Is there a source anywhere in Christian doctrine that condones turning a blind eye to murder? Don’t practicing Christians unequivocally uphold the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not murder,” with even a greater stringency than Jews by interpreting the Hebrew as “You shall not kill?” It appears that some professing Christians have nonetheless succeeded in establishing a gray area within the meaning of this precept, carving out some moral wiggle room, as it were.
Having chosen the Palestinian narrative over Israel’s in the Middle East’s seemingly most interminable conflict, a number of liberal, mainline Christian churches view the now nearly daily attacks with intent to murder Israelis as an unfortunate but “understandable” response to the “occupation.”
This language continues to emerge in discussions I have held recently with a number of Christian activist groups from North America and Europe who have come to this region on fact-finding tours and to demonstrate their solidarity with Palestinian Arabs. These are among the hundreds of church-sponsored groups that throughout the year visit this contentious area purportedly in search of social justice and peace, though their vision of peace requires concessions only from the State of Israel.
When the topic of the ongoing stoning, knifings, shootings and car rammings arises, as these days it inevitably must, speakers from these different groups regularly preface their remarks with a declaration condemning “all acts of violence and terrorism,” to which they dutifully add three words: “from both sides.”
This carefully constructed example of lip service that echoes familiar official statements from White House and US State Department spokesmen establishes that Israelis and Palestinians are equally responsible for the current violence. Following this platitude comes an ambiguous coda: “While we don’t approve of the [Palestinian] violence, we understand it.”
They “understand” it.
How is the word “understand” to be understood here? To understand in this context could simply mean to acknowledge the circumstances.
These circumstances are that Palestinians view themselves as an occupied people with no satisfactory political horizon, no way out. Israel is the occupier. The violent behavior and acts of terrorism directed by some Palestinians at Israelis are therefore but a logical expression of their frustration, a way of letting off steam; a simple case of cause and effect.
Palestinian frustration that leads to violence is understandable, these activists assert, given that Israel: • Prevents Palestinian freedom of movement throughout the West Bank • Continues to steal Palestinian land for the ongoing building and expansion of illegal settlements • Limits Palestinian access to water • Has a policy of humiliating Palestinians • Shoots and jails Palestinian children • Practices apartheid • Is a police state • Does to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews • Is guilty of genocide Each of these unfounded and outlandish allegations has been voiced in my presence, sometimes individually, sometimes in combination, by Christian groups. It is at this stage, when the charge sheet against Israel is vocalized, that what I believe to be the underlying significance of “we understand the violence” becomes clear.
The strong feelings behind these grievances are evident in the tone, facial expressions and even the gesticulations of the speakers.
The passion, indeed the anger in their voices, exposes just how much more than a simple descriptive account of “cause and effect” is the phrase “we understand the violence.” Implicit in these words is the intimation of acceptance, even justification. What they are saying is “Israelis have it coming to them.”
These groups of Christians appear to have lost touch with some of their faith’s most fundamental teachings. The Gospel of Matthew preaches non-violence, compassion and non-retaliation. These are traits that Christians are called upon to emulate. However, their commitment to social justice, seasoned by their frustration and anger at what they believe to be Israel’s callous treatment of Palestinians, has ironically brought them to accepting low-grade, “lone wolf” terrorism as a morally challenging but de facto legitimate political expression.
This attitude does not exist within a vacuum and is hardly confined to such liberal Christian activists; their views reflect the wider zeitgeist.
International news media have opted to generally ignore the drama of daily terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists on Israel’s citizens.
With few exceptions, such as the recent shooting murders in Tel Aviv, this continues to be the case. Why are these terrorist attacks and the stress they are putting on Israeli society deemed hardly newsworthy? Why has there been virtually no condemnation of the steady stabbings and car rammings voiced by news editors, heads of state, church leaders, academicians, intellectuals, artists, celebrities and other opinion shapers? Is it because Palestinians are behaving the way the world expects them to behave, or is it because a few Israelis being stabbed, shot, or run over each day is considered tolerable? The collective wisdom of most Western news media assigns responsibility for the protracted haplessness of the Palestinian Arabs to Israel, rather than to the corrupt and lawless kleptocracy known as the Palestinian Authority or the indifferent Arab world. Watchdog websites CAMERA and Honest Reporting demonstrate this preconception through myriad examples of reportage and op-eds that continue to portray Israel as a brutish military power intent on controlling the lives and crushing the spirits of Palestinian Arabs.
Therefore it comes as no surprise, say critics of the Jewish state, that many Palestinian Arabs, particularly the youth, having been provoked naturally respond with violence.
The violence, in its current form, still limited to mostly “small acts of terrorism” such as stabbings and car rammings, may even be considered normative. Normative is not newsworthy.
Compare these circumstances to recent events in Paris and San Bernardino. To Western commentators there is no doubt that those terrorist attacks were unprovoked and visited upon unsuspecting innocents.
Those acts were unexpected and shocking, and therefore, in contrast to Israel, newsworthy.
Christian pro-Palestinian activists regularly contend that the Western news media carry a pro-Israel bias. If this was true, this latest wave of terrorism would not go virtually unmentioned. The dearth of media attention lends credence to the idea that what is going on in the streets of Israel is viewed as just not that big a deal. Charlie Hebdo editor Gerard Biard writes recently that no one questions when Jews are killed because they are Jewish. How much truer is this observation when the murdered Jews are Israelis? The media bias contributes to an atmosphere in which otherwise moral people, decent people, who hurt for the Palestinian Arabs, hesitate to openly criticize this terrorism.
Their hesitation is a signal of their sanction.
There is a price that these Christian activists pay for this reticence. They talk of peace but they will never help bring peace to this region. Their reluctance to loudly and wholeheartedly denounce all acts of Palestinian terrorism and incitement, at least at the same level at which they condemn Israel’s policies, excludes them from assuming a constructive role. They are not fit to help facilitate reconciliation between the conflicting parties. Their leniency in judging the trespasses of Palestinian terrorists disqualifies them from taking their place at the table. It is insufficient for these liberal Christians to “understand” the murder; they must openly condemn it, not in effect condone it.
The writer lives in Efrat and is the founder and director of www.iTalkIsrael.com, a platform for Israel advocacy and public diplomacy.