by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 24 August 23rd 2009
Ministries encourages Christians to understand and pray
about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through
the eyes of both people groups involved, and taking the
needs, fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director,
the Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages support
of indigenous reconciliation ministry in Jerusalem. The
is available free on request to those who add their email
address to our Newsletter update list, available on the top
of the 'Newsletter'
page. Alternatively, send your email address and name to
us via our online
Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony
A GROWTH IN ANTISEMITISM
There is a
“virulent” new version of anti-Semitism in the UK, according
to Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, with many more attacks on
Jewish people, schools and cemeteries. It coincided with
Israel’s incursion into Gaza. However Rabbi Sacks stated
that the situation had worsened since the 9/11 terrorist
attacks which some blamed on the Jewish people.
In our 21st
century global village, anti-Semitism is a worldwide
problem, although it has always, of course, been widespread.
Without an understanding of anti-Semitism it is not possible
to understand the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict properly. It
is a major factor.
Because of the
centuries of vicious persecution and oppression of Jewish
people (often, shamefully, by the Christian Church), they
understandably feel threatened and insecure. Israel, the
(relatively) safe homeland of the Jewish people, is
suspicious of the the motives of the world powers and wary
of the intentions of the Arab world. After all, anti-Semitic
statements are made in various Arab countries, not just in
in their laudable concern for the human rights of the
Palestinians, underestimate the insecurity and paranoia
which the Israelis feel. They are not careful to try and
avoid sounding anti-Semitic in their often justified
criticisms of Israel. And we all need to be aware of the
possibility of our being affected by unconscious or
unacknowledged anti-Semitism. Some vehement critics of
Israel might be quite surprised and disturbed by spending a
little time analysing their possibly mixed motives.
Anti-Semitism is “the world’s longest hatred.” Resentment of
a people-group being described as the Chosen People and any
failings by Jewish people are insufficient to explain it.
Rather it has a spiritual origin which is related to divine
purposes centred on that most famous son of Israel, our
Jewish Saviour Jesus Christ.
Even the Pope’s
advisers do not seem to realise that becauseof Jewish
sensitivities he should, as a German and a Christian leader,
have apologised for the Holocaust on his recent visit to
Israel. His omission was predictably regarded as a serious
failing. The stupid denial by a Vatican spokeman that
Benedict was ever in the Hitler Youth didn’t help.
Having said all
that, there are faults on the other side. It is a convenient
propaganda tactic for some Israelis to treat every criticism
of Israel as anti-Semitic, which is ludicrous and offensive.
Even some Christian Zionists take the same line. We who are
concerned for peace and justice for all people groups in the
Middle East must not be fazed by this attempt to induce
groundless guilt feelings, even when it is related to the
It is important,
out of genuine concern for the Israelis as well as the
Palestinians, on the one hand to make necessary and
constructive criticism of Israel but on the other to make
allowances for Jewish/Israeli insecurities and
sensitivities. As Prime Minister Netanyahu put it recently,
“Israel is not like other countries. We are faced with
security challenges that no other country faces, and our
need to provide a response to these is critical.”
It is equally
important that Israel does not use accusations of
anti-Semitism and even the tragedy of the Holocaust to fend
off accurate criticisms which must be faced and responded to
positively if there is to be peace.
IS ISRAEL SERIOUS ABOUT
At last Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said
he accepts the creation of a Palestinian state but he added
that it must be demilitarised. Israel is naturally afraid
that withdrawal of the IDF from the West Bank would
create a huge base for terror attacks on Israel.
Netanyahu also said that Jerusalem must remain
the unified capital of Israel.
said Israel would not build any new settlements and would
not expand existing settlements in the West Bank. However he
added that “natural growth” must be allowed in these
Netenyahu is willing to meet Arab leaders to seek peace.
But he stressed that the Palestinians must recognise Israel
as a Jewish state. He ruled out any negotiations with Hamas
whilst they did not recognise Israel.
