Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Qatar conference defends Jerusalem status as the Eternal Capital of Palestine

Qatar’s Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani opened the International Conference for the Defence of occupied Jerusalem, to be held in Doha this weekend.

The conference included speeches by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Arab League Secretary-General Nabeel Arabi, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekme Al Deen Ihsanoglu, and United Nations Coordinator for the peace process in the Middle East Robert Serry.

Some 350 figures concerned with the Jerusalem question from Arab, Islamic and foreign countries attended the conference decided by Resolution 503 issued by the Supreme Council of the Arab League in Sirte, Libya, in March 2010.

The conference, on February 26-27, featured issues of occupied Jerusalem and international law, history of Jerusalem, Jerusalem and colonies, Israeli violations and civil society organisations.

The first theme dealt with the legal status of Jerusalem before and after the Israeli occupation, the reality and the future of Jerusalem under occupation, and the status of the holy places under international law.

The importance of highlighting the legal status of Jerusalem proves the illegality of the Israeli practices and violations in the holy city.

The second theme emphasised the most important aspects of the Jerusalem issue, including historic dimension and its status among the three monotheistic religions, and the Arab identity of the holy city.

The third theme addressed procedures for the systematic intensification of colony and land confiscation in occupied East Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, as well as the demographic changes from 1967 to 2020, by which Israel aims to establish the Greater Jerusalem.

The Conference tackled ways to rescue Jerusalem, the Arab vision against the Israeli plan, the central role of Jerusalem in Palestinian politics, economy and culture and the protection of the city’s religious, cultural and architectural characteristics.

The fourth theme discussed the role of institutions in the holy city as well as ways to find appropriate measures to activate the contribution of civil society organizations in maintaining the Arab identity in the city.

I gave a paper on the Biblical status of Jerusalem.

A longer version of the paper is available here.

For more information on the objectives and participants see here

For an interview with the assistant General Secretary of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Mohamed Sobeih, recorded in Cairo a week earlier, see here

Source: Gulf News

Middle East Christians in the Light of the Arab Spring

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding Conference DVDs now available.
"Middle East Christians in light of the Arab Spring"

The set includes my paper Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions

Order here

The Palestinian State: A Jewish Justification

The Palestinian State by Rabbi Dan Cohen Sherbok provides a vital and timely contribution toward the search for justice and peace in the Middle East, from a religious Jewish perspective. Written by a Jewish Rabbi, the title is intentionally provocative but sums up his hopes for peace with justice for Jews and Palestinians. Security for Israel is linked to justice for Palestinians.

When the Zionist colonisation of Palestine is increasingly being driven by Orthodox settlers who claim divine authority for their exclusive and expansionist agenda, Dan Cohen Sherbok draws attention to an alternative and beautiful Jewish liberation theology, rooted firmly in the Hebrew scriptures.

Dan Cohen Sherbok shows that at the heart of the Hebrew canon is an ethical tradition that respects human dignity, and recognises the intrinsic equality of Jews and Palestinians since both are created in the image and likeness of God. The Passover not only looks back to the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery, but points forward and should inspire compassion for Palestinians who long to escape from exile too. Similarly, the imperative of the Hebrew prophets demands equality for all, which today requires justice and mercy toward Palestinian aspirations for self determination and a homeland of their own.

Time is running out to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, in part because people tend to hold polarised and entrenched positions. It is therefore difficult to hear the cry, or feel the pain felt by the other side. Empathy is in short supply. Pessimism is common currency. Distrust in diplomacy is growing. Interminable peace negotiations are leading to cynicism. Hopelessness and despair, especially among the young, is breeding radicalism and fermenting violent extremism on both sides.

For those holding entrenched positions, this book may well make for uncomfortable reading because Dan Cohen Sherbok presents the history and aspirations of both sides with fairness and compassion. It is therefore essential reading for those who believe the unsolvable can be solved.

I share Dan Cohen Sherbok’s view that an inclusive and lasting peace in the Middle East is truly possible because it reflects the heart and will of God.

Order here

Dan used some of my photos of the apartheid wall around Bethlehem ghetto for the cover.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Who will set Syria Free?

Syrian Christians brace themselves for civil war.

Syria is facing a civil war and Christians are preparing for the worst.

Fundamental Islamic groups have orchestrated violent protests against the Syrian government. This could result in a new regime, even worse than that of the current brutality of President Assad.

If a change of power occurs…the revenge of the Sunnis could be more bloody than the over 7,100 deaths that have occurred since March 2011.

Open Doors has been working around the clock to deliver whatever is needed to prepare Syrian Christians for difficult years ahead. In fact, 2011 was the best year ever in terms of our distribution of Bibles and Christian materials.

Christians in dozens of countries around the world face the same complex dilemma where they cannot count on governments to protect them.

But they can count the prayers of the church and the power of God through His Word to see them through whatever battles are sure to come.

"Before I didn't see the importance of prayer," Leah* says from Syria. "I began to see how the people of God are coming together in fasting and prayers then understood what it means to be the body of Christ."

"My faith became stronger because I am not alone."

Would you please join Leah and millions like her who ask that you pray for their safety and courage?

