Catalog of all Link issues Since 1968
Over 175 subject matter experts in professions such as medicine, church ministry, archaeology and diplomacy have authored over 300 Link issues since 1968.
The Link Catalog archive below constitutes a body of informed commentary, fact and anecdotal evidence that is all the more valuable for writers, researchers and historians because each issue (for the most part) covers only one subject.
AIPAC, Dark Money, and the Assault on Democracy
November 22, 2023 | Allan C. Brownfeld | Current Issue
The Politics of Archaeology – Christian Zionism and the Creation of Facts Underground
October 2, 2022 | Mimi Kirk | The Link
Apartheid…Israel’s Inconvenient Truth
February 2, 2022 | Chris McGreal | The Link
Israel’s Weaponization of Time
December 12, 2021 | Omar Aziz | The Link
September 12, 2021 | John Mahoney | The Link
On A RANT
July 20, 2021 | Sam Bahour | The Link
How Long Will Israel Get Away With It
April 9, 2021 | Haim Bresheeth-Zabner | The Link
The Decolonizing of Palestine Towards a One-State Solution
January 9, 2021 | Jeff Halper | The Link
Israelizing the American Police, Palestinianizing the American People
November 26, 2020 | Jeff Halper | The Link
The ONE-STATE REALITY and the REAL MEANING of ANNEXATION
August 23, 2020 | Ian Lustick | The Link
June 6, 2020 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
UPDATED: The Latest on the Suspected Murderers of Alex Odeh
April 12, 2020 | David Sheen | The Link
The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine
February 29, 2020 | Rashid Khalidi | The Link
Fact and Fiction in Palestine
December 15, 2019 | Gil Maguire | The Link
Once Upon a Time in Gaza
November 10, 2019 | Rawan Yaghi | The Link
Uninhabitable: Gaza Faces Moment of Truth
October 5, 2019 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
What in God’s Name is going on?
April 14, 2019 | Edward Dillon | The Link
Jews Step Forward
January 31, 2019 | Marjorie Wright | The Link
Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Detention
December 15, 2018 | Brad Parker | The Link
The Judaization of Jerusalem Al-Quds
September 9, 2018 | Basem L. Ra'ad | The Link
Apartheid West Bank
June 6, 2018 | Jonathan Kuttab | The Link
March 12, 2018 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
January 13, 2018 | Rawan Yaghi | The Link
Anti-Zionism Is Not Anti-Semitism, And Never Was
November 29, 2017 | Allan C. Brownfeld | The Link
The Cult of the Zionists – An Historical Enigma
August 20, 2017 | Thomas Suárez | The Link
Marwan Barghouti and the Battle of the Empty Stomachs
July 1, 2017 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
Al-Tamimi et al v. Adelson et al
April 1, 2017 | Fred Jerome | The Link
In The Beginning…
January 22, 2017 | John Mahoney | The Link
Wheels of Justice
December 3, 2016 | Steven Jungkeit | The Link
August 14, 2016 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
The Murder of Alex Odeh
June 4, 2016 | Richard Habib | The Link
Protestantism’s Liberal/Mainline Embrace of Zionism
April 3, 2016 | Donald Wagner | The Link
The Second Gaza
January 10, 2016 | Atef Abu Saif | The Link
Between Two Blue Lines
October 31, 2015 | Tom Hayes | The Link
A Special Kind of Exile
August 15, 2015 | Alice Rothchild M.D. | The Link
June 13, 2015 | Fred Jerome | The Link
The Art of Resistance
March 7, 2015 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
The Window Dressers: The Signatories of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence
January 3, 2015 | Ilan Pappe | The Link
The Immorality Of It All
October 25, 2014 | Dr. Daniel C. Maguire | The Link
Can Palestine Bring Israeli Officials before the International Criminal Court?
August 16, 2014 | John B. Quigley | The Link
In Search of King Solomon’s Temple
June 9, 2014 | George Wesley Buchanan | The Link
March 2, 2014 | Charles Villa-Vicencio | The Link
In Search of Grace Halsell
January 17, 2014 | Robin Kelley | The Link
November 3, 2013 | Pamela Olson | The Link
What Israel’s Best Friend Should Know
August 24, 2013 | Miko Peled | The Link
Dimona—(Shhh! It’s A Secret.)
June 23, 2013 | John Mahoney | The Link
April 7, 2013 | Charles A. Kimball | The Link
Like a Picture, A Map is Worth A Thousand Words
January 28, 2013 | Rod Driver | The Link
When War Criminals Walk Free
November 18, 2012 | Dr. Mads Gilbert | The Link
Welcome to Nazareth
July 30, 2012 | Jonathan Cook | The Link
The Neocons… They’re Back
May 27, 2012 | John Mahoney | The Link
Is the Two-State Solution Dead?
March 28, 2012 | Jeff Halper | The Link
January 8, 2012 | Maysoon Zayid | The Link
Who Are the “Canaanites”? Why Ask?
November 19, 2011 | Basem L. Ra'ad | The Link
Palestine and the Season of Arab Discontent
September 1, 2011 | Lawrence R. Davidson | The Link
An Open Letter to Church Leaders
June 20, 2011 | David W. Good | 2011
May 1, 2011 | Geoff Simons | 2011
What Price Israel?
January 9, 2011 | Chris Hedges | 2011
Publish It Not
December 20, 2010 | Jonathan Cook | 2010
September 4, 2010 | Khalid Amayreh | 2010
Where Is The Palestinian Gandhi?
July 18, 2010 | Mazin Qumsiyeh | 2010
A Doctor’s Prescription for Peace with Justice
May 20, 2010 | Steven Feldman M.D. | 2010
The Olive Trees of Palestine
January 8, 2010 | Edward Dillon | 2010
Spinning Cast Lead
December 9, 2009 | Jane Adas | 2009
Ending Israel’s Occupation
September 23, 2009 | John Mahoney | 2009
July 28, 2009 | James M. Wall | 2009
April 2, 2009 | John Mahoney | 2009
January 26, 2009 | Joel Kovel | 2009
Captive Audiences: Performing in Palestine
December 18, 2008 | Thomas Suárez | 2008
Israeli Palestinians: The Unwanted Who Stayed
October 5, 2008 | Jonathan Cook | 2008
The Grief Counselor of Gaza
July 10, 2008 | Eyad Sarraj | 2008
State of Denial: Israel, 1948-2008
April 22, 2008 | Ilan Pappe | 2008
January 6, 2008 | Khalid Amayreh | 2008
December 30, 2007 | Kathy Kelly | 2007
Avraham Burg: Apostate or Avatar?
October 4, 2007 | John Mahoney | 2007
Witness for the Defenseless
August 20, 2007 | Anna Baltzer | 2007
About That Word Apartheid
April 24, 2007 | John Mahoney | 2007
One Man’s Hope
January 7, 2007 | Fahim Qubain | 2007
Beyond the Minor Second
December 5, 2006 | Simon Shaheen | 2006
October 9, 2006 | Barbara Lubin | 2006
Why Divestment? Why Now?
August 20, 2006 | David Wildman | 2006
Inside the Anti-Occupation Camp
April 17, 2006 | Michel Warschawski | 2006
Middle East Studies Under Siege
January 14, 2006 | Joan W. Scott | 2006
A Polish Boy in Palestine
December 20, 2005 | David Neunuebel | 2005
The Israeli Factor
October 19, 2005 | John Cooley | 2005
The Coverage—and Non-Coverage—of Israel-Palestine
July 20, 2005 | Allison Weir | 2005
The Day FDR Met Saudi Arabia’s Ibn Saud
April 23, 2005 | Thomas W. Lippman | 2005
January 29, 2005 | Geoff Simons | 2005
When Legend Becomes Fact
December 21, 2004 | James M. Wall | 2004
Timeline for War
September 20, 2004 | John Mahoney | 2004
The CPT Report
June 16, 2004 | Peggy Gish | 2004
April 22, 2004 | Mary Eoloff | 2004
Beyond Road Maps & Walls
January 1, 2004 | Jeff Halper | 2004
December 5, 2003 | Cindy Corrie | 2003
Why Do They Hate US?
October 25, 2003 | John Zogby | 2003
In the Beginning, There Was Terrorism
July 5, 2003 | Ronald Bleier | 2003
April 20, 2003 | John Mahoney | 2003
January 20, 2003 | Phyllis Bennis | 2003
The Making of Iraq
December 6, 2002 | Geoff Simons | 2002
A Most UnGenerous Offer
September 27, 2002 | Jeff Halper | 2002
The Crusades, Then and Now
July 5, 2002 | Robert Ashmore | 2002
A Style Sheet on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
April 2, 2002 | J. Martin Bailey | 2002
Law & Disorder in the Middle East
January 15, 2002 | Francis A. Boyle | 2002
Reflections on September 11, 2001
November 20, 2001 | James M. Wall | 2001
Inside H-2 [Hebron]
September 12, 2001 | Jane Adas | 2001
Americans Tortured in Israeli Jails
June 8, 2001 | Jerri Bird | 2001
Today’s Via Dolorosa
April 20, 2001 | Edward Dillon | 2001
Israel’s Anti-Civilian Weapons
January 1, 2001 | John Mahoney | 2001
Confronting the Bible’s Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine
December 17, 2000 | Michael Prior, C.M. | 2000
On the Jericho Road
September 5, 2000 | AMEU | 2000
The Lydda Death March
July 13, 2000 | Audeh Rantisi | 2000
The Syrian Community on the Golan Heights
April 27, 2000 | Bashar Tarabieh | 2000
Muslim Americans in Mainstream America
February 20, 2000 | Nihad Awad | 2000
Native Americans and Palestinians
December 20, 1999 | Norman Finkelstein | 1999
Iraq: Who’s To Blame?
October 3, 1999 | Geoff Simons | 1999
July 20, 1999 | John Sugg | 1999
May 20, 1999 | Muna Hamzeh-Muhaisen | 1999
February 20, 1999 | Edward Mast | 1999
Dear NPR News
December 18, 1998 | Ali Abunimah | 1998
Israel’s Bedouin: The End of Poetry
September 22, 1998 | Ron Kelley | 1998
Politics Not As Usual
July 8, 1998 | Rod Driver | 1998
Israeli Historians Ask: What Really Happened 50 Years Ago?
January 8, 1998 | Ilan Pappe | 1998
The Jews of Iraq
January 8, 1998 | Naeim Giladi | 1998
“People and the Land’: Coming to a PBS Station Near You?
November 12, 1997 | Tom Hayes | 1997
U. S. Aid to Israel: The Subject No One Mentions
September 1, 1997 | Richard Curtiss | 1997
Remember the [USS] Liberty
July 24, 1997 | John Borne | 1997
AMEU’s 30th Anniversary Issue
April 8, 1997 | AMEU | 1997
The Children of Iraq: 1990-1997
January 22, 1997 | Kathy Kelly | 1997
Slouching Toward Bethlehem 2000
December 16, 1996 | J. Martin Bailey | 1996
Deir Yassin Remembered
September 2, 1996 | Dan McGowan | 1996
Palestinians and Their Days in Court: Unequal Before the Law
July 22, 1996 | Linda Brayer | 1996
Meanwhile in Lebanon
April 8, 1996 | George Irani | 1996
Hebron’s Theater of the Absurd
January 8, 1996 | Kathleen Kern | 1996
Epiphany at Beit Jala
November 24, 1995 | Donald Neff | 1995
Teaching About the Middle East
September 19, 1995 | Elizabeth Barlow | 1995
Jerusalem’s Final Status
July 8, 1995 | Michael Dumper | 1995
A Survivor for Whom Never Again Means Never Again [An Interview with Israel Shahak]
May 1, 1995 | Mark Dow | 1995
In the Land of Christ Christianity Is Dying
January 24, 1995 | Grace Halsell | 1995
Refusing to Curse the Darkness
December 8, 1994 | Geoffrey Aronson | 1994
Humphrey Gets the Inside Dope
September 29, 1994 | John Law | 1994
The Post-Handshake Landscape
July 19, 1994 | Frank Collins | 1994
Bosnia: A Genocide of Muslims
May 8, 1994 | Grace Halsell | 1994
Will ’94 Be ’49 All Over Again?
January 22, 1994 | Rabbi Elmer Berger | 1994
December 18, 1993 | Ann Lesch | 1993
Save the Musht
October 8, 1993 | Rosina Hassoun | 1993
August 8, 1993 | Colin Edwards | 1993
An Open Letter to Mrs. Clinton
May 8, 1993 | James Graff | 1993
Islam and the US National Interest
February 8, 1993 | Shaw Dallal | 1993
A Reply to Henry Kissinger and Fouad Ajami
December 16, 1992 | Norman Finkelstein | 1992
October 8, 1992 | Don Wagner | 1992
Covert Operations: The Human Factor
August 8, 1992 | Jane Hunter | 1992
AMEU’s 25th Anniversary Issue
May 19, 1992 | John Mahoney | 1992
Facing the Charge of Anti-Semitism
January 20, 1992 | Paul Hopkins | 1992
The Comic Book Arab
December 12, 1991 | Jack Shaheen | 1991
Visitation at Yad Vashem
September 3, 1991 | James Burtchaell | 1991
A New Literary Look at the Middle East
August 25, 1991 | John Mahoney | 1991
Beyond the Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Solidarity with the Palestinian People
February 8, 1991 | Marc Ellis | 1991
The Post-War Middle East
January 2, 1991 | Rami Khouri | 1991
Arab Defamation in the Media
December 21, 1990 | Casey Kasem | 1990
What Happened to Palestine?: The Revisionists Revisited
September 17, 1990 | Michael Palumbo | 1990
Protestants and Catholics Show New Support for Palestinians
July 26, 1990 | Charles A. Kimball | 1990
My Conversation with Humphrey
April 2, 1990 | John Law | 1990
American Victims of Israeli Abuses
January 17, 1990 | Albert Mokhiber | 1990
Diary of an American in Occupied Palestine
November 8, 1989 | Mary Mary | 1989
The International Crimes of Israeli Officials
September 23, 1989 | John B. Quigley | 1989
An Interview with Ellen Nassab
July 8, 1989 | Hisham Ahmed | 1989
US Aid to Israel
May 23, 1989 | Mohamed Rabie | 1989
Cocaine, Cutouts: Israel’s Unseen Diplomacy
January 14, 1989 | Jane Hunter | 1989
The Shi’i Muslims of the Arab World
December 8, 1988 | Augustus Norton | 1988
Israel and South Africa
October 3, 1988 | Robert Ashmore | 1988
Zionist Violence Against Palestinians
September 8, 1988 | Mohammad Hallaj | 1988
June 25, 1988 | George Weller | 1988
The US Press and the Middle East
January 8, 1988 | Mitchell Kaidy | 1988
The US Role in Israel’s Arms Industry
December 8, 1987 | Bishara Bahbah | 1987
The Shadow Government
October 24, 1987 | Jane Hunter | 1987
Public Opinion and the Middle East Conflict
September 8, 1987 | Fouad Moughrabi | 1987
England And The US in Palestine: A Comparison
May 22, 1987 | W. F. Aboushi | 1987
Archaeology Politics in Palestine
January 11, 1987 | Leslie Hoppe | 1987
The Demographic War for Palestine
December 21, 1986 | Janet Abu-Lughod | 1986
October 21, 1986 | Cheryl Rubenberg | 1986
The Vatican, US Catholics, and the Middle East
August 5, 1986 | George Irani | 1986
The Making of a Non-Person
May 2, 1986 | Jan Abu Shakrah | 1986
The Israeli-South African-US Alliance
January 17, 1986 | Jane Hunter | 1986
Humphrey Goes to the Middle East
December 4, 1985 | John Law | 1985
US-Israeli-Central American Connection
November 23, 1985 | Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi | 1985
The Palestine-Israel Conflict in the US Courtroom
September 1, 1985 | Rex Wingerter | 1985
The Middle East on the US Campus
May 24, 1985 | Naseer Aruri | 1985
From Time Immemorial: The Resurrection of a Myth
January 12, 1985 | Mohammad Hallaj | 1985
The Lasting Gift of Christmas
December 29, 1984 | Hassan Haddad | 1984
Israel’s Drive for Water
November 25, 1984 | Leslie Schmida | 1984
Shrine Under Siege
August 21, 1984 | Grace Halsell | 1984
The USS Liberty Affair
May 6, 1984 | James Ennes Jr. | 1984
The Middle East Lobbies
January 21, 1984 | Cheryl Rubenberg | 1984
US Aid to Israel
December 23, 1983 | Samir Abed-Rabbo | 1983
November 18, 1983 | O. Kelly Ingram | 1983
Prisoners of Israel
August 22, 1983 | Edward Dillon | 1983
The Land of Palestine
May 11, 1983 | L. Dean Brown | 1983
Military Peacekeeping in the Middle East
January 5, 1983 | William Mulligan | 1983
US-Israeli Relations: A Reassessment
December 20, 1982 | Allan Kellum | 1982
The Islamic Alternative
September 5, 1982 | Yvonne Haddad | 1982
Yasser Arafat: The Man and His People
July 9, 1982 | Grace Halsell | 1982
Tourism in the Holy Land
May 5, 1982 | Larry Ekin | 1982
Palestine: The Suppression of an Idea
January 18, 1982 | Mohammad Hallaj | 1982
The Disabled in the Arab World
December 14, 1981 | Audrey Shabbas | 1981
Arms Buildup in the Middle East
September 26, 1981 | Greg Orfalea | 1981
The Palestinians in America
July 5, 1981 | Elias Tuma | 1981
A Human Rights Odyssey: In Search of Academic Freedom
April 23, 1981 | Michael Griffin | 1981
Europe and the Arabs: A Developing Relationship
January 12, 1981 | John Richardson | 1981
National Council of Churches Adopts New Statement on the Middle East
December 20, 1980 | Allison Rock | 1980
Kuwait: Prosperity From A Sea of Oil
September 7, 1980 | Alan Klaum | 1980
American Jews and the Middle East: Fears, Frustration and Hope
July 24, 1980 | Allan Solomonow | 1980
The Arab Stereotype on Television
April 22, 1980 | Jack Shaheen | 1980
The Presidential Candidates: How They View the Middle East
January 13, 1980 | Allan Kellum | 1980
The West Bank and Gaza: The Emerging Political Consensus
December 16, 1979 | Ann Lesch | 1979
The Muslim Experience in the US
September 5, 1979 | Yvonne Haddad | 1979
Jordan Steps Forward
July 22, 1979 | Alan Klaum | 1979
The Child in the Arab Family
May 30, 1979 | Audrey Shabbas | 1979
January 12, 1979 | John Mahoney | 1979
The Sorrow of Lebanon
December 22, 1978 | Youssef Ibrahim | 1978
The Arab World: A New Economic Order
October 5, 1978 | Youssef Ibrahim | 1978
The Yemen Arab Republic: From Behind the Veil
May 20, 1978 | Alan Klaum | 1978
The New Israeli Law: Will It Doom the Christian Mission in the Holy Land?
April 24, 1978 | Humphrey Walz | 1978
January 14, 1978 | John Sutton, ed. | 1978
War Plan Ready If Peace Effort Fails
December 19, 1977 | Jim Hoagland | 1977
Concern Grows in U.S. Over Israeli Policies
September 25, 1977 | Allan C. Brownfeld | 1977
Prophecy and Modern Israel
June 5, 1977 | Calvin Keene | 1977
Literary Look at the Middle East
April 16, 1977 | Djelloul Marbrook | 1977
Carter Administration & the Middle East
January 8, 1977 | Norton Mezvinski | 1977
Unity Out of Diversity: United Arab Emirates
December 19, 1976 | John Sutton, ed. | 1976
New Leader for Troubled Lebanon
October 5, 1976 | Minor Yanis | 1976
Egypt: Rediscovered Destiny – A Survey
July 5, 1976 | Alan Klaum | 1976
America’s Stake in the Middle East
June 5, 1976 | John Davis | 1976
January 12, 1976 | Patricia Morris, ed. | 1976
Zionism? Racism? What Do You Mean?
December 21, 1975 | Humphrey Walz | 1975
October 8, 1975 | Marcella Kerr, ed. | 1975
June 20, 1975 | Ray Cleveland | 1975
The West Bank and Gaza
April 16, 1975 | John Richardson | 1975
Crisis in Lebanon
January 8, 1975 | Jack Forsyth | 1975
The Arab-Israeli Arms Race
December 14, 1974 | Fuad Jabber | 1974
The Palestinians Speak. Listen!
