Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Intra-Catholic Tension on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

This is the record of an impromptu discussion between Catholics for Israel and Fr. Jamal Khader, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Bethlehem University and one of the authors of the Kairos Palestine document. It took place recently on this website, in the discussion forum under the article on Replacement Theology. We repost it here because it illustrates well the wide gap that exists between positions held by Catholics, and how, sadly, politics in the Holy Land too often overshadow theological discussion. Comments are welcome to continue the debate!

21/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

What is Displacement Theology? It is a "theology" that uses the Word of God to justify the occupation of Palestinian land and the displacement of Palestinians from their land in the name of the prophecies and the promises of the Old Testament. In the name of fighting Replacement theology and Anti-Semitism, Christians try to amend for what they did to Jews (the horrible massacres of the Holocaust) at the expense of the Palestinians, and in their land. The Word of God is Good News to all, including to me, a Palestinian Christian. Remember that!

21/11/2010 Ariel

dear Fr. Khader,

thank you for your comment. You are right that the Word of God is good news for all, including Palestinian Christians like yourself. As we state often, Catholics for Israel is against every form of injustice. We know that our Palestinian brothers and sisters have suffered much, and we pray that you may live in peace, justice and dignity. Although the Scriptures are clear that there is an inseparable bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, we agree that this should never be used to justify the unjust displacement of Palestinians or other injustices.

However, many Palestinian Christians tragically sabotage their own cause by embracing replacement theology and rejecting their biblical connection to the Jewish people and God's promises to them. One example is the disastrous 'Kairos Palestine' document which has brought shame on the Christians of the Holy Land by its extremist political views, whitewashing of terrorism and minimizing the islamic threat to Christians, and unjustly blaming Israel for all problems in the Holy Land. We pray that Palestinian Christians will stop cutting themselves off from their own roots. By acknowledging God's promises to His people Israel you will not harm your cause; on the contrary, it will be the source of abundant blessings, for God is faithful to His Word, and He blesses those who bless His people Israel!

22/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

I am one of the authors of the Kairos document. I don't see any "extremist political views" or any other accusations you state. You are uprooting us from our land in the name of the Bible. "By acknowledging God's promises to His people", your way, does not only harm our cause, but justifies occupation, humiliation and denying our rights; it is distorting the Word of God and is exactly what I meant by the Replacement Theology. How do you explain the Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures? the Yes of God to His promises? how does Jesus explain the notions of "land", "promises"... Our Christian reading of the Old Testament should be through our faith in the New, according to Catholic teaching. If you see the Kairos as embracing the replacement theology, read it again, if you read it in the first place. How can see what is not there ?!

22/11/2010 Ariel

dear fr. Khader,

you are ignoring what I just wrote above. We are against every form of injustice, humiliations, and abuses of your rights. But the Kairos document has been severely criticized by many Christians - including those sympathetic to your plight - for being biased, unbalanced, unfair, and very political. The fact that the leaders of the local Church have not officially endorsed it should tell you something: even they think that it is extreme, political, and very imbalanced. By continuing to support this very bad document you undermine your own credibility and alienate many Christians who would otherwise like to help you.

As you know, the promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, very often repeated in the OT, is never revoked in the NT. God does not cancel his promises to His people or change His mind, for His gifts and calling to Israel are irrevocable (cf. Rom 11:29). To claim that God went back on His promise would be to attack His very character and covenant faithfulness. Yes, His promises are fulfilled in Christ, extending His blessings to all Christians, but they are a fulfillment and not a cancellation of His promises to Israel. One can support God's promises to the Jewish people, and at the same time support justice and dignity for the Palestinians. Why should the two be opposed?

We have published a critique of the Kairos document, and we encourage you to read also our address to our Arab Christian brothers. Perhaps it is time for a new approach, Fr. Khader. If perhaps instead of just angrily blaming Israel for everything, you and the other authors would reflect on God's covenant with Israel (as difficult as this may be), affirm His faithfulness to His people instead of denying it, humbly and clearly acknowledge the evils of Islamic Palestinian terrorism which caused the construction of the dreadful security wall, condemn the Hamas rockets as loudly as you condemn Israeli injustices, publicly ask our Jewish brothers for forgiveness for decades of Palestinian hatred and violence against them - now THAT would be a courageous and admirable approach in the true Spirit of Christ that would win you so many more supporters for your cause than your present anti-Israel approach. Remember that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse them will be cursed. Choose blessings and let uswork together in upholding both God's covenant promises to Israel and in working for peace, justice and dignity for your own people!

22/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

Simple questions: Do you support the occupation of the Palestinian Territories (what you will call Judea and Samaria)? Is that a Palestinian land or an Israeli land?

If God promised this land to His people, is His plan to displace the Palestinians from their land and make them refugees? Is affirming the faithfulness of God to His people means denying the Palestinians their national rights? Is the modern State of Israel, with its occupation, a fulfillment of God's promises?

If you see the Kairos document as "very bad", you are unable to understand what justice means. you can repeat ad nauseam that you want justice, but what you do is supporting injustice, in the name of God! and please, do not pretend that you care about the Palestinians, because you don't.