For more information see Open Doors

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Response to Representatives of the International Messianic Jewish Community

A Response to Representatives of the International Messianic Jewish Community

Paul Liberman, President
Joel Chernoff, General Secretary
Messianic Jewish Alliance of America

Howard Silverman, President
Russell Resnik, Executive Director
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations

Jeff Forman, Chairman
International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues

John Fischer, President
Joel Liberman, Executive Director
International Messianic Jewish Alliance

Dear Brothers in Christ,

Because we consider you family in Christ, because we recognize God’s grace on you and on all Messianic brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world, and because we desire continued fellowship with Messianic brothers and sisters, we write this response to your appeal.

We were quite disappointed to read your statement, and we encourage you in the future to contact us directly (Matthew 18:15-20) in order to resolve differences rather than send a public letter to appeal for dialogue through the internet. Had you done that, you would have discovered that many of the accusations against us and against the conference were untrue, and you would have given us the opportunity to address your concerns.

Over the last year, we have reached out to many of the Messianic leaders in Israel regarding the conference. We have met face to face, shared, listened, discussed, and prayed together regarding the conference. We truly and deeply care for our relationship with the Messianic believers. We are excited that a small delegation of Messianic believers will be involved in the conference, and we have worked hard to get them permission from the Israeli authorities to enter Bethlehem. We have made sure that the Messianic voice will be represented in our discussions on reconciliation and peacemaking, through our brothers Evan Thomas and Richard Harvey. In addition, Wayne Hilsdon, who is part of the Messianic community, will share about his biblical understanding regarding the place of Israel in God’s plan. Wayne has the support of most of the Messianic leaders in Jerusalem regarding his participation.

Your statement has undermined all these reconciliation efforts, given the wrong impression concerning our relationship with the Messianic body, and done harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land.

By using the title “Christ at the Checkpoint,” we in no way mean that Israel is withholding Jesus at the Checkpoint, or that Israel is involved in a systematic persecution of Christians. We have stated this clearly on our website and in our statements. “Christ at the Checkpoint” is used in an effort to articulate the question, “How should Christ's followers respond to this political, multi-faceted conflict? If Christ stood in front of a checkpoint today, what would he say and do?” Walls and checkpoints have a huge effect on the Christian community in the Palestinian Territories. As a result, the checkpoint and the wall have become focal points and symbols of the conflict, and we desire to bring Christ into our daily context.

We would like to kindly challenge you to listen to our cry in the midst of this conflict. If we choose to describe our situation in terms like "checkpoint," then please respect this. We have the right to express our situation as we see it. The checkpoint is our reality. You cannot dictate the way in which we identify our suffering. We acknowledge the suffering of Jews throughout history. We acknowledge the right of Israel to have safe and secure borders. We simply ask that you acknowledge our suffering and aspirations.

To clear up misunderstandings, we have decided to share with you where we stand. We, the organizers of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference believe:

1. God loves all people equally. We believe that this love includes the Jewish people. We do not teach that God has abandoned the Jewish people. Christ has taught us to love all Semitic peoples, including Jews. We do not endorse or preach any theology that discriminates against or harms the Jewish people.

2. Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save all humanity, and those who believe in Him and accept Him become children of God regardless of their ethnic or religious background. We pray and look forward to the day when all the people of Israel/Palestine, regardless of their religions or ethnicities, will live together on this land in peace and harmony. We do not call for the destruction of the State of Israel but rather we call for Palestinians and Jews to live together in harmony, either in two separate states or in one state.

3. In case a two state solution is worked out in the future, we are for an Israel with secure borders and we hope for a viable Palestine with secure borders.

4. Our ultimate desire for all the people of this land is to return to God through faith in Jesus Christ and to experience the love and grace that God showered upon us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. We appreciate the efforts of our Jewish brothers and sisters who are being a living witness for Christ and his Kingdom in this land.

5. We believe that both Palestinian believers and Messianic believers are called by Christ to shine His light on the people of this land and that through our combined testimony, genuine love and fellowship with each other, we can overcome many of the obstacles that hinder the reconciliation of our peoples.

6. We stand against all forms of violence whether it is Palestinian violence against Israelis or Israeli violence against Palestinians.

7. We believe that followers of Christ must non-violently stand against all forms of injustice and are called to be prophetic in siding with the poor and the oppressed in this land. As the living Body of the Messiah, we suffer with all victims of violence whether they are Palestinians (Muslims or Christians) or Israelis (Jews or Arabs).

8. We do not accept the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth through military means, and therefore we do not see the bloody wars of the Middle East as positive signs towards the establishing of the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom is established through obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

9. We believe that God’s greatest gift to the Jewish people is Jesus Christ and the work of His grace in their lives rather than the possession of territory in the land that we call Holy. We hold the same belief for Palestinians and Arabs.

10. It is natural and right for Palestinian believers to identify with the daily suffering of their people due to Israeli policies and to seek to expose many of the injustices. At the same time, it is natural and right for Jewish believers to expose anti-Semitism and all forms of violence against Israelis and Jewish people around the world.

11. We understand that we differ with you, our Messianic brothers and sisters, on some theological and political issues, however, we emphasize that these differences should not be exaggerated by either side to a level that would hinder fellowship or stifle freedom of expression.

We invite you, brothers and sisters, to be our honored guests at the conference, not because we want to win you over to our perspectives nor for you to win us over to your perspectives, but in order that together, we may discover ways to keep the unity of the Body and to demonstrate to Evangelicals and Christians worldwide that our bond in Christ is far stronger than our differences. We plead with you to attend the conference, and then make judgments. We plead with you to respect the theological diversities that exist between us. We plead with you to affirm our unity in Christ. Together, we can stand against all forms of violence, racism and hatred, and together we can work toward peace and reconciliation.

