April 20, 2002

Today I'm at St. John's College + Seminary participating in a celebration of Fr. Kilian McDonnell's eightieth birthday. I'll post comments after my return, but until then you should know that I'm having a wonderful time.

10:17 AM

April 16, 2002

There was a disturbance in the Blog yesterday about a poll at CAIR over whether Ariel Sharon should be tried for war crimes. Here is what I think happened:

On the evening of 4/15 Glenn Reynolds linked to the site, noted the current 94% "for" vote out of the around 500 votes cast, and implied that his readers should "weigh in." Clever! Over several hours, he motivated around 1,500 votes to pour in, almost all of which were "against" (as was mine). Around, oh, 10 p.m. PDT, the "for" vote had become a decided minority. The votes were coming in irregularly; as I refreshed my browser, sometimes the vote count would increment, sometimes it wouldn't.

Around midnight PDT I checked again. Now votes were pouring in more than ever, but regularly, at the rate of perhaps six per second – faster than they had come in two hours earlier, when more people would have been awake. I figured someone had rigged a machine to vote automatically. I chuckled and went to sleep. (Hey, it's only an "internet poll," an oxymoron you can list alongside "jumbo shrimp" and "TV news.")

In the morning the results were now reversed: 94% against, 6% for, on a basis of about 11,000 votes.

Now this looks to me like 2,000 legitimate votes, and 9,000 or so illegitimate votes. CAIR itself claimed that many of these votes came from one IP address. It would be easy enough to discount the 9,000 that came regularly from the same IP, keep the valid results, and spin the outcome. But CAIR didn't do that. Perhaps this was because the valid results, still being decidedly against their leading question, were too inconvenient. Perhaps it was because the one instance of voter fraud made them suspicious that the vote had been tampered with in other ways. At any rate, they did something truly indefensible, briefly posting results of 94% against, on a base of 2,000 votes – discounting the results but keeping the votes!

Then the poll disappeared off the main page. However, it is still on the site, where presently it shows a 50-50 split, with about 4,000 votes. (Here's a screen shot of those results, in case they disappear.) These votes must have been collected while the poll itself was unavailable through CAIR's main page, and they just happen to counterbalance the 2,000 votes that seemed to be coming in irregularly. Curiouser and curiouser.

Whoever rigged his or her machine to deliver 9,000 fraudulent votes did – apologies to Spinal Tap – a clever and stupid thing. It allowed CAIR and its sympathizers to discount the symbolic value of the votes that were valid. (Note to hackers: Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should do it. If this distinction is too hard to understand, ask your parents to remind you of the skills they taught you for surviving being two years old.)

For all I know, CAIR's panicked and angry reaction might be going over well among its constituents. But it has certainly reinforced suspicion of CAIR and its ilk among the conservative press, which immediately cast CAIR's reaction in the most negative possible light. I don't know whether the Weekly Standard bothered to do the extra legwork to distinguish between the 2,000 legitimate votes and the 9,000 illegitimate votes, but it should have.

Furthermore, the 50-50 result that now stands (with 2,000 votes materializing from – where? maybe an e-mail circulated to CAIR's mailing list only?) makes CAIR's actions on 4/16 look like vote-rigging. Incompetent vote rigging at that.

Two stupid and malicious blunders, mutually misinterpreted and cynically propagandized across the chasm that separates these two communities. Dumb and dumber. This would be very funny – on September 10. But today I'm not laughing.

9:54 PM

April 13, 2002

On April 2, Joshua Treviño, New York warblogger, wrote:

You know, I have noticed that most religion majors end up thoroughly unorthodox, completing their educations as nonbelievers, liberal Protestants, or Unitarians. They also tend to become deeply concerned with subjects they don't have a lick of formal education on – economic disparities, social policy, foreign policy, popular culture. Is this why we're running into this welter of misguided ministers? Are they products of a failed educational process?

You know, I think I had better stop writing about the Middle East.

12:09 PM

April 10, 2002

Yehuda Mirsky in The New Republic draws out the similarities and connections between twentieth century European fascism, and today's Islamism. When people claim that militant Islamism "is not Islam," this is what I wish they meant. Islamism is an unhealthy, unstable, dangerous, and (I believe) temporary synthesis of all kinds of things, only one of which is Islam. (Mirsky goes on to prescribe American foreign policy options; I mainly want to draw attention to the descriptive part of his analysis.)

