6. 8. Martin Gilbert, The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Routledge, 2002), p.45. 9. Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, (Yale University Press, 2010), p.267. 10. http://www.hsje.org/forcedmigration. htm, accessed 15/12/11. 11. Ha’aretz article on the destruction of Biram,http://www.haaretz.com/print- edition/opinion/justice-for-ikrit-and- biram-1.71628. 12. Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine 624- 1099 (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p.3. 13. Martin Gilbert, The Routledge Atlas of Jewish History, Sixth Edition, (Routledge, 2003), p.29 14. (London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1945), p.14. 15. Ibid, p.115 16. http://www.un.int/wcm/content/site/ palestine/pid/12363, accessed 16/12/11. 17. Efraim Karsh, 18. Khaled al Azm, The Memoirs of Khaled al Azm, 3 vols. (Beirut, 1973), Part 1, pp. 386–7, quoted in Mark Tessler, A History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Indiana University Press, 1994), p.304. 19. Julia Fisher, A Future for Israel: Christian Arabs share their Stories (Authentic, 2006), p48. 20. http://www.elijah-interfaith.org/ participants/additional-prominent- religious-leaders/christian-leaders.html, accessed 11/11/11. 21. http://vimeo.com/9496852 at 11:24 mins, accessed 11/11/11. 22. http://www.ynetnews.com/ articles/0,7340,L-4137444,00.html, accessed 09/11/11.