Linda Sarsour is not my inspiration and muse. She’s my trigger. Her comment last week that “Jesus was Palestinian of Nazareth” was not original, but it was disturbing. It was part of a deliberate effort to rewrite history and replace it with a Palestinian “narrative.”
Combating Jewish ties to the Land of Israel through tweets has many advantages for the Palestinians – a tweet travels far and fast. It is relatively safe for the sender and costs nothing. It’s a battle that can be fought without arms – but with fingers.
As my Jerusalem Post colleague Seth J. Frantzman wrote: “The latest attempt to push the ‘Jesus was Palestinian’ claim is not as innocent as it appears. It is a negation of Jewish history and a modern-day attempt at replacement theology: to replace historical Jewish connections to the land 2,000 years ago, recreating an imagined history of Palestinians in place of Jews.”
I would argue that the connections go back at least another 1,000 years – over three millennia – but Frantzman’s premise (unlike Sarsour’s) is solid. This is an attempt to erase the Bible stories and the thousands of years of Jewish history in which Jerusalem has always been the focus of life, prayers and yearning.
But this is not just about Jewish history. This also, not so subtly, alters Christianity’s context. If Jesus is no longer a Judean Jew but a Palestinian, and the Temple is no longer Jewish, but was somehow a Muslim holy site even centuries before the birth of Mohammad and Islam, where does that leave the New Testament as well as the Bible?
On its website, Palestinian Media Watch has collected many examples of this “Jesus as a Palestinian” theme. Among the best (or worst) comes from the Facebook page of the Palestinian Authority Minister of Education Sabri Saidam, on December 25, 2017, showing a drawing of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and a keffiyeh next to the words “Made in Palestine” and the greeting “To the authentic Palestinian, Jesus, and to the members of the [Palestinian] people – happy holidays.”
The Fatah Twitter account on December 18, 2018, shows a cartoon of Jesus chasing Donald Trump out of Jerusalem with a whip in a scene, PMW notes, intended to reflect a Christian tradition in which Jesus chases merchants and the money changers from before the Temple. In the background are four bankers standing behind signs with the names: “Citi[bank],” “Wells Fargo,” “JP Morgan Chase,” and “Goldman Sachs.” According to the PMO translation, the text on the caricature says, “Jerusalem is not yours to give to anyone.”
Going back through the collected references I found, courtesy of PMW, that not only was Jesus a Palestinian, he was also a martyr. And, according to a post on the Facebook page of Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi in December 2016, Jesus was not just any old Palestinian shahid, but “the first Palestinian and the first martyr.”
It would be laughable, if this were the sort of matter that could be laughed off. But the more this sort of claim is repeated, the more pervasive the thinking becomes. This is how UNESCO can pass resolutions referring to the Temple Mount and Western Wall only by their Arabic-Islamic names, history be damned.
THE INAUGURATION last week of the Pilgrimage Road, a section of the ancient ascent to the Second Temple, a project under the auspices of the City of David-Ir David naturally launched a flurry of tweets, comments and charges. Archaeologists identify this as the path used by millions of Jews in ancient times performing the commandment of going up to the Temple to bring sacrifices on the “foot festivals” – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
As Doron Spielman, vice president of the Ir David Foundation, poetically put it: “This place is the heart of the Jewish people, and is like the blood that courses through our veins. You can amputate a hand, you can amputate a foot, you cannot amputate a heart. This area is not negotiable.”
This week, the Post’s Omri Nahmias reported from Washington that Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, fought back at the criticism that he and the US Ambassador in Israel David Friedman received for attending the event. In a speech at the Christians United For Israel (CUFI) conference, Greenblatt said, “We were accused of Judaizing the city. We will not tolerate that kind of language... You cannot possibly build peace without a foundation of truth. And for somebody to suggest that this tunnel is not the truth, they need to be corrected.”
Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem was significant for many reasons, not least for recognizing Israel’s right to determine its own capital city. Even if embassies from other countries have not rushed en masse to follow the US lead – something that can be explained by both diplomatic caution and simple finances and logistics – it has opened the way to making a visit to the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Temple’s outer walls, acceptable and even natural.
Blue and White party MK Yoaz Hendel, when he was still a Yediot Aharonot columnist, proposed that official visits to Jerusalem should start with the City of David archaeological site rather than Yad Vashem. It puts Jerusalem as the capital in perspective and makes it clear that Israel didn’t start with the Holocaust, as Sarsour and others suggest. Jerusalem was the place King David chose as his capital thousands of years ago. And if anyone is owed an apology for “Judaizing the city,” it might be the Jebusites. Maybe we should reinvent them.
I WAS not surprised by Sarsour’s claim about Jesus’s nationality (although he would have been.) It is definitely part of an ongoing trend. Her reason for sticking by it, however, was stunning. Sarsour tweeted at 1:24 p.m. on July 6: “Folks reported my tweet that Jesus was a Palestinian. Twitter was obviously like, this doesn’t violate our standards. It’s also true. Jesus was born in Bethlehem which is in Palestine. Move on.”
Well, there you have it. The new Bible to go along with the new biblical history. Twitter. If Twitter permitted it, it must be true. Or at least acceptable.
This is as worrying as the original tweet. Someone like Sarsour can throw out an idea – however preposterous – and see how it fares in cyberspace. No need for fact-checking. No need for responsibility. The more followers you have, the more real it becomes. This is not a war in history but a war on history – a well-conceived, politically strategic battle.
But here’s a lesson for Sarsour and her followers: If you don’t respect history, you’re doomed to become history. And Jerusalem is not a Tweet. It can’t be deleted.
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