Sunday, 28 December 2008

Why God believes in Human Rights

human right

Ben White, Third Way

Western Christians have often expressed ambivalence about the language, assumptions, and practical outworking of ‘human rights’ and the extent to which it threatens to be a rival creed: God-centred ethics replaced by well-meaning but shakily-grounded humanism.

Emerging after the horrors of World War II in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights1, the modern human rights movement has been characterised by the law professor John Witte Jr as an attempt to find a world faith to fill a spiritual void – ‘to harvest from the traditions of Christianity and the Enlightenment the rudimentary elements of a new faith and a new law that would unite a badly broken world order’.2

Interestingly though, the idea of human rights even for those of an agnostic disposition, is connected to faith. In an interview with the Observer in September, the playwright Tom Stoppard remarked that ‘unless there is, for want of a better term, a spiritual universe, I don’t see what is so important about anything including human rights. What I really think is that everybody who believes in human rights is unspokenly, possibly unconsciously, accepting some form of immaterial reality’. 3

For Christians this is both encouraging and humbling. It requires us to have a generous enough understanding of the Kingdom that we celebrate and value what is good where we find it. John Kinahan of Forum 18 News Service, a Christian initiative providing original reporting and analyses on violations of freedom of religion or belief, puts it like this: ‘Do we defend human rights because they are in the UDHR, or because they stand for values which existed before the UDHR and are expressed in it?’4 It is a good question.

Read more here

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Building Community to Defeat Extremism


Remember that phrase in the film Miss Congeniality when all the beauty contestants are asked what is the one most important thing our society needs? They all reply “world peace” and the crowd cheers ecstatically. What is your wish for Virginia Water in 2009? Sounds a little more specific than your hopes for the entire world doesn’t it?

Focussing on Virginia Water moves us from generalities to responsibilities, from what we hope others will do to what we can do. And sometimes it only takes one person’s initiative. I hope you too were inspired by PC Elaine Bryant’s initiative to get the first ever Virginia Water community Christmas trees up. I kept thinking two things – first, why hadn’t we done it before and second, see what a person with vision and determination can achieve in a few weeks to bring us together.

OK, we are only talking about two Christmas trees with lights for heaven’s sake but that is not the point. Judging by the hundreds of people who turned out on a cold wet evening, including families with small children and senior citizens, to sing carols, drink mulled wine and eat mince pies and ginger bread men, perhaps PC Bryant’s initiative struck a chord in a lot of us. We certainly had more police officers in Virginia Water than I have ever seen before.

So what is my hope for Virginia Water in 2009? To see you and everyone else in the community come to know Jesus as your friend and leader. That is my first hope and prayer. If you want to know more, come along any Sunday at 9:30, 11:00 or 6:30.

My second hope is to see us as a community grow closer together in the year ahead. With the recession beginning to bite harder and forecast to last at least a year, with the steady rise in radical political and religious extremism, anti-social behaviour and the threat of terrorism ever before us, the temptation in 2009 will be to retreat into our shells or begin to blame others for our woes.

Remember Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts that fed off the back of the Great Depression? How do we avoid it ever happening again? If we are tempted to think it could never happen here, we need to think again. I was pleased to see that the Holocaust Research Centre of Royal Holloway University are collaborating with German educational institutions in a conference this month in Berlin on holocaust perpetrators. The conference will address how and why ‘normal’ people become genocide perpetrators.

With the leaking in November of the names, addresses and occupations of the 12,000 members of the British National Party (BNP), media attention, has focussed on the handful of police officers, teachers and soldiers so identified. While membership of the political party is entirely legal, certain occupations are banned from being members of the BNP.

I was encouraged by two aspects of the incident. First, membership of such parties is still perceived to be an embarrassment to the majority of people in Britain. Second, given legitimate concerns over evidence of institutional racism and anti-semitism I was relieved that so few Christian leaders were listed.

Ben Wilson, a spokesman for the Church of England, said in November. "The church's General Synod passed a motion in 2004 stating that any political movement that seeks to divide our communities on the basis of ethnicity is an affront to the nature of God revealed in creation and scripture and is a grave danger to harmonious community relationships; consequently voting for and/or supporting a political party that offers racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship.”

So how do we combat religious and political extremism and build community here in Virginia Water? Here are three ideas:

1. Support the Virginia Water Community Association; the Royal British Legion; our three local schools PTA’s and governing bodies at Trumps Green, Christ Church and St Ann’s Heath; the Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies; the Library; the Help the Aged charity shop; and further afield, White Lodge and St Peters Hospital. There’s also the lobby against the incinerator at Trumps Farm. I am sure you can think of others.

2. Volunteer to serve in the community. At Christ Church, we encourage every member to volunteer at least an hour a week in the church and community – with things like a monthly senior citizen’s lunch club and Scallywags and Cherubs toddler groups. If everyone in Virginia Water volunteered an hour a week to the community, it would be the equivalent of employing 18 people. Two hours each and it would be the equivalent of employing 36 people. A sign of a healthy community is how well it cares for the most vulnerable – whether in terms of gender, health, age or race. How do you think we are doing?

3. Support community based events in 2009. There will hopefully be the VWCA Carnival Capers, the open air Summer art exhibition, the school productions and Fayres, the Polo Championship, the Wentworth bonfire, the Remembrance Sunday wreath laying, and now the Christmas tree lighting. At Christ Church we have added annual events like Mothering Sunday, the Bank Holiday Rogation Walk around Virginia Water, a Summer Picnic in the Park and of course the Church festivals of Easter, Harvest and Christmas to help build community.

So, how about it? What is your hope for Virginia Water in 2009? What are you prepared to do to turn it into a reality? If you have other ideas on how to strengthen our community write a letter to the editor. May the Lord bless you and those you love throughout the year ahead.

Article published in the January edition of Connection, the community magazine of Virginia Water

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Rico & Lucy's Wedding


Rico Tice married Lucy on Saturday 20th December at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. It was a truly joyful occasion. You can access some of the 'unofficial' photographs here. May the Lord richly bless them in their marriage, now and in the years to come.

Recommended Bible Software


The Most important book in the world is the Bible. The most widely read book in the world is the Bible. The most highly prized book in the world is the Bible. The most suppressed book in the world is the Bible. And the most frequently downloaded book in countries that suppress religious freedom… is the Bible.

I probably use electronic versions of the Bible as much as my print version. As I travel a lot to teach and preach, having access to my Bibles, commentaries, encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries on my PDA and laptop is indispensable.

As a trustee of the International Bible Society-Send the Light (IBS-STL) Ministries Trust, its perhaps not surprising that I favour the New International Version (NIV) and Today’s New International Version (TNIV), but then again the NIV is the most widely read translation in English.