9:13 AM

Matt Welch, a liberal journalist from L.A., gets it right on the grammar of Middle East commentary. This is what I was talking about, only more eloquent (and, alas, more modern).

9:02 AM

April 8, 2002

A friend of mine forwarded an account by Robin Wainwright, of the Holy Land Trust, of Israeli actions in Bethlehem last October:

Saturday, October 27, 2001

Bethlehem, Palestine
Robin Wainwright writes:

Jesus taught his followers that they were to be "salt" and "light" in the world (Matthew 5.13,14). How do we do this today? One way to be faithful to our calling is to be witnesses for truth, and witnesses against wrong and injustice. In this way we contribute toward the justice and healing required for the preservation of life and the holding back of evil and death.

I want to bear witness today to what I have seen in Bethlehem this week. What I am reporting to you is not more political propaganda to trump one cause over another. It is simply a record of a few of the events taking place this week. It is up to you to make sense of them and explain them to yourselves and others.

At least 22 people from Bethlehem have died in the past 10 days. The current cycle of killings began on October 18th with the assassinations of three young men who were on Israel's "wanted" list. Any death is tragic, but those of us who live elsewhere are usually able to read about such deaths from the newspaper over our breakfast and shrug them off as the unfortunate but unavoidable price of conflict.

However, the stories of the 19 others who died this week, and the events surrounding them, are deeply disturbing, and force us to look deeper into the reality of the Palestinian experience under occupation. I can tell you a few of these stories first hand.

On Friday, October 19th, Musa George Abu Aid, 19 years old, was shot in his living room standing next to his father, and collapsed dead as his father stood helplessly. An Israeli sniper could evidently see shadows through the living room window curtains. Identities were not important to the shooters.

On this same day a young mother in a village just south of Bethlehem had gone into labor and was experiencing complications. Her husband put her in the car and tried to rush her to the hospital in Jerusalem. He was blocked by Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint near Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem and refused permission to pass. Despite all his desperate pleadings they maintained their refusal as precious time slipped away. His wife, Marian Suboh, 28, and her unborn child died waiting for hope.

On Saturday, October 20, a young 17-year-old boy named Johnny Thaljiah was walking across Manger Square at noon. If any of you have come to the Church of the Nativity as a pilgrim in the past three years, you may have met Johnny. He would often sit at the entrance to the Church and hand out scarves or other covering for those who wished to enter the Church but were inappropriately attired. An Orthodox Christian, on this day he had just been at worship with his family in Nativity Church. He was carrying the baby of one of his cousins, trying to make the baby laugh. Less than 100 feet from Nativity Church, he was shot by an Israeli sniper from a hill nearly a mile away. Johnny gently lay the baby down on the stones of Manger Square and then fell over dead. Johnny was not on anyone's "wanted" list. He was a Christian worshipping with his family in the oldest Christian church in the world. We do not know why Johnny was chosen as a human target. But the snipers are very good. And their equipment was the very newest and best sniper rifles U.S. tax dollars could buy. They had good success.

This remark, and others that follow, undercut the earlier claim that this account is "not more political propaganda to trump one cause over another. It is simply a record of a few of the events taking place this week." So does Wainwright's habit of identifying Christians among the dead, but not Muslims. But that is beside my point in reproducing his letter. Of course this is not simply a record of a few events. It is a Christian's portrait of Israeli oppression in Bethlehem. So let's make sure we read it as such.

Later that day Rania Elias Kharofah, a 22 years old Orthodox Christian and a mother of two young children, convinced her husband that she should drive to get food because it might not be safe for a man. While on her way to the store she was shot in the arm by sniper fire. She got out of her car and took refuge in a shop. An Israeli tank approached the shop and all the people in the shop ran out into the street. Rania, wounded and unable to run, tried to crouch back in a corner and hide. The tank shelled the shop and covered it with machine gun fire. Rania was later found dead with multiple bullet wounds.

Also on Saturday Eisha Abu Ada, 39, and a mother of 8 children, left her family in Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem and visit her parents to see if they were safe and to seek to provide anything they might need under the siege. This brave, devoted daughter was shot by a sniper bullet in her parents' yard.