With you and for the Glory of Christ,

Munther Isaac,
Bishara Awad,
Salim Munayer,
Hanna Katanacho,
Jack Sarah,
Sami Awad
Alex Awad

Local Committee
Christ at the Checkpoint Conference

Click here to download the original letter (pdf).

For more information on the Conference and speakers see here

To book your place see here

Zion's Christian Soldiers: A Review

"This is a must read book for Christians prepared to think about what they believe and why. Stephen Sizer very clearly explain the key biblical material concerning the nation of Israel and its significance for us today. This book will leave you with a much deeper appreciation of God’s purposes and the wonderful richness of His promises to all those who are the seed of Abraham."

Dr Paul Bendor-Samuel,
International Director, Interserve

(naturally written in his personal capacity)

For other reviews, selections, Bible studies and resources see here

An Important Message from Christ at the Checkpoint

In the past few weeks, attacks on the Christ at the Checkpoint conference have intensified exponentially. These attacks are not new and we have always thought that our best defense is the nature of the conference itself, and that we should not get involved in meaningless internet debates.

However, since we have been receiving some requests and inquiries regarding these attacks, we decided to briefly respond to some of them.

Many of the attacks we deemed not worthy of response, since they mainly focused on selected speakers from the first conference. These sorts of attacks targeted certain speakers and their views, which were not relevant to the conference. Even though these attacks are, in most cases, unfair and out of context, the point is that those making the accusations totally ignored the fact that the conference includes open forums and encourages that varying opinions be heard. None of the critics, for example, mentioned that, at the first conference, two of the main speakers were committed dispensationalists and committed supporters of the State of Israel. The conference also included Messianic Jews and Christian Zionists; they were invited to share in order to create theological balance at the conference.

The conference was a free and open forum for all participants to express their perspectives in the spirit of love and understanding. Those who demonize the conference obviously did not attend it. At the coming conference, Messianic Jews, dispensationalists, and Christian Zionists will be invited to speak to the whole assembly. They will be free to express their opinions.

What has been surprising, however, is the lack of credibility in these articles that attacked the conference. One writer, who is a "Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science" at a certain University in the United States, falsely claimed that this is conference is organized by the World Council of Churches, that it is actually the third conference and not the second, and that the conference will use the document "The BethlehemCall" as a platform! All these statements are false, and are indicators of the lack of simple research by this author. This author probably relied on information from another article, written by an Italian journalist, for Arutz Sheva; a radio station and web site located in a West Bank settlement that describes itself as a religious Zionist station and the "voice of the settlers". In the past, the Israeli government outlawed the radio station. It is amazing how some Christian writers picked up this article and trusted it for basic information about the conference, instead of simply visiting the conference website itself!

The Bethlehem Call, which some of the attacks referred to, is a document written by the Kairos group at the second anniversary of Kairos Palestine. This document has nothing to do with the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. In addition, Bethlehem Bible College is not affiliated with the World Council of Churches. The "Kairos Palestine" document and the Bethlehem Call are worthy of study. Yet most people from the first conference were not even familiar with that document.

Some critical articles have been titled "Conference to Demonize Israel." This cannot be further from the truth. The purpose of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference is not to demonize Israel, but rather to help and empower the Palestinian Church and to help her find hope in the midst of this conflict. In addition, the conference aims to create a forum where International Evangelicals, Messianic Jews, and Palestinian Christians can openly discuss the challenges facing the Palestinian Church in the Holy Land within the current political context.

This is the second Christ at the Checkpoint conference. Those who are in doubt about our intentions can go to our website and read all of the lectures from the previous conference. The reader will discover that all of the speeches were balanced and there was no demonization of Israel. It is not fair for one to assume that any criticism of Israel should be considered an act of demonization. Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah were quite critical of the behavior of ancient Israel and yet, Biblical scholars do not classify them as demonizers of Israel. In addition, the conference committee has drawn a small document called “The Seven Affirmations”, in which we stated clearly what the conference stands for.

In reality, many of these attacks are made by extreme fundamentalists groups or writers who do not have any tolerance for a view that differs from their own. For these writers, any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism, and any view regarding Israel's place in end times that is different than theirs, is replacement theology. If any demonization is taking place, it is the demonization of all Palestinians and Arabs. One of the critics, a notable “prophecy expert,” who for years made one false prediction after another, repeated the infamous statement that Palestinians are an invented people!

We invite the writers of these articles to attend our second conference in March 2012 in order to reflect accuracy instead of inventing fiction when they write another assessment of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. They may or may not agree with what will be said, but they will certainly hear all voices and many different points of view. The least they can do is report accurately, and stop making general false accusations about Bethlehem Bible College, Christ at the Checkpoint, and Palestinian Christians.

In the end, we would like to restate of the goal of the conference: “The aim of Christ at the Checkpoint is to provide an opportunity for evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

Munther Isaac & Alex Awad
Conference Committee Members


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ambassador Mohammed Sobeih on a Shared Jerusalem

Ambassador Mohammed Sobeih is the Assistant General Secretary of the Arab League in Cairo. He discusses the international conference on Jerusalem to be held in Doha, Qatar, 26-27th February 2012.

Ambassador Mohammed Sobeih together with Ambassador Dr Barakat El Farra, the Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt and Permanent Representative of Palestine to the League of Arab States, and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Ahmad Husein.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Cairo Night Rider

Driving at night in Cairo is an unforgettable experience.