So what software would I recommend? The short answer is all of them for different reasons. Here is a list of the software I use regularly – in alphabetical order. True, there is some overlap between them and you will probably only want one or two (and the NET Bible and FreeBibleSoftware from the E4 Group is… free!). And I’m sure there are other excellent packages I do not personally own.

Laridian
Laridian provides a wide range of Bible translations, commentaries, encyclopaedias and dictionaries for the iPhone, Blackberry, iPod, Pocket PC, Palm devices and also Windows based personal computers. I use Laridian on a daily basis.

Libronix
Libronix used to be called Logos. I have had this software package for about as long as my PC Study Bible. I like its seamless library of resources.

The NET Bible
The NET Bible is an imaginative ‘open source’ project that provides high quality Bible study tools and resources within reach of the whole world without charge. You can access the NET Bible here.

PC Study Bible
The PC Study Bible was the first package I bought and I have found it enormously helpful over the years.

Pradis
Pradis is a simple to use but comprehensive Bible software package. I use it most frequently to cut and paste scripture into sermons.

QuickVerse
QuickVerse
produce a wide range of software packages including for Palm Pilots and mobile phones. They even link to Google maps.

WordSearch
I have always liked Wordsearch because they include the Navigator’s Bible study questions – called Lessonmaker. This is a great tool if you are preparing Bible studies. You can buy it separately or as part of WordSearch.

Besides www.Bible.org and the E4 Group, I would also recommend www.Sermoncentral.com for free resources.

I commend these scripture resources that enable you to access the Word of God digitally for free or low cost. And if you want a print version in another language see here.

And since we are having this conversation, may I challenge you to contribute financially to the work of IBS-STL to enable people in other parts of the world receive a copy of the Scriptures in their own language for free?

See here for more information.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Human Rights in Iran

The BBC carried a report today on the closure by Iranian police of the office of a human rights group led by the Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi.

According to the BBC,

"Judiciary officials claimed said the centre was acting as an illegal political party, and had contacts with local and foreign organisations, local media reported.The raid came shortly before the centre was to host a celebration for the 60th anniversary of Human Rights Day.

Ms Ebadi, who has repeatedly criticised Iran's human rights record, said it would not stop her supporters' work."We will meet again somewhere else and will continue to support the rights of activists and political prisoners," she told the Associated Press.

In a statement, the judiciary said it had ordered the closure of the Human Rights Defenders Centre in Tehran because it did not have the required legal permits, the Mehr news agency reported.

It had also been "promoting illegal activities such as issuing statements on different occasions, sending letters to domestic and foreign organisations, holding press conferences, meetings and conferences" which created an atmosphere "of media publicity against the establishment in recent years", the statement added.

Ms Ebadi became the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for work that included promoting the rights of women and children in Iran and worldwide.

CNN carried a similar report - see here

According to CNN, "...the center -- which has operated for over five years in Tehran -- "is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights" and "has also been awarded a human rights prize by the Human Rights National Commission in France."

"This center is very well known and credible in Iran," she said in 2006. The Nobel committee has described Ebadi as a champion of human rights who "sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights.

"As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threats to her own safety."

Time Magazine ran an article in May 2006 entitled, Ten Questions for Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi's biography is here

What did the aide say about the Bishop…?

Lambeth Palace has admitted to sacking an employee for writing an offensive remark about Bishop Michael in a memo - reported today in the Independent and summarised below.

"His outspoken views on gay rights and the integration of Muslim communities have attracted vitriolic criticism and even earned him death threats from outside the Church of England.

Now the controversial Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, 59, has found himself the target of a scatological attack by an aide in the offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

The rogue insult appeared in a confidential list of job vacancies and prospective candidates which was drawn up by the clergy appointments adviser, the Rev John Lee. The offending member of Dr Williams’s staff has since been sacked.

In the letter, Mr Lee admitted that the original version of the document had "contained a very offensive remark that was inserted by a person or persons (as yet) unknown and for which we extend our deepest and most sincere apologies".

Church speculation about the incident has been rife for weeks as Anglican insiders argue over which of Dr Nazir-Ali’s recent remarks might have provoked such hateful abuse from a Lambeth Palace official. The bishop’s principled stand against gay bishops is thought by church insiders to have prompted the attack.

However, the bishop also has his supporters. He received a standing ovation before even uttering a single word of his keynote speech delivered to the conservative-leaning Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem this year. His views on multicultural Britain have also won the approval of the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips."

Source: Independent

Ruth Gledhill, writing in the Times adds further comment to this story here.

Joan Bakewell interviewed Bishop Michael on the BBC today - see a transcript here.

Listen here.

Once a Political Riser, an Israeli Challenges His Country’s Identity


Ethan Bronner has written an important article in today's New York Times about Avraham Burg's views on Israel and Zionism.

"JERUSALEM — THERE was a time not so long ago when Avraham Burg was viewed by many Israelis as proof that the inherent tensions of Zionism — religious versus secular, insular versus worldly, Jewish state versus state of all its citizens — could be reconciled with grace. Here was a religiously observant Jew with a cosmopolitan outlook, a decorated paratrooper who believed deeply in peace with the Arabs, an eloquent, fast-rising public figure accessible to a broad range of citizens.

Widely known by his nickname, Avrum, Mr. Burg, a happily married father of six and the son of one of Israel’s most admired and longest-serving government ministers, was talked about as a candidate for prime minister. Long before his 50th birthday, he led the World Zionist Organization and served as speaker in Parliament.

But four years ago Mr. Burg not only walked away from politics, but also basically walked away from Zionism. In a book that came out last year and has just been translated and released in the United States, he said that Israel should not be a Jewish state, that its law of return granting citizenship to any Jew should be radically altered, that Israeli Arabs were like German Jews during the Second Reich and that the entire society felt eerily like Germany just before the rise of Hitler."

Source: New York Times Read the rest of the article here

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Palestinians caught on the 'wrong' side of the Separation Wall


Israel's wall has forced Palestinians to move home - right into Jerusalem

Stephen Farrell, writing in the Times Newspaper

"East to West, the flight has begun. Israel’s controversial “separation barrier”, expanding inexorably over wadis and high streets, is near completion along large stretches of its route. Slab by 30ft slab, it seals off Jewish-majority West Jerusalem to protect it from West Bank suicide bombers. Except that the wall designed to keep out Palestinians has driven thousands of them into inner Jerusalem.

Most East Jerusalem Arabs lucky enough to hold the much-prized Israeli Jerusalem identity cards granting them residency rights have already slipped inside the concrete curtain before its gates slam shut.