October 12, 1974 | Frank Epp | 1974
Holy Father Speaks on Palestine
May 26, 1974 | Pope Paul VI | 1974
History of the Middle East Conflict
March 18, 1974 | Sen. James Abourezk | 1974
Arab Oil and the Zionist Connection
January 21, 1974 | Jack Forsyth | 1974
Christians in the Arab East
December 8, 1973 | Humphrey Walz | 1973
American Jewry and the Zionist Jewish State Concept
September 30, 1973 | Norton Mezvinski | 1973
US Middle East Involvement
May 8, 1973 | John Richardson | 1973
A Prophet Speaks in Israel
March 8, 1973 | Norton Mezvinski | 1973
The Arab Market: Opportunities for U.S. Business
January 21, 1973 | Humphrey Walz | 1973
Toward a More Open Middle East Debate
December 2, 1972 | Humphrey Walz | 1972
Some Thoughts on Jerusalem
September 15, 1972 | Joseph Ryan | 1972
Foreign Policy Report: Nixon Gives Massive Aid But Reaps No Political Harvest
May 13, 1972 | Andrew Glass | 1972
A Look at Gaza
March 2, 1972 | Humphrey Walz | 1972
Religion Used to Promote Hatred in Israel
January 2, 1972 | Humphrey Walz | 1972
Computer Age Answers to M. E. Problems
December 18, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Peace and the Holy City
September 5, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Why Visit the Middle East?
May 15, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Arab-Israeli Encounter in Jaffa
March 12, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
At Stake in UNRWA’s 1971 Budget
January 1, 1971 | Humphrey Walz | 1971
Is the Modern State, Israel, A Fulfillment of Prophecy?
December 6, 1970 | Bradley Watkins | 1970
Council of Churches Acts on Middle East Crisis
September 26, 1970 | Humphrey Walz | 1970
Mayhew Reports on Arab-Israeli Facts
May 24, 1970 | Christopher Mayhew | 1970
Sequel Offered Free to Refugee Agencies
March 22, 1970 | Humphrey Walz | 1970
Responses to Palestine Information Proposal
January 3, 1970 | Humphrey Walz | 1970
Churches Plan for Refugees and Peace
December 15, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
End UNRWA Deficit for Refugee Aid
September 28, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
Church Statement Stresses Mideast Needs
May 3, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
Mosque to Add Minaret to NYC Skyline
March 9, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
Black Bids New Administration Face Facts
January 3, 1969 | Humphrey Walz | 1969
UN Struggles for Mideast Peace
November 3, 1968 | Humphrey Walz | 1968
How The Link Was Born and Can Grow
September 1, 1968 | AMEU | 1968
It was inevitable that when the coronavirus pandemic reached the occupied Palestinian territories, as it did in early March, it would find its first purchase in Bethlehem, a few miles south-east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.
Staff at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, one of Bethlehem’s satellite towns, tested positive after they were exposed to a group of infected Greek tourists. Israel worked hurriedly with the Palestinian Authority – the Palestinians’ permanent government-in-waiting in the occupied territories – to lock down Bethlehem. Israel was fearful that the virus, unlike the city’s Palestinian inhabitants, would be difficult to contain. Contagion might spread quickly to nearby Palestinian communities in the West Bank, then to Jewish settlements built illegally by Israel on Bethlehem’s lands, and finally on into Israel itself.
The Palestinian territories were under a form of lockdown long before the arrival of the coronavirus, however. Israel, the occupying power, has made sure that the entire Palestinian population is as isolated from the world as possible – their voices silenced, their experiences of oppression and brutality at Israel’s hands near-invisible to most of the Israeli public and to outsiders.
But Bethlehem, the reputed site of Jesus’s birth 2,000 years ago, is the one Palestinian area – outside East Jerusalem, which has been illegally annexed by Israel – that has proved hardest for Israel to hermetically seal off. During visits to the Church of the Nativity, tourists can briefly glimpse the reality of Palestinian life under occupation.
Some 15 years ago Israel completed an 26 foot-high concrete wall around Bethlehem. On a typical day – at least, before coronavirus halted tourism to the region – a steady stream of coaches from Jerusalem, bearing thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world, came to a stop at a gap in the concrete that served as a checkpoint. There they would wait for the all-clear from surly Israeli teenage soldiers. Once approved, the coaches would drive to the Nativity Church, their passengers able to view the chaotic graffiti scrawled across the wall’s giant canvas, testifying to the city’s imprisonment and its defiance.
Like the plague-bearing Greeks, visitors to Bethlehem could not avoid mixing, even if perfunctorily, with a few locals, mostly Palestinian Christians. Guides showed them around the main attraction, the Church, while local officials and clergy shepherded them into queues to be led down to a crypt that long ago was supposedly the site of a stable where Jesus was born. But unlike the Greek visitors, most pilgrims did not hang around to see the rest of Bethlehem. They quickly boarded their Israeli coaches back to Jerusalem, where they were likely to sleep in Israeli-owned hotels and spend their money in Israeli-owned restaurants and shops.
For most visitors to the Holy Land, their sole meaningful exposure to the occupation and the region’s native Palestinian population was an hour or two spent in the goldfish-bowl of Bethlehem.
In recent years, however, that had started to change. Despite the wall, or at times because of it, more independent-minded groups of pilgrims and lone travelers had begun straying off grid, leaving the Israeli-controlled tourism trail. Rather than making a brief detour, they stayed a few nights in Bethlehem. A handful of small, mostly cheap hotels like the Angel catered to them, as did restaurants and souvenir stores around the church.
In tandem, a new kind of political tourism based in and around Bethlehem had begun offering tours of the wall and sections of the city, highlighting the theft of the city’s land by neighboring Jewish settlements and the violence of Israeli soldiers who can enter Bethlehem at will.
A few years ago, the famous anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy gave a major boost to this new kind of immersive tourism by allying with a Bethlehem tour guide, Wisam Salsa, to open the Walled-Off Hotel. They converted an old building boxed in by the wall, liberally sprinkling it with Banksy’s subversive artworks about the occupation, as well as installing a gallery exhibiting the work of Palestinian artists and a museum detailing the occupation’s history and Israel’s well-tested methods of control and repression.
Admittedly, few visitors managed to get a room in Banksy’s small hotel, but many more came to sit in the lobby and sip a beer, produced by one of a handful of newly emerging breweries run by Christian Palestinians, or add some graffiti to the wall just outside with the help of a neighboring art supplies shop.
Before coronavirus, the Walled-Off offered daily tours of Aida, a refugee camp attached to Bethlehem, whose inhabitants were expelled from some of the more than 500 Palestinian communities Israel erased in 1948 – in the Nakba, or Catastrophe – to create a Jewish state on their homeland. There, visitors not only learned about the mass dispossession of Palestinians, sponsored by the western powers, that made Israel’s creation possible, but they heard the camp’s inhabitants tell of regular violent, night-time raids by Israeli soldiers and of the daily struggle for survival when Israel tightly controls and limits essentials like water.
Until the coronavirus did Israel’s work for it, Israeli authorities had noted with growing concern how more tourists and pilgrims were staying in Bethlehem. According to Israeli figures, there are about a million tourist overnights annually in Bethlehem. And that figure was growing as new hotels were built, even if the total was still a tiny fraction of the number of tourists staying in Israel and Israeli-ruled East Jerusalem.
The new trend disturbed the Israeli authorities. Bethlehem was proving an Achilles’ heel in Israel’s system of absolute control over the Palestinians for two reasons.
First, it brought money into Bethlehem, providing it with a source of income outside Israel’s control. The Israeli authorities have carefully engineered the Palestinian economy to be as dependent on Israel as possible, making it easy for Israel to punish Palestinians and the PA economically for any signs of disobedience or resistance. Aside from its tourism, Bethlehem has been largely stripped of economic autonomy. After waves of land thefts by Israel, the city now has access to only a tenth of its original territory, and has been slowly encircled by settlements. The city’s residents have been cut off from their farmland, water sources and historic landmarks. Jerusalem, once Bethlehem’s economic and cultural hinterland, has become all but unreachable for most residents, hidden on the other side of the wall. And those working outside the tourism sector need a difficult-to-obtain permit from Israel’s military authorities to enter and work in low-paying jobs in construction and agriculture inside Israel, the settlements or occupied Jerusalem. Israel’s second ground for concern was that foreign visitors staying in Bethlehem were likely to learn first-hand something of the experiences of the local population – more so than those who simply made a brief detour to see the church. A self-serving narrative about Palestinians central to Israeli propaganda – that Israel stands with the west in a Judeo-Christian battle against a supposedly barbaric Muslim enemy – risked being subverted by exposure to the reality of Bethlehem. After all, anyone spending time in the city would soon realize that it includes Palestinian Christians only too ready to challenge Israel’s grand narrative of a clash of civilizations.
From Israel’s point of view, a stay in Bethlehem might also open tourists’ eyes in dangerous ways. They might come to understand that, if anyone was behaving in a barbaric way and provoking an unresolvable, religiously inspired clash, it was not Palestinians – Muslim or Christian – but Israel, which has been brutally ruling over Palestinians for decades.
For both reasons, Israel wished to prevent Bethlehem from becoming a separate, rival hub for tourism. It was impossible to stop pilgrims visiting the Church of the Nativity, but Israel could stop Bethlehem developing its own tourism industry, independent of Israel. The wall has been part of that strategy, but it failed to curb the development of new tourism ventures – and in some cases, as with the Banksy hotel, had actually inspired alternative forms of tourism.
In early 2017 the Israeli authorities finally acted. The daily Haaretz newspaper revealed that the interior ministry had issued a directive to local travel agencies warning them not to allow their pilgrimage groups to stay overnight in Bethlehem, with the implication that the firms risked losing their licenses if they did so. According to Haaretz, the government claimed that “potential terrorists were traveling with groups of tourists”.
Bethlehem is lucky that, unlike other Palestinian communities, it has allies Israel cannot easily ignore. Haaretz’s exposure of the new policy led to a rapid backlash. International churches, especially the Vatican, were worried that it was the thin end of a wedge that might soon leave the City of the Nativity off-limits to its pilgrims. And Israeli travel agencies feared their business would suffer. Pilgrim groups from poorer countries that could not afford Jerusalem’s high prices, especially for accommodation, might stop coming to the Holy Land.
As one agent told Haaretz: “The meaning of a letter like this is the end of incoming tourism from India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and eastern European countries like Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine. All the tourists who visit Israel and sleep in Bethlehem are doing that primarily to reduce costs.” The loss of such tourists not only threatened to deprive Bethlehem of the benefits of tourism but threatened Israel’s much larger tourism sector. Soon afterwards, the Israeli authorities backtracked, saying the directive had been a draft issued in error.
Why the Shrinkage?
Bethlehem’s plight – a microcosm of the more general difficulties faced by Palestinians under occupation – offers insights into why the region’s Palestinian Christian population has been shrinking so rapidly and relentlessly.
The demographics of Bethlehem offer stark evidence of a Christian exodus from the region. In 1947, the year before Israel’s creation, 85 percent of Bethlehem’s inhabitants were Christian. Today the figure stands at 15 percent. Christians now comprise less than 1.5 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank – some 40,000 of a population of nearly 3 million – down from 5 percent in the early 1970s, shortly after Israel occupied the territory in 1967.
In 1945 Bethlehem had nearly 8,000 Christian residents, slightly more than the 7,000 who live there today. Natural growth should mean Bethlehem’s Christian population is many times that size. There are, in fact, many times more Palestinian Christians overseas than there are in historic Palestine. The 7,000 Christians of Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem, are outnumbered by more than 100,000 family members who have moved to the Americas.
Israel ostensibly professes great concern about this decline, but actually it is only too happy to see native Christians depart the region. Their exodus has helped to make Israel’s clash of civilizations narrative sound more plausible, bolstering claims that Israel does indeed serve as a rampart against Muslim-Arab terror and barbarism. Israel has argued that it is helping Christian Palestinians as best it can, protecting them from their hostile Muslim neighbors. In this way, Israel has sought to mask its active role in encouraging the exodus.
The rapid decline in the numbers of these Christians reflects many factors that have been intentionally obscured by Israel. Historically, the most significant is that Palestinian Christians were nearly as badly impacted as Palestinian Muslims by the mass expulsions carried out by Zionist forces in 1948. In total, some 80 percent of all Palestinians living in what became the new state of Israel were expelled from their lands and became refugees – 750,000 from a population of 900,000. Those forced into exile included tens of thousands of Christians, amounting to two-thirds of the Palestinian Christian population of the time.
Palestinian Christians who remained in historic Palestine – either in what had now become Israel or in the territories that from 1967 would fall under Israeli occupation – have naturally shrunk over time in relation to the Muslim population because of the latter’s higher birth rates. Palestine’s Christians mostly lived in cities. Their urban lifestyles and generally higher incomes, as well as their greater exposure to western cultural norms, meant they tended to have smaller families and, as a result, their community’s population growth was lower.
But rather than acknowledge this historical context, Israeli lobbyists seek to exploit and misrepresent the inevitable tensions and resentments caused by the mass displacements of the Nakba, developments that had a significant impact on traditionally Christian communities like Bethlehem. During the events of 1948, as rural Palestinian villages were ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces, the refugees sought shelter either in neighboring states like Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, or in West Bank cities.
Bethlehem found its demographics transformed: an 85 percent Christian majority before the Nakba has been reversed into an 85 percent Muslim majority today. These dramatic social and cultural upheavals – turning the city’s majority population into a minority – were not easy for all Bethlehem’s Christian families to accept. It would be wrong to ignore the way these changes caused friction. And the resentments have sometimes festered because they are incapable of resolution without addressing the source of the problem: Israel’s mass dispossession of Palestinians, and the continuing tacit support for these abuses by the international community.
Given this context, it has been easy for inter-family rivalries and conflicts that are inevitable in a ghettoized, overcrowded community like today’s Bethlehem to be interpreted by some members of the minority group as sectarian, even when they are not. The lack of proper law enforcement in Palestinian areas in which Israel rather than the PA is the ultimate arbiter of what is allowed has left smaller Christian families more vulnerable in conflicts with larger Muslim families. In the competition for diminishing resources, family size has mattered. And whereas globalization has tended to encourage increased identification among Palestinian Christians with the west and its more secular norms, the same processes have entrenched a religious identity among sections of the Muslim population who look to the wider Middle East for their ideas and salvation. Consequently, a cultural gap has widened.
These problems exist but it would be wrong to exaggerate them – as Israel’s loyalists wish to do – or to ignore who is ultimately responsible for these tensions. That is not a mistake most Palestinian Christians make. In a recent survey of Christians who have emigrated, very few pointed to “religious extremism” as the reason for leaving the region – just 3 percent. The overwhelming majority cited reasons relating in some way to Israel’s continuing malevolent role in controlling their lives. A third blamed a “lack of freedom”, a quarter “worsening economic conditions”, and 20 percent “political instability.”
To make sense of the specific problems faced by the Christian community, other historical contexts need to be understood. Palestinian Christians break down into four broad communities. The first is the Eastern Orthodox Churches, dominated by the Greek Orthodox. The second is the Catholic Churches, led by the “Latin” community that looks towards Rome, although they are outnumbered among Palestinians by Greek and Syrian Catholics. The third category is the Oriental Orthodox churches, which include the Copts, Armenian and Syrian Orthodox. And finally, there are various Protestant Churches, including the Anglicans, Lutherans and Baptists.
Long before Israel’s creation on most of the Palestinians’ homeland, Christians were concentrated in and around Palestine’s urban centers. In Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, large numbers of Christians coalesced around sites associated with Jesus’s life. This tendency was reinforced as Palestine’s cities flourished and expanded from the 18th century onwards under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans encouraged the immigration of Christians to these centers of worship and cultivated a confessional system that made conditions attractive for the foreign Churches.
The result was a relatively privileged urban Christian population that consisted largely of merchants and traders, and benefited from the resources poured in by the international Churches as part of their missionary work, including schools and hospitals. Christians were typically wealthier, better educated and healthier than their Muslim counterparts often living nearby in isolated rural communities as peasant farmers. In addition, Christian families had good connections to the international Churches through local clergy, as well as the staff of Church-run schools and hospitals.
Those differences have proved significant as Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike have struggled under Israeli colonization, whether inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders or in the occupied territories.
Israel’s institutionalized racism towards Palestinians – systematic land thefts, uninhibited state and settler violence, as well as restrictions on movement and the denial of educational and employment opportunities – have put pressure on all Palestinians to leave. But Christians have enjoyed significant advantages in making their escape. They could tap their connections in the Churches to help them settle abroad, chiefly in the Americas and Europe. And that path was made easier for many given that relatives had already established lives overseas following the mass expulsions of 1948. As a result, the emigration of Palestinian Christians is generally reckoned to have been around twice that of Muslims.
Israel’s oft-repeated claim that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are responsible for the exodus of Christians out of the Holy Land is given the lie simply by examining the situation of Palestinian Christians both inside Israel, where neither Hamas nor the PA operate, and in East Jerusalem, where the influence of both has long been negligible. In each of those areas, Israel has unchallenged control over Palestinians’ lives. Yet we can see the same pattern of Christians fleeing the region.
And the reasons for Gaza’s tiny Palestinian Christian population, today numbering maybe only 1,000, to leave their tiny, massively overcrowded enclave, which has been blockaded for 13 years by Israel, barely needs examining. True, it has been hard for these Christians – 0.0005 percent of Gaza’s population – to feel represented in a territory so dominated by the Islamic social and cultural values embodied by the Hamas government. But there is little evidence they are being persecuted.
On the other hand, there is overwhelming proof that Gaza’s Christians are suffering, along with their Muslim neighbors, from Israel’s continuing violations of their most fundamental rights to freedom, security and dignity.
The picture in the West Bank, meanwhile, needs closer study. As noted, Palestinian Christians have generally enjoyed historic privileges over their Muslim compatriots that derive from their historic connections to the Churches. They have been able to exploit tourism as guides, drivers and guesthouse owners. They enjoy greater access to church-run schools and, as a consequence, improved access to higher education and the professions. They possess more valuable urban land, and many own shops and businesses in the cities. There are both Muslim and Christian lawyers, shopkeepers and business owners, of course, but proportionately more Christians have belonged to the middle classes and professions because of these various advantages.
While Israel’s occupation policies have harshly impacted all Palestinians, some have been hit harder than others. And those who have tended to suffer most live not in the main cities, which are under very partial Palestinian rule, but in rural areas and in the refugee camps. Those in the camps, in places such as Aida, next to Bethlehem, lost their lands and property to Israel and have had to rebuild their lives from scratch since 1948. Those living in isolated farming communities designated by the Oslo accords as “Area C” (a temporary designation that has effectively become permanent) are fully exposed to Israel’s belligerent civil and military control.
The residents of these communities have few opportunities to earn a living and have been most vulnerable to Israeli state and settler violence, as well as land thefts and the severe water restrictions imposed by Israel. In practice, these precarious conditions are endured disproportionately by Muslim Palestinians rather than Christians.
Nonetheless, Israel’s policies have increasingly deprived urban Christian families of the opportunities they had come to expect – the kind of opportunities westerners take for granted. And significantly, unlike many Muslim Palestinians, Christians have continued to enjoy one privilege: an escape route out of the region to countries where they have a chance to live relatively normal lives.
The damage to Christian life has been felt particularly keenly in relation to movement restrictions – one of the ways Israel has established a system of near-absolute control over Palestinian life. Those involved in trade and business, as many Christians are, have struggled to succeed as those restrictions have intensified over the past quarter-century, since the introduction of measures under the Oslo accords. An elaborate system of checkpoints and permits was established to control Palestinians’ freedom to move around the occupied territories and to enter Israel in search of work. Over time the system was enforced by a lengthy steel and concrete “separation barrier” that Israel began building nearly two decades ago.
Taybeh’s Beer Challenge
Typifying the difficulties of trading under these circumstances is the Taybeh micro-brewery in a West Bank village of the same name, in a remote location north of Ramallah overlooking the Jordan Valley. Taybeh is exceptional: its 1,300 inhabitants comprise the last exclusively Christian community in the occupied territories. The village – its name means both “good” and“delicious” in Arabic – is reputedly on the Biblical site of Ephraim. A small church marks the spot where Jesus reputedly retired with his disciples shortly before heading to Jerusalem, where he would be crucified. Taybeh has its own Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox schools, and a Catholic nursing home.
Nonetheless, Taybeh has long been in demographic meltdown. Today, its population is dwarfed by those of its diaspora: some 12,000 former residents and their descendants live abroad, mostly in the United States, Chile and Guatemala. Daoud and Nadim Khoury, two brothers who were themselves raised in the US, established the Taybeh brewery shortly after their return to the West Bank village under the Oslo accords. The business depended on the experiences and connections they had gained abroad.
For them, developing a sustainable business like the brewery was a way to halt and reverse the gradual demise of their village and the loss of its Christian heritage. They feared that any further decline in numbers would leave Taybeh’s lands and its ancient olive groves vulnerable to takeover by the three Jewish settlements that surround the village. The business was seen as a way to save Taybeh.
Maria Khoury, Daoud’s Greek wife, whom he met at Harvard, says the conditions of village life have continued to deteriorate. Unemployment stands at 60 percent, and Israel shuts off the water four times a week to preserve supplies for the Jewish settlements. The drive to the nearest Palestinian city, Ramallah, takes five times longer than it did 20 years ago – when it took little more than 15 minutes. That was before checkpoints and roadblocks were established on local roads to protect the settlers.