On Sunday, October 21st, Muhammad Baraga, 30, a deaf person, was shot by Israeli soldiers in front of his home because he could not hear their orders to him.

On Tuesday, October 23rd, Christian leaders in Jerusalem organized a march to pass through the checkpoint at Rachel's tomb to break the siege. Television cameras joined the procession. When they arrived at the checkpoint the blockade had been lifted and tanks mysteriously disappeared throughout Bethlehem. For two hours no sniper fire was heard as the Christian procession made its way to the Nativity Church at Manger Square and held a worship service to pray for the people of Bethlehem.

By early afternoon the Christian protesters were gone and the tanks were back. That night and for the next two nights wide destruction was visited on Manger Street beginning one block from our office building. As I walked up the street on Thursday, I counted at least 21 shops on the west side of the street that were completely demolished and their contents destroyed. Israeli tanks had simply driven into the shops, crushing walls, doors, and goods inside. In some shops they fired shells so that they were also set on fire. Some of these ruined buildings included the humble one or two-room homes of the shopkeepers.

The tanks had also driven down a narrow back alley behind these shops, shelling the crowded, meager homes there, strafing families' windows with machine gun fire, and dislodging foundations, walls and balconies with the tank tracks and cannon barrels. The whole scene was like some bizarre video game was being played out on the streets of Bethlehem.

On the east side of the street nine other shops had been destroyed in the same manner. Six of these shops were at the street level of the Paradise Hotel, owned by the Abu Aitah family, Orthodox Christians from Beit Sahour (Shepherds Field). Fires broke out from the destruction of the shops and caught an overhead canopy on fire.

The Palestinian fire department tried to arrive on the scene to save the six-story hotel above the shops, but they were denied access for hours by the Israeli tanks and soldiers. Sami Awad and I stood by helplessly one block away (we could not get closer because of menacing tank guns) and watched as the flames went higher and the rest of the hotel was gutted by fire.

Throughout the middle of the week, much similar wanton destruction was done in other parts of the city that we were unable to see first hand for several days because it was dangerous to move about due to sniper fire. The multi-storied, modern Kar'aa Shopping Center building was shelled and burned. Shells were fired upon Bethlehem University. The maternity hospital of St. Joseph's was partially destroyed and infants had to be evacuated under fire.

Bullets strafed the main hospital in Bethlehem several times.

Constant shelling destroyed numerous homes in the Aida and Azza refugee camps. Most of you would not even call many of the structures of these camps homes. Refugee families have been living in pitiful, tin roofed cement brick cubicles since 1948. By now the number of people, or even families, per room is unthinkable by our standards. But these poor buildings were their home. They have tried to make improvements and take pride in their camp quarters. At least they provided some kind of shelter from the winter cold. These are the poorest of the poor in Bethlehem. Nonetheless, their "homes" were believed worthy of concentrated destruction. Shelling on these refugee camps is still going on this very day.

At first we heard all these reports in disbelief, but by Friday were able to drive around Bethlehem and see much of this damage with our own eyes. And the killings continued. On Wednesday, October 24th, Issa Jalil el-Ali, a 55-year-old Catholic Christian who was the father of five, was hit by a sniper bullet bringing food home to his family. His wife was in the car beside him but could do nothing as he died. Sami Awad and I attended his funeral at the Church of the Nativity on Thursday. During this day, 39-year-old Salama al-Dibis, the father of nine children, was killed by sniper bullets at the front of his house. On the afternoon of Friday, October 26th, 28-year-old Faras Salahat was joyfully running last minute errands in preparation for his wedding that very night. He was shot by sniper fire and the families gathered for the wedding feast attended his funeral the following day.

The stories go on like this but I can't bear any more and I am sure you can't either. All of the events I am describing to you have been senseless acts of murder and destruction. No military objectives were achieved, except to give the message to the people of Bethlehem that the Israeli army and government could do anything they wanted at any time to anyone and no one in the world would be able to stop them. The officially designated name given by the Israeli military for this operation in Bethlehem was called "Knife through Butter". They knew it would be easy and that little resistance could be given to the most heinous acts. They must also know that such an operation can only create deeper despair and greater fury among the population of Bethlehem, historically one of the more peaceful towns in the West Bank. Why?

