An advertisement for a trip in May 2022 to Israel and the West Bank

Israel is the last remaining European colonial power, which is why its repressive actions are not treated by Western governments and mass media in the same way as that of, say, China or Iran.

And every act of violence by Hamas or individual Palestinians is exploited by the Israeli government to stereotype all Palestinians and to tighten its stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank, crushing Palestinian aspirations for an end to the 73-year dispossession and conquest.

Theodore Herzl, the Austrian journalist often credited with the label “founder of the Zionist movement,” was rightly concerned that assimilation and sporadic persecution were destroying Jewish culture in Europe.

The Jews needed a “home” where they could preserve their traditional way of life. Herzl was not thinking of Palestine as the Jewish “home” – for Judaism had for the past two millennia reconfigured itself around the study of the Torah rather than the land and Temple. He initially toyed with the idea of Uganda as a safe haven.

It was “dispensationalist” Christians in the U.S. and U.K., following the teachings of John Nelson Darby, Henry Irving, the Moody Bible Institute – and later the Texan Cyrus Scofield’s commentary on the Bible – who influenced the Zionist movement and the British colonial authorities to settle the Jews in Palestine.

Wrenching texts from the Hebrew Bible out of their historical contexts, they taught that the return of Jews to Palestine was foretold in biblical prophecy and would usher in the parousia or “return” of Christ.

The creation of a Jewish state in 1948 witnessed what today would be called “ethnic cleansing”: from December 1947 till the early 1950s, a well-organized military campaign by the Jewish minority (numbering 660,000 out of a population of two million) destroyed 500 Palestinian villages and 11 urban neighbourhoods, expelled 700,000 people and massacred those who refused to give up their homes.

The Palestinian Exodus, edited by Ghada Karmi and Eugene Cortran, documents this history.

Those expelled became permanent refugees, unable to return to their ancestral lands. But Jews anywhere in the world – who have no Semitic ancestry and no ancient claim on the land – are able to migrate to Israel and are granted automatic citizenship.

This is what Palestinians remember as Nakbah – catastrophe. And if all moral persons should be horrified by attempts at Holocaust-denial, should we not also be horrified by Nakbah-denial by the state of Israel and pro-Israeli academics and church pastors?

While insisting that everybody recognizes Israel’s “right to exist,” Israel will never recognize the Palestinians’ “right of return,” let alone their right to liberation and self-determination.

Israel is the only country in the world that does not have internationally recognized borders. Just compare a map of Israel in 1948 with a present map. Israel continues to flout international laws with impunity (for instance, erecting permanent structures on lands seized by invasion).

Monoethnic, despotic regimes in many countries (such as my own) look to Israel’s example in how to deal with their own intransigent ethnic and religious minorities.

Seize land, re-settle it with members of the majority community, protect the latter by sending in an occupation army, label all attacks on the new settlers as “terrorist” or “extremist” acts and use them to justify further acts of repression.

Israel is not a pluralist democracy by any modern understanding of that term. It officially declares itself to be a “Jewish state.”

Its own Arab population that carries Israeli passports are second-class citizens, and as for the Indigenous Palestinians, they are a beleaguered and segregated people in their own land. So, Israel is no more a democracy than South Africa was under apartheid.

The military occupation of Palestine encroaches on every area of peoples’ lives: restrictions on travel, high youth unemployment, poor health care and educational facilities, forcible annexation of houses and land.

However, as long as it is protected by its rich, benevolent “Uncle Sam,” Israel can continue to thumb its nose at international law and the international community.

More Jews live outside Israel than within it and many are outspoken critics of the Zionist settler project.

There are also courageous rabbis and human rights groups within Israel (such as B’Tselem and Break the Silence) who are opposed to the abuses heaped on the Palestinian people by the Israeli army and Jewish colonists.

So, to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Jewish.

Ignorance of history has to be countered with historical facts. Bad theology has to be challenged with good theology.

The Christian theologians of Palestine have come up with a Kairos theological statement similar to the seminal Kairos document of South Africa in 1985 that countered Afrikaaner state theology and mobilized the church against apartheid.

I commend it to you.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. Each article expresses only the opinion and perspective of the author and not any other columnist in the series. The other articles are:

Religious Minorities’ Plight Too Often Overlooked | Shane McNary

Remembering the Realities of Faith Freedom for All | Jaziah Masters

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