The Khourys have succeeded in their ambition to develop a range of award-winning beers made to the highest purity standards. The family has expanded into making boutique wines, and has built a prestige hotel in the village center, belying Taybeh’s small size. An annual Oktoberfest, modeled on German beer-drinking celebrations, has helped to put the remote village on the map. And a few restaurants have opened as Taybeh has tried to reinvent itself, with limited success, as a weekend-break destination.
But despite all these achievements, their larger ambitions have been foiled. Movement restrictions imposed by Israel’s military authorities have stymied efforts at growing the business. With a domestic market limited by opposition to alcohol consumption among most of the Palestinian population, Taybeh brewery has depended chiefly on exports to Europe, Japan and the US. But the difficulties of navigating Israel’s hostile bureaucracy have sapped the business of money, time and energy, making it hard to compete with foreign breweries.
Daoud told me at one Oktoberfest that the brewery faced Israeli “harassment in the name of security.” He noted that even when the crossing points were open, Israel held up the company’s trucks for many hours while bottles were unloaded and individually inspected with sniffer dogs. Then the bottles had to be reloaded on to Israeli trucks on the other side of the checkpoint. Apart from local spring water, all the beer’s ingredients and the bottles have to be imported from Europe, adding further logistical problems at Israeli ports. The ever-creative Khourys have been forced to circumvent these problems by licensing a plant in Belgium to produce its beers for foreign export. But that has deprived the village of jobs that could have gone to local families.
And while the Khourys struggle to get their products into Israel, Israel has absolute freedom to flood the occupied territories with its own goods. “The policy is clearly meant to harm businesses like ours. Israel freely sells its Maccabee and Goldstar beers in the West Bank,” Daoud told me.
Such experiences are replicated for Palestinian businesses, big and small, across the West Bank.
In Jerusalem, the Christian population has been shrinking too, even though the city has been entirely under Israeli control since its eastern neighborhoods were occupied and illegally annexed by Israel in 1967. The Palestinian Authority was briefly allowed a minimal presence in East Jerusalem in the late 1990s, but was effectively banished when the second intifada erupted a few years later, in 2000. A similar fate soon befell Jerusalem’s politicians associated with Hamas. After they won the Jerusalem seats in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Israel expelled them to the West Bank.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Israel has not been keen to provide official figures for the exodus of Christians from Jerusalem. However, rather than growing, as one would have expected over the past five decades, the numbers have dropped significantly – from 12,000 in 1967 to some 9,000 today, according to Yousef Daher, of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, located in Jerusalem’s Old City. Of those, he estimated that no more than 2,400 remained in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, where Israel has made life especially difficult.
Jerusalem is historically, symbolically, spiritually and economically important to the Palestinian people, and houses key Muslim and Christian holy sites. It has long been regarded by Palestinians as the only possible capital of their future state. But Israel views the city in much the same terms – as the religious and symbolic heart of its hybrid religious and ethnic national project. It has shown no interest in sharing the city as a capital, and has instead viewed it in zero-sum terms: whatever benefits Israel requires a loss to the Palestinians.
Gradually Israel’s stranglehold over Jerusalem has become complete. The wall it began building through the city more than 15 years ago has not only separated Palestinians in Jerusalem from Palestinians in the West Bank but has divided the city itself, placing more than 100,000 Palestinians on the wrong side, cutting them off from the city of their birth.
Two years ago, President Donald Trump added a US seal of approval by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there.
Those Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem still on the “Israeli” side of the wall have found themselves isolated and ever more vulnerable to the abuses inherent in Israel’s system of control. They have suffered planning restrictions that make it almost impossible to build homes legally. Israel demolishes dozens of Palestinian houses every year in the city, leading to ever greater overcrowding. Meanwhile, Israel has seized vast tracts of land in East Jerusalem for its illegal settlements and has helped Jewish settlers take over Palestinian homes.
The city’s security forces act as an occupying power in Palestinian neighborhoods, while city authorities pursue an official policy of “Judaization,” making Jerusalem more Jewish. Israel has accorded the city’s native Palestinian population a “residency” status that treats them as little more than immigrants. Many thousands who have left the city for extended periods to study or work abroad have returned to find their residency permits revoked.
The city’s Christian residents face similar problems to Muslims. But as a very small community, they have also faced specific pressures. Israel’s policy of cutting off Jerusalem from the West Bank, and especially from the nearby cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, has left the city’s Christians particularly isolated. With many working as merchants and traders, the so-called “separation” policy has hit them hard economically.
Similarly, because the communal marriage pool is small for Christians in Jerusalem, many have been forced – at least, before the wall was erected – to search for a spouse among Christian populations nearby in the West Bank. That now leaves them disproportionately exposed to Israel’s increasingly draconian family unification policies. Typically Jerusalem’s Palestinians are denied the right to live with a West Bank spouse in the city, or to register the children of such marriages as Jerusalem residents. That has forced many to move into the West Bank or abroad as the only way to stay together.
As in Bethlehem, many of Jerusalem’s Christians work in tourism, either as tour guides or as owners of souvenir shops in the Old City’s Christian Quarter. That has proved a particularly precarious way to make a living in recent decades, with tourism collapsing on repeated occasions: during two lengthy intifadas, during Israel’s attacks on Gaza, and now from the coronavirus.
Israel will soon make it even harder for the Old City traders to make a living, when it completes a cable car into East Jerusalem. Currently many tourists enter via Jaffa Gate into the Christian Quarter, where shopkeepers have a chance to sell them goods and souvenirs. But the cable car will “fly in” tourists from a station in West Jerusalem directly to an illegal settlement complex at the City of David in Silwan, just outside the Old City walls. From there, either they will be guided straight into the Jewish Quarter through Dung Gate or they will pass through a network of underground passages lined with settler-owned shops that will take them to the foot of the Western Wall. The aim appears to be not only to make the Old City’s Palestinian population invisible but to deprive them of any chance to profit from tourism.
Land Sales by Churches
But the problem runs deeper still for Palestinian Christians – and is felt especially acutely in Jerusalem. Local Christians have found themselves effectively pawns in a three-way international power-play between Israel, the established, land-owning Churches in the region, primarily the Vatican and Greek Orthodox Churches, and the evangelical movements. None of the parties represent their interests.
It is easy for pilgrims to ignore the fact, as they tour the Holy Land, that the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches are not local. They are vast foreign enterprises, based out of the Vatican and Greece, that are as concerned with their commercial viability and diplomatic influence on the global stage as they are with the spiritual needs of any specific flock, including Palestinian Christians. And in recent years that has become increasingly evident to local congregations.
The problems were symbolized two years ago when, for the first time in living memory, the main Churches shuttered the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the presumed site of Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem. Church leaders said their actions were in response to Israel launching a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land.” In that way, they mobilized international sympathy, and Israel quickly backed down. But only in the most tangential sense were the Churches looking out for the interests of local Christians. Their show of force was actually motivated by concern for their business interests.
The then mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, had sought to impose back taxes on the Churches’ substantial land-holdings in Jerusalem, hoping to recoup $180 million. Despite the impression presented by Church leaders, the row was not really about holy sites. Over the centuries, the Churches have become major real-estate enterprises in the Holy Land, benefiting from donations of land and properties in Jerusalem and elsewhere that have been made by Palestinian Christians and overseas pilgrims. The Greek Orthodox Church, for example, is the largest land-owner in the region after the Israeli state.
Historically, the Churches enjoyed a tax exemption derived from the charitable status of their spiritual mission and outreach work with Palestinian communities, including the provision of schools and hospitals. But increasingly the Churches have downgraded their charitable works and diversified into other, more clearly commercial ventures, such as shops, offices and restaurants. Pilgrimage hostels have been redeveloped into well-appointed and profitable hotels. Part of the income has then been siphoned off to the Church authorities in the mother countries rather than reinvested in strengthening local Palestinian communities.
That was why Aleef Sabbagh, a Palestinian member of the Orthodox Central Council, described the Holy Sepulcher protest as a “charade.” The Church had not been closed to protest Israel’s savagery towards Palestinians during either of the two intifadas, or in protest at the exodus of local Christians from the region. The foreign Churches found their voice only when they needed to protect their profits from real-estate and investment deals.
That does not, however, mean that Palestinian Christians have no reason to be concerned about Israel’s efforts to bully the Churches’ into paying more taxes, or that they were indifferent to the brief stand-off at the Sepulcher Church. The Vatican and Orthodox Patriarchate have become increasingly cowed in relation to Israel in recent decades, both as Israel has become ever more assertive of its powers in the region and as western states have shown they will support Israel however badly it treats Palestinians.
Israel has many points of leverage over the international Churches. It can, and has, frozen clerical work visas needed by their thousands of staff in the Holy Land. Israel regularly obstructs planning permits for the Church needed to build or renovate properties. And far-right groups close to Israel’s governing coalition regularly menace clergy in the streets and vandalize Church property, including cemeteries, under cover of dark. Israeli police have rarely caught or punished the perpetrators of such attacks.
Most notable of these attacks was a fire set by arsonists in 2015 that gutted sections of the Church of the Multiplication, the site on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is reputed to have fed a large crowd with loaves and fishes. Graffiti in Hebrew scrawled on a church wall read: “Idol-worshippers will have their heads cut off.”
This strategy of weakening and intimidating the international Churches has been particularly glaring in relation to Orthodoxy. Each new Patriarch, the highest Orthodox figure in the region, must be jointly approved by the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Israel. And in the case of the last two Patriarchs, Irineos I and Theophilos III, Israel, unlike the PA and Jordan, has dragged its heels before approving their appointment. Irineos had to wait nearly four years, and Theophilos two and a half. The reason why has gradually become clear to local Christians.
Shortly after each Patriarch has belatedly received approval, evidence has come to light that his advisers have overseen the sale of some of the Churches’ vast landholdings in Israel and the occupied territories. These shadowy deals, usually selling invaluable land for a comparative pittance, have been made to Israeli companies or overseas organizations that it has later emerged acted as a front for Jewish settler groups.
The most infamous case concerns the sale to settlers of two large properties, serving as Palestinian-run hotels, at a highly strategic location by Jaffa Gate, the entrance into the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. These sales appear to be part of the price paid for Irineos to win Israeli approval. Israel has long been keen to Judaize Jaffa Gate because it effectively serves as a bridge between West Jerusalem, in Israel, and the Jewish Quarter, the main settler colony in the occupied Old City. Reporting on the land sales at Jaffa Gate, the Haaretz newspaper revealed tape recordings of a Jerusalem settler leader boasting that his organization, Ateret Cohanim, had a veto over the appointment of each Patriarch. He said Ateret Cohanim would only give its blessing once the Patriarch had sold it land.
The pattern appears to have repeated with Theophilos, who is accused of selling numerous plots of land near Bethlehem, West Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth and Caesarea. The Church is reported to have pocketed more than $100 million from the deals. In 2017 some 300 Palestinian Christians filed a criminal complaint to the Palestinian attorney general in Ramallah, accusing the Patriarch of “treason.” The same year, 14 local Orthodox institutions – representing many of the half a million Greek Orthodox Christians in the occupied territories, Israel and Jordan – severed ties with Theophilos and his synod, and demanded his removal.
Palestinian Christians have increasing grounds for concern that the Churches are not looking out for their interests when they make these deals. Historically, lands were donated to the Greek Orthodox Church as an endowment, and the income used for the collective good of the Orthodox community in the Holy Land. But local communities say the money is nowadays siphoned off to the foreign Church authorities.
Further, nearly a quarter of land in East Jerusalem is reported to be Church-owned, including the Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah and large swaths of the Old City. Many Palestinian Christians live in these areas, which are being aggressively targeted by the settler movement. Local Christians have little faith that the Church will not sell these lands in the future, leaving them vulnerable to eviction by settlers.
Atallah Hanna, the only Palestinian serving as a Greek Orthodox archbishop, has been repeatedly punished for speaking out against the Patriarch’s policies. He issued a statement about the land sales at Jaffa Gate: “Those who sell and forfeit our real estate and Orthodox endowments do not represent our Arab Church, its heritage, identity and historical presence in this holy land.”
The effort to financially “squeeze” the Churches by the Jerusalem mayor in 2018 should be seen in this light. If the Churches face big new tax bills, the pressure will increase on them over the longer term either to be more submissive to Israel, for fear of attracting additional taxes, or to sell off yet more land to cover their debts. Either way, Palestinian Christians will suffer.
An Obstacle to the End-Times
A separate essay could be written about the role of overseas Christian evangelical movements in damaging the situation of Palestinian Christians. Suffice it to point out that most evangelical Christians are largely indifferent to the plight of the region’s local Christian population.
In fact, Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, draws heavily on a Christian Zionism that became popular among British Protestants more than 150 years ago. Today, the heartland of evangelical Zionism is the United States, where tens of millions of believers have adopted a theological worldview, bolstered by prophecies in the Book of Revelation, that wills a Jewish “return” to the Promised Land to bring about an apocalyptic end-times in which Christians — and some Jews who accept Jesus as their savior — will be saved from damnation and rise up to Heaven.
Inevitably, when weighed against a fast-track to salvation, the preservation of Palestinian Christians’ 2,000-year-old heritage matters little to most US Christian Zionists. Local Christians regularly express fears that their holy sites and way of life are under threat from a state that declares itself Jewish and whose central mission is a zero-sum policy of “Judaization”. But for Christian Zionists, Palestinian Christians are simply an obstacle to realizing a far more urgent, divinely ordained goal.
US evangelicals have, therefore, been pumping money into projects that encourage Jews to move to the “Land of Israel,” including in the settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Their leaders are close to the most hawkish politicians in Israel, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The political clout of the evangelical movements in the US, the world’s only superpower and Israel’s chief patron, has never been more evident. The vice-president, Mike Pence, is one of their number, while President Donald Trump depended on evangelical votes to win office. That was why Trump broke with previous administrations and agreed that the US would become the first country in modern times to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively killing any hope for the Palestinians of securing East Jerusalem as their capital.
Given this international atmosphere, the isolation of Palestinian Christians and their leaders is almost complete. They find themselves marginalized within their own Churches, entirely ignored by foreign evangelical movements, and an enemy of Israel. They have therefore tried to break out of that isolation both by forging greater unity among themselves and by setting out a clearer vision to strengthen ties to Christians outside the Holy Land.
One important milestone on that path was the publication of the Kairos Palestine document in December 2009, drawing on a similar document drafted by mainly black theologians in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Kairos Palestine, which describes itself as “the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine,” has been signed by more than 3,000 leading Palestinian Christian figures, including Atallah Hanna, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop for the Sebastiya diocese; Naim Ateek, a senior Anglican priest; Mitri Raheb, a senior Lutheran pastor; and Jamal Khader, a senior figure in the Latin Patriarchate.
The Kairos document calls unequivocally on “all the churches and Christians in the world … to stand against injustice and apartheid” and warns that “any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings”. It asks Christians abroad to “revisit theologies that justify crimes perpetrated against our people and the dispossession of the land”. And further, it supports the wider Palestinian BDS call to boycott, divest and sanction Israel and those who conspire with the oppression of Palestinians. It describes non-violent resistance as a “duty” incumbent on all Palestinians, arguing that such resistance should end only when Israeli abuses end, not before.
Faced with inevitable accusations of antisemitism from Israel partisans in the west, most of the overseas Churches – including importantly, the World Council of Churches – have failed to respond to this Palestinian Christian call. Only the Presbyterian Church in the US has endorsed the document, while the United Church of Christ has praised it. Predictably, Israel lobbyists have tried to undermine the document’s significance by correctly highlighting that the foreign Church leaderships in Palestine, such as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, have refused to endorse it. But then, these kind of Church leaders have rarely had the interests of their Palestinian congregations foremost in their minds.
Nonetheless, Israel is deeply concerned by the document. Were it to be accepted, it would bring the international Churches onboard with the wider Palestinian BDS movement, which calls for an international boycott of Israel. Israeli leaders deeply fear the precedent set by the international community’s treatment of apartheid South Africa.
Of the three planks of the BDS campaign, the most troubling for Israel are not the boycott or sanctions components, but the threat of divestment – the withdrawal of investments from Israel by Churches, civil society organizations, trade unions and pension funds. Were the Churches to adopt BDS, such actions could quickly gain a moral legitimacy and spread. The Kairos document is therefore viewed as the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.
Atallah Hanna, as the most senior cleric to have signed the document, has found himself particularly in the crosshairs from Israel. In December last year he ended up in hospital in Jordan, treated for “poisoning by chemical substance,” after a tear gas canister was reportedly thrown into the grounds of his church in Jerusalem. In the circumstances, Hanna’s claim that Israel had tried to “assassinate,” or at the very least incapacitate, him resonated with many Palestinians.
Certainly Hanna has found himself repeatedly in trouble with the Israeli authorities for his Palestinian activism. In 2002, during the second intifada, for example, he was seized at his home in the Old City of Jerusalem and charged with “suspicion of relations with terrorist organizations,” a trumped-up allegation relating to the fact that he had spoken in favor of the popular uprising against Israeli occupation.
In a meeting with a foreign delegation last year, Hanna warned that Israel, with the support of the international community, was being allowed to gradually transform Jerusalem: “The Islamic and Christian holy sites and endowments are targeted in order to change our city, hide its identity and marginalize our Arabic and Palestinian existence.”
Unwelcome Israeli Citizens
The final community of Palestinian Christians to consider is the largest group, and the one most often overlooked: the 120,000 living in Israel with a degraded form of citizenship. These Palestinians have been exclusively under Israeli rule for more than 70 years. Israel falsely trumpets the claim that its Palestinian minority enjoys exactly the same rights as Jewish citizens. And yet the decline in the number of Palestinian Christians in Israel closely mirrors the situation of those in the occupied territories.
The Palestinian Christian population emerged from the events of 1948 in relatively better shape than their Muslim compatriots inside the territory that was now considered Israel. Aware of western states’ priorities, Israel was more cautious in its approach to the ethnic cleansing of communities with large numbers of Christians. As a result, the 40,000 Christians in Israel at the end of the Nakba comprised 22 per cent of the country’s new Palestinian minority. A few years later members of this minority would gain a very inferior form of Israeli citizenship.
Israel’s early caution in relation to Palestinian Christians was understandable. It feared antagonizing the western, largely Christian states whose backing it desperately needed. That policy was typified in the treatment of Nazareth, which was largely spared the wider policy of expulsions. However, as with Bethlehem, Nazareth’s Christian majority began to be overturned during 1948, as Muslims from neighboring villages that were under attack poured into the city, seeking sanctuary. Today, Nazareth has a 70 per cent Muslim majority.
The proportion of Christians among the Palestinian population in Israel has fallen more generally too – from nearly a quarter in the early 1950s to about 9 percent today. There is a similar number of Druze, a vulnerable religious sect that broke away from Islamic orthodoxy nearly 1,000 years ago. The rest of Israel’s Palestinian population – over 80 per cent – are Sunni Muslim.
The Christian exodus has been driven by similar factors to those cited by Palestinians in the West Bank. Within a self-declared Jewish state, Christians have faced diminished educational and employment opportunities; they must deal with rampant, institutional discrimination; and, after waves of land confiscations to Judaize the areas they live in, they can rarely find housing solutions for the next generation. Israel has encouraged a sense of hopelessness and despair equally among Christians and Muslims.
Problematic for Israel has been the fact that Palestinian Christians have played a pivotal role in developing secular Palestinian nationalism in both the occupied territories and in Israel. For obvious reasons, they have been concerned that Palestinian national identity should not deform into a divisive Islamic identity, mirroring Israel’s own hybrid ethnic and religious nationalism.
Given the difficulties of political activism for Palestinians inside Israel — for decades it could lead to jail or even deportation — many, especially Christians, joined the joint Jewish-Palestinian Communist party, on the assumption that its Jewish cadre would ensure protection. The most prized benefit of membership of the Communist party were scholarships to universities in the former Soviet bloc. Israel’s segregated school system, which included a near-dysfunctional state system for Palestinians, ensured higher education in Israel was mostly off-limits.
The scholarships were a boon to Christians because they enjoyed access to surviving, private Church-run schools in cities like Nazareth, Haifa and Jaffa that offered a better education. But Israel’s hope was that, once outside the region, many would never return — and indeed, this did become an additional factor in the decline of Israel’s Palestinian Christian population.
Onward Christian soldiers
But the advantages enjoyed by Palestinian Christians soon came to be seen by Israel as a liability. The Christians lived mostly in cities. Many had the advantages of access to good schools and higher education. Some had been exposed to the wider world through attending universities abroad. And Christians enjoyed connections to sympathetic communities abroad. Their continuing presence in the Holy Land, as well as their articulation of Palestinian nationalism to outsiders, served to undermine Israel’s claims of a simple Judeo-Christian clash of civilizations with Islam.
It was in this context that in late 2012 Israel secretly revived plans to recruit into the Israeli army Christian youth in Nazareth and its environs, using Christian Scout groups as the vehicle. Neither Muslims nor Christians in Israel are drafted into the army on leaving school, unlike Jewish and Druze youngsters. However, they can volunteer, though in practice only a tiny number do. Figures suggest there are a few dozen Christian families, typically poorer ones, whose sons join the army. But from 2012 onwards, the Netanyahu government worked hard to introduce a draft for Christians, hoping to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Israel.