The result is drastic social and demographic changes to the outskirts of a Biblical city that is now twice-walled — from some vistas Ariel Sharon’s concrete legacy is clearly visible outside Suleiman the Magnificent’s Old City ramparts.

The “outer” neighbourhoods now lie half-deserted, abandoned by those able and wealthy enough to move.

In the “inner” suburbs the laws of supply and demand have doubled rents and increased land prices in Arab neighbourhoods and even — irony of ironies — forced the new arrivals into Jewish areas. “Many Arabs are moving into the settlements because they are very close to the Arab areas,” said Raed Jaber, a 27-year-old Arab from al-Eizariya, who now owns a creperie serving the overwhelmingly Jewish residents of the settlement of Pisgat Zeev.

“I’ll move in myself in a year or so when I get married,” he shrugs, dismissing antipathy from religious Jews who have leafleted the area urging residents not to rent to Arabs. Pisgat Zeev is regarded as a neighbourhood of Jerusalem by Israel, but lies beyond the green line and was built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

On its website the Israeli Ministry of Defence points out that it only becomes a wall — it prefers the euphemism “solid barrier system” — along a small fraction of its route in densely populated urban areas such as Jerusalem and “to prevent sniper fire into Israel and on major highways and roads”. A few minutes’ drive north of Jerusalem city centre the Arab neighbourhood of Dahiyat al-Bareed lies just on the wrong side, by a few metres. Here the towering barricade divides streets and even families, local frustration registered by “Victory to Hassan Nasrallah” and a swastika daubed on the bare concrete. Taxis and commuters can still flit through a narrow gap left for builders to complete the final section, but this is expected to close within weeks. The exodus is evident. Streets are empty, the school roll has fallen from 1,500 to 500 pupils, blocks of flats have lost 80 per cent of their tenants and businesses have closed, moving north to Ramallah.

Source: Times. Read rest of article here

Further evidence of West Bank Palestinians on the Israeli side of the Separation Wall

In a USA Today article, Israeli government spokseman Zalman Shoval admitted tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians are now on the Israeli side of the Apartheid Wall.

"The starting point is not necessarily the Green Line. The starting point is really how to get the best security ... and how to avoid making life difficult for those 50,000 Palestinians who find themselves ... on the wrong side of the fence," he said.

B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation puts the figure much, much higher. "The dominant principle in setting the route in the Jerusalem area is to run the route along the city's municipal border. In 1967, Israel annexed into Jerusalem substantial parts of the West Bank, a total of some 70,000 dunams [17,500 acres]. Some 220,000 Palestinians now live in these annexed areas."

They go on to observe,

"Israeli officials state at every occasion that two considerations were instrumental in choosing the route: maintaining security and obstructing Palestinian life as little as possible. However, using the municipal border as the primary basis for determining the route is inconsistent with these two considerations. On the one hand, the route leaves more than 200,000 Palestinians, who identify with the struggle of their people, on the "Israeli" side of the barrier; on the other hand, the route separates Palestinians and curtails the existing fabric of life on both sides of the barrier."

In this Agence France Presse report of October 2007, some 300 Palestinians were evicted from their tents near Hebron because they too are on the 'wrong' side of the barrier.

The Jewish Virtual Library also admits that in Jerusalem, "An estimated 55,000 Jerusalem Arabs from four neighborhoods are expected to be on the Palestinian side of the fence while 180,000 Arab residents of the city remain on the Israeli side of the barrier."

It is heartening that there has been a major reduction in the number of terrorist suicide attacks in Israel. It is obvious that construction of the Separation Barrier has indeed restricted access to Israel from potential suicide bombers in the West Bank, which is in itself a good thing. However, the presence of tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians now living on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier undermines the credibility of the argument that it was built entirely for security.

The ruling of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of the wall may be viewed here

Summary of International Court of Justice Ruling:

1. The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law;

2 Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto, in accordance with paragraph 151 of this Opinion;

3. Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem;

4. All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction; all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention;

5. The United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and the associated régime, taking due account of the present Advisory Opinion.

Episcopal Leaders Blast Obama for Rising Status of Rick Warren at Inauguration



by David Virtue

Two revisionist Episcopal bishops, one of whom is openly homosexual, as well as the lesbian leader of the Episcopal Church's LGBT pansexualist organization Integrity, have come out blasting President-elect Barack Obama for his choice of Evangelical author and preacher Dr. Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation saying he is unqualified to be "America's Pastor."

Washington Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane said he was "profoundly disappointed" by Obama's choice, accusing Warren of being "homophobic, xenophobic, and willing to use the machinery of the state to enforce his prejudices-even going so far as to support the assassination of foreign leaders."

"In his home state of California, Mr. Warren's campaigned aggressively to deny gay and lesbian couples equal rights under the law, relying on arguments that are both morally offensive and theologically crude. Christian leaders differ passionately with one another over the morality of same-sex relationships, but only the most extreme liken the loving, lifelong partnerships of their fellow citizens to incest and pedophilia, as Mr. Warren has done," wrote Chane in a press release from Episcopal Church House on Mount Saint Alban.

Chane said he is "deeply troubled" at the president-elect's willingness to associate himself with a man who espouses these views as a means of reaching out to religious conservatives. It suggests a willingness to use the aspirations of gay and lesbian Americans as bargaining chips, said Chane.

"While acknowledging Warren's fight in the AIDS epidemic and global warming, it does not justify the repression of others."

"I understand that in selecting Mr. Warren, Mr. Obama is signaling a willingness to work with both sides in our country's culture wars. I appreciate that there is political advantage in elevating the relatively moderate Mr. Warren above some of his brethren on the Religious Right. But in honoring Mr. Warren, the president-elect confers legitimacy on attitudes that are deeply contrary to the all-inclusive love of God. He is courting the powerful at the expense of the marginalized, and in doing so, he stands the Gospel on its head."

The Episcopal Church's first consecrated non-celibate homosexual bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire described Dr. Warren's selection "like a slap in the face." ...

The Post editorial then ripped the Left, "In the United States, as in Canada, the left side of the political spectrum always talks a good game about diversity, pluralism and inclusiveness. The catch is that they don't really intend to indulge these values, except in alliance with people who share their opinions. Diversity is great when it means affirmative action and speech codes. But it goes too far when it strays into friendly relations with conservatives."

True. The Left's obeisance towards America's sexualized Culture of Death (Pope Benedict XVI) and its capitulation to a post-modern morally bankrupt culture comes as no surprise to orthodox Episcopalians and newly minted evangelical Anglicans who have broken away from the Episcopal Church.

