Wafa Samir al-Biss personifies the deep dehumanization of Jews by Palestinian terrorists and those multitudes who praise and honor them. Ms Biss attempted to bomb Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, Israel -- the very hospital where, as a burn victim, she had been treated for months by Jewish and Muslim doctors and nurses. Pictured: Soroka Hospital. (Image source: Avishai Teicher/PikiWiki/Wikimedia Commons)
Welcome to yet another skewed guide on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. After a vote to support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel in 2015, an organization affiliated with the UCC, the UCC Palestine Israel Network (UCCPIN), published a guide to Israel-Palestine affairs. Titled, "Promoting a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel," and sub-headed "A Guide for United Church of Christ Faith Leaders", this toxic document is a desperately one-sided, inaccurate, and counter-factual exercise in futile politics. Legally, UCCPIN operates under the aegis of one of the denomination's local conferences. Its Guide is, therefore, not the direct work of the church's leadership, but is clearly endorsed by a section of it.
The Guide most certainly does not favour either justice or peace in the Holy Land, as its contents show on every page. Some delegates, opposed to the resolution, identified its one-sidedness. Joanne Marchetto, of the Penn-Northeast Conference of the UCC, said during the 2015 vote that she was "uncomfortable with how this resolution is presented... This is a great injustice to the land, and I think we need to hear both sides of the argument." The guide produced by the church regrettably rejects any call to hear more than the Palestinian narrative and anti-Israel arguments. At the end, it has a four-page list of resources, books, DVDs, websites, a reading list, educational material, alternative travel organizations, and films. Not one of the many items on this list is remotely pro-Israel. All are hard-line pro-Palestine activist materials and links. The UCCPIN Guide does not pay even lip service to the notions of fairness, dual narratives, or a need for mutual understanding. The pro-peace Jewish or Israeli voice is silenced, while Palestinian hate speech, genocidal threats, and endless terrorism do not, at any time, come in for criticism.
It is worth looking at some of the arguments advanced in the Guide; where better to start than the Introduction (p.2), which opens with a reference to the highly distorted and inaccurate 2009 Kairos Palestine document.
In the New Testament, "Kairos" means "the appointed time in the purpose of God," the time when God acts (Mark 1:15). The Kairos document prefaces everything else because part of the resolution at the 30th synod was that church members must study it as a basis for their understanding of the Middle East and the actions that must follow. There is no room here to describe Kairos in detail, but readers can find full commentary here and here. Perhaps it is enough to say that the Central Conference of American Rabbis has described it as "supersessionist" and "anti-Semitic". (Supersessionism is a modern revival of the older Christian claim that God has replaced the Jews with Christians, who are now his favoured people. It also permits the introduction of overt anti-Semitism into Christian doctrine, and action that are no longer mainstream positions within Christian churches, except, sadly, in Sweden.)
The Kairos Palestine document was put together by Christian Palestinians who apparently adopted -- unquestioningly -- the Muslim narrative about Palestinians as innocent victims of Jewish aggression. It is mendacious about which of the two sides is responsible for the violence that has accompanied the creation and maintenance of a Jewish state. Here is just one example of that distortion: "The Palestinian people... also engaged in peaceful struggle, especially during the first intifada."
"Peaceful struggle"? During the first four years of the intifada, more than 3,600 incoming Molotov cocktail attacks, 100 hand-grenade attacks and 600 assaults with guns or explosives were reported by the Israel Defense Forces. The violence was directed at Israeli civilians and soldiers alike. During this period, 16 Israeli civilians and 11 soldiers were killed by Palestinians in the territories; and more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and 1,700 Israeli soldiers were injured. Approximately 1,100 Palestinians were also killed in clashes with Israeli troops. Palestinians were indeed stabbed, hacked with axes, shot, clubbed and burned with acid -- not by Israelis but by Palestinian death squads. In 1991, the number of Arabs killed for political and other reasons by Palestinian death squads actually exceeded the number killed in clashes with Israeli troops.
One of the authors of the Kairos document was Theodosias Atallah Hanna, the Archbishop of Sebastia from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and a former spokesman of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. He called for the creation of an Islamic-Christian union that would foil the "American offensive" against Iraq and "release Palestine from the river to the sea" (and thereby entail the elimination of Israel). "The suicide bombers who carry out their activities in the name of religion are national heroes and we're proud of them," he has allegedly said, according to the ASSIST News Service. He also reportedly said, in a speech in Dubai:
"Some freedom fighters adopt martyrdom or suicide bombing, while others opt for other measures. But all these struggles serve the continued intifada for freedom. Therefore, we support all these causes."
