From Santa to Sanballat

From Santa to Sanballat

By
December 23, 2009 20:51
4 minute read.
barak I is a tough mothafucka 248.88

barak I is a tough mothafucka 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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It comes as no surprise that the 'culture wars' over Christmas being waged in other lands have hit Jerusalem. The city and the Jewish National Fund have teamed up once again to spread a little holiday cheer among Jerusalem's Christians by distributing free Christmas trees. However, a group called the "Lobby for Jewish Values" began handing out fliers in Jerusalem condemning the Christmas holiday and warning restaurants and hotels that their kosher certificates could come under challenge if they put up Christmas trees and other "foolish symbols of Christianity." The group's pamphlet also urged that Jews should "not give in to the clownish atmosphere of the end of the civil year." Now we are grateful and even amazed that the city of Jerusalem and JNF provide free trees for this revered Christian holiday, and cannot condone such an antagonistic response to this act of goodwill. Yet I would concede that the commercialization of Christmas in America and elsewhere has gone overboard in recent decades. Sure it's meant to create a joyous, upbeat atmosphere, but the 'spirit' of Christmas has been turned into one of 'Give! Give! Give!' so we can 'Get! Get! Get!' The secularization of Christmas is also robbing the season of its true meaning. It has now become okay to sing songs about Santa and his reindeer in American public schools, but not carols about Jesus and the redemption story told in his lowly birth. EVEN MORE disturbing to me is the politicalization of Christmas by certain Arab Christian clerics here in the Holy Land, who invariably use the media spotlight during this holiday season to make radical political statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the past, this has taken such forms as the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, reserving a front-row seat for the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat at Midnight Mass, conducted in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, then leaving a symbolic keffiyah draped over Arafat's empty chair after his demise. Thankfully, there is a new Latin Patriarch these days who is more balanced in his approach to the very complex conflict over the land, and less inclined to anti-Israel invective. But Sabbah and a small band of fellow Arab clerics are still seeking to grab the spotlight this year by releasing a provocative pro-Palestinian document just days before Christmas. A year in the making, "Kairos Palestine 2009" is signed by Sabbah and several other local clerics such as Arab Orthodox priest Atallah Hanna, who has repeatedly upset the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate with his outrageous statements in support of Palestinian shahids (martyrs), as well as Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, who has made repeated calls for the excommunication of Christians who support Israel. Modeled after a similar "Kairos" document released in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the current version is merely part of an ongoing campaign to brand Israel an apartheid state and to push for divestment, dismantlement of the "separation wall," and other pro-Palestinian positions. So far, the statement is not drawing the media attention hoped for, and rightfully so. It contains little new, and most of its signers are known anti-Israel voices. Nonetheless, for those of us who care about the plight of Palestinian Christians, "Kairos 2009" cannot be ignored. It is written "from the heart of Palestinian suffering," and no doubt there has been suffering deserving of our compassion. But like the vast majority of Palestinian propaganda, there is no admission in its pages that a large part of that wound is self-inflicted. Oddly, there is not one clear reference to the two-state solution - the preferred option of most of the international community. Rather, the document speaks vaguely about Palestinian Christians being oppressed because "our country" is subjected to the dreadful and despised "Israeli occupation," thus suggesting that "Palestine" includes the entire land. There is also the whitewashing of Palestinian terrorism, a troubling legitimacy given to Hamas, and many other flaws in "Kairos Palestine." LEAVING ASIDE its distorted political and historic narrative, the declaration also does theological cartwheels regarding the Bible and God's unique calling on Israel - the land and people. It argues that "God sent the patriarchs, prophets and apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission to the world." Whatever particularity there was in the divine calling of Israel in God's redemptive purposes, it was all fulfilled in the life of Jesus and the emergence of the Church, which is now commissioned to spread the "Kingdom of God" and its "universal" message of love. While much of this rings true, the authors bend that message of universality to then contend for their own particular nationalism - that justice and righteousness requires the whole Church to come help them liberate Palestine from the "evil" of "Israeli occupation." The truth is that the Bible presents God as the unchanging Lord of the universal and of the particular, and even the New Testament affirms the irrevocable and unique calling of the nation of Israel. The Scriptures also reveal that in Israel's restoration to the land in our day is a message to all nations of God's enduring love, faithfulness and ultimate justice - no matter the passage of time. The problem is that some have resisted that restoration, producing a territorial and religious conflict that has the small Palestinian Christian community squeezed in between. Sadly, some Palestinian clerics have chosen to assume a role like that of Sanballat and Tobiah from the days of Israel's first return to the Land. They cannot stop the restoration of Israel to her ancient homeland, but they will do all they can to hinder it. The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

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