It is precisely this kind of uninclusiveness and sexual fascism that runs rampant throughout The Episcopal Church, even as its most notorious pansexualists preach "inclusivity" Sunday by Sunday from parish pulpits.

On hearing of his participation at Obama's inauguration, Warren had this to say: "I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony. Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America. The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God's blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America's leaders during this critical time in our nation's history."

Read more of David Virtue's article here
Read Time Magazine on Rick Warren here
Rick Warren defends the invitation here

Anglicans versus Episcopalians in America


Holy Smoke
Damian Thompson

You may think that, in the United States, Episcopalians are Anglicans and vice versa. Think again, says Jordan Hylden in this eye-opening article in First Things.

In America, "Episcopalian" is coming to mean the official, gay-friendly Church that not only ordained Gene Robinson as bishop but - increasingly - thinks he is a very good thing. Its liturgy is mostly groovy Catholic-lite, its theology achingly liberal, and if Rowan Williams hadn't ended up as Archbishop of Canterbury (a job he badly wanted) then I suspect he'd feel pretty much at home there. He is, after all, essentially a supporter of a form of gay marriage, though only when the microphones are turned off.

"Anglican", on the other hand, is coming to mean conservative evangelical or traditionalist High Church, sympathetic to GAFCON but not to homosexuals. As Hylden, an Anglican in a Methodist seminary, puts it:

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations—to be genuinely Episcopalian, they believe, means to be in fellowship with the Anglican communion, and to be authentically Anglican is to be part of a global communion of catholic Christians united by creedal orthodoxy and a commitment to read Scripture, pray, and worship together in the historic Anglican tradition. But although this sounds wonderful in theory, it is simply not what has happened, by and large, in the American context. Because of what’s taken place over the past five years, Episcopalian is now understood to be a term set in opposition to Anglican, and Anglican refers not to a global catholic communion but rather to an American-African evangelical phenomenon. Whether we think the words ought to bear these meanings is not the point—my point is that this is what the words actually do mean, in newspapers and conversations and pulpits across the country.

And soon, that is what they could mean in theory as well as practice. Conservative Anglicans in America are busy building an autonomous province, the Anglican Church in North America, headed by the Most Rev Robert Duncan, who was until recently Bishop of Pittsburgh and is a completely kosher (as it were) Anglican bishop within the jurisdiction of the Province of the Southern Cone. Whether he will be an authentic archbishop of a new province is doubtful, shall we say - but, then, whether The Episcopal Church (TEC) can remain part of the Anglican Communion is also doubtful. Don't be fooled by those fancy chasubles: in many respects it's already an independent, DIY denomination whose modus operandi is closer in style to that of Unitarian Universalism than to apostolic Catholic/Orthodox Christianity.

What we're witnessing, in other words, is a multi-vehicle pile-up on the Anglican freeway. So much for the breathing space that Rowan is supposed to have created at his triumphant Lambeth Conference.

Damien Thompson Sunday Telegraph

If Gaza Falls




By Sara Roy

Israel’s siege of Gaza began on 5 November, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip, no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce between Israel and Hamas established last June. Although both sides had violated the agreement before, this incursion was on a different scale. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel and the violence has not abated since then. Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims.

The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt. That is why the Israelis tolerate the hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt around which an informal but increasingly regulated commercial sector has begun to form. The overwhelming majority of Gazans are impoverished and officially 49.1 per cent are unemployed. In fact the prospect of steady employment is rapidly disappearing for the majority of the population.

On 5 November the Israeli government sealed all the ways into and out of Gaza. Food, medicine, fuel, parts for water and sanitation systems, fertiliser, plastic sheeting, phones, paper, glue, shoes and even teacups are no longer getting through in sufficient quantities or at all. According to Oxfam only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza in November. This means that an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered the strip compared to an average of 123 in October this year and 564 in December 2005. The two main food providers in Gaza are the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food programme (WFP).

UNRWA alone feeds approximately 750,000 people in Gaza, and requires 15 trucks of food daily to do so. Between 5 November and 30 November, only 23 trucks arrived, around 6 per cent of the total needed; during the week of 30 November it received 12 trucks, or 11 per cent of what was required. There were three days in November when UNRWA ran out of food, with the result that on each of these days 20,000 people were unable to receive their scheduled supply. According to John Ging, the director of UNRWA in Gaza, most of the people who get food aid are entirely dependent on it. On 18 December UNRWA suspended all food distribution for both emergency and regular programmes because of the blockade.

The WFP has had similar problems, sending only 35 trucks out of the 190 it had scheduled to cover Gazans’ needs until the start of February (six more were allowed in between 30 November and 6 December). Not only that: the WFP has to pay to store food that isn’t being sent to Gaza. This cost $215,000 in November alone. If the siege continues, the WFP will have to pay an extra $150,000 for storage in December, money that will be used not to support Palestinians but to benefit Israeli business.

Read more here

Sara Roy teaches at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and is the author of Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Nonviolence: A Powerful Alternative



This article, written several years ago by a friend and colleague, reiterates my own personal position. While I respect the right of self determination, and the implicit right to resist aggression, Jesus nevertheless has called his followers to the path of non-violence, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:38-48).

Nonviolence: A Powerful Alternative
by Jonathan Kuttab




The events of September 11 have created a new reality requiring the Palestinian Authority to abandon, and even to combat, manifestations of armed resistance to the Israeli occupation. In fact, the PNA has already announced its acceptance of a unilateral ceasefire, and President Arafat has declared that Palestinians will not shoot even if fired upon. Furthermore, he has declared the military wings of all factions to be illegal and is trying to enforce that policy in the face of blatant provocations by Israel including assassinations and incursions into Palestinian areas. If the “ceasefire” is not holding, it is not for lack of effort by the PNA.

Does this mean the end of resistance to the occupation and acquiescence in continued subjugation of the Palestinians, or is there another method for an oppressed people to continue their struggle? For those who think only in terms of armed struggle, it must be a frustrating dilemma: Either bow to the pressure and accept the occupation or continue armed resistance, which may be counterproductive and injurious to the cause.

Yet this should not be the dilemma facing Palestinians. In my opinion, the road is now wide open to engage in a massive campaign of nonviolent resistance to the occupation. The lessons of the past, as well as of the second intifada, clearly point in that direction.

To begin with, Palestinians never were, and are unlikely to be, a match for the Israelis in terms of brute violence and firepower. While this intifada has shown them capable of inflicting losses on the other side and rendering many outlying settlements insecure, they cannot (alone or even with the support of the Arab armies) hope to defeat Israel in an open military confrontation. To the contrary, open warfare provides the justification for Israel to use the full array of its military might and unites the Israeli public behind the settlers and the right wing. It also places the Palestinians in an impossible dilemma, since the more casualties they inflict on Israelis, the less likely their cause is to prosper internationally and, hence, the less pressure there is on Israel to accede to their just demands.

