What Christians Don't Know About Israel

What Christians Don't Know About Israel

American Jews sympathetic to Israel dominate key positions in all areas
 of our government where decisions are made regarding the Middle East.
 This being the case, is there any hope of ever changing U.S. policy?
 President Bill Clinton as well as most members of Congress support
 Israel-and they know why. U.S. Jews sympathetic to Israel donate lavishly
 to their campaign coffers. .
 
 The answer to achieving an even-handed Middle East policy might lie
 elsewhere-among those who support Israel but don't really know why. This
 group is the vast majority of Americans. They are well-meaning,
 fair-minded Christians who feel bond ed to Israel-and Zionism-often from
 atavistic feelings, in some cases dating from childhood.
 
 I am one of those. I grew up listening to stories of a mystical,
 allegorical, spiritual Israel. This was before a modern political entity
 with the same name appeared on our maps. I attended Sunday School and
 watched an instructor draw down window- type shades to show maps of the
 Holy Land. I imbibed stories of a Good and Chosen people who fought
 against their Bad "unChosen" enemies.
 
 In my early 20s, I began traveling the world, earning my living as a
 writer. I came to the subject of the Middle East rather late in my
 career. I was sadly lacking in knowledge regarding the area. About all I
 knew was what I had learned in Sunday School.
 
 And typical of many U.S. Christians, I somehow considered a modern state
 created in 1948 as a homeland for Jews persecuted under the Nazis as a
 replica of the spiritual, mystical Israel I heard about as a child. When
 in 1979 I initially went to Jerusalem, I planned to write about the three
 great monotheistic religions and leave out politics. "Not write about
 politics?" scoffed one Palestinian, smoking a waterpipe in the Old Walled
 City. "We eat politics, morning, noon and night!"
 
 As I would learn, the politics is about land, and the co-claimants to
 that land: the indigenous Palestinians who have lived there for 2,000
 years and the Jews who started arriving in large numbers after the Second
 World War. By living among Israeli Jews as well as Palestinian Christians
 and Muslims, I saw, heard, smelled, experienced the police state tactics
 Israelis use against Palestinians.
 
 My research led to a book entitled Journey to Jerusalem. My journey not
 only was enlightening to me as regards Israel, but also I came to a
 deeper, and sadder, understanding of my own country. I say sadder
 understanding because I began to see that, in Middle East politics, we
 the people are not making the decisions, but rather that supporters of
 Israel are doing so. And typical of most Americans, I tended to think the
 U.S. media was "free" to print news impartially.
 
 "It shouldn't be published. It's anti-Israel."
 
 In the late 1970s, when I first went to Jerusalem, I was unaware that
 editors could and would classify "news" depending on who was doing what
 to whom. On my initial visit to Israel-Palestine, I had interviewed
 dozens of young Palestinian men. About one in four related stories of
 torture.
 
 Israeli police had come in the night, dragged them from their beds and
 placed hoods over their heads. Then in jails the Israelis had kept them
 in isolation, besieged them with loud, incessant noises, hung them upside
 down and had sadistically mutilated their genitals. I had not read such
 stories in the U.S. media. Wasn't it news? Obviously, I naively thought,
 U.S. editors simply didn't know it was happening.
 
 On a trip to Washington, DC, I hand-delivered a letter to Frank
 Mankiewicz, then head of the public radio station WETA. I explained I had
 taped interviews with Palestinians who had been brutally tortured. And
 I'd make them available to him. I got no reply. I made several phone
 calls. Eventually I was put through to a public relations person, a Ms.
 Cohen, who said my letter had been lost. I wrote again. In time I began
 to realize what I hadn't known: had it been Jews who were strung up and
 tortured, it would be news. But interviews with tortured Arabs were
 "lost" at WETA.
 