"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (Jn 9, 41)

P.S. you can continue to blame the victims for their suffering, but this will not bring justice and reconciliation. just remember that the (Christian) West committed the Holocaust, not the Muslims; the (Catholic) west spread the "teaching of contempt", not the Palestinians. and now you pretend to teach us how to deal with the Jewish people?

22/11/2010 Ariel

Dear fr. Khader,

These are good questions but not necessarily “simple.” If they were that simple, then surely someone would have solved them by now. We do not claim to have definitive answers to them. We don’t support the difficult situation of the Palestinian Territories, but we also don’t think the term “occupation” is appropriate, for then why didn’t the Palestinians speak of previous “Jordanian occupation” (1948-67), “British occupation” (1917-48.), or even “Turkish occupation”? Since there was never a Palestinian state, we believe that the road to peace has to be based on correct facts on not on artificial revisions of history that falsely claim that Israel just “occupied Palestine” for no reason, ignoring the fact that every time territory has changed hands in the last 100 years it was a response to violence or acts of aggression from Arab countries against Israel. As you know, Arab violence and terrorism against Jews (already a problem from the 1920s through the 60s) came long before the “occupation” – so to find a just solution this too needs to be acknowledged and repented of.

Palestinian or Israeli land? Well, as you know, clearly according to the Scriptures God promised the land to Israel. But is it therefore God’s plan to displace Palestinians and make them refugees? No, certainly not, for He is a God of justice. We think that Israel should repair injustices when they have truly been committed. But we don’t understand why Israel has integrated hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries from the 1948 war and nobody talks about their “rights”, while Palestinian refugees are kept in camps as political playing cards to further a political agenda. There are two sides to the conflict. Blaming only one side and whitewashing the very wrong deeds committed by the other is not the road to peace and justice, which must be based on truth.

We are not sure about “Palestinian national rights” – Palestinian rights, certainly, but national rights… we are concerned about the danger of Islamism as a much greater threat to Christians than Israel. We also find the anti-Jewish incitement and hatred in Palestinian culture very disturbing, with all the talk one hears of “liberating all of Palestine” – including Tel Aviv and Haifa, meaning in effect the destruction of Israel. After all, Palestinians voted Hamas into power, so it makes us very reluctant to support the national rights of a people who would vote for and support an organization committed to the destruction of Israel. I have in fact personally spoken to many Palestinian Christians who prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty and democracy rather than the looming threat of an Islamic rule and Sharia law.

Is the modern state of Israel with its “occupation” a fulfillment of God’s promise? Since God promised to return the people of Israel to their land, we would certainly see God’s hand behind the modern return of the Jews. We don’t believe the modern state of Israel is strictly speaking a “fulfillment” of those promises because it is still mixed up with human sin and the messy politics of the Middle East – which has caused a lot of hurt and heartbreak on both sides. Yet Israel’s holiness is not a prerequisite for God’s faithful action, as we see in His providence over Israel in the OT.

22/11/2010 Fr. Jamal Khader

Here is what I understood from you message: there is no occupation; Palestinians have no national rights; there was never an independent Palestinian State, so why create it now?; Islam and arab terrorism is the problem; and Palestinians need to apologize from Israel; and God's hand is behind the modern state of Israel.
You have the right to think whatever you want, even that the muslims are the incarnation of devil. but to pretend to say that in the name of God, the Bible and the Catholics is not consistent with your ideology.
What you are saying is pure zionist ideology that (ab)uses the Word of God.

If you don't recognize me as part of the Palestinian PEOPLE, I don't want your pity to my sufferings.
Besides your prayers, what do you do for justice to the Palestinians?

23/11/2010 Yochanan

Can I make a few points?

1. To speak about the Jewish return en masse to the Land of their forefathers ("the gifts and the call are irrevocable", Rom 11,29) is one thing, the administration of justice for its inhabitants is another. The two issues should be kept separate. We can perfectly well uphold the second, while accepting the first.

2. The whole issue of whether or not there will be a Palestinian State (rather than an Autonomy) has been under discussion for some years. After the Palestinian leadership rejected the Israeli offers of 2000 (Camp David), 2001 (Taba), and 2007 (Annapolis), and after the splitting of the Palestinian Autonomy into two rival parts (West Bank and Gaza), it is difficult to know what exactly the Palestinians understand by their 'Palestinian National Rights'. The latest opinion polls suggest that Palestinians want all the land West of the Jordan River for themselves (cf. 60% of polled Palestinians accept a two-state solution, but only as a step to a one state solution) and, of course, they already form the majority (70%) of the population East of the Jordan River, in Jordan.