By contrast, during the first intifada, Palestinian unarmed tactics effectively neutralized the superiority of the Israeli military and split the Israeli public down the middle. Those tactics also generated effective international pressure on behalf of the Palestinian cause, and helped reverse hateful stereotypes and images of the Palestinians.

More importantly, the use of nonviolent tactics allowed all sectors of Palestinian society to participate in the resistance rather than just the armed few, which released the creative energies of the people in a beautiful, unifying, and uplifting struggle full of hope and promise. To be sure, there were many casualties and much suffering, and the occupation did not end; yet neither did the present intifada, which also created many martyrs and much suffering. The difference was that the nonviolent struggle highlighted the justice of our cause, which rests on morality, international solidarity, and international law rather than on brute force and overwhelming military superiority. To insist on waging the struggle only in the military sphere is, therefore, doubly foolish because it deprives us of our natural advantages and allows the conflict to play out in an arena of military violence where our enemies are vastly superior.

Why, then, does the Palestinian leadership not move into a nonviolent struggle? I believe there are several reasons for this.

First, while we as a people have often used nonviolent resistance and tactics, the language and philosophy of nonviolence have remained largely unknown in our communities and political discourse. Although most of our struggle against the occupation has been political, such tactics as strikes, demonstrations, human rights advocacy, non-cooperation, boycotts, insistence on national symbols, and unarmed resistance to land confiscations have also been used. Even stone throwing, which while potentially harmful and therefore violent, was mostly utilized as a form of defiance and rejection of the occupation rather than as a serious weapon. Note, for example, how Edward Said used it in South Lebanon. Yet we have never defined these tactics accurately as methods of nonviolent resistance.

By contrast, we idolized and enshrined the language of “the gun” and made it central to our political culture despite the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinian population has never touched a weapon. The presence of the PNA, with its experience in Lebanon and structure of a traditional Arab regime, only exaggerated this trend and foolishly suggested that we now actually have a military force and a military option.

Additionally, there is a misunderstanding of how nonviolence works. Nonviolent resistance does not guarantee that the other side will refrain from violence or that there will be no casualties. It simply creates a new paradigm, and uses “moral jujitsu” to handicap the enemy and turn his superior military force against himself as he brutalizes a nonviolent opponent.

In my opinion, the main obstacle preventing the widespread adoption of a nonviolent strategy by Palestinians is the popular confusion of nonviolence with passivity, timidity, and acquiescence to injustice. In reality, nonviolence requires greater courage, more discipline, training, and sacrifice, and can be very militant and proactive. Therefore, as the Palestinian Authority responds to the new reality by suspending or combating manifestations of legitimate armed resistance, it would do well to consider the option of nonviolent resistance. If it does not, then ordinary Palestinians may well consider this as the only viable alternative, since acceptance of continued occupation is not an option.

Jonathan Kuttab is a Palestinian lawyer based in Jerusalem.
Written exclusively for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

The Legality of the Intifada: Does International Law Really Matter?

Thomas Haidon in this article raises the question of whether international law allows the right of resistance, such as in the Palestinian intifada.

He argues that it is implicit in the intrinsic right to self determination. This 'right' clearly does not however extend to the targeting of civilians or the justification or or use of suicide bombings - something that Canon Naim Ateek and Sabeel courageously addressed in: Suicide Bombings: A Palestinian Perspective

“Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country… Why should they accept that?David Ben-Gurion (1956) 1

1948 expulsion

1948 expulsion

Recent disturbing developments have demonstrated how powerless international law can be. This has recently reared its ugly head at the refusal of Israel to allow a United Nations team to investigate crimes against humanity in Jenin. This is nothing new as Israel has continuously disregarded United Nations resolutions since General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1948. But Israel’s failure to abide by United Nations resolutions is not the central problem. The problem has been the inability of the United Nations to enforce Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. Why has international law essentially been a paper tiger?

The United Nations and international law have again and again affirmed and reaffirmed the right of Palestinian self-determination (manifesting in an independent state) as well as the right of the Palestinians to engage in qualified armed resistance (which decidedly hinges upon the right of self-determination).

Self-determination is a fundamental principle of international law. Its analysis is a key element in the justification of the Palestinian people’s resistance to Israeli occupation. Without the right of self-determination, Palestinians would have nothing. Article 1 of the United Nations Charter establishes that one of the purposes of the United Nations is: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.” 2 The principle of self-determination is also prevalent in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article I states: “All people have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” 3

In General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV), the Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in paragraph 2 provides that all peoples subject to colonial rule have the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Self-determination, as understood in this context, has clear meaning within a colonial paradigm. The NGO Forum, 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, concluded that Palestinians are subjects to “colonialism” by Israel:

Recognizing further that the Palestinian people are one such people currently enduring a colonialist, discriminatory military occupation that violates their fundamental human right of self-determination including the illegal transfer of Israeli citizens into the occupied territories and establishment of a permanent illegal Israeli infrastructure; and other racist methods amounting to Israel's brand of apartheid and other racist crimes against humanity. Recognizing therefore that the Palestinian people have the clear right under international law to resist such occupation by any means provided under international law until they achieve their fundamental human right to self-determination and end the Israeli racist system including its own brand of apartheid.

Palestine was directly under British colonial rule pursuant to the British Mandate granted by the League of Nations. Palestinian self-determination was not realized after the British Mandate was lifted. The declaration of the Israeli state began a new era of colonialism, in which Palestinians are now subjugated to a greater extent than they were under the British Mandate and the Ottoman Empire.

1948 refugees

These definitions, although a positive attempt at the codification of the principle of self-determination, fail to delineate actual rights or obligations outside of the colonization context. The Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations has formulated a more specific definition of the right to self-determination:

By virtue of the principal of equal rights and self determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all people have the right to freely determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter. 4

Furthermore, the Declaration outlines the duties of a state: “[To] refrain from any forcible action which deprives the people… of their right to self determination and freedom and independence.” After establishing the ambit of self-determination as it relates to colonialism, paragraph 2 of the Declaration further states:

… bearing in mind that subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a violation of the principle, as well as a denial of fundamental human rights, and is contrary to the Charter.5

It should be noted that the reference “contrary to the Charter” is tantamount to saying any “alien subjugation, domination, and exploitation” of peoples is a direct violation of cardinal principles of international law. In fact the Declaration arguably supports by implication active resistance of a people seeking to exercise their right of self-determination: “In their actions against, and resistance to, such forcible actions in pursuit of the exercise of their right to self determination, such peoples are entitled to seek and receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.” 6

The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council has affirmed the Palestinian right to self-determination. It was first recognized by the United Nations Partition Plan, set forth in General Assembly resolution 181. General Assembly Resolution 181 called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate into two states: an Arab-Palestinian state, and a Jewish state. 7 In doing so the United Nations recognized the parity of the two peoples. However, invoking resolution 181 has served as a major point of controversy. In May of 1999 members of the United States Senate sought a condemnation of the actions of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, which based the Palestinian argument for self-determination solely on 181.8

The fact that Arabs rejected the Partition Plan in 1947 is irrelevant. Resolution 181, by virtue of calling for an Arab state and a Jewish state side by side, has affirmed the right of Palestinian self-determination. Resolution 181 is a statement of international law that was intended to be followed, regardless of whether one party initially rejected it and chose later to embrace it. General Assembly resolution 194, passed on December 11, 1948, in paragraph 11:

[Resolves] that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations.

