Their letter starts on a religious note (" 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel!' we will sing and pray as we make the advent journey to Christmas"), but it quickly shifts gears. The second paragraph provides a distorted, one-sided outline of Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank over the past year, using the typical tactics of describing the incursion into Gaza in isolation from its historical background, using casualty numbers which do not differentiate combatant casualties from civilian ones, and suppressing information about Hamas use of human shields.
The letter also claims that Israel in 2009 evicted hundreds of Palestinian families in the West Bank and destroyed their homes in order to expand Israeli settlements. In support of this shocking claim, the letter cites a webpage at the Palestine Monitor website (read here) which in turn cites an unnamed study by the U.N. Rather than supporting the letter's claim that hundreds of West Bank homes were destroyed, the U.N. study figures quoted by Palestine Monitor claim only 43 homes were demolished (excluding those damaged in the Gaza war) and makes no mention whatsoever of settlement expansion. The Palestine Monitor article does go on to claim without citing a source that hundreds of Palestinian homes are "threatened by Israel’s policies", however, that article simply does not support the claim made in the missionaries' letter concerning hundreds of West Bank home destructions to expand settlements in 2009.
The letter then goes on to compare Israel's actions to those of the ancient Romans, stating:
Reflecting on the society into which Jesus was born, we see many similarities to life here today. The ancient Israelites were occupied and suffered at the hands of a foreign power. The Roman occupied lived freely, able to use and abuse the local population at will, while the subjugated peoples lived in constant uncertainty and anxiety, never sure how they would be treated or whether they would be singled out for random punishment. This is being repeated today for Palestinians living under the longest occupation in modern history, generally trying to live life and survive, but sometimes crossing the line into illegal and counterproductive violence, such as firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
To put this comparison in perspective, remember that the Roman forces in Judea are said to have massacred tens (if not hundreds) of thousands including woman and children, literally festooning roads with their crucified victims. The Roman war against the Jews included the Romans burning Jerusalem, including the temple, to the ground.
And of course, there was that whole Christ-killing thing... The letter goes on to subtly invoke that old standby, Jewish deicide:
What the Palestinian community faces, Jesus knew when he walked these stony hills.
True to form, the letter concludes with both a prayer and a pitch for members of these denominations to put their religious commitment to promoting peace and justice into action through participation in church-sponsored anti-Israel activism. It provides links to various websites which purport to even-handedly promote peace but, in fact, focus mainly on Israel-bashing -- for example, one maintained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America entitled "Peace Not Walls". (Read here.)
That ELCA webpage touts a fraudulent series of four maps purporting to show Palestinian losses and Israeli gains since 1946. In fact, it offers free of charge laminated cards bearing that series of maps to those who request them. These maps (which are commonly promoted by anti-Israel activists) utterly distort the history of the region by conflating several categories of "having land" (individual ownership, various forms of political control, etc.), by completely ignoring the historical context of Arab losses and by simply lying. The first map (labeled "Palestinian and Jewish land 1946", see below), shows land owned by Jews or Jewish agencies in white and all other land in the area, including the Negev and Judean wilderness, in green. It claims that the green was "Palestinian land", although, in fact, most of this land was not owned by either Jews or Arabs, was under the political control of the British Empire and was vacant.
Thus a map of the 1947 U.N. partition plan which divided the area between Jews and Arabs appears to show a massive loss of "Palestinian land", reflecting the fact that the largely vacant and inarable Negev desert was partitioned by the U.N. to Israeli political authority. The third map in the series (labeled "1949 - 1967") shows further decline in "Palestinian land" which resulted from Arab losses in the 1948 war. That map fails to mention that that war was a war of aggression started by the Arab states, thereby absolving them of responsibility for those losses. That map also describes the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip and the Jordanian-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as "Palestinian land". The last map (labeled "2000") inexplicably shows more than half of the West Bank, including the entire Jordan Valley excluding Jericho, as "Israeli land".
All prayers for peace and for the coming of the messiah aside, it doesn't take much to see this sort of thing for what it is: deliberately distorted anti-Israel propaganda dressed up in sheep's clothing. It would do every party to this conflict so much more good if those who purport to advocate peace would do so by promoting accurate, well-balanced views of the history of the conflict and by avoiding deliberately inflammatory invocations of Christ-killing imagery. At this or any other time of year, is that too much to ask?
NOTE: For those interested in following up on this letter, either by researching its signatories or by replying to them, the names of the signatories are listed below:
- Allison K. Schmitt, deployed staff member, Global Mission, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;
- Bethany Fullerton, Bethlehem;
- Rev. Ian W.Alexander, Global Ministries – UCC/Disciples;
- Heather & Ryan Lehman, Jerusalem
- Janet Lahr Lewis; United Methodist Liaison in Israel and Palestine
- Rev. Mark K. Holman, Pastor of the English-speaking Congregation at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Old City, Jerusalem
- Peter Miller, Jerusalem