 The process of getting my book Journey to Jerusalem published also was a
 learning experience. Bill Griffin, who signed a contract with me on
 behalf of MacMillan Publishing Company, was a former Roman Cath olic
 priest. He assured me that no one other than himself would edit the book.
 As I researched the book, making several trips to Israel and Palestine, I
 met frequently with Griffin, showing him sample chapters. "Terrific," he
 said of my material.
 
 The day the book was scheduled to be published, I went to visit
 MacMillan's. Checking in at a reception desk, I spotted Griffin across a
 room, cleaning out his desk. His secretary Margie came to greet me. In
 tears, she whispered for me to meet her in the ladies room. When we were
 alone, she confided, "He's been fired." She indicated it was because he
 had signed a contract for a book that was sympathetic to Palestinians.
 Griffin, she said, had no time to see me.
 
 Later, I met with another MacMillan official, William Curry. "I was told
 to take your manuscript to the Israeli Embassy, to let them read it for
 mistakes," he told me. "They were not pleased. They asked me, 'You are
 not going to publish this book, are you?' I asked, 'Were there mistakes?'
 'Not mistakes as such. But it shouldn't be published. It's anti-Israel.'"
 
 
 Somehow, despite obstacles to prevent it, the presses had started
 rolling. After its publication in 1980, I was invited to speak in a
 number of churches. Christians generally reacted with disbelief. Back
 then, there was little or no coverage of Israeli land confiscation,
 demolition of Palestinian homes, wanton arrests and torture of
 Palestinian civilians.
 
 The Same Question
 
 Speaking of these injustices, I invariably heard the same question, "How
 come I didn't know this?" Or someone might ask, "But I haven't read about
 that in my newspaper." To these church audiences, I related my own
 learning experience, that of seeing hordes of U.S. correspondents
 covering a relatively tiny state. I pointed out that I had not seen so
 many reporters in world capitals such as Beijing, Moscow, London, Tokyo,
 Paris. Why, I asked, did a small state with a 1980 population of only
 four million warrant more reporters than China, with a billion people?
 
 I also linked this query with my findings that The New York Times , The
 Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post-and most of our nation's print
 media-are owned and/or controlled by Jews supportive of Israel. It was
 for this reason, I deduced, that they sent so many reporters to cover
 Israel-and to do so largely from the Israeli point of view.
 
 My learning experiences also included coming to realize how easily I
 could lose a Jewish friend if I criticized the Jewish state. I could with
 impunity criticize France, England, Russia, even the United States. And
 any aspect of life in America. But not the Jewish state. I lost more
 Jewish friends than one after the publication of Journey to Jerusalem-all
 sad losses for me and one, perhaps, saddest of all.
 
 In the 1960s and 1970s, before going to the Middle East, I had written
 about the plight of blacks in a book entitled Soul Sister, and the plight
 of American Indians in a book entitled Bessie Yellowhair, and the
 problems endured by undocumented workers crossing from Mexico in The
 Illegals. These books had come to the attention of the "mother" of The
 New York Times, Mrs. Arthur Hays Sulzberger.
 
 Her father had started the newspaper, then her husband ran it, and in the
 years that I knew her, her son was the publisher. She invited me to her
 fashionable apartment on Fifth Avenue for lunches and dinner parties.
 And, on many occasions, I was a weekend guest at her Greenwich, Conn.
 home.
 
 She was liberal-minded and praised my efforts to speak for the underdog,
 even going so far in one letter to say, "You are the most remarkable
 woman I ever knew." I had little concept that from being buoyed so high I
 could be dropped so suddenly when I discovered-from her point of view-the
 "wrong" underdog.
 
 As it happened, I was a weekend guest in her spacious Connecticut home
 when she read bound galleys of Journey to Jerusalem. As I was leaving,
 she handed the galleys back with a saddened look: "My dear, have you
 forgotten the Holocaust?" She felt that what happened in Nazi Germany to
 Jews several decades earlier should silence any criticism of the Jewish
 state. She could focus on a holocaust of Jews while negating a modern day
 holocaust of Palestinians.
 