The UCC, moreover, has gone out of its way to ally itself with Muslims and to attack Jews, so their unwillingness to condemn Hanna and other authors of the Kairos document lends a further air of one-sidedness to their position. The one-sidedness of Kairos is made abundantly clear early on:
1.4 In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity. This is our understanding of the situation. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.
Oh really? As when the Israelis left the Gaza Strip? Sadly, the Palestinians have a history of regarding every concession not as a gift but as a retreat by Israel -- and as a triumph of aggression over diplomacy, as if to say: We shoot at Israelis and they leave; so, let's keep on doing it!
Yet, a Christian church in the United States endorses such a document while claiming to promote a "just" peace?
The rest of the document follows suit. There is no room in it for a Jewish, Israeli or moderate Christian voice, just hatred of Israel and defence of the Palestinians who have turned down generous offers of peace time after time. The naïvety of the UCC is particularly striking in its choice to take at face value the Palestinian statement that if Israel ended its occupation, "Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace." That is simply bunkum. When, after 1949, Gaza was occupied by Egypt, and the West Bank by Jordan, no one protested, and no one attacked Egyptians or Jordanians. In other words, Israel occupied only itself. Palestinian terrorism against Israelis continued up to 1967, right through the period of Israeli non-occupation. There were no "settlements" then. Rather, the Palestinians have always regarded all of Israel as one big "settlement". Just look at any Palestinian maps; they cover both the entirety of Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This UCCPIN naïvety is further underscored by the fact that Israel pulled its troops and civilians out of Gaza between 1994 and 2005, yet "resistance" by Gazan terrorists under the radical Islamic movement Hamas grew fiercer than before, resulting in ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli towns and three major wars in 2008-9, 2012, and 2014. In its Introduction, the UCCPIN, knowing full well that Israel has not occupied Gaza since 2005, still speaks of "the Israeli military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza". It is wholly black and white, without even recognition of the control of most of the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority after the Oslo Accords, which ceded control of all of these disputed territories to a Palestinian governance that has unfortunately proved, to say the least, disappointing (here, here and here).
What, may one ask, is the point of entering into a complex political debate if one side refuses to admit the verifiable facts of the situation?
Another gratuitous piece of misinformation occurs on page 3 of the UCCPIN Guide, which claims that Israeli settlements in the West Bank "violate the Fourth Geneva Convention". Any expert in international law could have told the authors that this is false. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention addresses the forced deportation or transfer of an occupier's population into a conquered territory, as happened under the Nazis. (For finer details see here and here.) The Jewish Israeli settlers remain in the West Bank without coercion, based on the San Remo Treaty of 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres (which ratified the 1917 Balfour Declaration), the Covenant of the League of Nations Article 22, and the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, which all provide for the broad settlement of Jews across the Mandate territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention quite simply does not apply.
The UCCPIN Guide, further, flatly states that "Israeli settlements in the West Bank are identified as illegal by the international community" -- even though international law says exactly the opposite. The West Bank and Gaza were both occupied as a result of a defensive war against Egypt and Jordan in 1967, in which the Israelis were victorious. It is never illegal to occupy territory obtained in defensive military action. The legality of the occupation is confirmed in UN Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), to which the Palestinians and their supporters agreed, but have never paid heed. Resolution 242 was deliberately phrased -- "territories" rather than "the territories" -- to show that Israel should not leave all the West Bank and did not have to move its military forces out until the Palestinians agreed to a lasting peace based on secure borders for the Jewish state.
The Palestinians not only reject all offers of peace on that basis but go much further and call every day for the abolition of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state covering Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank
On that same page, the UCCPIN Guide condemns what it describes as the "Separation Wall", pretending that Israel's 450-mile security barrier is made of concrete. In fact, only 10% of the barrier is a wall; 90% is made of fencing, ditches and other impediments to terror attacks. This gross exaggeration of simple on-the-ground facts further exposes the UCCPIN as dishonest. And more than dishonest: the UCCPIN Guide offers no reason why the fence was erected in the first place: to prevent incursions into Israel by suicide bombers and other terrorists intent on taking human life. The barrier has, in fact, been immensely successful, cutting many hundreds of Israeli deaths down to near zero.
Ignoring these facts in order to promote a false understanding of the barrier and its purpose cannot remotely serve the interests of justice. The promotion of lies merely magnifies a growing sense that the UCC itself does not care about human life. Palestinian lives, yes (and there is nothing wrong with that); but clearly, Jewish lives and Jewish efforts to preserve life are of little or no concern. What is worse, is that the church does not seem to know or care that Arab Israelis (including Christians) are as likely as Jews to die in a suicide bombing or a bomb on board a bus.