You prefer driving in the day? It just gets busier...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Poirot Investigates the Case of the Vanishing Liquid

Poirot lives at St Michael's Church, Heliopolis. He is an investigative cat, more Dutch than Belgian.

Perspectives on the Arab Spring in Egypt

Jielis van Baalen is a journalist working in Egypt for Ghazala Productions. He discusses his experience of the Arab Spring and the impact on the Christian Church in Egypt.

Jo Strengholt is the Anglican Pastor of St Michael's, Heliopolis. This is his perspective on the Arab Spring:

Ame lives in Egypt also. This is her take on the impact of the Arab Spring, one year on.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

An Invitation from The Most Reverend Dr Mouneer Anis

This was one amazing event. Bishop Mouneer kindly was my translator!

Reflections on the Current Middle East with Ben Wedeman at St. John's, Maadi

Ben Wedeman is CNN's senior international correspondent based in Cairo.

Recently, he's been closely following the so-called "Arab spring," during which human rights and political activists frequently clashed with government forces in their quest for democracy.

In 2011, he led the network's coverage of the uprising against Egyptian President Mubarak and the unrest in the Middle East. He was the first western journalist to enter eastern Libya after the start of the revolution.

Mr Wedeman is speaking at the Abraham Forum, St John's Church, Maadi, Cairo, on "Reflections on the Current Middle East" on Thursday 22nd March.

For more information see Maadichurch

The photo of Ben Wedeman was taken after my presentation on Christian Zionism at the Abraham Forum last night.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Pray for Syria

Orthodox Christians in fear of 'utter chaos' seek refuge in prayer

Members of a Syrian convent believe many interests are seeking to sabotage their country, writes MICHAEL JANSEN in Saydnaya

THE ORTHODOX convent of Our Lady of Saydnaya sits four-square on a hilltop an hour’s drive from Damascus. The convent dominates the town of Saydnaya, inhabited by Christians known for piety.

Our minibus, carrying a Lebanese television team, four European journalists and two young men from the ministry of information, winds its way up the narrow paved road to the convent and parks at the back. There, we can see where a mortar punched a large hole in the pinkish-beige stone wall near the roof of the 19th-century building. The wound has already been closed with stones and mortar.

A thin woman in a blue wool dressing gown is listening to the service broadcast over the public address system.

Retired school mistress Matilda Mansour was at home when the projectile struck on Sunday, January 29th. “It was about 1.15. I rushed out to see what happened and saw the damage.”

“Why do they shoot at convents?” I ask.

“To scare Christians . . . to scare children. Haram [shame]. This never happened here before . . . God protect president Assad. We cannot trust anyone else,” she says.

“They must persuade the terrorists to end their attacks. I’m afraid . . . I watch TV day after day. All those dead people make you lose your appetite for TV.”

She adds, however, that she does not watch al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera, Arab satellite channels seen as being anti-regime.

We make our way to the front of the convent, where women in their Sunday best, girls in skimpy mini-skirts and sequin-spangled scarves, boys in tight jeans and leather jackets, and men in suits and ties are zig-zagging their way down flights of stone steps with black iron railings decorated with crosses. We pause until the flow subsides before climbing to a landing, where the priest awaits us.

Fr George Nijmeh is a portly, balding man wearing a black pullover with sparkly threads over his cassock.

He echoes the words of Mansour: “The Virgin Mary protected us. Today’s service had many more people than previous prayers. Prayer is among the weapons protecting us and driving away the black cloud hanging over Syria.”

He adds: “We should not have fighting in Syria but there are lots of interests who seek to sabotage our country. They are promoting sectarianism in the villages . . . We are afraid of utter chaos. The Europeans are blindly following the Americans without looking at the reality . . . Russia is different. The Russian Church understands our situation.”

We are ushered into the office of the mother superior, a large woman in black habit with a heavy jewelled cross hanging from her neck. She gestures towards the shell of the unexploded mortar lying on a tray on an elegant inlaid wooden table in the centre of the room. Security men who came to investigate defused the device and cut it in half, taking away one half and leaving the other behind.

“It was a message from the Virgin Mary that you cannot harm the convent,” says the mother superior.

The target was a guest room near the dormitory where some of the 25 children sleep. “The guest staying there left an hour before. The people [who fired the mortar] are brainwashed.”

A cheerful sister leads us to the targeted room, where a third of the wall was destroyed. On the open landing, she points to the snow-topped mountains in the distance. “The emperor Justinian was hunting when his party came across a doe. She led them here, then said: ‘You are not going to kill me but build a convent.’”

In a corridor at the bottom of the convent we slip off our shoes and duck into a tiny chapel where half a dozen women are seeking the blessing of an icon of the Virgin, reputedly painted by St Luke.

The icon is covered in gold; the image of the Virgin is tiny, dark, and surrounded by tinier heads of saints. A Muslim man from our party kneels in respect and receives from a nun a small piece of cotton soaked in holy oil and inserted in a plastic packet.

Source: Irish Times

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Vivien Lichtenstein on Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Jews for Justice for Palestinians believe that:

+ Peace in the Middle East will only come about with mutual recognition and respect and must be seen as just by both sides.

+ Peace requires the end of illegal occupation and settlement.

+ Violence against civilians is unacceptable.

+ Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza are breeding hatred and resentment.

+ It is crucial that Jews speak out for Palestinians’ human rights.

+ The humanitarian values of Judaism have been corrupted by the Israeli state’s human-rights abuses.

+ A lasting peace must be seen as just by both sides.

