Clamour and Infamy

There’s a conference in town today. Well, not exactly ‘in town’, more in the suburbs. Bethlehem, to be precise. Beyond the wall where the cabbies can’t go. It’s going to be quite an event, this third “Christ at the Checkpoint”. Several days of conference, keynote speakers to include a prominent Muslim human rights activist, an influential author, several pastors from a variety of denominations, the president of Bethlehem Bible College and many and various luminaries within the Arab Christian community and beyond.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denounced “Christ at the Checkpoint”  in no uncertain terms…
“The attempt to use religious motifs in order to mobilize political propaganda and agitate the feelings of the faithful through the manipulation of religion and politics is an unacceptable and shameful act. Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.”
While it is true that at first glance, the Arab Christian minority has tended to draw the short straw in the political and spiritual street fight that passes for attempts at reconciliation here, the strength of the Establishment response is extraordinary. The subtext, smoothly oiled over with a veneer of spirituality is rather uglier, since it has drawn such pointed criticism from the authorities. There are varieties of opinion, it would appear, and as long as the principal tenets are adhered to, most notably, outspoken support for the concept of  “occupation”, participants can attend seminars, visit a checkpoint early in the morning to see for themselves how security is maintained and discuss with like minds. The hated face of Zionism (a minority view amongst many haredi sects) is not condemned outright, merely included in a litany of other unjust and unconstitutional practices. BDS is probably not far below the surface. The words of one of the organisers, Sami Awad, virtuous as they may be, earnest and passionate, carry with them a subtext which many find difficult to digest, namely, the Arab desire to share the rights of homeland in denial of responsibilities to it. He writes “For anything to move forward in the Holy Land, a relationship of trust and respect must be established  between the peoples. Peace is not just negotiated settlements between politicians. Peace is the process of building trust and respect… To be able to see each other with new eyes…understand who the ‘other’ is…appreciate their culture, heritage, the narrative that they bring to the table…
Superficially, what a worthy objective, but what sacrifice must be made, what concessions made to orthodoxy and truth in order to achieve it? Powerful theological weight is brought to bear to lend support to both hard and soft supersessionism, from hard-line Lutheran dogma that the New Covenant replaces the Old in its entirety, in other words, God had had enough of the Children of Israel in the first century and transferred all Covenant promises to followers of Yeshua Ha-Maschiach to a softer but no less pernicious doctrine that the Church has been unilaterally entrusted with the fulfilment of the promises of which Jewish Israel is the trustee.

This is all very fine, but why are dissenting voices suppressed? I cannot help but feel that this is no genuine fellowship, no Kingdom building, no real rapprochement as the pre-conference literature proclaims; instead a wolf, cunningly disguised as an inoffensive sheep which is cynical at best and propagandist at worst. I’d dearly love to nod vigorously with the peaceniks, but I fear on this occasion, I really can’t.

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat. Again. The Gentiles have a Sunday experience while the Jews try to remember each small application of the Law. Lest they forget, some of the more observant brethren demonstrate in the more religious quarters each Sabbath against those whose interpretation of the Law is a little loose. Last Saturday, a woman’s car was stopped in the street during one of the frequent protests by an ultra-Orthodox haredim sect. 

this protest was about closing the street where I live on Shabbat

William Congreve’s observation about ‘scorned women’ was amply demonstrated. The girl, scandalously dressed, left her car, incandescent with rage and hurled colourful abuse at her male tormentors, so efficiently indeed that they scattered like lemmings to a man. But, they are few, even in Jerusalem. Glitz and worldly pleasure is a half-hour drive to Tel Aviv while here in Jerusalem, the elevators in most of the big hotels have a Shabbat setting, stopping at every floor, so the righteous have no need to press a button to activate an electric motor, which is, of course, against the Law since it falls under Torah’s definition of work. The image is from Jerusalem’s Crowne Plaza hotel where the elevator rises to the 21st floor without stopping then descends one floor at a time. Being in a hurry isn’t a good idea on Shabbat.

Floor 21 only

It is sad that those who come here for a week still have a lot to say. When they have been here a month, they are less free with their opinions and after six months, rarely make comment. I am sometimes asked about what life is like here. These days I usually just remark “it’s complicated”. Complicated because societies are multilayered, sometimes defensive and sometimes not. It’s worth bearing in mind that almost all adults, men and women, have had military training, which brings an odd sense of comfort. There is no sense of beleaguerment, a sense of a society about to be attacked, but vigilance is unceasing, almost military. The school has underground bunkers. Where other schools practise fire drill, or even earthquake drill, we have in addition ‘intruder drill’ and air raid drill as well. The only time I ever feel less than comfortable is when travelling through East Jerusalem or the West Bank. Perhaps I imagine smouldering rage where there really is none, the inhabitants are happier with their situation than I might imagine, piles of garbage notwithstanding. Many organisations bringing culture and music here are openly pro-Palestinian, some indeed behave as if the 1967 borders have already been ceded to the PA. A beautiful choir performed ‘Messiah’ in St Anne’s Basilica over Christmas, advertising previous concerts in Ramallah and even Gaza, and referring to their current location as ‘al-Quds’ rather than Jerusalem.

We witnessed the end of an era yesterday. Once the darling of the Far Right, the towering presence of Ariel Sharon departed this life yesterday after many years in a coma. He did a political about-turn, supervising the Gaza pullout in 2005, thereafter attempting to shape the political landscape in his own image. I wondered what he would have made of the consequences, the rise of Hamas, negotiations with successive and increasingly more ambitious American politicians within a society increasingly secularised and impatient for peace and safety, some might say at almost any cost. 

There, now. I’ve said too much. After all, what do I know and why should my opinion matter more than an American or French commentator? One who has never left the familiarity of Washington or Paris, relying instead on a well-lubricated and 
Machiavellian propaganda of victimhood?

Or the council of St James Church in London who have erected a replica wall at a cost of several thousand pounds to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle upon which people can write messages of support or condemnation of the existence of the real thing whose protective umbrella saves lives. The Church’s avowed even-handedness is tarnished in their literature by their propositional use of words like ‘occupied territories’.

Now I really have said too much.