Netanyahu schemed on several fronts. He aggressively promoted the small number of Christian families with children in the army to suggest that they were representative of the wider community. Meanwhile, he claimed that the overwhelming majority of Christians who publicly opposed his plan did so only because they had been intimidated by their Muslim neighbors.
The Israeli media trumpeted too the fact that Netanyahu had recruited a “religious leader” – Jibril Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox bishop in Nazareth – to support the draft of Christians. In fact, it was widely rumored in Nazareth at the time that Nadaf was being pressured by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, to offer his support. Only much later did the Israeli media report that Nadaf had been investigated for sexual assaults on young men, and that the Shin Bet had hushed up his case.
At around the same time Israel introduced the option of registering a new nationality, “Aramaic”, on Israeli identity cards. Israel has always refused to recognise an “Israeli” nationality because it would risk conferring equal rights on all Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians alike. Instead many rights in Israel are accorded to citizens based on their assigned nationalities – with the main categories being “Jewish”, “Arab” and “Druze”. “Jewish” nationals receive extra rights unavailable to Palestinian citizens in immigration, land and housing, and language rights. The new “Aramaic” category was intended to confer on Christians a separate nationality mirroring the Druze one.
The obscure “Aramaic” identity was chosen for two reasons. First, it referred to a time 2,000 years ago when Jews like Jesus spoke Aramaic – now almost a dead language. Aramaic therefore fused Jewish and Christian identities, replicating the claim of “blood ties” Israel had fostered with the Druze community. And second, Aramaic had already been cultivated as an identity by the handful of Palestinian Christian families that volunteered to serve in the army. For them, Aramaic lay at the heart of a pure, proud, supposedly original Christian nationalist identity. They argued that their forefathers’ Aramaic heritage and language had been usurped and corrupted by the arrival of Arab and Islamic identities in the region during the Arab conquests in the seventh century.
For those who promoted it, including the Israeli government, “Aramaic” was not a neutral Christian identity but consciously intended as an anti-Arab, anti-Muslim identity. It was intimately tied to the government’s larger, fanciful agenda of turning the local Christian population into Palestinian Christian Zionists.
In tandem with these developments, Netanyahu’s government also began aggressively squeezing the resources available to Church schools operating in Nazareth and elsewhere. An arrangement that had historically provided partial state funds for private religious schools, primarily to help the Jewish ultra-Orthodox, began to be progressively withdrawn from Church schools. Pupils in the dozen such schools in Nazareth, which serve both Christians and Muslims, staged an unprecedented strike in 2014 as it became harder for the schools to cover costs. The government offered a way out: the schools, it proposed, should come under the umbrella of the state education system. So far the Church schools have managed to resist.
Although the policy has not been implemented yet, there are indications of what Israel ultimately hoped to achieve. The aim, it seems, was to reinvent the Church schools as “Aramaic” schools, limiting the intake to Christians and teaching a curriculum, as with the Druze, that emphasized the “blood ties” between Jews and Christians and prepared pupils for the army draft. The first such school, teaching in Aramaic, has opened in Jish, a village in the central Galilee that is home to some of the main families that volunteer to serve in the Israeli army.
In fact, Israel failed dismally in its efforts to persuade Christians to accept the draft, and appears to have largely abandoned the plan, even after dedicating several years to bringing it to fruition. Israel should have guessed that such a scheme was unlikely to succeed. In a city like Nazareth, too many Christians are professionals – doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers serving their community – and have no interest in gaining the sole advantage of military service the poorer Druze have depended on: lowly jobs after the draft in the security sectors, as prison wardens or security guards.
But that may not have been Israel’s only goal. In line with its long-standing ambitions, Israel also doubtless wanted to intensify sectarian tensions between Christians and Muslims in places where the two communities live in close proximity, especially Nazareth. And for a variety of reasons, sectarian divisions have started to emerge over the past few years. The causes are manifold, but Israel’s efforts to recruit Christians to the army – to divide them from Muslims – undoubtedly exacerbated the problem.
Another significant factor was the gradual demise of the Communist party, especially in Nazareth, after it came to be too closely identified with Christians and was seen as playing a role in maintaining their relative privileges. That led to a backlash in Nazareth that saw Ali Salam, a populist politician who revels in comparisons with Donald Trump, becoming mayor after subtly exploiting these sectarian tensions.
It also did not help that for nearly two decades nihilistic Islamic movements edged ever closer to Israel’s borders – first with al-Qaeda, and later with Islamic State. That has unnerved many Palestinian Christians and Muslims in Israel. In recent years it has provoked a political reaction from some who have begun to wonder whether a militarily strong, western-backed Israel was not the lesser regional evil.
Israel has every interest in reinforcing such developments, exploiting tensions that shore up its clash of civilizations narrative. Paradoxically, it is Israel’s long-term interference in the region and a more recent policy of direct military intervention by the US in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran that has created the very conditions in which Islamic extremism has prospered. Between them, Israel and the US have sown despair and generated political voids across the Middle East that groups like Islamic State have filled with their own narrative of a clash of civilizations.
For Israel, recruiting Palestinian Christians to its side of this self-serving clash narrative – even if it is only a few of them – is helpful. If Israel can muddy the waters in the region by finding enough allies among local Christians, it knows it can further dissuade the international Churches from taking any substantive action in addressing the crimes it has perpetrated against Palestinians unhindered for more than seven decades.
Israel’s great fear is that one day the international Churches may assume moral leadership in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending the traumas set in train by the Nakba.
Judging by the Churches’ current record, however, Israel appears to have little reason to worry. ■
By David Sheen
Alleged Assassin of Alex Odeh Finds Safe Harbor in Israel
An independent investigation into the 1985 murder of Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh has revealed that one of three suspected assassins has been living openly in Israel ever since, hiding in plain sight.
One of the FBI’s suspects, Robert Manning, is currently serving a life sentence in an Arizona jail for another, unrelated murder. A second suspect, Keith Israel Fuchs, has mostly maintained a low profile in a small settlement in the West Bank, steering clear of social media.
But the third suspect has not been hiding in some small corner of the country, working at a mundane trade where the chances of his past catching up to him are remote. Rather, he has remained in the public eye all along, peddling his supremacist ideology, courting controversy, and thumbing his nose at the law – for decades.
On the very day of the attack, October 11, 1985, Andy Green was identified as a suspect in the bombing of the Santa Ana, California offices of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), where Odeh served as the organization’s regional director for the West Coast. Since that time, for the last thirty-four years, Green has lived in Israel and Israeli-occupied territories under the Hebrew name Baruch Ben Yosef.
In the intervening decades, Ben Yosef earned a law degree from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and has worked as an attorney out of offices in downtown Jerusalem for a quarter-century. During this period, he has appeared dozens of times in front of Israel’s Supreme Court, defending fellow followers of the late far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane, and filing suits against numerous Israeli ministers and prime ministers, demanding increased rights for Jews, to the detriment of the local Palestinian population.
Ben Yosef is one of the pioneers of Israel’s settlement movement and its modern-day Jewish Templar movement. The Templars seek to supplant the Dome of the Rock – the iconic gold-domed Jerusalem shrine considered the third-holiest site in the world to Muslims – with a temple to Jehovah, in which they intend to mass-sacrifice cattle, over ten thousand on every major Jewish holy day.
Ben Yosef is thought to hold the record for the Jewish citizen who has sat the longest in an Israeli jail under the controversial protocol of administrative detention: once for six months in 1980 with Meir Kahane himself, and again for six months in 1994, together with Kahane’s other top lieutenants. The measure allows Israel to incarcerate suspected terrorists without allowing them to see the evidence against them, and is used almost exclusively against Palestinians.
Retired US law enforcement agents who worked on the Odeh investigation confirmed to this reporter that Ben Yosef, along with two other followers of Kahane, Keith Israel Fuchs and Robert Manning, have been the government’s top suspects. Agents currently working the case also affirmed that the three are still the top suspects in the murder.
Reached for comment on the findings of this investigation, Ben-Yosef said in an email, “I categorically deny any connection to the matters mentioned in your letter,” and would not answer any other questions.
Who Is Andy Green?
Raised in the Bronx, Andy Green immigrated to Israel in February 1976. In interviews, he has recalled being inspired by the Revisionist Zionist movement, which developed into Israel’s ruling Likud party, and by the Jewish Defense League of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who combined the secular Likud’s hardline nationalism with Orthodox Judaism’s religious fundamentalism.
Revisionist Zionists fight for an Israeli state that is dedicated first and foremost to the welfare of its Jewish citizens. But the original Revisionists wanted the character of that state to be secular. Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, have long prayed for a future age in which everyone in the world, Jew and Gentile, would submit to their religious rulebooks. But traditionally, Orthodox rabbis resolved to wait for the arrival of a messiah strong enough to bend the nations of the world to his will; until then, they would remain passive in the Diaspora.
When Kahane fused the two philosophies in the late 1960s, he retained the worst aspects of each, jettisoning the built-in safety valves that prevented either of their worst excesses. Kahane candidly called to turn Israel from a secular ethnocracy into a Jewish theocracy governed by the laws of the Talmud, and to purify the entire Land of Israel of its non-Jewish occupants. And he called on his followers to stop waiting for that Arab-free future to come to pass on its own, but rather for them to do whatever was necessary to make it manifest as soon as possible.
During his lifetime, Kahane openly called for ethnic cleansing and genocide. For decades, in English and Hebrew, in the Knesset and in the streets, from Jerusalem to New York – where he was born, and where he died from an assassin’s bullet in 1990 – Kahane advocated expelling by force Arabs and other non-Jews from Israel and the occupied territories.
On Israeli TV, Green explained the philosophy of his former mentor thus. “He said, I want the goyim [non-Jews] to look at Jews and think they are beasts, that they’re bullies. And be afraid of them.”
Moved by Kahane’s ideas, Green started going by his Hebrew name Baruch, and later adopted the last name Ben Yosef, after Shlomo Ben Yosef, a Jewish immigrant to mandatory Palestine who was sentenced to death by the British for attempting to blow up a busload of Arabs. Upon arriving in Israel, Ben Yosef moved to the West Bank, becoming one of the pioneers of the movement to settle Jews there following Israel’s 1967 conquest of the territory. While he waited to be inducted into the Israeli army, Ben Yosef joined a group of religious Jews and together they established the first Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank, the town of Kedumim, near the Palestinian city of Nablus.
He then joined the Israel Defense Forces in August 1976, serving amongst the last groups of recruits to the elite Shaked commando unit before the army brass disbanded it. After his discharge, Ben Yosef left Kedumim, saying that it had “a leftist leaning to it”, and moved instead to the Hebron-area settlement of Kiryat Arba, a hotbed for followers of Kahane.
In the New York Village Voice and in The False Prophet, his 1990 biography of Kahane, the late investigative journalist Robert I. Friedman chronicled Ben Yosef’s violent adventures following his army discharge.
Friedman notes that in 1978, Ben Yosef was arrested for bombing a Palestinian bus and for conspiring to bomb the offices of Jerusalem’s Arab Student Union. Two years later, then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered Kahane and Ben Yosef be placed under administrative detention for six months under a 1945 British colonial law that predated Israel’s establishment in 1948. The law’s application against Ben Yosef and Kahane was its first use against Jews since the earliest days of the state.
In May 2019, Carmi Gillon, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security services, revealed on Israeli TV the reason for Ben Yosef’s incarceration: he had plotted to destroy one of the holiest Muslim shrines in the world.
“Kahane planned, with another member of the group, Baruch Ben Yosef, to shoot a M72LAW rocket at the Dome of the Rock. And he hoped that in the wake of that, all the Muslim states will launch war against Israel. That’s the war of Gog and Magog. And he was arrested under emergency regulations, just like a Hamas terrorist,” Gillon said.
Ben Yosef seemed confident that the winner of such an apocalyptic war would be an Israeli state with far fewer Arabs in its midst. According to an Israeli media report on another Ben Yosef arrest years later, the purpose of the plot he hatched in 1980 had been to “attack Arabs and incite them, until the government would have no choice but to carry out a massive exile of Arabs.” In other words, it was not only an effort to lay waste to a Muslim sanctuary, but also a bid to catalyze an ethnic cleansing.
In August 1983, a 24-year-old Ben Yosef moved back to the United States in order to run Kahane’s New York City operations.
Three months later, in November, Jesse Jackson announced his candidacy for leadership of the Democratic party. The move made Jackson, a former disciple of Martin Luther King Jr., the first African American man to run a country-wide campaign for the US presidency. Kahane and Ben Yosef interrupted the launch with shouts of “racist anti-semite” and “enemy of our people”, and were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Kahane and Ben Yosef targeted Jackson because he had met with the PLO’s Yasser Arafat as early as 1979, and called on the US government to engage him in dialogue, when the PLO was still a guerilla group. Jackson had advocated for the Palestinian cause when it lacked legitimacy in Washington; another decade would pass before US President Bill Clinton hosted Arafat at the White House, where he signed a peace treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in September 1993.
While Jackson’s campaign for the US presidency was effectively torpedoed, Kahane returned to Israel to compete in national elections for the fourth time, and in July 1984, after a decade of failed attempts, he achieved his goal, earning himself a single seat in the Knesset. Just as Kahane’s campaigning in Israel finally bore fruit, Ben Yosef chose to remain in the US.
That year, Alex Odeh and other ADC staffers began to receive menacing telegrams and phone calls from a public payphone near the Jewish Defense League’s LA office. They were from people who claimed to be with the JDL. Those violent threats would soon be carried out.
The ADC had been founded in 1980 to counter media smears against the Arab community, and to lobby for their interests. Those interests included curtailing the billions of dollars in annual aid money that the US government gives to the Israeli military. By 1985, the ADC was taking out full-page adverts in major US papers, calling to keep those funds in the USA.
That activism made the ADC enemies of the Kahanists, but also of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, and of another powerful group that the ADC once saw as their Jewish corollary: the Anti-Defamation League. For a decade, the ADL had published reports on Arab-American organizations, calling them a “propaganda apparatus” and accusing them of being either “PLO fronts” or “part of the Arab master plan”.
The anti-Arab campaigns of AIPAC and the ADL successfully stripped communal voices like the ADC of their legitimacy; so much so that US campaign donations from Arab-Americans were regularly returned to their donors by local, state and federal politicians – including, just the previous year, the Democratic candidate for US President, Walter Mondale.
But the Kahanists believed that Arab-American voices should not only be politically excluded, but physically silenced, as well.
Exactly half a year before the attack on Odeh, the head of the Jewish Defense Organization, a JDL spinoff faction, managed to track down the ADC’s office in New York City even before its opening had been announced to the group’s own members. In the weeks and months that followed, unknown thugs attempted to break into the office and sprayed the word “ragheads” outside the office entrance. Crank calls from individuals identifying as the “Jewish Defense League” quickly became commonplace. “Listen well you PLO scum,” said one caller on the ADC’s answering machine. “Sabra and Shatilla are going to seem like nothing in comparison to what we’re going to do to you Palestinians.”
As Robert Friedman recorded, Amihai Paglin, the Jewish terrorist who had orchestrated the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, had been training JDL members in bombcraft since at least the early 1970’s. But with Baruch Ben Yosef back in the US, Kahane’s henchmen could now also depend upon the tactical expertise he had picked up during his service in the now-defunct Israeli commando unit Shaked.
A JDL plot to assassinate James Abourezk, the first Arab-American Senator who founded the ADC, was uncovered and foiled by the FBI. But in the second half of 1985, ADC offices on both coasts were bombed, and the perpetrators were thought to be Jewish terrorists inspired by Kahane, who had held rowdy protests outside the group’s Washington, DC headquarters.
On the East coast, a police officer suffered ghastly injuries, incurred while attempting to disable a pipe bomb planted at the ADC offices in Boston on 16 August 1985. Randy LaMattina lost all of his original teeth and his career with the Boston Police Department that day; his fingers, ripped to shreds by the bomb, still do not have feeling in them.
On the West coast, seven people were injured and Alex Odeh lost his life when a bomb exploded as he entered the ADC offices in Santa Ana, California on 11 October 1985.
“I was afraid. I wanted him to quit the ADC,” Odeh’s widow Norma Odeh told Robert Friedman. “I told Alex the JDL would kill him, and they did.”
When Odeh’s body was buried on October 15, security for the service at St. Norbert’s was especially tight, since the church had received multiple bomb threats.
But the official JDL leadership did not wait for Odeh’s body to be buried before they began to smear his memory. “I have no tears for Mr. Odeh,” said JDL national chair Irv Rubin. “He got exactly what he deserved.”
As for the perpetrators of the crime, “the person or persons responsible for the bombing deserve our praise,” Rubin added.
When the city of Santa Ana erected a statue of Odeh to honor his legacy, on what would have been his fiftieth birthday, Rubin appeared on the scene, approached Odeh’s daughter Helena and issued the same gruesome message.
“He started walking in my direction,” Helena recalled on the 34th anniversary of her father’s murder, “looked me straight in the face and told me my father deserved to die.”
Her voice welled up with tears as if she was reliving that very moment. “My dad missed out on everything, he missed out on seeing his daughters, he missed out on his grandchildren,” she said. “How can somebody have that much hate in their heart?”
Alex Odeh was born in the West Bank village of Jifna in 1944, when the land was called Palestine and the military rulers were British. After studying in Egypt and then immigrating to the United States, Odeh was hired by the ADC to speak up for Arab-Americans, Muslims and Middle Easterners in general, who were then maligned in the media at least as much as they are today, if not more.
Odeh came from a Christian family, but he aspired to see peace in Palestine for all its inhabitants, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others. In fact, he was scheduled to speak at a local Reform synagogue, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, on the very day that he was murdered. And his calls for compromise were not just virtue signaling or political posturing; Odeh had openly advocated for a two-state solution in the Holy Land years before the PLO adopted partition as its official policy.
But as he told Robert Friedman, Baruch Ben Yosef did not share that vision of peace. “The Arabs have no claim to the land. It’s our land, absolutely. It says so in the Bible. It’s something that can’t be argued. That’s why I see no reason to sit down and talk to the Arabs about competing claims. Whoever is stronger will get the land,” said Ben Yosef.
In a Village Voice article by Friedman published a month after Odeh’s assassination, Ben Yosef insisted upon the right to bomb Palestinian civilians to death. “[Zionist militia] Irgun leader David Raziel planted a bomb in an Arab market in 1939, killing 15 or 20 Arabs,” said Ben Yosef. “And do you know how many streets are named after Raziel in Israel? If it was alright for him, how come it’s not alright for us?”
If Ben Yosef’s justification is sickening, his argument is still sound; in addition to numerous streets, Israel has also named a school, and even a settlement, after Raziel.
Now this logic legitimizing lethal violence against Palestinians was being imported to the US half a century later. From the perspective of ADC co-founder and attorney Abdeen Jabara, the timing of the Odeh assassination was not coincidental; it occurred just when Arab Americans had begun to assert themselves as active participants in US politics.
“That violence is intended to chill the exercise of the constitutional rights of Arab-Americans,” Jabara told the US House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on 16 July 1986, nine months after the Odeh murder. “That violence is intended to stop a nascent voice, because Arab-Americans began to organize themselves, for the first time to play a role in this society with their fellow Americans, standing shoulder to shoulder in the marches for jobs, peace, and justice, in the corridors of power, and because of that they have been targeted for attack.”
At the same House hearing, another ADC co-founder noted that the physical attacks against the ADC from the Jewish Defense League had been preceded by negative PR offensive by other, more mainstream, Jewish groups.
“The campaigns of vilification and the violence against Arab American organizations and leaders fit into a coherent pattern, and the sources of both the vilification and the violence can be seen as sharing a common political agenda,” said James Zogby. “I am not suggesting that AIPAC, the ADL and the JDL are collaborators. They do, however, share a common political agenda, and their tactics in fact converge to create a personal and a political threat to the civil rights of Arab Americans and their organizations.”
When Zogby made those remarks, fresh in his mind must have been a three-month-old incident that left him embittered towards the ADL. Per Zogby’s description, two ADL leaders had visited a Democratic Party chapter chair in upstate New York and urged him not to endorse Zogby for State Assemblyman, alleging the latter was a “Libyan agent”.
But Zogby was correct in noting that ADL and JDL campaigns were consistently converging on shared targets. A decade previous, in 1976, a JDL front group called SOIL (Save Our Israel Land) had attacked a dozen New York City banks – firebombing some and smashing windows of others – just days after the ADL announced that those banks didn’t conduct business in Israel. And now the ADL’s smears against the ADC had been followed by the JDL’s fatal attack on Alex Odeh.
To be fair, it is unlikely that Kahanists would have needed any tailwind support from conservative community groups to convince them to eliminate an outspoken Palestinian-American activist.
Likewise, it is also unlikely that a trained JDL cell motivated to murder Odeh would have needed any outside intelligence in order to carry out that task. If they had required such sensitive information, however, it could have been provided; at the time, the ADL’s top spy Roy Bullock had infiltrated the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and had even obtained a floor plan and a key to Alex Odeh’s office.