+ Britain, the EU, the USA, Russia and the UN must be persuaded to implement UN resolutions on Palestine.

If you agree then link up with over one thousand six hundred other Jews in Britain who make up Jews for Justice for Palestinians

The Torah teaches: ‘Justice, justice, you shall pursue’ (Deuteronomy 16:20).

To secure a lasting settlement to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis so they can live in peace and security, thrive side by side, and co-operate together, Jews today are obligated to pursue justice on behalf of both peoples.”

Program of Stephen Sizer in Cairo

From 13-20 February 2012, Rev Stephen Sizer from Christ Church, Virginia Water (UK) will come to do some seminars with us in Heliopolis. Rev Sizer leads a lively Anglican Church, but he is better known for his involvement in matters related to Palestine. In February he will lead us in discussions about the Bible, politics and Israel/Palestine.

Because many church leaders and leading Muslims in Egypt are interested in understanding christian-zionism and its impact on politics in the Western world, especially in the USA, we will also offer a seminar for especially invited Egyptian (political) leaders.

PROGRAM (as of 11 January)

Monday 13 February 8.30-9.45 am AUC, Speak in discuss in class on Zionism of Dr Michael Reimer.

Monday 13 February 1-3 pm
AUC, Mary Cross Hall, Speaker at al-Quds Palestinian Club, and discussion. Multimedia and catering.

Monday 13 February 7 pm
St John’s Church, Port Said Street, Maadi: Speech on Christian Zionism: The historical roots, faith basis and political agenda, discussion.

Tuesday 14 February, 10-12 am
Meeting with Heliopolis Clergy in St Michael’s Church, 8 Seti Street, Heliopolis: Christian-Zionism and the Bible, speech, discussion, film

Wednesday 15 February, 7-9 pm
All Saints Cathedral, Zamalek (behind Marriott hotel), Christian-Zionism and the Bible. Speech, discussion, film

Thursday 16 February, 7-9 pm
St Michael’s Church, 8 Seti Street, Heliopolis: Open Meeting: Christian-Zionism and the Bible. Speech, discussion, film

Friday 17 February, 11-12.15 am
St Michael’s Church, 8 Seti Street, Heliopolis: Preaching in Anglican (English) worship service. Time for discussion afterwards.

Sunday 19 February, 7-8.30 pm
St Michael’s Church, 8 Seti Street, Heliopolis: Preaching in Anglican (Arabic) worship service. Time for discussion afterwards.

Heliopolis Anglican Church

The Abraham Forum: Maadi, Cairo

Monday, 6 February 2012

Iran is NOT developing nuclear weapons says US Defence Secretary

David Morrison writes:

Asked about Iran’s nuclear programme on Face the Nation on CBS on 8 January 2012, US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, replied:

“Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” [1]

Viewers whose opinions on Iran’s nuclear activities have been formed by mainstream media in the West must have been amazed by this statement.  There, the impression is constantly given that Iran definitely has an active programme to develop nuclear weapons, which will yield results in a year or two.  And that has been the impression for the last six or eight years.

One would never guess that it has been the considered view of the US intelligence services since November 2007 that Iran hasn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme.  This assessment was contained in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, key judgments of which were made public.  These stated, inter alia:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007 …” [2]

An IAEA statement on 4 December 2007 in response to the NIE said:

“IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei received with great interest the new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate about Iran’s nuclear program which concludes that there has been no on-going nuclear weapons program in Iran since the fall of 2003. He notes in particular that the Estimate tallies with the Agency’s consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the Agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.” [3]

The NIE’s conclusions were a disappointment rather than a relief to President George W Bush, who complained in his memoir, Decision Points, that the news “tied my hands on the military side”, saying:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

(Quoted in Urging Obama to Stop Rush to Iran War by ex-CIA analysts Ray McGovern and Elizabeth Murray, published by on 30 December 2011 [4])

Subsequent annual threat assessments of the US intelligence community given to the US Congress were not materially different from the conclusions of the NIE.  For example, the February 2011 assessment to the House of Representatives intelligence committee by the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper stated:

“We continue to assess [that] Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” [5]

So, when he expressed the opinion on 8 January 2012 that Iran hadn’t got a nuclear weapons programme, Defense Secretary Panetta was merely repeating the considered view of the US intelligence services for the past four or five years. (*)

Do the Israeli intelligence services disagree with this assessment?  Not significantly, judging by quotations from key Israeli intelligence service personnel published in the Israeli media.

Israel: Iran still mulling whether to build nuclear bomb was the headline on an article by Amos Harel in Haaretz on 18 January 2012, just before a recent visit to Israel by the head of the US military.  The article said:

“Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to the intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon – or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.” [6]

This concurs with the view expressed in January 2011 by the head of Israeli military intelligence, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, just after his appointment to the post.

According to an Agence France Presse report, he told the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee on 25 January 2011 that “Iran is not currently working on producing a nuclear weapon but could make one within ‘a year or two’ of taking such a decision” [7].  He added that Iran “would then need more time to develop an effective missile delivery system for it”.

He also said “it was unlikely that Iran which currently enriches uranium to 20 percent, would start enriching to the 90 percent level needed for a bomb, because it would be in open breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty exposing it to harsher sanctions or even a US or Israeli military strike”, adding that “at the moment, it's not in Iran's interest to move their programme ahead”.