Here's why: The goal of incursions like this has been to disempower a Palestine proto-state that resorts to violence and even terrorism to fight for its cause, and whose cause goes beyond mere survival to include the annihilation of the state of Israel. Israel's incursions in March and April have had the same goal, though they have adopted clearer and more effective strategies to realize them.

Palestinians, Muslim and Christian, need to understand that they are caught in the middle of a war. Israel is going to fight that war. That's what governments do when they are threatened on all sides by states committed to their destruction, and by a Palestinian Authority that uses civilian cover to fight its battles. Who did what to whom in the first place is quite beside the point. Israel exists today as a nation-state, and it is not going to disappear just because other people as it to disappear. It is going to defend itself by the methods it sees necessary according to its story of peoplehood, historical anti-Judaism, Israeli dispersion, ghettoization, Zionism, Shoah, Middle East resistance, international hypocrisy, and European indifference.

Israelis already understand that they too are caught in the middle of a war. Neighboring regimes and the Palestinian Authority are going to fight that war too. They have pursued it since before the founding of Israel. They have never given up the cause. Some see the conflict defensively, others opportunistically. All wage it by the methods they see necessary according to their stories of Muslim manifest destiny and lost glory, colonial and post-colonial injustice and victimhood, cynical political self-preservation and scapegoating, jihad, honor, Jewish world domination, desperate utilitarianism, and U.S.-Israeli indifference.

Both sides' notions of justice are embedded in those stories. Wishful thinking will not dissolve the incompatibilities. Education will not reconcile them. But ignorance will exacerbate the conflict and lead all parties down even more hopeless paths.

I do not mind that Wainwright's account goes beyond "mere reporting" to condemn Israeli atrocities. But I do wish it would place blame not just at the Israeli armies committing them, but at the Palestinian terrorists (and, among their sponsors, the PA and neighboring regimes) whose tactics have put Palestinians themselves at risk. Calling Israel to account prophetically for its injustices does some good. Doing it without mentioning Palestinian injustices threatens to undo all that good. It risks distorting prophecy into reason for justifying further pro-Palestinian injustices.

Perhaps Wainwright's letter was just intended to evoke sympathy and invite readers to lament with those who suffer. It certainly is not intended to replace American attitudes of "Israel, right or wrong" with attitudes of "Palestine, right or wrong." Wainwright's organization condemns Israeli and Palestinian violence. But insofar as the letter names specific examples of the former but not the latter, it has that effect, and so it will not serve the sufferers.

When Palestinians smuggle explosives through checkpoints in ambulances, what do they expect Israel to do? If Palestinians really want ambulances to get to the injured, don't they bear some responsibility to do all that is in their power to stop the smuggling of explosives in ambulances? If they want any measure of national sovereignty and trust from Israel, don't they bear some responsibility to cut off the networks feeding the PA with weapons from Iran and elsewhere? Do Israeli provocations absolve them of these responsibilities?

Part of the problem in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza – part of the problem – is that Palestinians have allowed themselves to be led by a career terrorist. Until that stops, Israel is simply going to keep doing these kinds of things.

Witnesses can and should write what they see, and prophets can and should call for Israel to act justly. Wainwright, a graduate of my college and a fellow alumnus of my seminary, has my thanks and support for bearing witness. We Christians need to hear and weigh him. But prophets who will not call for the restraint of their own people are hypocrites, even false prophets. Is Wainwright willing to call for Palestinians to restrain themselves too, first, even when provoked, in the hope that in doing it they are following Jesus, reigning King of kings, who did not return evil with evil, but returned evil with good?

Back to Wainwright's account:

The senseless destruction of what will surely be millions of dollars of property will significantly damage the economies of Bethlehem and Palestine as a whole, economies already collapsing from 13 months of siege. For individual shopkeepers and property owners it will mean their complete ruin.

Many believe that the best hope to end what Israel is labeling "terrorism" is to create a viable state and economy in the West Bank and Gaza that will give the Palestinians secure land and homes and with them new hope and purpose. Why then is the Israeli army, which declares that it is "only seeking to secure the safety of our Jewish citizens", engaging in acts that will unquestionably lead to deeper hatred and strongly encourage many more young men to take up arms to defend their families and their families' honor? Why?