Years later, when the FBI realized the vast extent of the ADL’s spy operations – which included information on hundreds of US groups and over ten thousand US citizens – Bullock denied any involvement in the Odeh murder, but admitted that among the dozens of groups he had infiltrated on behalf of the ADL were both the San Francisco and Los Angeles-area offices of the ADC.
“The Bureau was interested — they had traced the three or four guys they thought did it,” Bullock told the San Francisco Police Department in January 1993 about the FBI’s investigation into the Odeh murder. “I missed going to the office by one day; I might have been there to open the door instead of him because he allowed me to go into the office if I was down there; just by sheer coincidence it wasn’t me.”
As an ADL agent posing as a solidarity activist volunteering with the ADC, Bullock amassed information on thousands of the group’s members and tried to recruit suspected anti-Semites into the ADC in an attempt to discredit it.
“He was one of our most vocal members,” ADC President Albert Mokhiber said of Bullock after his espionage became public knowledge. “He portrayed himself as someone sincerely interested in Arab civil rights and someone dedicated to the principles of our organization, and everyone believed him to be so.”
The full extent of the ADL spy saga will likely never be known; in 1993, the year that the scandal broke, Project Censored named it one of the year’s most censored stories.
Despite the extent of its colossal spy apparatus, the ADL never chose to turn its sights on the reactionary factions it would have been best positioned to infiltrate: violent Jewish groups like the JDL.
“The League doesn’t officially investigate the JDL, it just isn’t something they do,” Bullock explained to the SFPD. “They have written one special report denouncing them, as inflammatory bigots and zealots, but they don’t officially launch investigations against them.”
Like other conservative community organizations, the ADL condemned fanatical Jewish groups in public, but cooperated with them in private when they shared objectives. In 1986, long-time ADL spymaster Irwin Suall admitted to the Washington Post that he regularly traded information with Mordechai Levy, the leader of the JDL splinter group JDO. Levy’s JDO had harassed, defaced and menaced the ADC’s offices in the run-up to the Odeh assassination, and Levy himself continued to distribute an “Enemies of the Jewish People” list which included on it the ADC, even in the weeks following Odeh’s murder.
In the years that immediately followed Alex Odeh’s murder, the fortunes of the Kahanist movement took a nosedive. In advance of Israel’s 1988 national elections, polls predicted Kahane to sweep into the parliament with up to twelve seats, a result which would certainly have earned him a ministry post. In October of that year, however, the Knesset disqualified Kahane’s Kach party from the running, on account of his unabashed racism.
In November 1990, Kahane himself was assassinated in New York City by a Muslim militant, in what, years later, some would claim to be the first attack by the group that would ultimately come to be known as Al Qaeda. At his funeral, one of the largest in Israel’s history, Kahane was passionately eulogized by Israel’s then-Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.
Four months later, Kahane’s loyal followers Robert and Rochelle Manning were arrested at their home in Kiryat Arba. Although Manning was also suspected of involvement in Odeh’s assassination, he and his wife were only indicted for another murder-for-hire, unrelated to their supremacist beliefs.
It had taken years to secure the arrest of the Mannings for that 1980 murder, in part because of a 1978 Israeli law which severely restricted the conditions under which a citizen could be extradited. On the day it passed, that law’s sponsor urged the Israeli parliament to protect not only citizens who had committed crimes while travelling abroad, but also foreign-born Jewish criminals who might flee to Israel and receive citizenship upon their arrival, by virtue of their ethnic origin.
“Recall the case of Zeller, whose extradition was requested by the United States over the accusation of murder,” said David Glass, then chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Jerome Zeller, another American-born follower of Meir Kahane, was accused of planting a bomb in the Manhattan offices of the legendary arts impresario Sol Hurok in 1972, killing Hurok’s 27-year-old Jewish secretary, Iris Kones. “The State of Israel, via the Justice Ministry, asked to delay extradition proceedings due to the circumstances of the case,” said Glass.
Hurok had promoted performances of the Bolshoi Ballet and other Russian art ensembles, and this had raised the ire of Kahanists, who demanded a blanket boycott on all things Soviet, until the USSR would agree to let its Jewish citizens emigrate. In the Knesset plenum on January 3, 1978, Glass argued that the Israeli government had acted correctly when it had given Zeller safe harbor five years earlier, citing a biblical passage from the Book of Deuteronomy which forbids the returning of escaped slaves to their former masters.
“He is an Israeli citizen, but he committed the crime before he was an Israeli citizen. Do you think that Zeller would have received a just trial, taking into account all the special circumstances of the incident, even in New York or in Los Angeles?”
Zeller is believed to have lived in the settlements since 1972, evading any legal consequences for the death of Iris Kones.
Two decades later, however, in 1992, Robert and Rochelle Manning came up for extradition. Seemingly certain that he faced no serious legal risks himself, Baruch Ben Yosef did not hesitate to lead local efforts to thwart the Mannings’ extradition.
“I’ve been very involved with the anti-extradition program. There’s the Manning case, where we’ve been trying to fight the extradition of the Manning couple, residents of Kiryat Arba. Last year we organized a demonstration. We succeeded in getting almost every rabbi connected with the Rabbi Kook movement and the settlement rabbis to sign a letter calling for the cessation of the extradition,” Ben Yosef told a conference of far-right Anglophones at that time, praising the Mannings as Jewish heroes.
“Here we have the opportunity to stop the extradition of Jews who have been fighting for the Jewish people for the last twenty years!” he exclaimed.
Carmi Gillon, who headed Israel’s Shin Bet and was the organization’s first department chief to be tasked with tackling Jewish domestic terrorism, told this reporter that he recalls monitoring the movements of Manning, and remembers Ben Yosef for his ultra-nationalist activities. But Gillon says that he never knew that the two were suspected of having committed mortal crimes in the US in 1985.
“I really don’t know about that. On my life. I’m hearing it for the first time, from you,” Gillon told this reporter in late 2019. “I never heard of it. I didn’t know that Baruch Green ever returned to the US.”
Moreover, Gillon claims, even if the FBI had asked the Shin Bet for intelligence on Ben Yosef, Fuchs and Manning, it would not have been forthcoming. “Israel worked very well with the Americans since the time of Khrushchev in the 1950s. But there were issues that were taboo. Israel never transferred information about Jews, like the JDL,“ said Gillon.
“There was no cooperation on Jewish issues,” Gillon affirms. “During my time, there was no cooperation at all.”
In September 1993, the Israeli government reversed its long-standing policy to never negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and signed a peace treaty with its chairman, Yasser Arafat. The framework of those Oslo Accords provided for the establishment of a Palestinian police force that would maintain law and order in the West Bank and Gaza.
Unsurprisingly, Kahane’s followers poured scorn over the peace treaty, and vowed that they would shoot the newly-deputized Palestinian police officers on sight. “We can’t share the land,” Ben Yosef told the same Los Angeles Times that had just three years earlier reported the murder allegations against him, as Andy Green. “They will run like dogs when the time comes. And we would like to take revenge too. Revenge is a godly idea, and they deserve it.”
Months later, another American-born Kahanist would carry out the most murderous attack in the movement’s history. On February 25, 1994 – a Jumu’ah prayer day during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – Dr. Baruch Goldstein walked into a West Bank mosque and murdered Palestinians in prayer.
Goldstein, who had run for a Knesset seat in 1984 with Kahane’s Kach party, entered the Cave of the Patriarchs, a Hebron shrine revered by both Jews and Muslims, and gunned down 29 Palestinian men and boys, wounding 125 more. Goldstein’s slaughter took place on Purim, a Jewish holiday that glorifies a mythical slaughter of Israel’s enemies.
In the wake of the massacre, the Kach party and one of its offshoots, Kahane Chai, were declared illegal in Israel, and Ben Yosef was once again jailed under administrative detention, this time with other top Kahanist leaders. But Ben-Yosef’s incarceration would last the longest, and restrictions placed upon him following his eventual release were the harshest.
Years later, Ben Yosef recalled the incarceration of the Kahanist leadership as a “privilege”. “We were in HaSharon Prison together, after our friend Baruch Goldstein cleaned out the cave, the Cave of the Patriarchs, from the garbage there,” he says, describing scores of unarmed men and boys shot while kneeling in prayer. “We were together for the Passover Seder, it was a very special Passover Seder. The greatest of the generation.”
Ben Yosef breaks out into a laugh. “We planned the revolt!”
Last year, a few weeks before the twenty-fifth anniversary of the massacre, videos of Ben Yosef praising Goldstein in Hebrew and English were uploaded to Youtube.
Every year on the anniversary of the horrific massacre, Ben Yosef listens to the reading of the Purim Megilla at the tomb of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein in Kiryat Arba, a short distance from the scene of his vile crime. In December 2019, the Israeli government began renovating the public park named after Rabbi Meir Kahane, where the tomb is located.
On the same day, Israel’s Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that Hebron’s former fruit and vegetable market, which has been boarded up and devoid of Palestinians ever since the 1994 massacre, will soon be rebuilt as a new Jewish neighborhood, in order to double the number of Israeli settlers in the city.
In the years following the Hebron massacre, Ben Yosef defended in Israeli court Netanel Ozeri, the Kahanist author of “Baruch HaGever,” a collection of essays heaping praises upon the mass-murderer Goldstein. Ben Yosef describes Ozeri as Kahane’s top student, who not only recorded Kahane’s speeches and published his writings, but also developed strategies and tactics that were then used by Jewish settlers to expand Israeli control over increasingly large swaths of Palestinian territory. “He in fact became what some people think is the father of the hilltop youth,” Ben Yosef said, referring to the settler strike force of the millennial generation.
If Ozeri was the father of the hilltop youth, Ben Yosef could be considered their uncle, passing on the skill sets he’d developed over time to avoid criminal conviction. In the years that followed his second administrative detention, Ben Yosef served as an instructor at the West Bank settlement summer camp “Fort Judea”, teaching a new generation of young Kahanists how to resist the interrogation tactics of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security services.
Over the course of his legal career, Ben Yosef would also argue one of the most infamous cases of Israeli law, representing the man who would go on to become the leader of the reconstituted Kahanist camp, Itamar Ben Gvir.
While Ben Yosef and the rest of the Kahanist leadership were jailed under administrative detention, Ben Gvir, then all of 17 years old, stepped up to lead the movement in their absence.
In 1995, Ben Gvir appeared on a political talk show on Israeli state television, arguing against peace talks with Palestinians, and defending the views of his hero, Meir Kahane. On live TV, Israeli journalist Amnon Dankner, later editor-in-chief of the national newspaper Ma’ariv – said “Kahane was a Nazi” and called Ben Gvir “that little Nazi”. When Ben Gvir sued Dankner for slander, his legal counsel was Baruch Ben Yosef.
The case dragged through the courts for over a decade, and the suit was finally settled by Israel’s Supreme Court in November 2006. The High Court ended the legal saga by affirming the 2002 ruling of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which found that Dankner had indeed libeled the Kahanist Ben Gvir.
However, because there was “a similarity of ideas in the teachings Ben Gvir believes in and those of the Nazis,” the judge only obliged Dankner to pay damages of a single Israeli shekel – the equivalent of an American quarter-dollar.
As Ben Gvir took his libel lawsuit to the High Court, his mentor Baruch Ben Yosef recused himself from the case to focus on opposing the proposal of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to disengage unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. By removing the eight thousand Jewish settlers and the Israeli army units protecting them from Gaza, Sharon could claim that Israel’s occupation had ended, and subtract from the state’s population registry the strip’s Palestinian citizens, whose numbers then totaled almost a million and a half. At the time, a majority of Israeli Jews agreed with him that maintaining Jewish numerical superiority in the territories the country controlled directly was worth the cost: ceding sovereignty over a sandy strip of land smaller than 150 square miles in size.
But a significant number of Zionists vociferously oppose retreating from any terrain conquered by Israel, as a refutation of their Biblical blueprint to institute religious rule over all of God’s holy land.
In the summer of 2004, Ben Yosef and other Kahanists ran a camp to train Gaza Strip settlers to forcefully resist the planned withdrawal. “The resistance will be proportional to the force exerted against us,” Ben Yosef told AFP. “If it’s verbal, we’ll answer with words, if we’re hit with sticks, we’ll use sticks, and no one will take guns, but if we’re shot, we’ll shoot back.”
At the time, Israel’s Internal Security Minister didn’t only fear that the Gaza Strip settlers would physically resist when Israeli soldiers were sent in to evict them. He was also worried that far-right activists would attack the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem in an attempt to derail the project.
Such a scheme would not have been unprecedented in Israeli history. When the Israeli government agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt a quarter-century earlier, a group of Jewish settlers started conspiring to blow up Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, knowing it would outrage Muslims around the world, and believing the fragile peace deal with Egypt would likely collapse as a result, and the planned Sinai withdrawal along with it.
That plot was never carried out, but as Israel prepared for another withdrawal on its western flank, its security establishment estimated that a similar plan to attack the Al Aqsa compound may have been in the offing. Among the scenarios they considered were aerial attacks on the Haram Al-Sharif, from either a kamikaze pilot flying a light aircraft or a drone loaded with explosives.
In late July 2004, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Tsachi HaNegbi told a television interviewer he feared the far-right was now discussing such strategies not only in a philosophical sense, but in practical terms, too. “There is a danger that they’ll want to make use of the most sensitive site and then hope that the chain reaction will lead to the collapse of the political process.”
Three days later, Baruch Ben Yosef dispatched an angry letter to HaNegbi, demanding that he apologize for alleging that Templar activists such as himself were a security threat to the state. Ben Yosef added that if HaNegbi failed to atone for misspeaking, he could expect a protest campaign against him.
Two weeks later, Ben Yosef, his protégé Itamar Ben Gvir, and a dozen other Kahanists organized a protest outside HaNegbi’s home in the town of Mevaseret Zion, where former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon had not long before been elected mayor. After the protest went on for some time, an armored vehicle pulled up to the house, and HaNegbi emerged. Instead of retreating into the protection of his home, HaNegbi immediately approached Ben Gvir and extended his hand to wish him well, for having gotten engaged the previous week. “I understand that congratulations are in order,” he said, and explained that he wanted to talk.
“You want to shut the mouths of people who were basically your students,” charged Ben Gvir, accusing him of preparing the public for administrative detentions and other draconian measures against them and others protesting the planned Gaza pullout.
Calling Ben Yosef and Ben Gvir students of HaNegbi was no exaggeration. In the early 1980’s, HaNegbi had been a prominent far-right activist leading the resistance to Israel’s pullout from the Egyptian Sinai, along with hard-core Kahanists. A decade earlier, HaNegbi was in fact one of the first Israeli students at the school Rabbi Meir Kahane established in downtown Jerusalem to spread his reactionary version of Zionism.
HaNegbi sat down and spoke with the activists, and according to one Israeli press report, promised them that the government would not rubber-stamp any detention requests from the Shin Bet.
The “HaNegbi-Ben Gvir Barbecue”, as that Israeli outlet described it, elicited an angry response from liberal activists at Peace Now. “We remind Minister HaNegbi that the Kach organization was made illegal,” said the group in a statement, calling on him to quash the group’s activities, “instead of sitting and chatting with its activists.”
Press photos of the protest-turned-pow-wow showing HaNegbi casually conversing with Ben Yosef and Ben Gvir outside his home were used by the Kahanist movement to make the argument that they couldn’t possibly represent real security threats. “It would be like the director of the FBI accusing a group of trying to blow up the White House and then just strolling out of his house to chat with them,” said Mike Guzofksy, a top Kahane movement activist.
The Aramaic Curse
That fall, at the annual memorial service to Meir Kahane, Ben Yosef denounced Israel’s planned disengagement from Gaza, and called instead for holy war.
“What will bring redemption is war. But today we’re going in exactly the opposite direction,” said Ben Yosef, in a clip that was later broadcast on PBS in an episode of Frontline entitled ‘Israel’s Next War?’. “There’s an attempt to prevent war, at all costs. And if we can force the army to go back to being offensive, an army of revenge, an army which cares about Jews more than anybody else, then we’ll be able to bring the final redemption, in the only way possible: through war. War now.”
Ben Yosef was among the Israelis filmed that year loudly protesting Sharon’s planned withdrawal from the strip, chanting, “Hang the traitors! Gaza for the Jews!”
Soon he started to make it personal. At one such anti-pullout protest outside the Knesset that featured a crowd of thousands, Ben Yosef taunted Sharon with the suggestion that he would soon join his late wife in the grave. “Sharon, Lily is waiting for you,” he said, grinning.
In September, Israeli media outlets published threats by Ben Yosef to perform a medieval curse of death upon Prime Minister Sharon, unless he agreed to cancel the government order to evacuate Jewish settlements and settlers from the Gaza Strip, then occupied throughout its interior by the Israeli army.
The following summer, Ben Yosef made good on his threat. On July 26, 2005, twenty days before the Israeli army’s deadline to Jewish settlers to willingly evacuate the Strip, Ben Yosef accompanied fellow Kahanist leader Rabbi Yosef Dayan and performed the Pulsa Dinura death curse.
Dayan had levied the same Aramaic curse against then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a decade earlier, in an attempt to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1995, Kahanists gathered outside Rabin’s residence and wished the worst on him: “All the curses of the world must rain down on him, he must eat his excrement and drink his urine.”
One month later, on 4 November 1995, Rabin was shot to death at a pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv, assassinated by another far-right Israeli who had studied law at Baruch Ben Yosef’s alma mater, Bar Ilan University.
If Dayan’s first curse seemingly succeeded, supernaturally slaying Rabin and knocking the peace process off course, perhaps another Pulsa Dinura from Dayan could sideline Sharon and put the kibosh on his planned pullout from Gaza?
This time, the curse would be conducted at the old Jewish cemetery in Rosh Pina in the Upper Galilee, at the grave of Shlomo Ben Yosef, hung by the British for attempting to blow up a bus full of Palestinians in 1938, and whose surname Andy Green adopted as his own.
“We read the Pulsa Dinura prayer so God will take the murderous dictator who is murdering the Jewish nation,” Ben Yosef told Israel’s highest-selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot after taking part in the Kabbalistic ritual.
“We hope that God will take him from us,” said Ben Yosef. “We called upon angels of terror.”
In response to a query from Yediot, Israel’s Justice Ministry stated that “after listening to and reading about the matter, [it] will consider whether to open a criminal investigation against those involved in the ceremony.”
Five months later, on January 4, 2006, Sharon suddenly suffered a debilitating stroke, putting him in a vegetative state that would last for eight years.
Two days after Sharon passed, the Jerusalem Post published an article entitled “Extremists boast they cursed Sharon,” quoting Baruch Ben Yosef taking credit for Sharon falling gravely ill.
“I take full responsibility for what happened,” Ben-Yosef told the Post. “Our Pulsa Denura kicked in. Nothing could kill Sharon, and he said his ancestors lived until they were over 100 years old, but we got him with the Pulsa Denura.”
The article, authored by Yaakov Katz – now the Jerusalem Post’s Editor-in-Chief – also cites Ben Yosef’s successor as chief Kahanist litigator, Itamar Ben Gvir.
“There is a judge in this world,” Ben-Gvir told Katz. “Yitzhak Rabin was killed on the fifth anniversary of Meir Kahane’s murder and Sharon fell ill on the anniversary of Binyamin Kahane’s murder.” The latter is a reference to Meir Kahane’s second son, who had in fact been murdered five years earlier.
When Sharon finally slipped out of his coma and died eight years later in 2014, Ben Yosef and Ben Gvir offered free legal services to any Israeli Jew charged with celebrating his passing.
Immigrating to Israel from the Bronx and transforming himself into Baruch Ben Yosef, Andy Green became the vanguard of the violently racist Kahane movement. The parliamentary records of both the US Congress and the Israeli Knesset have documented Ben Yosef’s supremacist activities. Various mainstream media outlets have reported that he is a suspect in the murder of the Palestine-born American citizen Alex Odeh. Numerous US law enforcement officials past and present have affirmed to this reporter that this is still the case, even today.
And yet Ben Yosef continues to live openly in occupied Palestinian territory, arguing in Israel’s highest courts for a Jewish takeover of the country’s holiest Islamic shrines, and openly advocating for an ethnic cleansing of the country’s Arabs.
More than this: he is regularly interviewed in Israeli newspapers and on prime-time Israeli television, identified as a long-time leader of the Kahanist movement. In the last thirty years, the Israeli press has often covered Ben Yosef’s far-right activism, but in all that time has not once mentioned the American allegations against him.
If Alex Odeh had never been assassinated and instead lived out his days in good health, he would now be 76 years old and surrounded by his family and friends.
Instead, 61-year-old Baruch Ben Yosef is celebrating more than three decades of impunity for his alleged crimes, and the knowledge that the Kahane movement he has served for his whole adult life is on the road to returning to the corridors of political power, under the leadership of his protégé, Itamar Ben Gvir.