1967 refugees

United Nations Security Council resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, arguably called for the Israeli withdrawal of all territories occupied in 1967: “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” 9 Additionally, resolution 242 calls for a “just settlement of the refugee problem.”10 Resolution 338, passed on October 22, 1973, called for the implementation of resolution 242.

The language behind resolution 242 sparked somewhat of a legitimate controversy. When the resolution calls for a withdrawal from the territories, did that mean a total and complete withdrawal from all territories occupied by Israel? Some of the drafters of the resolution argued that somewhat ambiguous language was placed deliberately in the resolution. British Foreign Minister George Brown explained in 1967:

As I have explained before, there is reference, in the vital United Nations Security Council Resolution, both to withdrawal from territories and to secure and recognized boundaries. As I have told the House previously, we believe that these two things should be read concurrently and that the omission of the word 'all' before the word 'territories' is deliberate.

The intent of the drafters however was clear: to maintain a semblance of a consensus on a very delicate controversy. It is safe to say that certain language had to be avoided in order to pass as a resolution. Professor Richard Falk, in his article “International Law and the Al-Aqsa Intifada,” argues that 242 and 338 mandates an Israeli withdrawal of the lands occupied after the 1967 and 1973 wars. 11

General Assembly resolution 34/70 was passed on December 6, 1979. According to Falk, this resolution should be read as asserting the need for any solution to the conflict to be in “accordance with the right of self determination, regardless of what the parties might negotiate.” 12

International law, through the United Nations Charter, ICCPR, ICESR and a myriad of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, has recognized a Palestinian right to self-determination, there can be no doubt of this. Assuming now that the Palestinians indeed have the right to self-determination, does it then follow that they have the right to engage in an armed resistance, subject to limitations against Israeli occupation? This question can be answered in the affirmative.

One reason international law has failed is the power that one nation wields: the United States. The United States is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. As a permanent member, the United States may veto any draft resolution that it finds objectionable. The United States has exercised this veto power on numerous occasions, specifically resolutions dealing with the Palestinian question. 13

On March 16, 2001, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution that proposed an international observer force in the Palestinian territories.14 The resolution also called for a cessation of all violence, including what it named “terrorist” attacks on civilians. James Cunningham, the United States representative to the UN, considered the draft resolution flawed because the resolution was “unbalanced” and because there was not any agreement from either of the parties.

The United States vetoed another important Security Council resolution on December 15, 2001, 15 that called for a cessation of violence and demanded that Israel abide by its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

These resolutions were drafted in order to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli violations of international humanitarian law. It should be noted that the United States was the only member of the Security Council to cast a veto despite the fact that other members of the Security Council considered the resolution to be reasonable and acceptable. 16

Perhaps stating that international law is an utter failure would be an overstatement. Actually, international law has spoken loud and clear that Israel is an illegal, belligerent occupying power that has continually violated well-established principles of human rights and humanitarianism. Once again the real problem is that international law has much “bark” in this conflict than “bite.” In respect to the Palestinian problem, it is a paper tiger. In order to change the role of international law in this matter to that of an “activist,” the United States must acquiesce to the will of humanity.

Thomas J. Haidon

Published on Islam Online

Ben White has also written an excellent article Why God believes in Human Rights for Third Way

The Intifada: Israel's Justification for Killing Palestinians

While this article is six years old, it has much to say about the ongoing debate as to the moral justification, or otherwise, of the Palestinian intifada.

Israel's Justification for Killing Palestinians
Kathleen Christison
former CIA political analyst

Any discussion of violence and non-violence in the Israeli-Palestinian context encounters a serious problem of definition of terms. First, each side apparently understands its use of violence as a reaction to the violence of the other. In this regard, while Israelis and Palestinians generally agree on a definition of Palestinian violence--from low level stone throwing to suicide bombings--Palestinians define Israeli "violence" in a unique way: occupation, settlement construction, closures, and curfews are "violence", regardless of how and why they came about or whether bullets are fired or people injured. This brings us to the issue of moral equivalency. In Palestinian eyes, the inadvertent killing by Israeli forces of Palestinian civilians--usually in the course of shooting at Palestinian terrorists--is considered no different at the moral and ethical level than the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers. While the shockingly high numbers of Palestinian civilians killed during the past two years undoubtedly, in some cases, reflect poor judgment or lax discipline on the part of some Israeli troops, in Palestinian eyes there is no grey area here: all violence is equivalent, whatever the motive and backdrop.

Yossi Alpher (former director, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University), "Violence and Non-Violence by Palestinians and Israelis: A Question of Definition," bitterlemons.org, October 7, 2002

Dear Dr. Alpher:

I have just read your article on non-violence in the October 7 issue of bitterlemons.org, and I want to express my dismay at your attempt to exonerate Israel for its actions since the intifada began, as well as your display of a selective morality that devises alibis for Israeli violence while condemning Palestinian violence.

At the start, you label as "unique" the Palestinian view that the occupation itself and such actions as settlement construction and closures constitute Israeli violence. I would argue, on the contrary, that this Palestinian definition of violence is not at all unique but is entirely appropriate.

Land confiscation by military force is theft, which is violence. As you well know, Israel has confiscated approximately 60% of the land area of the West Bank for military use, for settlement construction, and for road-building. The theft (violence) has been unprovoked. None of this confiscation can be explained away as a response to Palestinian terrorism. Moreover, this violence takes land from Palestinians for the exclusive use of Jews--a vile form of ethnic/religious discrimination that compounds the violence.