Israeli President Shimon Peres told the Pope that this year
could be the year Israel achieves peace with its
On the other hand,
Israel is going ahead with a plan to build a new settlement
in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years and
Ehud Barak has approved the building of 300 new homes in
West Bank settlements. Also
a secret plan by the Government and settlers to create nine
national parks around the Old City of Jerusalem, thus
radically changing the status quo in the city has been
discovered. In addition the authorities plan to build dozens
of homes for Jewish people in the middle of the Palestinian
neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. However
more recently Israel appears to be moving towards a
settlement freeze under American pressure and Netanyahu sent
an envoy to Washington to discuss it. Netanyahu stopped the
construction of some 900 apartments in East Jerusalem.
A Peace Now report indicates that 80 of the 100
outposts in the West Bank were built wholly or partly on
private Palestinian land. Sixteen outposts are located
entirely on private land, and more than half of the other
outposts are on private land. 1750 of the 4,000 acres
occupied by the 100 outposts are on privately owned
A recent survey showed that 64% of Israelis accept the two
state solution. However 56% said Netanyahu should not
consent to the American demand to halt all settlement
There is a cost for Israel in accepting the two state
solution. The economic cost will include:
the loss of
many Israeli jobs which are based on occupying the West
the loss of
a testing ground for weapons in the Palestinian areas.
sharing of water resources with the Palestinians (currently
this is very unequal in favour of Israel).
the loss of
cheap housing for Israelis in the settlements.
However, in return, Israel would have four and a half times
the territory envisaged by the Peel Commission and one and a
half times that envisaged by the UN Partition Plan.
If Israel is serious about
peace it needs to improve the situation in Gaza.
A million and a half
people are suffering in Gaza. Only a few products listed as
food, medicine or detergent are allowed in. Hospitals
rely on the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health, in
the West Bank, for supplies but the supply chain often
Raw materials, building materials, electric appliances
(including refrigerators and washing machines), spare parts
for cars and machines, light bulbs, matches, needles,
thread, shoes, mattresses, blankets, cutlery, books, toys
and thousands of items vital for everyday living - are
banned. The Gazans cannot build new homes, use their cars,
provide their babies with baby food, use toilet paper, wash,
read books or play musical instruments. Yet there are
billions of dollars waiting in banks in Arab countries to
help reconstruct and develop Gaza.
Israelis fear that imports will strengthen Hamas. But,
despite the sanctions, Hamas still rules and has just
crushed a rebellion by a group aligned with Al Quaeda.
Worse, the sanctions give the impression that all a ceasfire
achieves is sanctions and suffering.
The U.S. in co-operation with the UN has offered to ensure
that building materials are used for civilian purposes and
not to fortify Hamas. Also Egypt is discussing a new Gaza
ceasefire with Israel.
ARABS SERIOUS ABOUT PEACE?
The Palestinians accused Netanyahu of sabotaging the peace
process by being unwilling to compromise over the status of
Jerusalem and by refusing to accept the return of any
Palestinian refugees. It has to be said, though, that any
significant return of refugees would seriously threaten the
concept of Israel being a safe Jewish homeland. It would
appear that compensating the refugees is the only feasible
way forward. If the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in
particular continue to demand the return of the refugees
they will sabotage the peace process. It may be that they
will ultimately be willing to compromise on this issue.
Despite Netanyahu’s historic acceptance of the idea of a two
state solution the Arabs are refusing to recognise Israel as
a legitimate Jewish state. President Mubarak of Egypt
visited Washington recently and made it clear that Arab
recognition of Israel will only follow a peace agreement.
This will, of course, undermine the peace process. However
the Palestinians realise that to recognise Israel would be
to lose the right of return to Israel for Palestinian
refugees. One encouraging factor is that President Abbas’s
faction Fatah has reaffirmed it will continue with
negotiations rather than violence to achieve a Palestinian
Syria is still expressing willingness to resume indirect
peace negotiations with Israel via Turkey. However Syria
continues to arm Hezbollah, and to send terrorists
into Iraq. It also maintains a close relationship with Iran.