These successes are in no small measure thanks to the guiding hand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has labored to rehabilitate the Kahanist camp. In the last election cycle, Netanyahu’s support included offering Jewish Power party leader Ben Gvir an ambassadorship and a promise to change Israeli law to permit Israel’s most notorious racists to run alongside him. “Years ago he wouldn’t have done something like that,” Ben Yosef told Israeli TV of Netanyahu’s newfound embrace of Kahanism. “Maybe the demon isn’t so scary now.”
Affirming that the Kahanist movement is now mainstream, former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gilon envisions Kahane himself looking on from the next world, pleased as punch. “I think that today he is not spinning in his grave. He’s lying in his grave, sees what’s happening in Israeli politics, and says, ‘Hell yeah! I did it!’” ■
By John F. Mahoney
According to documents in our files, the idea for AMEU came about in May 1967, the month before the Six Day War. The actual papers of incorporation , submitted to the state of New York in Nov. 1967, shows the names of three men and two women.
The first is Jack Sunderland, president of Aminoil, the Neutral Zone oil company between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The next is John V. Chapple, the Mideast editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, who spent most of his time in Greece where he owned a printing press in Athens.
The third is Edith E. Forbes, great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The fourth is Dr. Helen Hilling, Professor of Public Administration at New York University, who had worked in several Palestinian refugee camps as a consultant on health care delivery services.
Lastly, there is Dr. Henry G. Fischer. Henry was assistant professor of Egyptology at Yale University and later head of the Department of Egyptology at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Those who have visited the museum know that the focal point in the museum is the imposing Temple of Dendur. Henry was the major influence both in saving the Temple from being flooded by the Aswan High Dam, and in persuading President Johnson to relocate it inside the Metropolitan. In 1970, Lila Acheson Wallace, of Readers Digest fame, endowed a special chair for Henry as curator of Egyptology at the Metropolitan. And it was a one-time gift from Lila Wallace of $60,000, secured by Henry, that enabled AMEU to get on its financial legs. Henry was also a published poet and musician who remained on our board as AMEU’s vice president until his death in 2006.
The actual incorporation, however, turned out to be not so easy. At least one law firm refused to handle the application. Eventually a New York attorney was found and the papers were filed on Nov. 2, 1967.
On Nov. 22, 1967, the New York State Attorney General contacted our lawyer wanting to know “if the activities of the proposed corporation will be embarrassing to or in conflict with the United States Secretary of State, the United States Delegation to the United Nations, or to the Secretary General of the United Nations.” And he concluded: “Perhaps the U.S. Secretary of the State, the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. and U Thant should be consulted to see if our proposed corporation is acceptable to them.” The Attorney General told our lawyer he wanted to speak with “knowledgeable people” within the organization.
There is no record of such a meeting. AMEU was incorporated in January 1968, and received its tax exempt status in March 1969. A copy of its letterhead for March 17, 1969 now listed seven other board members in addition to the five signers of the papers of incorporation; they are:
Dr. John H. Davis, a respected agronomist, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, and Harvard University professor who was tapped by President Eisenhower to become the first Commissioner General of UNRWA, the U.N. organization set up to help Palestinian refugees, a post he held from 1959 to 1964. When he returned to the States in ‘64, he made this observation: “To have lived in the area and with the Palestinians, one could not help but be affected by the suffering, and could not help feeling compelled to try to create the conditions for a just peace.” When John came home he did just that: he directed the N.Y. office of the American University of Beirut, he founded the U.S. office of the Musa Alami Foundation, a vocational school for West Bank orphans and, for a while in 1968, he served as AMEU’s first executive director. In that same year he moved to Washington to become the first president and board chairman of American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA). Meanwhile he remained a member of AMEU’s board of directors until his death in 1988.
Other members of the original board of directors on that 1969 letterhead include:
Dr. Harry Dorman, Executive Director of the Middle East & Europe Department of the National Council of Churches in America.; Dr. I. Emmet Holt, board chairman of American Middle East Rehabilitation; Monsignor, later Bishop, John Nolan, president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Dr. Henry Van Dusen, president emeritus of Union Theological Seminary; Charles White, past financial executive of the Near East Foundation; and TheRev. Humphrey Walz, chairman of the Near East Sub-Committee of the Presbytery of New York City, and former associate executive of the Presbyterian Synod of the Northeast.
A word about Humphrey Walz. Following WWII, Humphrey worked in New York City, relocating Jewish refugees from the Third Reich; then, following the Middle East war of 1948-49, he worked with Palestinian refugees. He edited The Link for its first two years, and for several years he wrote a column on Religion and the Middle East for The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. When he was dying and living in a home for the terminally ill, he formed a study group and had me send him copies of the latest Link for the group to discuss. Then one day I was notified by the home that he had slipped into a coma and that I should discontinue sending The Link. A month or so later I received a call from Humphrey himself. Seems the coma had been induced by a new medicine they had given him. When they decided to stop the medicine, he was back, his mind as sharp as ever, and he needed copies of the latest Link for his study group. He died soon after that — with his boots on.
Between that original board of directors and today’s we have had outstanding members. Space does not permit listing them all, but I would like to single out three.
One is The Rev. John Sutton. John was a Methodist minister who pastored an American community in Athens Greece in the early 60s, during which time he came to know John Chapple , an AMEU board member also living in Athens. John Sutton returned from Greece in the mid-60s to lead a Methodist church in Weston, MA, where, as fate would have it, I was teaching at a Catholic seminary. We became close friends.
When John Davis stepped down as director in 1968, my guess is that John Chapple recommended John Sutton for the job. And for 9 years, until I succeeded him in 1978, John did an extraordinary job. He had assembled a mailing list of over 40,000 names. More, he had put together a highly professional staff. And, as an enduring legacy, just before I came on board, he invited me to go with him to a seminar in fundraising at the University of Illinois, where I learned that a self-addressed return envelope for fundraising should be a hot color, preferably pink. And as readers to The Link know only too well, that is a tenant of fundraising I’ve observed scrupulously. John and I remained close friends until his death in 1990.
Another board member I’d mention is Grace Halsell, who once served as a staff writer for President Johnson. I’ve been thinking of Grace these days with all the talk about the racial divide in America. She used to tell of the time LBJ asked his cook, Zephry White, to transport two dogs overnight in her car. “You have no idea, Ms White told Johnson, “what it is like for a Negro to try and get a decent hotel room – and you are asking me to take two dogs?”
The question haunted Grace. She left the White House and consulted with dermatologists at Yale and Harvard. They told her about a medication which, when taken in conjunction with exposure of the body to intense tropical sun, would darken one’s skin. Grace took the medication and headed for a Caribbean island. “One day,” she would later write, “I looked in a mirror and saw a black woman looking back at me.” For the next year Grace learned what it was like being an African-American woman. Her book “Soul Sister” sold over a million copies.
In the later 1970’s Grace decided to go to Jerusalem to live with a Jewish, a Christian, and a Muslim family. The publishers at Macmillan gave her an advance. Her book, “Journey to Jerusalem” came out in 1981. It did not sell a million copies. Macmillan did little to promote the book, and Grace’s lecture agent, reacting to strong pressure, dropped her. That’s when she came knocking on the doors of any organization that might help her. I remember when she came to our office and left a copy of her book. I took it with me to read on the train commute home, and nearly missed getting off at my station stop. It wasn’t that what she had written was news to me — it was the unprecedented fact that it was being said by a respected journalist in a mainstream publication. AMEU bought the rights from Macmillan to do a second run and in all we have distributed over 24,000 copies of “Journey to Jerusalem.” In 1982, the directors invited Grace to join the board. She did, and for 18 years until her death she remained one of our most active members. Her feature articles for The Link are available on our website: www.ameu.org.
The third board member I’d like to mention is John Goelet, who joined our board in 1998. John and his wife Henrietta have accomplished extraordinary work on behalf of the Palestinians. It is Henrietta who is responsible for the publication “Remember These Children…” a periodically updated listing of Israeli and Palestinian children killed in the violence. Presently, the Goelets are engaged in helping AMEU transition from a print medium to various digital platforms.
In its 50-year history, AMEU has had only three presidents.
Jack B. Sunderland
I had the honor of speaking at Jack’s memorial service in July 2005. I noted that Jack was associated with the Near East Foundation and the American Near East Refugee Aid, both humanitarian organizations that help hundreds of thousands of individuals.
In contrast, AMEU is an educational organization. Our goal is to explain to Americans that what happened in 1948 was not a war of independence but ethnic cleansing, that what happened in 1967 was more ethnic cleansing, and that what is happening today with each housing unit that is built in the West Bank is yet more ethnic cleansing — and that it’s all being done with our money and our moral authority.
To say that, even to hint at it, can get you into trouble. Jack discovered this early on when, in an interview he gave in Europe, he suggested that peace would come to the Middle East only when Israel stopped building settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
The next thing he knew someone was knocking on his neighbors’ doors in Scarsdale N.Y., inquiring about his children and the times they went to school. Jack hired a detective and the detective, working with the FBI, discovered that the person making the inquiries — who had also gained computer access to his finances and credit record -– was employed by a major pro-Israel organization. The full story is reported by former U.S. Rep. Paul Findley in his book “They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby.”
It still impresses me that a man who was financially well off would subject himself and his family to such harassment. My explanation, based on 27 years of knowing him, is that Jack sincerely felt that our foreign policy in the Middle East, if not changed, would lead to catastrophic consequences for the Palestinians, and disastrous consequences both for us and for the Israelis. For 37 years, as president of AMEU, Jack tried to change our lopsided support of Israeli suppression of Palestinian rights. I think of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who once said that the truest test of a person’s support for human rights is their support of Palestinian rights. Jack passed that test.
Robert L. Norberg
Bob Norberg joined AMEU’s board of directors in 1995, soon after retiring as director of the Washington office of the Arabian American Oil Company. By profession, Bob is a journalism graduate of the University of Minnesota, and his first job was managing and editing twin newspapers in Iowa for five years.
These skills soon became visible in every phase of our Link publication, from the selection of the topic and author to the final layout. Bob, we discovered with great relief, could also navigate the arcane world of computer wizardry. He created and managed AMEU’s website, and he arranged, with a grant from Grace Halsell’s estate, to have all our Link issues going back to 1968 digitized. These are issues that have long been buried inside a three ring binder, issues that now have a new life in cyberspace. The last time I saw Jack Sunderland before he died in 2005, I was able to tell him that Bob had agreed to become AMEU’s second president. Jack was very pleased.
In 2015, Bob stepped down as president — only to become AMEU’s first president-emeritus. The plaque the board presented him, read, in part,: “We the Directors and Staff of AMEU, thank you, Bob, for your steadfast leadership, your high standard of journalism, and your exemplary fulfillment of AMEU’s stated mission to focus on the ‘moral dimension of Middle East issues that are of critical importance to the American discourse, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma.’”
Back in 1991, I received one of those penny postcards with the one sentence: “If you can use volunteer help, I’d be happy to come in a day each week.”
The first day Jane came to the office, I asked if she’d mind sending out the overseas mailing of the latest Link. No, she wouldn’t mind. In short time, I came to realize that Jane, who actually was Dr. Jane Adas of Rutgers University, knew a thing or two or three about the Middle East.
Today, 25 years later, Jane still does the overseas mailing in addition to keeping track of all contributions, maintaining our mailing list, overseeing our book and video catalog, and proofing the Link manuscripts when they come in. She has been a columnist for The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and, in 2009, authored an article for The Link on the devastation wrought by Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” assault on Gaza. And six times now, she has put her body where her words are by spending six weeks at a stretch in Hebron with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, where she stood between the Palestinians who live there and the Jewish settlers who threaten to take ever more of their land.
In 1998, Jane was appointed to our board of directors. In 2004, she was appointed vice-president. In 2015, by unanimous vote, she became AMEU’s third president.
Never did a penny postcard pay such dividends.
AMEU is located next to Columbia University, Barnard College, and Union Theological Seminary, and for years, we had a ready supply of school interns whom we used for special projects.
But, in 1986, I received a letter from a professor in Ohio, a Link subscriber. He said that one of his students, a Shibabaw Wubetu, had just graduated with a degree in accounting and was coming to New York City to look for a job. He said he told Shibabaw to drop by AMEU in case we had an opening.
Shibabaw did drop by, and we did have an opening. And for 29 years, he served as our accountant and office manager. He is also the one we instinctively turned to whenever our computer told us that our data had gone down some black cosmic hole.
During these years we celebrated Shibabaw’s wedding and the birth of his son. Shibabaw retired in December 2015, and we miss him.
My wife Sharon is as much a part of AMEU as I am. Often she is the one who answers the office phone; she is there at the conferences we attend, selling books and videos and, if you bought a bottle of the Jerusalem olive oil that we are now offering, it was Sharon who packaged it.
Her commitment is that of the eyewitness. In 1982, she joined a medical team to assess the possibility of volunteer doctors and nurses setting up clinics in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The delegation arrived on the very day in June 1982 when the first Israeli bombs fell on Beirut. One of the early casualties came from an implosion bomb that hit a yellow school bus on an open highway. When they brought the students into the makeshift emergency room where Sharon, a registered nurse, was working, the bodies were so inflated and purple she could not tell if they were boys or girls.
When she returned to the States she told what she had seen to Jane Pauley on the Today show and to David Brinkley on his Sunday program, as well as to numerous talk radio shows, and to anyone who would listen to her on Capitol Hill. A few weeks later, when she went to get her nursing job back, she was turned down because of her support for Palestinians. We ‘lawyered’ up and she got her job back.
Books and Videos
I would estimate that, over the past 50 years, AMEU has sold over $1 million worth of books and videos. Much of this is from the “pre-Amazon” years, when it was difficult to find good books on the Palestinian situation printed in the United States and we had to import them, often from England. We even printed our own seasonal catalog, which offered “hard to find books at highly discounted prices.” We still offer around 100 books and videos on our website, many of them classic books that are now out of print — and now costing hundreds of dollars on Amazon!
Special Affairs Series
Again, in the pre-computer age, we reprinted and distributed articles and speeches that we thought deserved wider availability. Several of these are now on our website. Two, in particular, I would single out:
“Zionism: A Form of Racial Discrimination.” This is the brief presented by Dr. Fayez Sayegh, in the Fall of 1975, at the 30th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The General Assembly adopted the resolution that Zionism is “A Form of Racism and Racial Discrimination.” Dr. Sayegh’s brief is a meticulously documented presentation based largely on the official records of Zionist organizations and Jewish newspapers. In 1991, the U.N., under intense U.S. pressure, rescinded its 1975 resolution. AMEU’s Public Affairs Pamphlet #30, also on our website, makes the case that the U.N. got it right the first time.
“Lest We Forget: The U.S.-Israel Relationship: The Illusion of an Imaginary Common Interest.” This is a chronology of the times Israel has blatantly pursued its self-interest counter to U.S. interests, especially our demands that it cease all illegal settlements on Palestinian lands It is now in its fifth edition.
Holy Land Tours
Most organized tours to the Holy Land take tourists to see the holy places: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem. Few take them to meet the people who live in these places. In the 1980s and 90s, AMEU sponsored trips to the Holy Land where we met with Palestinian guides, religious leaders, and human rights organizations. Several of our tours were led by Fr. Ed Dillon, a Catholic biblical scholar now on our board of directors. For those going on a non-AMEU trip or on their own, we prepared a catalog of recommended guides, hotels, and organizations.
When I came to AMEU some 39 years ago, one question that kept popping up in my mind was why “The Link”? Couldn’t they have come up with a better title, say, The New York Report on Middle East Affairs?
The answer is that, prior to the 1967 war and shortly thereafter, there were small groups cropping up, especially in New York, in support of the Palestinians, and The Link was intended, in part, as a newsletter to promote the activities of these groups.
Today, The Link is a bimonthly magazine, with each issue devoted to a single critical topic, one not usually covered in depth, if at all, in the mainstream press. In addition to our general readership, The Link goes out to over 1,400 public and school libraries, including major colleges and universities. It is read by diplomats, journalists and activists. Space does not allow me to mention all our outstanding issues over the years, but let me note a few.
The Link has introduced several new authors who are now well known. They include:
Ali Abunimah, whose 1998 Link “Dear NPR News…” highlighted his one-person campaign to correct errors in the media’s coverage of the Palestinian issue. He later would co-found The Electronic Intifada, arguably the number one online publication for information on the question of Palestine.
James Wall, whose Sept.-Oct. 2000 Link “On the Jericho Road” told of his eye-opening experience during an American Jewish Committee-sponsored trip to Israel. Jim, the former editor of the influential Christian Century magazine, now writes a highly praised blog Wallwritings, and has single-handedly helped reshape the discourse about Palestine in key Christian circles. His blog is available on our website: www.ameu.org. Jim has been an AMEU board member since 2000.
David Wildman, whose Aug.-Sept. 2006 Link “Why Divestment? And Why Now?” explained why the boycott, divestment, and sanctions strategy (BDS) will work for the Palestinians. Wildman, who had been a prominent church activist in the South African anti-apartheid movement, is today a leading church proponent of the Palestinian BDS movement.
While our work has helped support and advance activism, we have also published original information about the Nakba and other little-known aspects of Palestinian history. This includes first-hand accounts never before published, such as:
“The Lydda Death March” (July-Aug. 2000) by Audeh Rantisi and Charles Amash, two Palestinians who give independent personal accounts of the infamous 1948 Zionist expulsion of Palestinians from Lydda.
“The Jews of Iraq” (April-May 1998) by Naeim Giladi, an Iraqi Jew who offers personal details on how Zionist Jews killed Iraqi Jews in order to force other Iraqi Jews to leave for Israel. This has been our most downloaded issue, perhaps because it sheds light on an important but little known aspect of the Jewish exodus from Arab lands.
“Epiphany at Beit Jala” (Dec. 1995) by Donald Neff, Time Magazine’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief. Neff went to Jerusalem, firmly accepting the Zionist narrative until, one day, he had to go to Beit Jala and, as he tells in this copyrighted article, what he saw there changed him for the rest of his life. It also got him into trouble with Henry Kissinger and eventually led to his dismissal as Time’s Jerusalem bureau chief.
Some of the original articles published by The Link have led to highly acclaimed books. These include:
“The Arab Stereotype on Television” (Apr.-May 1980) by Jack Shaheen. This was the basis for Jack’s bestselling book “The TV Arab,” which helped make him today’s preeminent Arab American media critic.
“Save the Musht — and the Land of Palestine” (Oct.-Nov. 1993) by Rosina Hassoun. This issue by a young doctoral candidate in Biological Anthropology contrasts the Zionist and Palestinian paradigms of land, and led to her article in the 1997 book “Water, Culture and Power.”
“What if the ruins of King Solomon’s Temple are NOT under the Dome of the Rock?” (July-Aug. 2014) by Dr. George Buchanan. Buchanan’s research, accepted now by some Israeli and non-Israeli archaeologists, led to his 2015 book “The “Strange Little City of Ancient Zion.” This is the only Link issue that has been translated into Arabic.
Other original research we have published include:
“The Window Dressers: The Signatories of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence” (Jan.-March 2015) by Ilan Pappe, the noted Israeli historian, who examines the backgrounds of the signers of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence.
“Israel’s Bedouin: The End of Poetry” (Sept.-Oct. 1998) by Ron Kelley, a professional photographer, who secretly documented Israel’s confiscation of Bedouin lands and its systematic destruction of their culture. Kelley presents his evidence exclusively in this Link article, which has become a standard reference work on the subject.
“U.S. Aid to Israel: The Subject No One Mentions” (Sept.-Oct. 1997) by Richard Curtiss. In addition to the billions of dollars in economic and military aid the U.S. gives Israel annually, Curtiss reveals the numerous, little known, funding arrangements that add billions more each year.
We continue to provide in-depth coverage of Israel’s war crimes, including:
“When War Criminals Walk Free” (Dec. 2012) by the Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, a first-hand witness to Israel’s Cast Lead incursion into Gaza.
“Can Palestine Bring Israeli Officials Before the International Criminal Court?” (Sept.-Oct. 2014) by John Quigley, Prof. of International Law at Ohio State University, who spells out the legal grounds on which Palestine can act.
“Confronting the Bible’s Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine” (Dec. 2000) by Michael Prior, a Catholic biblical scholar who addresses the question: Did God instruct the Israelites to rid the “Promised Land” of its indigenous people?
“Agro-Resistance” (Sept.-Oct. 2016) by British journalist Jonathan Cook, highlights one of the most promising enterprises happening today in the Palestinian economy. Whole Foods is selling the product…and so is AMEU.
What lies ahead
This issue of The Link has focused on the past 50 years. But we should go back another 30 years, to 1937, to comprehend what exactly we are focusing on.
In 1937, His Majesty King George VI promulgated the Palestine Defense Order in Council. It authorized the British High Commissioner in Palestine to enact such regulations “as appear to him in his unfettered discretion to be necessary or expedient for securing public safety, the defense of Palestine, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion, and riot and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.” Included in the regulations:
*The billeting, at the expense of the local population, of additional police in areas where the inhabitants had failed to render all the assistance in their power to the police or other authority for suppressing disturbances.