House demolitions carried out by military force against civilians who have no recourse to the law clearly constitute violence. When the demolitions are carried out because Palestinians have built or expanded homes without a permit, in a situation where permits are consistently denied to Palestinians, the demolitions cannot be explained away as a response to Palestinian terrorism. When the demolitions are carried out against the families of suspected Palestinian terrorists, this violence is unprovoked by the victims of the Israeli action. This is collective punishment (violence), which is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The forcible confiscation of natural resources such as water by a military administration or by armed settlers is theft, which is violence. The indisputable fact that Israeli settlers use approximately ten times as much water per capita as the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza are allowed to use, and that Palestinians must often stand in line to obtain drinking water while Israeli settlers enjoy lush gardens and swimming pools, constitutes the worst kind of violence: a violence directed at a civilian population simply because of its ethnicity and/or its religion, or rather its lack of the right ethnic or religious identity--because it is not Jewish. The denial of the basic necessities of life and basic public services to a people because they are not Jewish is violence of such immorality that it takes one's breath away.

You then proceed to compare Palestinian and Israeli violence and declare that there can be no moral equivalence between Israel's "inadvertent killing" of Palestinian civilians, "usually in the course of shooting at Palestinian terrorists," and the Palestinians' "deliberate targeting" of Israeli civilians. Your construction assumes that all Israeli killing of civilians is inadvertent, whereas all Palestinian killing of civilians is deliberate. I wonder how you explain the following:

On September 29, 2000, seven Palestinian civilians throwing stones--not lethal weapons--to protest Sharon's visit the previous day to the al-Aqsa Mosque were shot to death by Israeli soldiers and police. The shooting was not inadvertent; nor was it a response to Palestinian terrorism. The protestors were not terrorists and did not carry arms. Although Orthodox Jews in the Mea Shearim district of Jerusalem have for years thrown stones at anyone they consider a Sabbath violator, Israeli police and military have never once fired on them.

In the first few days of October 2000, 13 Israeli-Palestinian civilian protesters--some totally unarmed, some throwing stones, none carrying arms, none terrorists--were shot to death by Israeli police. The shooting was not inadvertent; nor was it a response to Palestinian terrorism. It bears repeating that, although Orthodox Jews have for years thrown stones at anyone they consider a Sabbath violator, Israeli police have never ever fired on them.

According to an Israeli journalist, a check by Israeli army intelligence three weeks into the intifada revealed that "the IDF had shot, in the first few days of the Intifada, about 700,000 different shells and bullets in the West Bank and 300,000 more in Gaza. All together about a million shells and bullets. Someone in the Central Region Command later termed the project 'a bullet for every child.' An astronomic number that provides evidence as to what happened on the ground . The IDF had been preparing for this Intifada for years, and when it broke out, it unloaded its prolonged frustration on the Palestinians . In the [Israeli] political as well as military systems there is a view that it was perhaps the IDF destructive reaction and the blow the Palestinians took in the first weeks that made the situation deteriorate and escalated it . In the beginning of October, the balance was 75 Palestinians dead with only four Israeli victims." ["The Intifada's Second Anniversary," by Ben Kaspit, Maariv, September 6, 2002]

During the first month of the intifada, through the end of October 2000, 117 Palestinian civilians were killed, including 32 kids under the age of 18 (18 under the age of 16). The killing of these 117 Palestinians was not inadvertent, and it was not a response to Palestinian terrorism. Except for the horrible lynching of two Israeli soldiers (whose perpetrators were arrested and were not among the Palestinians killed during this first month), there was no Palestinian terrorism in this period.

An American reporter watching a Palestinian funeral procession in Nablus in October 2000 watched as Palestinian teenagers broke away from the funeral near an Israeli checkpoint and took slingshots out of their pockets. "Stones were fired from slingshots, none coming close to the Israelis sitting inside a jeep with wire mesh over the windows. ... [After half an hour] the first shot rang out--a loud crack coming from the direction of the Israeli checkpoint. Another crack of weapons fire was heard, then another. Then the scattered pops became a burst, this time coming from the tree line on the hill. One young Palestinian went down, blood gushing from behind his ear. But he was alive, grazed by a ricochet. A young man shouted and pointed to a rooftop on the hill. Four small figures, Israeli soldiers, had taken positions behind the parapet and were seen taking aim. The crack-crack-crack of automatic weapons fire cut through the air, and two young men went down. One was shot in the thigh. The other was shot in the forehead, between the eyes he was the day's first fatality. [Four teenagers made molotov cocktails, without lighting them, and tried to sneak up on the Israeli checkpoint.] Suddenly from the far right, in the hills, came a burst of automatic weapons fire that sent the young men into temporary retreat. Some pointed to the hilltop, warning that Israeli sharpshooters were there. Then came a rapid burst of what sounded like heavy machine-gun fire. One long burst, then another. Two more young men fell, one shot in the head. The automatic weapons fire came closer, and from all directions--from the Israeli checkpoint, from the concrete house on the hill and from the tree line. No fire had been heard coming from the Palestinian side. But other reporters said they saw young Palestinians shooting from behind a wall--and that their shots had started the gunfire. Then the ambulances brought in a young boy with the back of his head missing. Behind him, friends ran in, shouting and carrying a piece of cardboard. On the cardboard were pieces of the boy's brains they had scooped off a wall. [The 14-year-old boy had been trying to pry a bullet out of a wall when he was shot.] 'His brains got stuck on the wall. He got stuck on the wall' [said two witnesses]. The final count in Nablus was at least five dead, perhaps six, and dozens injured." ["Death in the Afternoon," by Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, October 21, 2000]

An Israeli journalist conducted a lengthy interview with an Israeli sharpshooter in November 2000, who described himself as very careful about when he fired and described IDF orders for opening fire as "moderate"--meaning "sharpshooters are given precise orders to open fire. On people who throw firebombs, you aim for the legs, but people who pull out weapons can be shot straight on." They discussed the permissible age of Palestinian targets. "You haven't shot children? All the sharpshooters haven't shot children. If they were children, they were mistakes. They forbid us to shoot at children. How do they say this? You don't shoot a child who is 12 or younger. That is, a child of 12 or older is allowed? Twelve and up is allowed. He's not a child any more, he's already after his bar mitzvah. Something like that. Thirteen is bar mitzvah age. Twelve and up, you're allowed to shoot. That's what they tell us. Again: twelve and up you're allowed to shoot children. Because this already doesn't look to me like a child by definition. So, according to the IDF, it is 12? According to what the IDF says to its soldiers. I don't know if this is what the IDF says to the media. In the 10 seconds that I have, I have to estimate how old he is. And in what the direction the wind is blowing, and the deviation here and there, and which way he'll jump the next moment. Yes, but there are hardly any mistakes by sharpshooters. The mistakes are made by people who aren't sharpshooters. And it turns out that they happen to hit the children's heads, and all this is just by chance? If you say you have seen children that have been hit in the head a lot, then it is sharpshooters." ["Don't Shoot Till You Can See They're Over the Age of 12," by Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, November 20, 2000]