Earlier in January 2011, Meir Dagan, who had just retired as head of Mossad, told the same Committee that he did not believe that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon until 2015 (see Haaretz, 7 January 2011, [8]).  According to Haaretz, he said that “Iran was a long way from being able to produce nuclear weapons, following a series of failures that had set its program back by several years”.

So, whereas Israeli political leaders often assert that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is imminent, Israel’s intelligence services question whether Iran has made a decision to develop nuclear weapons.  In that, they appear to be at one with the US intelligence services.

David Morrison
23 January 2012


A People without a Land: Trailer

Sunday, 5 February 2012

New International Version Study Bible (NIV)

The NIV Study Bible is the #1 bestselling study Bible in the world’s most popular modern English Bible translation—the New International Version.

The latest 2012 edition of the NIV Study Bible, available 16th February in the UK,  features a stunning four-colour interior with full-color photographs, maps, charts, and illustrations.


The NIV Study Bible is the #1 bestselling study Bible in the world’s most popular modern English Bible translation—the New International Version. This best-loved NIV Study Bible features a stunning four-color interior with full-color photographs, maps, charts, and illustrations. Since its first release in 1985, the Gold Medallion Award-winning NIV Study Bible has become the treasured and trusted companion of over nine million Bible readers. The in-depth notes are coded to highlight notes of special interest in the areas of character study, archaeology, and personal application.

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  • Full text of the world’s most popular modern English Bible—the New International Version (NIV) 
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Rabbi Dr Stanley Howard Schwartz Responds to Allegations of Antisemitism

Having met Stephen Sizer, listened to him lecture here in New Smyrna Beach, FL, and dined with him, I find it hard to believe that he is anti-Jewish or anti-Israel.

I believe as a liberal rabbi that he is speaking prophetically on the issue of the compassion one brother or sister should have for another.

There are Jews in Israel who reach out and work for peace with the so-called "Palestinians" although their numbers are small in contrast to the Haredim and other ultra-Orthodox and fanatical Jews, who believe that real estate is more important than peace.

I think that the Rev. Sizer is urging a more thoughtful and ethical approach to negotiating peace in a two-nation solution. The difficulty for all Israelis and for Jews outside of Israel has been the continued violence from the West Bank and Gaza spurred on by Iran and Syria, perhaps other Middle Eastern nations, and funded especially by Iran.

The terrorism against civilians in Israel has intensified resistance to a two-state solution. "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." would seem to be Rev. Sizer's song and emphasis.

Rabbi Stanley Howard Schwartz, D.D.
Reform Rabbi, Hospice Chaplain and retired Army Chaplain

See also letters from:

Dr Mark Braverman, Author of the Fatal Embrace
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Lampeter University
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Islington North
Professor Scott Elias, Royal Holloway, University of London
Tony Greenstein, Founding Member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Professor Mary Grey, Patron, Friends of Sabeel UK
Dr Jeff Halper, Co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Canon Garth Hewitt, Founder of the Amos Trust
Dr Ghada Karmi, Exeter University
Venerable Michael Lawson, Rector of St Saviour’s, Guildford
Jeremy Moodey, Chief Executive, Biblelands
Professor Ilan Pappe, Exeter University
Rabbi Dr Stanley Howard Schwartz, Hospice Chaplain and retired Army Chaplain

Church Times: Vicar is not Anti-Semitic
Church Times: Rabbi Clears Vicar of Anti-Semitism
Jewish Chronicle: Bishop: anti-Zionist vicar ‘no antisemite’

Radical CofE bishops: right passion, wrong issues

Jeremy Moodey, CEO of Biblelands wrote the following article in the Church of England Newspaper this week:

About a year ago a newspaper headline caught my eye. It read something like “Rowan Williams and Annie Lennox fight forest privatisation”. I wondered at the time what had prompted our scholarly primate and the former Eurythmics singer to combine to challenge government policy on the future of the Forestry Commission. In fact the Archbishop was just one of 100 signatories to an open letter opposing privatisation; others on the list included Ken Livingstone, Roy Hattersley and various Green and Labour politicians, as well as the radical Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Oh, and the Bishop of Gloucester for some reason.

The open letter was a pretty blatant tug on the heart-strings: “We, who love and use the forests, believe that such a sale would be misjudged and short-sighted. It is our heritage. We are an island nation, yet more people escape to the forest than the seaside.”

These Churchillian words, rounded off with a factoid of stunning banality and questionable accuracy, contained more non-sequiturs than you could shake a stick at.

Nevertheless, once I had wiped the tears from my patriotic eyes, I began to ask myself: what Biblical imperative had prompted the Archbishop to join this motley band of lefties and eco-warriors in opposing, with such passion, clauses 17-19 of the Public Bodies Bill? Was it some modern paraphrase of Isaiah 10:19 (“And the remaining trees of his sold-off forests will be so few that a child could write them down”)? Or perhaps the Archbishop’s motivation was more apocalyptic, bearing in mind Revelation 7:3 (“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”)? I scoured the Lambeth Palace website for illumination, but could not find an answer.

I was reminded of the forestry issue when Anglican bishops last week defeated the government’s welfare reform plans in the House of Lords. The Bishops, described rather brutally by one Daily Mail columnist as “a bunch of pampered pinko prelates”, had united in their condemnation of the proposed £26,000-per-family cap on benefits. Their leader, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, had invoked the spirit of Matthew 19:14 (“suffer little children…”) when he told peers: “Christianity, along with other faiths and beliefs, requires us to think most of those that have no voice of their own. Children are one of the most evident examples of that. Children have no vote in our society. This amendment goes some way to protect them”.