This provides Israel with reason not to
discuss the return of territory to Syria. One good sign is
that Syria has invited President Obama to visit Damascus for
HAMAS ACCUSED BY AMNESTY OF
In our previous
letter we outlined Israeli reports about Israeli war crimes
in Gaza. Now we can report that, in its recent report
Amnesty International accused Hamas of war crimes including
firing rockets into civilian areas of Israel.
IDF soldiers have
also accused Hamas of war crimes. One report states: "We
came upon an ambulance from a local children's hospital. It
was suspicious because there was a very old lady in the
ambulance of a children's hospital. Inside we found three
RPG rocket launchers. We couldn’t believe someone would use
an ambulance to move them.”
OBAMA PRESSES FOR PEACE
In his Cairo address to the Muslim world President Obama
said: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right
to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The
United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued
Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous
agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is
time for these settlements to stop.” He added that peace “is
in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's
interest, and the world's interest. America will align our
policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what
we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs.”
He went on to urge Muslims around the
world to acknowledge Jewish suffering and to repudiate
Holocaust denial. The Arab and Muslim world ought to
reconcile with the existence of Israel. “Threatening
Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes
about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in
the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while
preventing the peace that the people of this region
He also spoke of Palestinian suffering and
urged the Palestinians to draw upon the example of African
slaves in the United States, saying that “peaceful and
determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of
America's founding” had led to their gaining civil rights.
“Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does
not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered
the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of
segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal
Obama also stated: “I have come here to
seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims
around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual
respect. America is not and never
will be at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly
confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our
It is to be hoped that Obama’s intervention will begin a new
era in the Middle East. He treated Israelis and Arabs
equally and quoted carefully from the Koran, Talmud and
Torah. The recent revolt and oppression in Iran may also
strengthen the hand of Arab moderates.
A new Obama peace
plan is expected in September and Javier Solana, EU Foreign
Minister, has suggested that if the Israelis and
Palestinians don’t soon succeed in achieving a peace
agreement then the UN Security Council should establish a
Palestinian state. The Obama regime has also established a
new more formal relationship with Israel which applies
pressure to the Israelis.
Another encouragement is that Hamas leader Khaled Meshal
said recently that his group would not stand in the way of a
peace deal brokered between the Palestinian Authority under
Mahmoud Abbas and Israel.
There has, however, been some tension on the Israel Lebanon
for the attempts by President Obama to achieve peace in the
Middle East and to improve relations between the western
world and Islam.
that Benyamin Netanyahu has accepted the principle of a
for the continuing interest by the Arab world in peace with
Obama will succeed in bringing about a just peace settlement
and that both Israel and the Palestinians, with their Arab
supporters, will take practical steps towards peace.
there will be better relationships between the West and the
Christians and other people of good will to combat
anti-Semitism and, where necessary, to recognise it in
all criticism of the Israelis and the Palestinians will be
just and constructive.
the welfare of the people of Gaza.
encourages Christians to understand and pray about the
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through the eyes
of both people groups involved, and taking the needs,
fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director, the
Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages
support of an indigenous reconciliation ministry in
Tony is convinced that one cannot understand Israel
without remembering the vivid and enduring memory of the
Holocaust, in the context of centuries of anti-semitism
which continues today, not least in the Arab world. They
feel that long and bitter experience shows they cannot
trust the world to protect them. Despite their military
strength, they fear extinction as a nation.Tony feels
that one cannot understand the Palestinians without
remembering their humiliation of not having their own
state and their sense of betrayal by the world powers,
not least in the re-establishment of the State of Israel
on what they regard as their land.They also feel
humiliated and oppressed by Israel. Many of them believe
that armed resistance is legitimate. Whatever their
strengths and weaknesses, God loves both people groups,
so should we.
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© Tony Higton
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