One last story. Today, Saturday, October 27th, Sami Awad and I went to visit the father of Johnny Thaljiah, the young boy killed in Manger Square one week ago. After sharing his grief for a time, he asked us to go with him to attend another memorial service taking place in Manger Square for several other young men killed during the week. More than 100 people had gathered in the Square, representing many families from Bethlehem, to express their grief and share their condolences with the families of the dead. As the service was in progress, suddenly five or six shots whistled over our heads across the Square. People began running for cover in various directions, mindful that Johnny had been killed in the Square in just this way.

Sami and I began walking across the Square with Johnny's father, heading back to his home. When we got near the spot where Johnny was killed another volley of shots was fired over the Square. Then Sami pointed to one of the crosses on top of the Church of the Nativity. This time their target was a lighted Orthodox cross on the roof of the Church. From a mile away, and at the angle they were shooting, this was an extremely difficult target. But the expert snipers managed to hit the center of the cross with several shots. The sacred grief of the gathered mourners had been disrupted by the desire of the Israeli snipers to send us a message. And the message was?

Their message is less important than our message. What's ourmessage – the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ – to fellow Christians, back to Israelis, and out to the rest of the world? Is the Church really going to let others set the terms of the conversation? Is that what Jesus did?

If such an act had been committed in the U.S. against a Church or Synagogue, those committing the act would be hunted down and subjected to very severe penalties of laws that address "hate crimes" (acts committed as expressions of hatred toward any religious or ethnic group). In the occupied territories of Palestine, such acts are sponsored by the military of Israel and supported by U.S. tax dollars.

Why was a cross used as target practice? Why are innocent civilians being terrorized in their homes and murdered in the streets? Why is property being senselessly destroyed? Why? Why? Why?

And who will stop any of these things from happening again tomorrow?

Israel is very confident that no one will. Who would dare?

Bearing witness from Bethlehem,

Robin Wainwright, Holy Land Trust USA

Sami Awad, Holy Land Trust Palestine

Please take this letter seriously. Mr. Wainwright's account of Israeli atrocities needs to be heard. Please visit his website and learn more about the Holy Land Trust. But please also resist the temptation simply to take one of the sides of the present conflict. We are called to judge ourselves before judging our enemies. Palestinian Christians could, should, must also ask – and with the Spirit's gift of discernment, answer these questions too:

Why was a Passover seder used as the setting for a massacre? Why are innocent civilians being terrorized in their shops and murdered in the streets? Why is property being senselessly destroyed? Why? Why? Why?

And who will stop any of these things from happening again tomorrow?

Yasser Arafat is very confident that no one will. Who would dare?

If we evade questions like these, then we have our answer to why Israeli soldiers use church crosses as target practice.

Yet Christian witness goes further than offering even these questions and answers. Will we, the Church of Jesus Christ, dare to be and proclaim an alternative? Will we tell the story of Jesus' overthrow of Herodians, Zealots, and Roman collaborators alike, by inviting them to his common table and feeding them with his broken, bloody, buried, risen, imperishable body? Will we step outside the categories of the world? Will we stop being unwitting and witting mercenaries in other people's wars, and fight the one battle in which we have been enlisted, and which has actually already been won?

11:39 AM

April 3, 2002

You might have noticed in my post below that I didn't mention negotiations between the PA and Israel. Here's why they don't figure in my analysis.

Much of the time, we in the West pursue our lives under the modern fiction that people are, or can be, fundamentally reasonable in some universal sense of the word. But occasionally events reveal fundamental incommensurabilities in the way people see the world. An example in my life is Los Angeles in 1992. The Rodney King verdicts and the ensuing violence across L.A. exposed radically different narratives among blacks, whites, and others. White Angelenos saw the LAPD as a force for protection and justice. Black Angelenos saw the LAPD as a force of oppression. These interpretations were rooted in vastly different social histories that interpreted different interactions with police in correspondingly different ways. For all the efforts at understanding each other, there was still really no way to convince each party of the other's reasonableness.

The fault lines reemerged in 1995 during the O.J. Simpson trial. Communities narrated one event in radically different ways, according to different plausibility structures reinforced by different experiences of life in America.

Dialogue and friendship across communities – listening patiently to the way others see the world – can ease the tension. But it can never eliminate it. Incommensurable worldviews run too deep. Constitutive arratives are too powerful. With great effort and over a long time, one can learn to see the world through others' eyes. But it is always a borrowed vision, not a native one. Building a bridge across a canyon does not fill in the canyon.