This was another moment to bring out the handkerchief. But were the bishops really mounting a moral defence for a welfare system wherein those who work hard but earn little are obliged to subsidise the unemployed so that they can live in bigger houses in posher areas? The reaction from the right-wing press was predictable. In an article for The Sun, former political editor Trevor Kavanagh described the “monstrous cheek” of unelected bishops bullying an elected government. Former Archbishop Lord Carey has been equally critical of the bishops, albeit in less colourful terms.

We now have a curious phenomenon of bishops who would happily (if only metaphorically) punch each other’s lights out when it comes to sexuality and the role of women in the church being united on domestic social issues like never before; and almost exclusively at the left-wing end of the political spectrum, sometimes to the left even of the Labour Party, which actually supports a benefits cap. A church that was once the Tory Party at prayer seems now to have its social agenda written for it by the leader writers of The Guardian, and on occasions The Morning Star.

But our episcopate has previous form when it comes to jumping on radical bandwagons. Back in November Rowan Williams joined several Christian charities including CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund and Church Action on Poverty in backing the global campaign for the misleadingly named and economically illiterate Robin Hood Tax. This despite the fact that the inventor of the tax levy on financial transactions, the economist James Tobin, never saw it as a redistributive measure, it failed in the one country where it was tried (Sweden) and many economists think the tax will serve only to increase financial volatility and lead to reduced pension funds and higher bank charges.

It is not that I mind episcopal radicalism per se, but I do object when it is so selective. Take the issue of Israel/Palestine for example. In the recent five-hour House of Lords debate on Christians in the Middle East, not one bishop explicitly addressed the fundamental root cause of Christian flight from the Holy Land, which is Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories since the Six Day War of 1967 and its continued building, with tacit US support, of illegal settlements on occupied land. The Church’s desire not to offend the Jewish community, with which it has rightly worked hard to restore relations in recent years, has led to an excessive caution when it comes to speaking out against injustice in the Middle East. This has led the Anglican Church to be heavily compromised in the eyes of many Middle Eastern Christians.

This week Rowan Williams is making what has been described as “a personal pilgrimage” to the Holy Land. My prayer is that while he is there he will see the harsh realities of life for ordinary Palestinians, and be moved to speak out against the injustices of occupation and illegal settlements. This would be a much worthier cause than jumping on the latest populist bandwagon being promoted by the stripped-pine-table left-wing intelligentsia back home.

Jeremy Moodey is Chief Executive of BibleLands (, the inter-denominational development charity which supports Christian social ministry in the lands of the Bible, including in Israel/Palestine. He has written this article in his personal capacity.

Source: Church of England Newspaper

An attack on Tehran would be madness, So don't rule it out. EMEU Commentary

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU) Commentary on Robert Fisk's article "An attack on Tehran would be madness, So don't rule it out." in the Independent Newspaper.

Arab Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land would suffer equally if Iran were to strike Israel with nuclear weapons. Muslim and Christian Holy sights would burn along with thousands of  Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Before all of that can happen Iran would need to have made and tested those kind of weapons - everyone, even Israel and  the CIA, agree that Iran does not have any nuclear bombs. Taking the entire population of Israel and the Occupied Territories you will  find that roughly half are Arabs and half Israelis. Weapons of mass destruction can't be programed to wipe out only one ethnic group. Why,  therefore, is there silence on this issue from both Muslim or Christian leaders in the Holy Land about Iran's threat on Israel? Only Netanyahu and his kind seem to be worried.

The position of the current administration in Israel (not necessarily the people of the State of Israel) is to draw Western nations, including the USA and major powers in Europe, into another Iraq type war in order to market Israel's need for economic aid, protection and military support to sustain Netanyahu and his party rule. The U.S. Congress in particular has bought  this old story. Why? The number one export from the USA is military hardware and firepower. The Administration in Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu and the makers of arms want you to support the fear that is being built up - not because it is real but because they both have something to gain. We should not be fooled into another Iraq type war once again. We urge you to pray that moderate political leaders in the State of Israel will be able to overcome the fear that the current Israeli administration is trying to foster so that real gains will be made to bring about peace and equality for all the people in the Holy Land, Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Read Robert Fisk's article here

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Sam Oyrwoth Talks about Children's Time in Kampala's Soweto

Children's Time is an innovative charity working among children in the slums of Soweto in Kampala. Sam Oyrwoth tells us about it.

Fred Mukuza on using Christianity Explored in Fields of Life Schools

Fields of Life is a charity based in Northern Ireland that builds schools in East Africa. Craig Dyer interviews Fred Mukuza at the Fields of Life Compound in Kampala.

For more information see

Goshen School in Uganda Gets a Water Pump and New Classrooms

Friends in the UK helped fund the provision of a water pump and four new classrooms for Goshen school near Luwero in Uganda. Here the headteacher expresses their appreciation at a school assembly. The nearest safe water supply was 3 kilometres away. Before the well was dug, 250 children had to each collect water every day.

The pump was installed by Fields of Life, a charity based in Northern Ireland that builds schools in East Africa. At present, half of the 150 schools built so far lack safe drinking water. The cost of drilling a well is about $6000.

For more information see here

Here the children enjoy using the new water pump

Come and view the school classrooms. A team from Virginia Water will be returning to Goshen school in March to help build an additional four classrooms to cope with the demand.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Craig Dyer on the Launch of Christianity in Burundi

This week, Craig Dyer (training director of Christianity Explored), Jim McAnlis (of Fields of Life and East Africa coordinator of Christianity Explored) and I are in Burundi to launch the new Kirundi translation of Christianity Explored.

