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Justice for the Palestinian people – five studies

After the 2019 Provincial Synod adopted a resolution expressing support for justice for the Palestinian people, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba commissioned a series of studies for use in parishes around the Province.

The studies, and a letter from the Archbishop commending them, are available below. There are five studies, but they can be worked through over seven sessions.

2 replies on “Justice for the Palestinian people – five studies”

In his commendation of the series of studies for use in parishes around the Province on the subject of the Holy Land the Archbishop acknowledges;
“The issues of the Holy Land and its conflict are deeply complex and there are no easy answers. But before we express opinions it is a good spiritual discipline to try and understand more clearly and listen to one another more carefully.  It is my belief that these studies will facilitate this understanding and listening process.”
I believe that the Archbishop is quite correct and the 25 years of my personal involvement in the Middle East region is what I base this agreement upon. However if the purpose of these studies to to facilitate a listening process surely we should be listening to BOTH sides of the conflict?

You will understand therefore, my dismay at the content of the course of studies that the Archbishop is commending. Put politely, it is a one-sided view of the situation that promotes two basic narratives. The first is a Palestinian narrative which should be heard, as long as those listening realise that there is another narrative that is being ignored. ( a repeat of the Provincial Synod process where there was no Israeli perspective voiced).

The second perspective is that of Liberation Theology (and particularly Palestinian Liberation Theology as promoted by Sabeel) which rewrites the biblical record to suit its own ends. In the Gospel even an uneducated Samaritan women (John 4) could recognise Jesus’ Jewish identity but these theologians, driven by their ideology, have converted Jesus into a Palestinian – an identity that only came into being a century after the Messiah. Many biblical scholars have critiqued the hermeneutical methods of liberation Theology and have found it woefully inadequate.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell, 1984

Why is the one-sidedness of this study series so problematic?
First, it is misleading and does not take into account cogent arguments that disagree with the positions presented.
Second, it accepts the Palestinian narrative at face value without checking historical and factual inaccuracies which abound.
Third, it is dangerous because it perpetuates a propensity for antisemitism which has blighted the Church for most of its history.

What is wrong with the material?
There are many inaccuracies in the outlines of the various study sessions and time and space does not allow me to deal with them all. I will give a few very basic examples:

Session 1. “the nation state of Israel, established by European powers in 1948.” 
This is misleading and incorrect. The partition of the land was by the UN General Assembly (not European powers) Resolution 181, in 1947 that called for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with the city of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (Latin: “separate entity”) to be governed by a special international regime. the Jewish population accepted the partition the Arabs rejected it and in 1948 attacked the new Sate of Israel. With such a basic historical inaccuracy one has to ask whether the compilers of the material actually know their subject matter beyond a personal ideological conviction

Session 2. “impressions recorded by a group of church leaders from South Africa and the USA, who visited the Holy Land in March 2019.” There is no indication that this group did not bother to talk to Israeli Jews or Arabs who are part of a population of 
9 million people in Israel. This cannot be described as anything else but a report by a group who heard one side of the situation and did not take the time to hear anyone else. How can people who have never been to the region be expected to develop an informed opinion on this basis?

Session 5. “We begin with a reminder of the definition of Christian Zionism. This definition comes from the Kairos USA document.” Having Kairos USA define Christian Zionism is like asking the Klu Klux Klan to define Black Lives Matter. Surely, if you want to know what a Christian Zionist believes you have a knowledgable Christian Zionist not an organisation that is implacably apposed to the idea of Zionism.

If nothing else the Archbishop owes Anglicans an admission that the series of studies he commends is not a fair presentation of the issues but a Palestinian perspective. Presenting this series of studies as a fair and accurate portrayal of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is just not honest.

The Revd John Atkinson

This Morning Prayer Psalm Petition 45:4-7:Heb.1:8,9
Gird your sword upon your thigh O mighty warrior: in glory and majesty tread down your foes and triumph! Ride on in the cause of truth: and for the sake of justice. Your right hand shall teach a terrible instruction: people shall fall beneath you, your arrows shall be sharp in the hearts of the king’s enemies. Your throne is the throne of God it endures forever : and the sceptre of your kingdom is a righteous sceptre. You have loved righteousness and hated evil:therefore God your God has anointed you with oil above your fellows.

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