Another American reporter described the following incident in Gaza in June 2001: "It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker. 'Come on, dogs,' the voice booms in Arabic. 'Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!' I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: 'Son of a bitch!' 'Son of a whore!' The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos. Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered--death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo--but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport." ["A Gaza Diary: Scenes from the Palestinian Uprising," by Chris Hedges, Harper's magazine, October 2001]

On November 22, 2001, five Palestinian boys, aged six through 13, on the way to school were killed when they kicked an Israeli bomb deliberately planted at a crossroads. The boys' bodies were so badly mangled that doctors could not determine for some time whether four or five children were involved. This killing was not inadvertent, and it was not a response to Palestinian terrorism. In fact, there is very little difference between a bomb deliberately planted at a crossroads used by civilians and a suicide bombing deliberately aimed at civilians, except that in the first case the perpetrator survives and gets away with his crime. (I had occasion to discuss this incident at the time with an American supporter of Israel who prided himself on being "a liberal." I was disconcerted to hear him justify and defend Israel's action in planting a booby trap in a civilian area. Palestinian parents, he said, shouldn't let their children out on the streets.)

The number of cases of Israeli tanks, helicopter gunships, and fighter jets firing into civilian marketplaces to punish curfew violators, or firing into civilian homes, or firing into crowds of adults and children known to be unarmed are myriad-too numerous and frequent to be recounted here. Israeli and international human rights organizations have remarked repeatedly on Israel's disproportionate use of firepower against civilians. The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem reports that fully 80% of Palestinians killed by IDF troops enforcing curfew are children. Need I repeat: this killing is not inadvertent, and it is not a response to terrorism. Moreover, Israel doesn't care about the killings. An Israeli correspondent reported in November 2001 that, despite the fact that 700 Palestinians had been killed to that point in the intifada, the IDF had conducted only ten investigations into shootings by soldiers, and only one had led to a court martial. These 700 killings up to a year ago, and the nearly 2000 up to the present, cannot possibly all have been inadvertent, and they were clearly not all a response to Palestinian terrorism.

None of what I have recounted is, or is intended to be, an excuse or justification for Palestinian suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism. These acts, which do indeed deliberately target civilians, are indefensible. The Israeli actions described above are also instances in which civilians have been deliberately targeted, and they are also indefensible. These are not isolated incidents or aberrations or mistakes; they do not, as you put it, simply represent occasional instances of "poor judgment or lax discipline"; they are not inadvertent.

The effort to cast this struggle in moral terms, painting Israel as always an exemplar of high moral values and the Palestinians as unable to maintain those values, is extremely hypocritical and sanctimonious. It leads, moreover, to moral distortions such as the one described above in which an otherwise liberal person can be so blinded by his mental image of an ever-moral Israel populated by ever-moral Jews that he can actually defend Israel for a clear terrorist action and blame the victims for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. How the suffering and death and oppression caused by Israel's month-long siege of the West Bank in April 2002, or by the round-the-clock curfews imposed for the last four months on a civilian population--to name just a few of Israel's actions in the last 35 years of occupation--can be justified as moral and non-violent beggars the imagination.

The Israeli actions I have recounted here are the deliberate, calculated, and quite frequent actions of a military establishment and government that are, all things considered, no more moral in their wartime conduct--or indeed in their peacetime conduct--than any other nation or people, including the Palestinians. The campaign conducted since the intifada began to demonstrate that Israel is morally superior to Palestinians is part of the decades-long effort to portray Israel as superior in all ways to its Arab neighbors. As one thoughtful Jewish-American scholar has put it, the effort is meant to demonstrate that ultimately "Palestinian history and destiny are secondary to Jewish history and destiny." This moral selectivity impedes justice, justifies Israeli violence, and ultimately perpetuates the conflict year after year.

Kathleen Christison worked for 16 years as a political analyst with the CIA, dealing first with Vietnam and then with the Middle East for her last seven years with the Agency before resigning in 1979. Since leaving the CIA, she has been a free-lance writer, dealing primarily with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her book, "Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy," was published by the University of California Press and reissued in paperback with an update in October 2001. A second book, "The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story," was published in March 2002. Both Kathy and her husband Bill, also a former CIA analyst, are regular contributors to the CounterPunch website.

Source: Counterpunch

Ben White has also written an excellent article Why God believes in Human Rights for Third Way

Church of England Synod to debate reaching Muslims

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Leaders of the Church of England will debate whether enough is being done to preach the Gospel to Muslims.

Discussions will take place at the next meeting of the Church of England’s governing body, the General Synod, in February next year.

The purpose of the debate is to find out how many members share the belief that all Christians are tasked to take the message of the Gospel to non-believers, including Muslims.

A vote is expected at the end of the meeting to decide whether bishops should report to the body on “their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in multi-faith Britain”, and give examples of how the Gospel can be shared.

A lay member of the Synod, Paul Eddy, was responsible for starting the Private Members’ Motion and was outraged when it was removed from the Synod’s July agenda.

He accused the church of censorship because it feared exposing the deep divisions in the church over beliefs about preaching to people of other religions.

Mr Eddy is pleased with the news that the debate has now been rescheduled.

He said: “I’m looking forward to what I think will be a very positive debate. I’m hoping that the Church will affirm the historic tenets of our faith.

“We have a huge responsibility to share our faith with everyone in the UK including those of other faiths”, he added.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali, is likely to be one of the speakers at this event.

In May the Bishop caused a stir because of his strong remarks about radical Islam which he made in an article for political magazine, Standpoint.

In the article he warned that radical Islam could fill the “spiritual vacuum” created by the ‘60s liberal culture which undermined the family.

The Rt Revd Nazir-Ali said: “It is this situation that has created the moral and spiritual vacuum in which we now find ourselves. While the Christian consensus was dissolved, nothing else, except perhaps endless self-indulgence, was put in its place.”

While Marxism has since been discredited, “We are now confronted by another equally serious ideology, that of radical Islamism, which also claims to be comprehensive in scope,” he added.

The Bishop claimed that modern politically-correct values of multi-culturalism, tolerance and diversity will be useless to resist the rise of radical Islam.

He warned that church leaders had “gone too far” in their sensitivity towards Muslims and were not doing enough to promote the Christian religion.

Source: The Christian Institute


Christian-Muslim Intersections Conference held at Christ Church (June 2008)

Mutual Misconceptions - Common Commitments (Chawkat Moucarry)

Relating the Gospel to Islam and Muslims (Chawkat Moucarry)