Bob Simon: Mr. Ambassador, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’ve received lots of reactions from just about everyone I’ve done stories about. But I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.
Michael Oren: Well, there’s a first time for everything, Bob.
Above is an excerpt of the conversation between the host of 60 Minutes and the Israeli ambassador to the United States, from the 22-Apr instalment about the dwindling local Christian community in Palestine/Israel.
Governments’ manipulation and influence of the press is nothing new, but why would the Israeli government, an administration considered a friend by many Christians, regarded this programme as a “potential strategic terrorist attack”, and went out of its way to interfere with a show which aimed to expose the difficulties faced by the local Christians?
Even more bizarre, a Christian organization in the United States joined the effort and mobilized its members in a writing campaign, who then sent more than 16,000 emails to the TV network in just four hours. Why would a “Christian” organization deter a show which sought to raise the awareness of the plight of its fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?
For years, the Israeli government’s propaganda machine (hasbara) has been successfully in articulating a version of history suited to her needs, while discrediting or outright removing the Palestinian narrative from discussion altogether. And many Christians, knowingly or unknowingly influenced by certain interpretations of dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, adopted a pre-millennialist view which consider the founding of the modern State of Israel an act of God and a pre-requisite for the second coming of Christ.
To that end, it’s preferable that people aren’t aware of the existence of the Palestinian people who have been unjustly dispossessed by the State of Israel. Failing that, to portray the Palestinian people as backward, stubborn, warmongers, terrorists, the Canaanites of old, haters of democracy and Christianity. Consequently, the mere mentioning of Palestinian Christians (or Arab Christians) is already a significant attack on the public image of the State of Israel among the Christian community—first, it acknowledges the existence of the Palestinian people, second, it challenges their stereotype.
To mitigate this problem, the State of Israel and her supporters again tried to control the rhetoric and presented them as victims of Muslim oppression, which was an easy sell in the post-9/11 world when Islamphobia ran amok.
Therefore, the main issue of this show with the Israeli authorities was that, it let the Palestinian Christians speak for themselves. And according to them, the primary cause of the fleeing of the Arab Christians in Palestine aren’t their Muslim neighbours. Instead, they are being marginalized and their presence threatened by the Israeli occupation and policies.
This gives rise to a serious problem to those Christians who buy into the belief that the State of Israel is a manifestation of the end time plans of God—why and how can God persecute Christians Himself…?
Here are a few methods to avoid or answer the above question:
- Pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.
- Question the accuracy of the show and similar reports.
- Accuse these Arab Christians as being “out of touch” with God’s will.
- Consider their suffering as an undue but inevitable side effect for the more important issue—the security of the Jewish people.
- Re-consider the unchallenged support for the State of Israel.
The last option is problematic to many individuals as it ultimately strikes the very nerves of their core beliefs, eschatological views, ways to understand and interpret the Bible, and even the foundation of their faith, of which the State of Israel is objectified as a vindication. It’s no fun when one’s hope for pre-tribulations rapture is being dashed, not to mention that Christians are not always as reasonable and peace-loving as self-perceived. Nevertheless, after learning of the situation in Palestine, or having seen the realities on the ground, many began to question some of their beliefs and support for the State of Israel.
And considering Christians are some of the most staunch supporters for the State of Israel, if more and more of them find out what’s actually happened and happening in Palestine, the mostly unquestioned support for the State of Israel from the Western world, in particular the United States, may start to wane and eventually collapse.
In turn, without this unchallenged support, without the United States’ vetos in the Security Council, many of the oppressive policies of the State of Israel, in particular the military occupation in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, will not be able to sustain.
Hence, it’s no wonder why the Israeli government considered this show a grave concern, so much so as to call it a “hatchet job”—rarely the Palestinian narrative enters the mainstream media.
Besides, the document Kairos Palestine mentioned in the show lent a strong credibility to this narrative. Signed by 13 patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem, and endorsed by numerous other Christian leaders from various denominations, it advocates peaceful resistance. The signees include members from the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church.
There are things in or not in the show that still leave much to be desired though. For example, it failed to take into account the Messianic Jews (a sect of Jewish Christians) and the other subtle ways the Christians are being persecuted which, according to an Israeli reporter, include:
- Denial of visas to Christian workers.
- Refusal to recognize the legal status of churches.
- Missionary activities being monitored and sabotaged.
- Interference of clergy appointment.
- Molestations and even terrorist attack.
- Spitting on priests, urinating and defecating on churches.
With all of the above carried out directly by Israel’s Ministry of the Interior (MOI), or by extreme Orthodox Jews under tacit approval by and/or subtle collaboration with the MOI.
Besides, it implied that the separation barrier was the only reason terrorist attacks were subdued, without attributing the truce with Hamas and Palestinian Authority’s co-operation, and that, as of today, there are still Palestinians living on both sides of the wall (one-fifth of the Israeli citizens are Palestinian Arabs). Also, it failed to mention that the wall, if indeed intended purely for security, could have been built along the Green Line, or on the Israel side. Instead, it’s being built on the Palestinian side, and often on lands confiscated from the Palestinians.
Moreover, the show failed to address the wider problem that, the Palestinian Christians are not suffering at the hands of the Israeli government for being Christians, but because they’re part of the larger Palestinian population, whose suffering is still in many cases disguised as an “undesirable” result of the security measures “necessary” for the security of the State of Israel. The security of the Israeli Jews, while important, is often used as a get-out-of-jail-free card without any critical examination.
Furthermore, it still painted a largely dichotomous picture between the Muslims and Christians, between the Israelis and the Palestinians, between political Islam and political Judaism with Christians squeezed in the middle. Failing to mention that some of the Palestinian political figures are Christians themselves; Palestinian Muslims and Christians often struggle together against the occupation; and the grassroot campaigns consisting of Arabs, Jews and internationals. Not to mention that there are extremists in every religion and ethnic group, including Christianity itself.
Nonetheless, the show still gave the audience a refreshing perspective from most of the Western world used to see and believe.
With the mainstream media began to pick up the realities in the Holy Land, we Christians can no longer afford to look the other way and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. And how the church respond to this challenge shall be a testimony of its role as a peacemaker on earth.