The only way differences can be truly overcome is through life together. Ludwig Wittgenstein shows this brilliantly through his explorations of the depth grammar of human knowledge, a grammar rooted in specific forms of life and embodied in the practices (or language-games) of those forms of life. True understanding comes through true community, and true community is a matter not just through physical proximity or mutual civic involvement, but radically common life.

Modern pluralism and multiculturalism have yet to appreciate the depth of our differences. They prescribe facile remedies for deep-seated problems on the mistaken notion that borrowed vision can substitute for common life.

Pluralists and multiculturalists endlessly prescribe dialogue and negotiation as the hope of the Middle East. They fail to appreciate that the narratives of Israeli, Palestinian, and other Muslim communities are so radically incommensurable that even borrowed vision, let alone common life, have become impossible.

Palestinians and the majority-Muslim nation states surrounding them have never really given up the dream of annihilating Israel. Only that outcome of the conflict is truly satisfying to a mindset that can never accept "the loss of Muslim land." Israel, on the other hand, insists on survival: "There will be no second Holocaust." These two narratives are not so much rooted in ancient biblical history, as the historically naïve commonly assume. (Islamism is not really about Ishmael and Arabs, and Zionism is not really about the Mosaic Law.) They are rooted in more recent histories: the conquest and decline of the Arab Muslim world, and the legacy of anti-Semitic Europe and Russia.

I see no way to make these two stories commensurable, no solution that will satisfy both communities. Furthermore, given the increasing shrillness of both sides' storytelling, I see no hope of progress through dialogue and diplomacy. They assume not only that borrowed vision is enough, but that borrowed vision is wanted on either side. (They also ignore the competing interests of other parties – an America preparing for war against Iraq, an Iran/Iraq/Syria pursuing destabilization of the region for their own ends – that complicate and interfere with the process.)

What, then, will be the outcome? War, almost certainly. If it ends in the decisive defeat of one of these sides, then the problem may be resolved for the foreseeable future. If not, the conflict will be carried over to another day, perhaps to be influenced by some other development (such as a U.S. victory in Iraq, a new regime in Iran, and a newly isolated Saudi Arabia).

What is the solution? The parties need to be assimilated into one common story and share one common life. Perhaps this story will be global democratic capitalism. Perhaps it will be resurgent Islam (Israel having been annihilated and Jews having fled to America and other Western refuges). My hope is that it is in a growing Christian Church in the Middle East that again, as it once did, offers reconciliation and peace for oppressors and oppressed, for Jews and Gentiles. My hope is that the Church will again take is rightful place as Jerusalem's blessing to the nations, and the nations' blessing to Jerusalem. It seems an impossible dream, but it is the only peace plan assured of victory. Christians who have utterly abdicated and violated that commission can start bringing that victory by repenting of our past failures, by repudiating the false gods we have worshipped in the place of Christ our King, by rediscovering what it is to be his Church, and by taking the good news that brought us peace to those who do not yet experience it.

(This is not about the Middle East becoming Western, or European, or American. It is not about Jews ceasing to be Jewish, or Muslims abandoning their culture. The Church of Jesus Christ is a fellowship of peoples, "the Israel of God" [Gal. 6:16].)

The UN, EU, and U.S. State Department are not equipped to do any of this. All of them, bewitched by modernism's quick fixes and artificial metanarratives, are in fact manufacturers of golden calves, false hopes that distract not only the warring parties, but even the Church from its calling to mediate Christ's peace to the world. The task belongs to us alone.

11:28 AM

I had a conversation with a student yesterday whose pro-Palestinian views are being stressed to the breaking point after the last week of suicide-bomber terrorism. Here is what I told her:

Christians maintain that violating God's rules carries dire consequences for those who call upon God's name. It is not "anti-Israel" to condemn Israeli abuses. Nor is it "anti-Palestinian" or "anti-Muslim" to condemn abuses in the Umma. It is prophetic. Now Christians are not called to prophesy in order to maintain holiness among Jews and Muslims. We are called to prophesy in order to maintain holiness in the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5), into which Jews and Muslims are invited. But in the service of guiding the Church, Christians are called to discern the actions of those outside the fellowship, in order that our own witness may be more effective.