On page 4, the UCCPIN Guide also states that "Israel has built hundreds of permanent and mobile military checkpoints throughout the West Bank." This allegation, again, is pure fantasy. In 2015, there were no more than fifteen checkpoints across the West Bank. You do not have to be a mathematician to work out the difference between that figure and "hundreds". There were several hundred checkpoints some years ago, but the Israeli security services have done their utmost to reduce that number conspicuously since then. Writing in 2013, the Israel Defense Forces stated:
Today, there are nearly 40 crossings between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel. Some are used for the passage of people; others are used for the passage of goods. In addition to these crossings, 13 checkpoints are placed strategically throughout Israel's Central Command region, and operate in time of need and in light of security considerations.
They also clarified that,
"Crossings" and "checkpoints" are terms with different meanings. Crossings are facilities used by Palestinians to enter from Judea and Samaria into other regions of Israel. Checkpoints, on the other hand, operate during times of heightened security to prevent terrorists from carrying out their plans to harm civilians.
Checkpoints have been used as a method to filter out and prevent terror attacks before would-be Palestinian attackers have a chance to enter Israel. As a result of such insidious methods as female suicide bombers hiding explosives under their clothing and the use of ambulances to conceal and transport terrorist weapons, routine checks have been intensified at all types of crossings.
It may well be true, as the UCCPIN Guide states, that these checkpoints cause inconvenience to innocent Palestinians. That is unfortunate and wholly undesirable for an Israeli government fighting international opprobrium. But the checkpoints are not there to target innocent Palestinians. They are there to restrain terrorists from setting out to kill innocent Israelis. The only people to criticize the checkpoints across Northern Ireland during the many years of terrorism there were supporters of the Provisional IRA. This author used to go through those checkpoints when visiting the province over that period. They included body checks when entering all stores, but you never heard anyone grumbling: everyone knew they were there to save our lives from bombers and gunmen.
The above reference to "female suicide bombers hiding explosives under their clothing" was prompted by a particularly disturbing example of one young woman from Gaza, Wafa Samir al-Biss, whose story personifies the deep dehumanization of Jews by Palestinian terrorists and those multitudes who praise and honor them. In late 2004, Ms Biss was badly burned in a kitchen fire and was taken quickly to an Israeli hospital, Soroka, in Beersheba. There, she was treated by Jewish and Muslim doctors and nurses for a few months. Allowed to go home, she was given a pass to return to the hospital as an outpatient for further treatment. Six months later, she arrived at the Erez crossing, where a quick-witted guard noticed she was walking awkwardly. Forced to remove her outer clothing, it was revealed that she was carrying a 22-pound bomb strapped to one leg. When questioned, she said the bomb had been given to her by the Abu Rish Brigade, a faction of Fatah.
"My dream was to be a martyr. I believe in death. Today I wanted to blow myself up in a hospital, maybe even in the one in which I was treated. But since lots of Arabs come to be treated there, I decided I would go to another, maybe the Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews. Yes even babies."
The UCC no doubt wants to see crossings and checkpoints removed because they inconvenience Palestinians. Their point, however, is that they also inconvenience Palestinians like Wafa al-Biss and members of the Abu Rish Brigade; Palestinians like the thousands of bombers, knife-wielders, machete carriers, gunmen and others who have tried and, all too often, succeeded in slipping through checkpoints to kill innocent men, women and children; killers whom Hamas and the Palestinian Authority honor as heroes and heroines, martyrs and prisoners, and who slaughter in support of the fantasy that their deeds will advance the cause of a better life for the Palestinian people, heavenly compensation for themselves and their families, or financial compensation and glory here on earth.
The US Congress did, in fact, vote to stop incentivizing murder by passing the Taylor Force Act by outlawing payments to the Palestinian Authority (PA) of roughly $400 million a year, which the PA uses to reward terrorists. The law was named after an American tourist who was murdered in a terrorist attack by a 21-year-old Palestinian at the Jaffa port.
As the Palestinian media, mosque sermons, and political speeches remind the world daily, the long-term aim of the Palestinian authorities is twofold: to carry out genocide (here, here and here) against the Jews, who have lived on the land continuously for more than 3,000 years, yet are falsely accused of having "stolen" it (UCCPIN Guide, p.4); and to destroy a democratic state. The UCC boasts that it is "a just peace church" (Guide, p. 6), but instead of supporting peace and justice, it defends mass murderers. It complains about the defensive actions of the Jews and is knowingly silent about the horrors wrought by Palestinian wars and terrorism. It treats Palestinian actions as mere responses to Israeli aggression -- a total reversal of historical fact. Is it even morally defensible, then, to call the members of this church followers of a man known as "the Prince of Peace"?
Denis MacEoin PhD (Cambridge 1979) has written for many years on Israel, the Middle East and Islam. Resident in the north-east of England, he has been a Distinguished Senior Fellow at New York's Gatestone Institute since 2014.