 I realized, quite painfully, that our friendship was ending. Iphigene
 Sulzberger had not only invited me to her home to meet her famous friends
 but, also at her suggestion, The Times had requested articles. I wrote
 op-ed articles on various subjects including American blacks, American
 Indians as well as undocumented workers. Since Mrs. Sulzberger and other
 Jewish officials at the Times highly praised my efforts to help these
 groups of oppressed peoples, the dichotomy became apparent: most
 "liberal" U.S. Jews stand on the side of all poor and oppressed peoples
 save one-the Palestinians.
 
 How handily these liberal Jewish opinion-molders tend to diminish the
 Palestinians, to make them invisible, or to categorize them all as
 "terrorists."
 
 Interestingly, Iphigene Sulzberger had talked to me a great deal about
 her father, Adolph S. Ochs. She told me that he was not one of the early
 Zionists. He had not favored the creation of a Jewish state.
 
 Yet, increasingly, American Jews have fallen victim to Zionism, a
 nationalistic movement that passes for many as a religion. While the
 ethical instructions of all great religions-including the teachings of
 Moses, Muhammad and Christ-stress that all human beings are equal,
 militant Zionists take the position that the killing of a non-Jew does
 not count.
 
 Over five decades now, Zionists have killed Palestinians with impunity.
 And in the 1996 shelling of a U.N. base in Qana, Lebanon, the Israelis
 killed more than 100 civilians sheltered there. As an Israeli journalist,
 Arieh Shavit, explains of the massacre, "We believe with absolute
 certitude that right now, with the White House in our hands, the Senate
 in our hands and The New York Times in our hands, the lives of others do
 not count the same way as our own."
 
 Israelis today, explains the anti-Zionist Jew Israel Shahak, "are not
 basing their religion on the ethics of justice. They do not accept the
 Old Testament as it is written. Rather, religious Jews turn to the
 Talmud. For them, the Talmudic Jewish laws become 'the Bible.' And the
 Talmud teaches that a Jew can kill a non-Jew with impunity."
 
 In the teachings of Christ, there was a break from such Talmudic
 teachings. He sought to heal the wounded, to comfort the downtrodden.
 
 The danger, of course, for U.S. Christians is that having made an icon of
 Israel, we fall into a trap of condoning whatever Israel does-even wanton
 murder-as orchestrated by God.
 
 Yet, I am not alone in suggesting that the churches in the United States
 represent the last major organized support for Palestinian rights. This
 imperative is due in part to our historic links to the Land of Christ and
 in part to the moral issues involved with having our tax dollars fund
 Israeli-government-approved violations of human rights.
 
 While Israel and its dedicated U.S. Jewish supporters know they have the
 president and most of Congress in their hands, they worry about
 grassroots America-the well-meaning Christians who care for justice. Thus
 far, most Christians were unaware of what it was they didn't know about
 Israel. They were indoctrinated by U.S. supporters of Israel in their own
 country and when they traveled to the Land of Christ most all did so
 under Israeli sponsorship. That being the case, it was unlikely a
 Christian ever met a Palestinian or learned what caused the
 Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
 This is gradually changing, however. And this change disturbs the
 Israelis. As an example, delegates attending a Christian Sabeel
 conference in Bethlehem earlier this year said they were harassed by
 Israeli security at the Tel Aviv airport.
 
 "They asked us," said one delegate, "'Why did you use a Palestinian
 travel agency? Why didn't you use an Israeli agency?'" The interrogation
 was so extensive and hostile that Sabeel leaders called a special session
 to brief the delegates on how to handle the harassment. Obviously, said
 one delegate, "The Israelis have a policy to discourage us from visiting
 the Holy Land except under their sponsorship. They don't want Christians
 to start learning all they have never known about Israel."
 
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 Washington, DC-based writer Grace Halsell is the author of 14 books,
 including Journey to Jerusalem and Prophecy and Politics.

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