*The requirement that all persons in Palestine obtain a police license in order to hold a meeting or procession.
*The setting up of Military Courts to deal with offences against public order. Persons convicted of carrying firearms, ammunition, or bombs would face the death penalty.
The Palestine Defense Order concluded by noting that supernumerary police were enrolled and trained “to safeguard essential communication, to implement other police dispositions and to ensure adequate protection for Jewish settlements.”
This was nothing new for the preeminent colonial power. To keep rebellious subjects under its control the British Raj in India passed the 1915 Defense of India Regulations Act, and again, in 1919, the Rowlatt Act. This latter allowed for arrests without warrant of any suspected terrorist, indefinite detention without trial, and private trials without a jury for proscribed political acts in which the accused knew neither their accusers nor the evidence against them. Mohandas Gandhi called it the “Black Act,” and it sparked his campaign of nonviolent resistance.
Following the war, in 1923, Great Britain, as expected, was given the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, with administrative rule over the southern part of the Ottoman Empire. Written into the Mandate was Lord Balfour’s 1917 Declaration.
The main obstacle, of course, with establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine was the small number of Jews then living in Palestine. In 1919, President Wilson’s King-Crane Commission reported that 90% of Palestine’s inhabitants were “non-Jewish,” — read Palestinian Muslims and Christians — and that these “non-Jews” were “emphatically against the entire Zionist program.”
So the first order of business for the Zionists was to colonize Palestine. Indeed, one organization created in 1924 for that purpose called itself the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association. At a time when Great Britain was struggling to hold on to its empire, the last European colonizing enterprise of the 20th century was well underway. In just the year 1933, the number of Jews immigrating to Palestine was over 30,000; in 1935, that figure exceeded 40,000; and in 1935 it surpassed 60,000.
In 1936, the Palestinians revolted. At first it took the form of strikes and public protest. Then, in late 1937, it turned violent. In the eyes of the colonial power these were rebellious subjects, guilty of “lawlessness” and “banditry,” who had to be taught a lesson. That lesson would come in the legal guise of the draconian regulations set forth in the Palestine Defense Order in Council.
Two years later, in 1939, when the riots ended, over 10 percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population between ages 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled.
The crackdown allowed the Zionists to continue apace with its colonization of Palestine: Between 1900 and 1939, Zionist colonies had grown from 22 to 200. From 1922 to 1939, Jewish landholdings in Palestine went from 148,000 acres to 383,350 acres. And from 1918 to 1939, the Jewish population in Palestine had increased from 60,000 to 429,605. Jews now constituted 28% of Palestine’s population.
Then came WWII, and suddenly Great Britain had new priorities; now it needed Arab support. So, in 1939, His Majesty’s Government issued a White Paper saying it had fulfilled its pledge to establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine, and that indefinite Jewish immigration and transfer of Arab land to Jews was contrary to the Covenant of the League of Nations and to British promises to the Arabs.
Enraged, the Zionists launched a campaign of terror that included blowing up a bus, a train, a ship, a café, a hotel, assassinating a diplomat and a peace negotiator, killing hostages, sending letter bombs, and massacring defenseless villagers. Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun, the gang that carried out many of these acts — and a future prime minister of Israel — would boast that he was “Terrorist Number One.” (Bleier; The Link, July-August 2003, p1-4).
The British responded with their Emergency Defense Regulations 1945. These included the 1937 regulations, plus many more. When printed in the Palestine Gazette, they took up 41 pages.
The Zionists went ballistic:
David Ben-Gurion, the future first prime minister of Israel, called them “Nazi laws.” (Lazar, “Out of Palestine”, p.109)
Dr. Dov Yosef of the Jewish Agency and a future Israeli minister of justice asked: “Are we all to become victims of officially licensed terrorism or will the freedom of the individual prevail?…As it is, there is no guarantee to prevent a citizen from being imprisoned for life without trial…There is no appeal against the decision of the military commander…while the administration has unrestricted freedom to banish any citizen at an moment. What is more, a man does not actually have to commit an offence; it is enough for a decision to be made in some office for his fate to be sealed. All of the 600,000 [Jewish] settlers could be hanged for a crime committed by one person in this country.” (Jiryis , “The Arabs in Israel,” pp. 11-12)
When the war ended in 1945, the Zionist leadership drew up plans to put an end to Britain’s Mandate in Palestine, along with its intolerable defense regulations. And, as noted, the Zionists launched their campaign of terror. On October 31 of that year, for example, the elite Jewish commando group the Palmach, together with the Irgun and Stern Gang, blew up train tracks throughout Palestine as well as the Haifa oil refinery. (Taylor, “Prelude to Israel,” pp. 97-98)
It worked. On April 2, 1947, Britain decided it wasn’t worth the effort to quell the revolt and asked the United Nations to place the question of Palestine on its agenda. In November, the U. N. General Assembly recommended “provisionally” to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state; the Jews, now one-third of the population and owning 7% of the land, were allocated 54-55% of the land, with Jerusalem as a corpus separatum.
But the Zionists wanted more. In April 1948, Irgun terrorists massacred 254 Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin, launching the first of hundreds of land-clearing operations that resulted in over 750,000 Palestinian refugees, leaving the Zionists in control of 78% of the land.
On May 14, 1948, 37 Zionist leaders signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, thereby proclaiming the existence of the State of Israel.
Israel now became the new colonial power and, five days following its founding, the first legislative act of its Provisional State Council was to incorporate the Defense Emergency Regulations into Israeli domestic law. For the next 69 years, and counting, Palestinians would be ground down by those very regulations that Jews had so vehemently decried as “Nazi laws.”
The question is why? Why did Jews so readily adopt these Emergency Regulation, the same ones some 400 Jewish lawyers had condemned at a conference of the Lawyers Association held on Feb. 7, 1946 in Tel Aviv, when it resolved: “The powers given to the ruling authority in the Emergency Regulations deny the inhabitants of Palestine their basic human rights. These regulations undermine the foundation of law and justice, they constitute a serious danger to individual freedom, and they institute a regime of arbitrariness without any judicial supervision.” (Sabri Jiryis, “The Arabs in Israel,” pp. 9-14, for this and following quotes.)
Speaking at that same conference, Dr. Moshe Dunkelblum, a future Supreme Court judge in the new Israeli state, said: “It is true that these laws threaten every Jewish settler, but, as lawyers, we are especially concerned because they violate the basic principles of law, justice, and jurisprudence. They give the military and administrative authorities absolute power which, even if it had been approved by a legislative body, would create a state of chaos.”
Another speaker at the lawyers’ conference, Dr. Bernard Joseph, later Dov Joseph of the Jewish Agency, the organization responsible for the immigration and absorption of Jews into Palestine, put it tersely: “As for these defense regulations, the question is: Are we all to become victims of officially licensed terrorism or will the freedom of the individual prevail?”
Yaacov Shimshon Shapira, aka Jacob Shimshon, was more incensed: “The established order in Palestine since the defense regulations is unparalleled in any civilized country. Even in Nazi Germany there were no such laws…Only in an occupied country do you find a system resembling ours. They try to reassure us by saying that these laws apply only to offenders and not to the whole of the population, but the Nazi governor of occupied Oslo also said that no harm would come to those who minded their own business…It is our duty to tell the whole world that the defense regulations passed by the government in Palestine destroy the very foundations of justice in this land. It is mere euphemism to call the military courts ‘courts.’ To use the Nazi title, they are no better than ‘Military Judicial Committees Advising the Generals’.”
The Hebrew Lawyers Association conference concluded with the passage of two resolutions:
“The powers granted the authorities under the emergency regulations deprive the Palestinian citizen of the fundamental rights of man.
These regulations undermine law and justice, and constitute a grave danger to the life and liberty of the individual, establishing a rule of violence without any judicial control. [This conference] demands the repeal of these laws.”
Slightly over two years following this conference, on May 14, 1948, eight hours before the British Mandate for Palestine was to end, 37 Zionist leaders gathered in Tel Aviv to announce the establishment of the state of Israel. 35 of the 37 were born outside Palestine, so it is not surprising that, following the reading of the Declaration, to great applause, David Ben-Gurion, now Israel’s first prime minister, repealed all illegal immigration sections of the Emergency Regulations.
Five days later, on May 19th, the Provisional Council of State, again consisting of 37 members representing various Jewish parties and groups, met to decide what to do about the rest of Britain’s oppressive Emergency Regulations.
One might have thought they would have repealed them.
One would be wrong.
The Emergency Regulations, so hated by the Jewish lawyers, would remain in effect, with the exception of the part dealing with illegal immigration to Palestine. Only now they would be employed, with rare exceptions, against Palestinians.
One lawyer, Shalom Kassan, a judge of Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice, at first refused to apply the regulations, making the common sense argument that, whether directed against Jews or Arabs, these laws “abolish the rights of citizens and, in particular, the control of the competent courts over the actions of the authorities.”
Ultimately, though, it was up to Ben-Gurion to counter this argument; he argued: “We opposed this law of the Mandate government because a foreign government, neither elected by us, nor responsible to us, had given itself the right to detain any one of us without trial. In the present instance the law is being applied by the state of Israel, through a government chosen by the people and responsible to them.” In other words, it was wrong for a foreign power, Great Britain, to enact the Emergency Laws, yet acceptable for the new state of Israel to do so; the Laws themselves, onerous as they may be, were irrelevant to the discussion.
Still the question remains, why did the new state, which promised equal treatment to all its citizens, need such barbaric regulations?
The answer is the Zionist desire for an ethnic state with as much land as possible and the least number of Palestinians as possible; they called this objective Plan D.
This is the operational directive developed in 1947-1948 by the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization, at the order of David Ben-Gurion.
In anticipation of the British withdrawal and implementation of the U.N. Partition Plan, it called for the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages in order to expand the area allocated to the Jewish state in the proposed plan. Specifically, it mandated the “destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris), especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously.” Even as Ben-Gurion was delivering his Declaration of Independence, his brigade commanders were menacing villages and towns with the knowledge and consent of the new prime minister.
When the ethnic cleansing ended — and that’s what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls the operation — some 750,000 Palestinians were homeless. And the Jews, who were allocated 54-55 percent of Mandated Palestine by the U.N. now, after its “war of independence,” controlled 78 percent. Nineteen years later, the Israel Defense Forces, the successor to the Haganah, would occupy the remaining 22 percent. Ben-Gurion’s words, penned in his Diary entry for Feb. 7, 1948, proved perceptive: “The war shall give us the land. The concepts of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are peace concepts only, and they lose their meaning during war.” (Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, 1948, p. 120 diary quote Feb. 1948)
With Plan D, the new state opted to continue to pursue its colonial ambitions. And, taking a page from the departing British, it knew that the first thing required to keep unhappy natives in line was the Crown’s own Emergency Defense Regulations.
Which brings us to our final question: How long can one people endure such nightmarish laws? Sixty-nine years following those fateful days in May 1948, Palestinians continue to suffer under Israeli military rule, day and night, generation after generation. Twice, they have tried to shake off their shackles in the intifadas of 1987 and 2000; some would say a third intifada is smoldering. To this day they remain the longest oppressed people in modern history. Why?
For the answer I need only look in the mirror. As a taxpayer, my tax dollars and those of all U.S. taxpayers have made Israel’s oppression possible. Over the years our military assistance has built this small county into the fourth most powerful one on earth. Our veto at the United Nations has been cast 42 times to shield Israel from draft resolutions that condemned, deplored, demanded, affirmed, endorsed, called on and urged it to obey international law.
Yet the colonizers continue their theft of Palestinian lands, and the Israeli military continues its hellish enforcement of the Emergency Defense Regulations, now enhanced by high-tech weaponry, security systems, and methods of pacification.
Only now Israel is exporting these technologies of control to other governments worldwide that are blurring the lines between military, domestic security agencies, and police in order to suppress the civil and human rights of their people.
So, “ No”. This is far from a 50-year celebration.
This is a reminder that, over the past half-century, a modest, nonprofit, educational organization, with contributions, small and large, from thousands of supporters, knew the truth, and spoke it.
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In Memory Of W. Gary Melin
By Steven Jungkeit
The Wheels Get Rolling
In his literary study “Beginnings,” the late Edward Said cautions against trusting origin stories. He casts doubt on the possibility of achieving a beginning, for any beginning, whether that of a novel or an idea, is always a fictitious proposition. We never begin, really, but only continue, following a story that is already underway. Every story, every idea, every institution, is merely a continuation of what already exists. And yet stories do begin. Journeys are set in motion, even if it is impossible to affix a clear origin of that story, of that journey.
So it is with the Wheels of Justice, a journey that took nearly thirty people through the American South this past October. It’s a journey that began in Old Lyme, Connecticut, one that passed through 12 states, while covering over 3,000 miles. It’s a journey that ended ten days later.
But endings too are to be distrusted, for the aftermath of all we experienced continues to unfold for all of us who participated in it.
But back to the beginning, or at least, the beginning I wish to fasten upon. In a very real sense, the Wheels of Justice journey began in Palestine. I’m a minister at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, and one of the things I’m privileged to do is to lead groups to Palestine in order to witness the human rights abuses occurring in that part of the world, as well as the political, cultural, and spiritual resistance that takes place among people of conscience in that part of the world.
Our journeys operate under the aegis of the Tree of Life, an outgrowth of our community in Old Lyme, though the roots of that tree have now spread to other communities throughout the United States. That image, the Tree of Life, is drawn from the final pages of the New Testament, where the poet, John the Revelator, imagines a tree planted by a river, one whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations.
As I imagine it, that image is an invitation to readers of any and all persuasions to take up that healing work for themselves, as if to say, at the close of that famous book: “This is your work, to tend the tree, and to prevent its roots from being choked by the perennial issues that plague humanity – violence and warfare, hatred and fear, suspicion and theft, cultural erasure and political domination.”
In the West Bank, we often stay at a hotel a block away from the Separation Wall, and I’ve made it a habit to spend a little time studying the graffiti along the wall each time I visit. The images and text change from month to month and from year to year, and I find that it’s a helpful way to document the current of the times. This past January, one of the panels had the slogan “From Ferguson to Palestine” scrawled upon it. It was faded, and several other messages had been written on top of it. It wasn’t a new phrase or insight, but seeing it written upon that wall brought the visceral truth of that phrase home in a new and dramatic way. And it seemed clear that it was time for those of us who care about what’s happening in Palestine to start connecting how the human rights abuses in the Middle East are linked to the abuses that occurred, and are occurring, in the United States.
There are many reasons that the United States continues its ongoing support for the Israeli occupation, but one of the most powerful is surely that to confront what’s happening in Palestine means that we’re required to confront our own history of settler colonialism, our own history of racial subjugation, our own history of genocide and ethnic cleansing, our own history of deriving privilege from the suffering of others.
Standing before that Wall this past January, it seemed all too clear that to claim an allegiance or affinity to Palestine required an equal commitment to dismantling the structures of abuse and privilege that exist here in the United States.
Upon returning, a handful of people within the Tree of Life and the First Congregational Church began to share conversations about what it would mean to connect things up. Eventually, we mapped out a journey that would lead us through Washington, D.C., Charleston, Americus, GA, Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma, Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Cherokee, NC, and Baltimore.
As we talked and planned, we became increasingly convinced that as various struggles for human and civil rights have erupted across the globe in the past several years, each of those struggles was inextricably linked by common challenges and by shared tactics of resistance.
Specifically, we wished to address several contemporary instances of colonial aftershocks: Palestinians struggling to maintain dignity in the face of ethnic cleansing and a military occupation; people of color in the United States facing mass incarceration and police brutality; and Native Americans preserving their traditions in the face of generational trauma and social invisibility.
But we also wished to interrogate the ways those in positions of privilege suffer the consequences of colonialism in their own lives, where conditions of material abundance yield an equal but opposite condition of cultural, spiritual, and moral deprivation.
Our intention was to confront the many dimensions of living in a time when lands, lives, minds, and futures are determined by the logic of occupation, racism, and cultural erasure, all stemming from the violent legacy of colonial control. We wished to design a journey for those who believe that another world is possible, for those who wished to have their spirits and consciences quickened, for those with religion and without it, for those who wanted to see and understand the connections between struggles in two very different parts of the globe.
In the months after that visit to Palestine, we drank countless cups of coffee, all the while sketching an itinerary for those who desired to listen, to witness, and to act against the ongoing legacy of colonialism and its varied aftershocks.
And so on a chilly October morning, the Wheels of Justice travelers boarded three vans, and made our way south. Many of us came from Connecticut, while some came from Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Tennessee. One among us was a member of the Lakota tribe, and had recently arrived from the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota.
We stayed in budget motels, checking in late and checking out early. We ate on the run, on roadsides, in parking lots, and sometimes, when we were lucky, in fabulous barbecue shops, hot chicken shacks, and legendary soul food joints.
We were moved to tears by what we encountered, and sobered by the struggles that still exist in this country. We came away chastened and horrified by some of the things we witnessed. For a time, it was difficult to speak about the journey, or to write about it.
But we also came away powerfully affected by the people we met, by the stories we heard, by the history that was opened to us. We came away inspired by the courage, tenacity, and creativity of so many whom we encountered along the way, which functioned as an antidote to the sense of despair that might otherwise have set in on such a journey.
What I’d like to do in the coming pages is to describe some of what our Wheels of Justice participants experienced. My account won’t be comprehensive. It won’t provide an exacting description of the journey. It will, however, dwell on several crucial moments along the way, moments that draw Palestine, the Black Freedom Movement, and Native American struggles into sharper relief. Charleston shall be our first destination.
Charleston: A Tale of Two Cities
In truth, it’s two cities I have in mind, not one. And it’s two scenes I’d like to recount, separated in time and space, but joined by a common ideological thread.
One scene unfolds in Charleston. The other rises out of Hebron, one of the most bitter and contested zones in the occupied territories of Palestine. Both cities, and both scenes, are well known and heavily documented, but they are rarely understood as connected, one to the other. For all their external differences, I would propose Charleston and Hebron as sister cities, joined by the traumatic aftershocks of settler colonialism, but also joined by a tenacity of spirit that somehow, in some way, manages to shine through all that pain.
The first scene took place on June 17, 2015, in the city of Charleston. On that steamy summer evening, a young man named Dylann Roof entered Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston and attended a Bible study.
Mother Emanuel is one of the oldest and most historic black congregations in the United States, dating back to the early years of the 19th century. Dylann Roof was welcomed into the community that night, and he sat for nearly an hour as participants at the Bible study shared their insights. When the minister, Rev. Clementa Pinckney called for prayer, those gathered bowed their heads. It was then that Roof stood up and opened fire, killing 9 members of Mother Emanuel.
The second scene took place on February 25, 1994 in the city of Hebron, some twenty miles south of Jerusalem. Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, and one of the most fiercely controlled by the Israeli military in all of the occupied territories. That status has to do with the presence of the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the center of the city, a fact that renders the city immensely desirable to Israeli settlers.
On that day in 1994, an Israeli physician named Baruch Goldstein walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque, a place of Muslim worship immediately adjacent to a synagogue, which shares the site. It was Ramadan, and nearly 800 Muslim worshipers had gathered to pray alongside the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Goldstein was dressed in military fatigues that allowed him to pass as an IDF soldier. He entered the mosque and waited until the moment that worshipers knelt, their heads prostrate on the floor. He then opened fire, killing 29 people and injuring 125 others.
The Charleston and Hebron incidents are separated by two decades, by thousands of miles, and by very different cultural settings. Yet they both testify to the brutal legacy of settler colonialism being played out in different parts of the globe.
Goldstein wished to “purify” Israel of its Arab population, arguing as far back as 1981 in The New York Times that in order to achieve security and stability, Israel must work to remove any Arabs from within its borders.
Emigrating to Israel from Brooklyn only intensified Goldstein’s hatred, leading to a series of incidents that culminated in his attack. From refusing to treat patients of Palestinian descent in the emergency room in which he worked, to defacing the property of the Ibrahimi Mosque prior to the shooting, Goldstein signaled his antipathy to Palestinians for years prior to that fateful day in 1994.
Tellingly, in the aftermath of the massacre, Israeli settlers in Hebron constructed a shrine to Goldstein’s violence, a place for pilgrims to venerate Goldstein’s act. Though the shrine has now been removed, Goldstein’s grave is still prominently located in Kiryat Arba, the settlement on the outskirts of Hebron in which he lived and worked. When I visited the site in 2015, I saw stones resting upon the flat face of the grave, a sign of honor and respect. It’s one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.
Dylann Roof was also animated by notions of racial and national purity. He wished to reassert the dominance of the white race, appearing in photos alongside the colonial flag of Rhodesia, a symbol of white dominance over an African population. In the lead up to the murders, he studied sites around South Carolina important to African Americans, and he knew well the symbolic significance of Mother Emanuel as a site of black freedom.