In this case, I think discernment means calling the actions of Palestinians as well as Israelis as we see them. I accept that Israel has wronged Palestinians ever since its founding. It does not follow that Palestinian terror tactics have ever been justified. In fact, the hardening of Palestinian tactics has arguably cost Palestinian authorities whatever moral standing they ever had "over" Israel. No injustice justifies what Palestinians have been doing. None.

How do I know this? I know it because people have taught me the example of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus suffered under Israel's oppressors, but he did not adopt their tactics. He did not apologize for fellow Jews who broke under the pressure and embraced Zealotry. He stayed the course, accepted his Father's will, forgave his persecutors, waited for vindication, and found it beyond the grave. As a result, tax collectors and Zealots alike found a place at his table of peace.

Much of the pro-Palestinian discourse on the Middle East has followed a particular literary form: First, admit that suicide bombings are atrocities. Second, call attention to the conditions that have led to them. Third, link the two claims with the conjunction "but".

I think that literary form is theologically indefensible. It qualifies the condemnation according to circumstances. The proper form should be reversed. First, allow that conditions of injustice have led to the current tactics. Second, state unequivocally that (besides their long-term counterproductivity) atrocities like terrorism and suicide bombings violate God's law.

Wouldn't we apply those same standards to our own moral integrity as Christian communities? Isn't it hypocrisy not only to commit atrocities, but to qualify their condemnation? Insofar as Christians seek to justify the evil actions of others, we are hypocritical ourselves, for despite our mouthing the words that Jesus is Lord, we are appealing to some authority besides him.

The fact that all three of our traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – maintain that God punishes faithlessness only adds to the irony. We need not appeal even to the teachings of Jesus to make the point, but could appeal to the teachings of the perpetrators themselves. But I think those rhetorical tactics backfire, risking the relapse into the same hypocrisy. To call for Muslims to be "better" Muslims is relativistic and reduces the Church to being a surrogate prophet for responsible Islam. This is not what we are called to be. We in the Church have only one authority who teaches us to know the times and call the world to repentance and restoration. Furthermore, we in the Church understand our final authority to be the Authority of All Authorities.

(Among the pro-Israeli camp, the discourse looks like this: First, admit that Israeli incursions are regrettable. Second, call attention to the Palestinian tactics that have made them necessary. Third, link the two claims with the conjunction "but". Why then are Israelis not subject to the same critique? But I believe ruling authorities have a God-given duty to protect the lives of their people, even when they must resort to force to do it. Insofar as a government exercises force justly, its actions are appropriate. Insofar as a government exercises force unjustly, it is subject to the same critique. I see a fundamental asymmetry in the present conflict is that Israeli authorities are fighting a defensive war against Palestinian authorities who want to see Israel annihilated, and target the murders of innocent civilians in order to reach that goal. I am ready to be convinced otherwise – convinced that Israel is violating God's justice just as profoundly as the PA – in which case, Palestinians would not be excused, but Israelis merely condemned along with them. But so far I have been unconvinced, and events since the Passover Massacre are making the case for symmetry harder than ever to establish.)

My heart goes out to Israelis and Jews worldwide who are suffering under a virulent anti-Semitism that the Church itself helped fuel for centuries. My heart goes out to Muslims in Palestine worldwide who are suffering under an aggressively self-defensive Israel, and suffering even more profoundly under incompetent and evil rulers who look only to the perpetuation of their own power, and wrap themselves in green even as they warp their Muslim tradition, perhaps irreparably, into malignant hate. My heart goes out to Christians caught in the middle, who are immersed in the grammar of vigilantism and vengeance, and whose guilt over our own past sins weakens their resolve to witness to Jesus alone as the hope of the world.

It is sympathetically, then, that we who follow Jesus as the only truly faithful one must – must – point to him as the way, the truth, and the life for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else. Fidelity to his example and inclusion in his Kingdom are what the Church alone can offer. We need to offer them forever, after every new atrocity, in the face of every new persecution, until our Lord returns.

Following centuries of even more profound injustice and abuse, the black Church defeated white racist America, without recourse to violence, because it looked to Jesus for its tactics and its hope. That option has been open to Palestinians ever since 1947, and they have repeatedly refused to exercise it.

Seek him, and live by his faithfulness. Refuse him, and die by your swords. It really is that simple.

10:11 AM


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