3. According to Malcolm Lowe's review on this website, Fr. Khader's Kairos Palestine document subtly aligns itself with the Palestinian desire for one state in which they will be the majority: “A naïve reader will not notice here what a more attentive reading reveals: the authors want to see a single state embracing Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. Indeed, nowhere in the document does the term “two states” occur. Likewise, the term “occupation” is freely used, but without a clear statement of what areas are considered to be “occupied.” Thus the document delivers different messages to different audiences. Well-intentioned but unwary sympathizers can imagine that the authors subscribe to “two states for two peoples,” but insiders can be sure that the ultimate aim is the old one of a unitary Palestine”. In view of the present ascendancy of Fundamentalist Islam in the region, there is no doubt that such a state would rapidly come under Islamic domination and Sharia Law, as has happened in Gaza and is about to happen in Lebanon, for example. So the whole discussion of Palestinian statehood now revolves around whether this Land should be all under the Muslims or all under the Jews. With what is happening to Christians under Islamic regimes throughout the Middle East, but especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Gaza, it is astonishing that Fr. Khader should be promoting a situation that would bring Islamic, or more likely Islamist, rule in this country.

4. Under these circumstances what should Christians be doing? What does Jesus tell us by his own example? Are not the Palestinians in a similar position to that of the Jews of his time, when the Romans ruled their territory? Just as the Jewish people in those days were driven by nationalist Jewish zealots to rebel against the Romans and expel them totally from the land of Palestine, so now the Palestinian people are being urged by nationalist Islamic zealots to rebel against the Israelis and expel them totally from the land of Israel. Far from inciting, or in any way supporting, the nationalist rebellion against the Romans, Jesus focused on bringing the Kingdom of God close to his countrymen. The degree to which Jesus set himself apart from the nationalist aspirations of his contemporaries is revealed by his uncommonly sympathetic attitude to the Roman occupiers: for example, he admired the Roman centurion's faith and was pleased to heal his child or servant (Mt 8,5-13 et par), he counseled his people to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (foremost among whom were the Romans, Mt 5,43-48 et par.), he advised them to go two miles with the soldier who forced them to go only one mile (Mt 5,41), he recommended paying taxes to Caesar (Mt 22,15-22), he recognized that Pilate's authority came from God (Jn 19,11), and he begged the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers who crucified him (Lk 23,34). As the Israelis today stand in a similar position to the Romans in those days, it does not take much to imagine what our Lord's attitude to them would be. This also should be the attitude of our Church. Our purpose as a Church should be to win the hearts of the Jews for Christ, just the early followers of Jesus were instructed to win over the hearts of the Romans.

5. Fr. Khader's conclusion is immensely saddening: "If you don't recognize me as part of the Palestinian PEOPLE, I don't want your pity to my sufferings. Besides your prayers, what do you do for justice to the Palestinians?" If I interpret this rightly, Fr Khader is essentially saying he is first and foremost a Palestinian, before being a Catholic or a Christian. Nationalist concerns are uppermost for him and trump fellowship in Christ. He wants no pity or help from those who do not support his irredentist Palestinian cause. If the Church decides that it is essential for the Jews to be gathered here in this Land, at this time, for God's inscrutable purposes, whatever they are, then Fr Khader wants no pity or help from the Church. His idea of justice is a Palestinian State from the river to the sea, ruled by anyone except the Jews. This could be the position of a Nationalist Church of Palestine, but it does not resonate with the post-Vatican II Catholic Church as far I understand it.

23/11/2010 Ariel

thank you Yochanan for these comments. I totally agree with you. Fr. Khader I am also very disappointed with your reply. I went through the trouble of writing a response as balanced as I could, and you respond with an oversimplified caricature of my position. Of course we do recognize you as part of the Palestinian people, how else should we? What do we do for justice for the Palestinians (with our very limited means)? Try to maintain a loving and encouraging presence to all people of the Holy Land - affirming both God's promise for Israel, and the need to restore justice and dignity to the Palestinians. Again - why should these be mutually exclusive?

In all sincerity, what do you propose we should do to make you happy? Engage in anti-Israel activism like you? Deny God's promises to His people as affirmed by St. Paul? Bash and blame Israel for everything and pretend that Palestinians have never done anything wrong? Live in the illusion that Islamic hatred of Jews and increasing oppression of Christians is just a myth?

In other words, are you saying that a good Catholic must automatically embrace the Palestinian nationalist cause, and one who has sympathies towards Israel is automatically a bad Catholic?

Yochanan has asked a sobering but serious question that is worthy of consideration: as a priest, are you first and foremost a Christian and minister of the Lord, longing and working for the Kingdom of God, or are you primarily an anti-Israel political activist striving towards Palestinian nationalist ambitions - which, if they ever become realized, are not by any means a guarantee that life will become easier for Palestinian Christians?

23/11/2010 Athol

Father Khader you do not speak for all Palestinian Christians. I met many Palestinian Christians when I lived in Jerusalem who told me that privately they prefer Israeli rule to Muslim; however in public they had to pretend they supported the Muslims out of fear. The Muslims told them. "First we will get rid of the Saturday people and then you Sunday people." Many of them disliked the approach of Michel Sabbah whom they called the "Muslim Patriarch". Many of them were so disgusted with the worldly, materialistic and political nature of many of the priests and Bishops in the Holy Land that they only went to the church infrequently for special feasts etc.