No shrine will ever be constructed for Dylann Roof, but it’s notable that his actions took place in a city where numerous Southern Confederates are enshrined. Not only that, when family and friends of the victims at Mother Emanuel gathered in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, they were taken to the Embassy Inn and Suites Hotel just down the street, located in an historic building first used by the Citadel, South Carolina’s revered military academy. The Citadel was founded in 1842 to reassure a skittish white population that they would be protected by a military presence if a slave uprising occurred in the city. Ironically, the triage center used on June 17th testified to an earlier racial history that has still not been resolved. The hotel, like the shooting itself, is an aftershock of settler colonialism.
The Wheels of Justice travelers converged on Charleston on the second day of our journey. Some of us had been to Hebron, and had seen the scars that still lay upon that city. But that night in Charleston, it was that terrible June night a little more than a year earlier that was on our minds.
Some of us listened to a short talk about the history of Mother Emanuel shortly after we arrived, and our guide shook his head when the subject of Palestine came up. “I don’t think that problem will ever be solved,” he sighed. “Same thing with race in America,” he continued. “I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of that. It’s the same in both cases, America and Palestine. We know that sooner or later, some kind of hate and violence is going to rain down, as sure as we know the rain’s going to fall here in Charleston. The best we can do is to make a kind of umbrella that can give us a little shelter when it does rain down. That’s what this church is. That’s what it has been. Though sometimes the rain falls hardest on us.”
Not long after that conversation, we sat in the very fellowship hall where that Bible study had taken place in June 2015, and where all that hateful rain had fallen upon the Emanuel 9. Though we were all acutely aware of our surroundings and what had occurred there, we shared a delicious meal with members of the Mother Emanuel congregation. The conversations between us were tentative at first, and there was no mistaking that we were in a space marked by profound pain.
But there was also a sense of warmth and joy in that room, even amidst the pain. At the end of the evening, the choir from Mother Emanuel stood up and sang an old gospel hymn that left everyone in the room uplifted and inspired. It was called “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” The refrain goes: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
Those words use the ancient language of religion to upbuild and uphold the dignity and worth of black humanity in a country, and in a city, that has vacillated between indifference and open hostility for centuries. It was a way of claiming and reclaiming a space that had been desecrated by the aftershocks of settler colonialism.
As we sang along, my thoughts drifted to the times I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron with Muslim friends. They face in the direction of Mecca, and place their foreheads against the ground in a gesture of humility and devotion. Witnessing their prayers is to witness a claiming and reclaiming of life. It is to witness a sacred space being reclaimed as sacred, after undergoing unspeakable trauma.
In both settings, those acts of prayer function as profound acts of resistance to the aftershocks of settler colonialism.
Global Pacification in Atlanta
On the fourth day of our journey, we were privileged to visit Emory University, and to hear from Elizabeth Corrie, a professor of youth education, who also works on issues related to Palestine.
Beth is the cousin of Rachel Corrie, who was murdered in 2003 when she stood her ground before a bulldozer destroying a Palestinian home. Rachel’s death was a catalyst for Beth, and she began immersing herself in the Palestinian struggle. These days, Beth also runs a summer program in Atlanta called the Youth Theological Initiative, an innovative and interdisciplinary seminar that helps high school students attend to the best and most prophetic insights within the various traditions they might belong to. She was exactly the person to connect the threads that needed to be connected between Palestine and the United States.
Beth began her presentation by screening a video entitled “When I See Them, I See Us.” It makes a powerful visual connection between the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle against the occupation in Palestine. Shots of armored police in Ferguson are interspersed with images of armored IDF soldiers in the West Bank, of protesters along the Separation Wall in Bethlehem, and of young people in various American cities protesting their own seclusions and vulnerabilities.
Beth went on to observe that connections between Palestine and the Black Freedom Movement aren’t new. She noted that SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, had made that connection in 1967 in one of their newsletters. She noted that while Martin Luther King openly endorsed Israel, identifying Zionists as the oppressed, Malcolm X drew connections between black life in America and Palestine, going so far as to visit Gaza at one point.
She read us poems written by black Americans and Palestinians in the 1980s and 1990s, as those communities recognized their common struggles. And she noted the ways those commonalities became all too apparent recently.
No doubt there are powerful differences, and no doubt the struggle in Palestine is not identical to the struggles occurring throughout the United States right now. No doubt. But the similarities are too overwhelming to ignore.
So what are the ways these issues are connected? How do our own domestic practices mirror what we see going on in Palestine?
Start with land. We know well that the same process of land expropriation and ethnic cleansing used against Palestinians was used here in the United States against Native Americans. That’s one of the reasons U.S. citizens cite when trying to dismiss the claims of Palestinians — it needed to happen in order to get where we are, and well, who can argue with the march of progress?
But closer to the present, we also know that Palestinian protesters tweeted advice to protesters in Ferguson when tear gas was sprayed, sharing with young people in a St. Louis suburb some of the hard-earned wisdom that comes with life under occupation. Similarly, after the tear gas was fired, protesters in both locations compared notes, and discovered that the same tear gas used in the West Bank was being used in Ferguson. A U.S. company called Combined Systems, Inc., located in Pennsylvania, manufactures that gas. Empty shells were also discovered in Cairo, Egypt, after police clashed with protesters in Tahrir Square.
But the connections continue. It’s been well documented that U.S. police forces have steadily been militarized for the past 30 years in response to the War on Drugs,, so that it’s easy to mistake images from Charlotte or Baton Rouge for images from the West Bank.
We know that police all across our country routinely receive training in Israel on ways to pacify street protesters, and we also know that police brutality is as endemic here in the United States as it is in Israel, with particular force being reserved for children and teenagers, who are routinely incarcerated and yes, tortured.
We know that mass incarceration has been a strategy employed in both countries to eliminate resistance, and we know that security companies like G4S have made enormous profits in Israel and the United States alike. In fact, G4S has been employed by allies of the Dakota Access Pipeline project to intimidate the water protectors at Standing Rock, a scene that now also resembles the militarized zones of our urban centers, and of the West Bank.
And we know that all of this thrives under a regime of structural racism, which legitimates and fuels the separations and tensions, the violence and divisions, all the more.
The connections are real. As important as the realization that the issues are connected, however, is the question of why they’re connected. Here, Jeff Halper’s work on global pacification systems is extremely relevant. In his recent book “War Against the People, “ Halper argues that the connections people like Beth Corrie are rightly discerning between Palestine, the Black Freedom Movement, and the protests at Standing Rock have to do with strategies of containment on the part of a global elite, concerned about maintaining a particular financial system upon dispersed but interconnected peoples whose lives have been rendered precarious. Under that regime, various populations have become extraneous to the smooth functioning of powerful political economies, whether from the collapse of industrial labor or from the effects of settler land grabs.
Tellingly, Palestinians, Native Americans, and African Americans have all been subject to that dynamic as large swaths of different populations in different locales and in different historical eras have been prevented from participating in a mainstream economy, thus creating populations and geographies of political unrest. (That dynamic has now caught up with working class white folks as well, a dynamic that was exploited to great effect in the election rhetoric of Donald Trump.)
Typically, the solution to potential unrest has been containment, using a strict spatial control: the reservation (supplemented by the prison), the ghetto (supplemented by the prison), or an occupied territory (supplemented by the prison or the detention center).
But when those populations grow ever more restive, as they must, more extreme measures are required. Halper traces the rise of an entire global industry meant to subdue and control populations that have become superfluous to the functioning of global capitalism, from surveillance technologies to the construction of detention centers, from weaponized police forces to tactical training in urban warfare and the intimidation of ordinary citizens. Halper argues that what we’re witnessing in the present isn’t so much the proletarianization of the world, but the Palestinianization of the globe, where Palestine functions as a laboratory for global pacification strategies. Those strategies are then treated as commodities on the world market, as other countries, from Brazil to China to India to the United States, prevent their own “extraneous” populations from achieving a full throated revolution.
The connection that Beth Corrie is making between Black Lives Matter and Palestine, coupled with Jeff Halper’s trenchant social analysis of global pacification systems, is alarming to confront.
But confront it we must. When I conclude services in my own congregation, I typically urge people to go out into the world in peace, having courage. That night in Atlanta, it wasn’t peace that I hoped our Wheels of Justice travelers would feel. And so I urged them to go into the world agitated, outraged, and shaken. I urged them to go into the world not filled with peace, but upset, troubled, broken hearted, and impassioned. It was late by the time we departed Emory, but I didn’t wish our travelers an untroubled night of sleep. I wished them a night that was restless and disturbed. I wished them minds unquieted by all we had learned.
The following day found us in Montgomery, Alabama. We rolled off Interstate 65 and headed toward downtown, close to the state capitol building where Martin Luther King had spoken following the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, close to the place that Rosa Parks had boarded the bus a decade earlier, refusing to yield her seat, all within the city in which the civil rights movement had achieved its first public victory.
But it wasn’t any of the city’s historical locations that drew us. We were interested in visiting the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal defense firm founded by Bryan Stevenson, author of the book Just Mercy. EJI is located in the center of Montgomery, on Commerce Street, so named because of the commercial enterprise that once dominated Montgomery’s civic life: the slave trade. A marker just outside of the EJI offices tells how in the 18th and 19th centuries, human captives were taken off boats on the Alabama River and marched through the center of town, on Commerce Street, to be sold at auction. Stevenson and his team of lawyers have planted similar markers throughout Montgomery, with more to come, as a way of helping the community, and the country, grapple with the traumatic legacy of the slave trade. Stevenson’s thesis is that until we actually confront that violent history, we’ll never be enabled to create the just and humane present that many people actually desire.
In addition to the historical markers that EJI is placing around the city, the organization has also started a large public display dedicated to confronting the history of lynching in the South. Over 4000 men, women, and children were lynched under a regime of racial terror in the 19th and 20th centuries, and prior to EJI’s work, no detailed public recognition of those events had taken place. And so, after walking through a corridor of offices, we were invited into a large lecture hall, the back wall of which was given over to shelves of glass jars, each containing soil of various colors and hues, each containing a name. The soil had been collected from sites around the state of Alabama where lynchings were known to have taken place. Through painstaking research, EJI identified the names of those who had died, and matched the names with locations. Following that, teams of people had visited each location, bringing back earth from each site, placing it in one of the jars, where it is now displayed within EJI’s offices. It’s hard to convey how visceral that display is. It’s hard to convey the sorrow that arises as one stands surveying all those names, imagining all the terror and pain that each of those jars somehow contained.
Still harder to convey is what happened next. EJI’s primary mission is to offer legal defense to those who have been wrongfully or unfairly sentenced to death or life in prison. That work is born from the conviction that America’s legacy of racial terror didn’t cease with the civil rights era, and isn’t limited to isolated outbursts such as the shooting that occurred in Charleston. It now occurs through the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration, where human lives that have been deemed to be extraneous to global capital are warehoused, and then abandoned. Indeed, the rise of the prison industrial complex is a significant piece of the global pacification strategy that Jeff Halper details in his work, as neoliberal governments seek to contain populations deemed extraneous to the smooth function of economic processes. Since the mid-1970s in America, prisons have been used to warehouse predominantly black and brown bodies, though in many locales, that industry has now caught up with white populations as well. Nevertheless, the fact remains that people of color are most vulnerable to that system, falling prey to it at an alarming rate. EJI works to address those injustices by taking on legal cases of those who received inadequate representation in earlier trials.
After witnessing the soil project that documents lynchings, we were shown a news clip about a man named Anthony Ray Hinton. Hinton had been wrongfully accused of murder in 1985. Despite overwhelming evidence that would have exonerated him had he been given adequate legal assistance, he was sentenced to death. As a result of EJI’s involvement, Mr. Hinton’s case was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, which overturned his sentence after 30 years. It was a moving story. What shocked us was that when the news clip ended, Mr. Hinton himself walked into the room. For the next hour, he shared his story in full.
He described how, on the day of his arrest, he had been out cutting the grass at the house he shared with his mother. He described how, after his arrest, he assumed the matter would be cleared up with a few easy phone calls that would establish that he was nowhere near the crime scene on the night of the murder. He described how, when he attempted to explain himself, the sheriff responded that he simply didn’t care. In careful and measured tones, Mr. Hinton recounted how the sheriff told him that it didn’t matter whether he committed the crime or not. An all white jury and a white judge will insure that you receive the death sentence, the sheriff told Mr. Hinton. Indeed, the sheriff’s words came to pass. Beginning in 1985, Mr. Hinton took up residence in a 7×5 foot cell, spending the better part of thirty years in solitude. Mr. Hinton described how he devised methods to preserve his sanity, letting his imagination roam in flights of fancy in which he visited far flung locales, and met with notable individuals who reminded him of his own dignity and worth. When he spoke, his eyes were fixed not upon us, really, but upon what seemed to be a fathomless abyss that opened as he recounted the details of his ordeal. He broke down in tears often.
Two details linger. The first is that his confinement hasn’t ended, not really. Mr. Hinton shared that one of the first things he did upon being released was to buy a king sized bed to stretch out in. He thought it would feel magnificent. What he discovered was that his body was so accustomed to sleeping in the fetal position, his knees pulled up close to his chest (as necessitated by the measurements of his cell), that he still slept that way, as if confined. So too, he shared that upon his release, he dreamed of being able to shower for as long as he wished and whenever he wished. Sadly, the bodily discipline exerted upon him in prison carried forth into his freedom, so that he only feels comfortable showering every other day, and for a brief instant. In ways large and small, Mr. Hinton’s confinement continues, despite the relief of his release.
The second detail is this. He emphasized that though the state had taken away his freedom, though the state had robbed him of 30 years of his life, he said that they could never take away his joy. It was a paradoxical statement, for he uttered those words as tears flowed down his face. Joy, for Mr. Hinton, is clearly a quality different from happiness, one that is quite compatible with sorrow. It is also compatible with forgiveness. Mr. Hinton stressed that in order to preserve the best parts of his humanity, it was necessary for him to forgive those who subjected him to his ordeal. He did so not to eliminate the need for justice, but to insure that his own soul wasn’t degraded and diminished by what had been done to him.
In Palestine, I learned a word from a literary scholar living in Bethlehem, a wise and learned man named Qustandi Shomali. He spoke about the “pessioptimism” of the Palestinian people, who are acquainted with the worst that can befall human lives, while also maintaining a steadfast commitment to living lives filled with dignity, justice, compassion, and hope. From within the very space of tragedy, Palestinians have, by and large, managed to resist the daily humiliations of occupation by preserving that within themselves that is capable of generosity and celebration, hospitality and laughter, forgiveness and yes, joy. In Palestine, as in Montgomery, there exists a joy that no military occupation or racist criminal justice system can ever destroy.
If it ever came to pass that Mr. Hinton was able to visit Palestine and to share his story, I believe that many in Palestine would instinctively recognize the absurdity to which Mr. Hinton was subjected. And if those in Palestine could share their stories with Mr. Hinton, I have a hunch he would instinctively recognize the pessioptimism that so characterizes the people I have encountered throughout the West Bank. I tend to believe that they would understand one another as companions, separated by geography, but joined by a common oppressor, and by common strategies of soulful resistance. Commerce Street, it turns out, is a road that leads to the Occupied Territories.
Flash of the Spirit
One of the travelers on the Wheels of Justice journey was a man named Travis Harden, a member of the Lakota Native American tribe, and lately, a resident at the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I’ve been privileged to spend time with Travis in Palestine and in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Travis participated in the American Indian Movement (AIM) back in the 1970’s, and is a nephew of Russell Means, one of the leaders of that movement. And so Travis has a powerful appreciation for the ways the United States and Israel are linked not only by racism, but by the history of settler colonialism, where native and indigenous populations are displaced in order to make room for a dominant settler population.
These days, Travis makes a living through his art, selling paintings and other crafts that he makes. But he’s also a gifted musician, teaching Lakota songs to young people especially, but really to anyone willing to learn. That’s a large part of what he does at the Standing Rock Camp, but it was also a distinctive gift that he brought to the Wheels of Justice journey.
At Mother Emanuel, and at Koinonia Farm, at the annual meeting for the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, in Memphis beside the Mississippi River and in Cherokee, North Carolina, where one of the most egregious incidents of ethnic cleansing against an indigenous population took place, Travis shared his songs. He kept time with a small drum that he made, and his voice boomed across the traffic or the crowds that often surrounded him. In the oral tradition to which Travis belongs, songs become embodied memory, embodied liturgy, embodied prayer.
Travis’s presence was also a continual reminder that the aftershocks of settler colonialism aren’t limited to human populations alone. Indeed, one of the most significant aftershocks of settler colonialism has been damage done to the environment.
Those issues are dramatically displayed in Israel and Palestine, for every time we visit the Jordan River, or visit the Dead Sea, we confront the ways in which environmental resources are squandered in order to benefit a settler population. And as with the Dakota Access Pipeline project, as often as not, it’s indigenous or other minority populations that are exposed to the greatest hazards of settler colonialism. In North Dakota, the pipeline was originally deemed too dangerous to pass through the city of Bismarck, and so those hazards were removed to the Standing Rock Reservation. In Israel and Palestine, it’s Palestinian water sources that are most often fouled by run off or sewage from Israeli settlements. It’s clean drinking water that is often diverted from Palestinian rivers and wells in order to fill swimming pools within settlements, or to make the Negev bloom. Human populations suffer because of those decisions, but the natural world suffers as well. Travis’s songs were continual reminders of the ways settler colonialism and its aftershocks damage all manner of relationships, including that between humanity and the natural world.
Aliya Cycon was another of our Wheels of Justice travelers, a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston. As a result of a long stay in Palestine, living in places like Ramallah and Jenin, Aliya took up the oud, first as a hobby, then as a passionate student, and now as a vocation. Like Travis, Aliya understands the power of music to move mountains, and people as well. She understands that the oud is a way of calling forth the world of spirit, of providing soul within difficult or painful situations. Aliya learned her art, in part at least, from those who knew that preserving and protecting that which was best in themselves would come through an ancient form of music. Aliya drew upon that world when she performed for our group in Charleston on the morning after our visit with Mother Emanuel, and she did so in Atlanta, after we heard Beth Corrie’s trenchant analysis.
On the final night of our journey, Aliya and Travis joined together, and sang a song of lament. It was a song originally composed for Aliya’s grandmother, but in that moment, it widened to include a lament for all we had witnessed on our journey. It was a lament for those who were slain at Mother Emanuel, and those who were left behind to grapple with what had happened. It was a lament for all of those in Palestine who suffer under a military occupation. It was a lament for those at Standing Rock, standing to protect their land and their water. It was a lament for Mr. Hinton, and all he had suffered. It was a lament for those individuals, and for so many others. Travis and Aliya’s blended voices became a powerful symbol of the interconnections of the many struggles we confronted. But it became more than that to me. Their performance together became a symbol of the fusion of spirit and soul among the populations most powerfully affected by the aftershocks of settler colonialism. Their song was a flash of the spirit that signified the capacity to resist and revolt, and to create moments of beauty and grace even under immense pressure.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So what is to be done? Where do we go from here?
Those are the questions that were on our minds as we traveled, learning from the legacy of the civil rights movement, while also learning about the profound work that’s taking place throughout our country right now.
In Charleston, at Mother Emanuel church, we were reminded of the power of hospitality and forgiveness.
In Beaufort, SC, we were reminded of the power of sacred storytelling in order to keep the human spirit alive.
In Koinonia we were reminded of the power of community and shared life.
In Atlanta we were given reminders of the need for research, reading, and joining the connective threads across various struggles. We were reminded of the need to create an entirely new economic paradigm.
In Montgomery we were given lessons on the importance of memory, and the importance of activism. We were told by a man who spent 30 years in prison on a wrongful conviction that even though the authorities had taken his freedom, they could not take his joy.
In Muscle Shoals we learned about the marvelous power of song for uplifting the human spirit.
In Birmingham and Memphis, but really everywhere, we learned about the power of the written and spoken word, and we learned about the importance of feeding our bodies and souls with good food.
We didn’t do Cherokee the justice it deserved, but everywhere we went, Travis Harden reminded us of the Standing Rock protests, and the power of prayer when it comes to confronting past and present injustices.
And in Selma, in Selma, we heard from a minister named Leodis Strong who confessed to his own despair at times, but who told us that he still is listening to the voices that call to him from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, all those courageous people that put themselves on the line to make a better world for themselves and for their children. He told us that it hasn’t been easy in Selma, but that he remains committed to the work of caring for his people, committed to the work represented by that march in 1965, committed to preaching the good news in a city that, for all of its symbolic prestige, counts the local Wal-Mart as the only viable gathering place for people in town. Leodis Strong was but one voice. Even so, his was a reminder not only of the burdens of the work before us, but of the necessity of it as well.
Those of us who embarked upon the Wheels of Justice journey returned home in a state of exhaustion, but also acknowledging that something profound had occurred along the way. I was, I am, haunted by what we saw and heard. And I am certain that Edward Said was right all those year ago in his literary study, Beginnings. We don’t really begin at all. We join a story that’s already underway, in medias res. If that’s true, then it’s also true that stories, and journeys, can never really settle at a resting point. They continue to unfold, ignoring feeble temporal boundaries like beginnings, and endings.
The Wheels of Justice, then, shall continue to turn.