The Palestinian Narrative: Seeking Peace by Waging War

All along, this has been the modus operandi of the Palestinian-Arabs and their supporters.  They have fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians; committed shootings, stonings, and bombings; and incited hatred and violence among the Palestinian-Arab population.  Outside the region, they seek to defame or delegitimize Israel, or to punish Israel economically.  This onslaught has been incessant.  Hardly the ingredients for “peace.”

A major conference taking place in Philadelphia, starting today and extending into tomorrow, by supporters of the Palestinian-Arabs looks to perpetuate the attacks rather than end them.

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) is staging “The Role of the US in Israel-Palestine: Current Realities and Creative Responses” at the American Friends (the Quakers) Service Committee headquarters in Center City Philadelphia.  FOSNA is a support arm of a radical Christian Palestinian-Arab group based in Jerusalem called Sabeel.

Sabeel is a stew of Christian liberation theology and replacement theology that politicizes religion to advance a political agenda.  In this case, that agenda is an end to the Israel we know and love – an Israel that serves as a vital ally to America.

Rather than truly seeking ways to coexist or to build up a normal Palestinian-Arab society, FOSNA has assembled a roster of Israel-haters and antagonists to present discussions and workshops geared toward delegitimizing and defaming Israel, hurting the Jewish state economically, and eroding support for Israel – particularly among American Christians.

Based on a conference schedule posted on its website, the FOSNA conference will encourage the termination of American military aid to Israel; recast “the Israel-Palestine conflict as a civil rights struggle, with parallels to South Africa and the American South”; seek to increase anti-Israel activities on campuses; and promote the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  FOSNA believes that the mainstream media is not already biased against Israel and thus will discuss strategies to make it more unfavorable to Israel, and to turn more Christians against Israel.

According to FOSNA's website, conference sponsors include Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers); the Catholic Peace Fellowship; the Philadelphia Coalition for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel; the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace; and the Peacemaking Committee of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

To the Jewish community, the lack of a consistent position regarding Israel within Christianity can be confusing.  Groups including Friends of Israel (founded in 1938), Christians United For Israel (founded about a decade ago), and smaller groups such as Delaware’s Olive Tree Ministries are fervently pro-Israel, while other Christians such as the Quakers and “Main Line” Protestant denominations have been antagonistic toward Israel.  This divide is as old as the modern State of Israel itself.

When the State of Israel declared its independence in 1948, many Palestinian-Christian clergymen abandoned the Hebrew Bible because they believed that it was too Zionist.  In an effort to reclaim it for their people, they replaced the Israelites with Palestinians in the narrative.  For example, instead of adhering to the biblical context of the Exodus, they supplant that with an interpretation of the Palestinian-Arabs going to the Knesset, saying: “Let my people go!”

“Palestinian Liberation Theology” takes interpretive liberties with the biblical accounts and prophecies of the Hebrew Bible in order to mold it to specific political and theological agendas.  It maintains that certain Torah passages are outdated and irrelevant, claiming they reveal a primitive way of understanding G-d’s revelation to man.  A majority of these “irrelevant” sections often involve G-d’s promise to return the Jewish people to their land, or to give them land.

“Palestinian Liberation Theology” is still considered fringe within mainstream Christianity.  Its proponents wish to advance the cause of the Palestinian Christians, who desire to create a Palestinian state.  The impetus for the movement stems from “Replacement Theology,” a faulty method of biblical interpretation that claims that the church has replaced the role of Israel in the Bible.

Sabeel and Friends of Sabeel also distort history, international law, and the situation on the ground – casting Israel as “oppressors” and responsible for every “injustice” that allegedly afflicts Palestinian-Arabs.  Everyone else is apparently blameless for their claimed suffering.  Moreover, there is no mention of Palestinian-Arabs’ and Arabs’ repeated rejections of their own state if it means living alongside a Jewish one.  Also escaping the finger-pointing is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has maintained a long-term “refugee” status for these individuals rather than resettling them, as is its directive.

In Sabeel’s view, history begins in 1948, and thus it accuses Israel of existing on “78% of historic Palestine leading to the displacement of most of its Palestinian inhabitants[.]”  Ironically, they fail to acknowledge that Jordan (née Transjordan) was created from the eastern 78% of the territory that the League of Nations had set aside for a Jewish homeland.

Further, Sabeel considers all of the land as “Palestinian,” accuses Israel of practicing “apartheid,” and dates the “occupation” to 1948.  The facts that the Palestinian Arabs rejected the U.N. Partition Plan in 1947 that offered them a state of their own, that the international community gave the land to the Jewish people for “close settlement” (as per the Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations), that Judea and Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip were illegally occupied respectively by Jordan and Egypt from 1948 to 1967, and that the charge of “apartheid” is laughable do not seem to matter.  It is truly a case of “Don’t let the facts get in the way.”

While much of this battle is an internal Christian matter, the Jewish community can play an influential role.  Activities such as the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council’s Interfaith Mission to Israel introduce Christian clergy to Israel, offering an opportunity to see and hear Israel for themselves rather than through anti-Israel propaganda.

The Zionist Organization of America frequently interacts with Christians on an organizational level and individually.  Other Jewish groups do likewise.  Contacts at the grassroots level and one-on-one conversations with friends and colleagues to convey the historical facts and current realities are also important.

As the peace process ramps up and the deadline set by America to at least reach a “framework” toward peace approaches, we who support Israel’s shared democratic values as an asset to and ally of the U.S. can and must reinforce American support for an Israel that is strong, secure, and thriving.

Steve Feldman is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia District.  Christopher J. Katulka, formerly of Langhorne, is church ministries representative and director of ORIGINS for the Friends of Israel.