Craig gives his feedback on the tour. Read more here.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Jim McAnlis on Fields of Life in East Africa

Fields of Life is a charity based in Northern Ireland that builds schools in East Africa. I interviewed Jim while we toured Burundi with Craig Dyer launching a new translation of Christianity Explored.

For more information see

Tony Campolo: Christ at the Checkpoint

Tony Campolo of Eastern University talks about his experience at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in 2010 and why he thinks it such a gathering is important for the church today.

Watch more video interviews about Christ at the Checkpoint here

Read the Seven Affirmations of the Conference organisers here

Check out the speakers here

Book your place here

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Ben White: The Issue of Balance

Christ at the Checkpoint Conference speaker Ben White speaks about the issue of "balance" when it comes to Palestinians sharing their story. (Video used with permission from Rooftop Productions, "With God On Our Side"

Demolishing the Peace

Just before midnight on Monday, 23 January, Israeli bulldozers demolished the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh for the fifth time. The Israeli Supreme Court had ruled in 2009 that the house was illegal because it didn't have a building permit. Since 1967 when the Occupation began, more than 26,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israeli authorities all in violation of international law.

In December 2011, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called on Israel to halt demolitions forthwith.

Israel's demolition of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem displaced more than 1094 people in 2011, twice that of the previous year and the highest number since 2005.

After each demolition of the Shawamreh home, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions rebuilt it, as an act of political resistance to Israel's heinous demolition policy and to demonstrate that there are Israeli partners for peace. After the fourth demolition in 2003, the house was rebuilt as a peace centre and named Beit Arabiya. But now even this icon of peace is reduced to rubble.

How much longer will Israel be allowed to escape accountability by using the excuse that Palestinians don't comply with Israeli regulations when in fact Israel is the guilty party because it refuses to allow Palestinians to build their much needed homes?

We call upon all people concerned, including leaders of faith communities, to speak out and respond to repeated Israeli actions which only push peace further out of reach.

Linda Ramsden, Director, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions UK
Rev Chris Rose, Director, Amos Trust
William Bell, Policy Officer Middle East, Christian Aid
Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi, International Catholic Movement for Peace
Linda Mead, Commitment for Life, United Reform Church
Paul Northup, Director, Greenbelt
Vivien Lichtenstein, Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Ibrahim Hewitt, Chair of Interpal (Palestinian Relief and Development Fund)
Ismail Patel, Chair, Friends of Al-Aqsa
Rt Rev Richard Llewellin, former Bishop of Dover
Warren Bardsley, KairosPalestine UK
Dr Stephen Leah, Member of the Methodist Conference
Jan Davies, Friends of Sabeel UK
Penny Rivers, Churchwarden of St John the Evangelist, Farncombe, Surrey
Angus Geddes, United Reformed Church, Havant
John Hilary, Executive Director, War on Want
John Pilger, Patron, ICAHD UK
Baroness Jenny Tonge, Patron, ICAHD UK
Prof Avi Shlaim, St Antony's College, Oxford, Patron, ICAHD UK
Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, Patron, ICAHD UK, author
Abe Hayeem, Chair, Architects and Planners Justice in Palestine
Sarah Colborne, Director, Palestine Solidarity Campaign

After the demolition of an Israeli Peace Centre near Jerusalem, Christian Aid, Pax Christi, War on Want, the Greenbelt Festival, the Amos Trust and others sign letter calling upon all people concerned, including leaders of faith communities, to speak out and respond to repeated Israeli actions which only push peace further out of reach.

On Monday night, 23 January, Israeli authorities demolished Beit Arabiya, the peace centre for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Also demolished were the Abu Omar home, rebuilt by ICAHD with a team of international volunteers in the summer of 2011, and structures in the East Anata Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin community. A total of seven homes were demolished leaving 52 people displaced, including 29 children.

Beit Arabiya (meaning Arabiya’s House) is located in the West Bank town of Anata (Area C) just to the northeast of Jerusalem. It belongs to Palestinians Arabiya Shawamreh, her husband, Salim, and their seven children. Their home was demolished four times by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt each time by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). After the fourth demolition it was dedicated by the Shawamreh family to be used as a peace centre and a living symbol of resistance to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people and the desire for justice and peace for both people groups.

"This seems like a concerted, yet futile, effort to discourage ICAHD from rebuilding demolished Palestinian homes" said ICAHD Director Jeff Halper, academic, author, peace activist and a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee (along with Palestinian academic and peace activist Ghassan Andoni).

On Thursday, 26 January, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNHC) Maxwell Gaylard visited the ruins of Beit Arabiya and the other demolitions where he also spoke with the affected Palestinian families, and was briefed by ICAHD.

“Israel as the Occupying Power has a fundamental responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control and to ensure their dignity and wellbeing. The wholesale destruction of their homes and livelihoods is not consistent with that responsibility and humanitarian ideals. The current policy and practice of demolitions cause extensive human suffering and should end. Palestinians urgently require ready access to a fair and nondiscriminatory planning and zoning system that meets their needs for growth and development” said Gaylard.

ICAHD has funding from the EU. Beit Arabiya has hosted thousands of internationals including from faith groups – Jews, Christians, Muslims - who have also provided funds for ICAHD’s rebuilding programme.

For more information see ICAHD.