Seeing Israel Through Different EyesPosted on October 30th, 2012.
Nir Wolf, Yisrael Hayom
Israel’s continued strength as a country requires support from around the world. Many with a love for and a unique bond to Israel are standing beside us, even though they are not Israeli citizens or Jewish. Recently, several of these supporters attended a special convention to learn how to advocate for the Jewish people and their land in the midst of hostile public opinion, unflattering press, and estranged academia. Among the participants was a young Palestinian woman who openly shared her perspective: “I had doubts…but now I am in a position where I want to speak for Israel. I eagerly anticipate the day that I have the confidence to start talking to my own people, the Palestinians.”
Last August, more than 60 “believers,” as they call themselves, came together at a quiet farm located 15 miles from Oxford for a convention to learn how to better advocate for Israel, attending lectures, films, and discussion panels over three days. While some only came for the lectures, others stayed for the entire weekend, and a few young “believers” even camped at the duck pond adjacent to the farm. The farm’s location is solitary and rural. A horse barn greets visitors at the entrance and, regardless of where one looks, everything in sight is green. English, French, Canadian, Pakistani, Mexican, and even Palestinian people were among the conference attendees. All participants had this in common: they believe in Jesus, God, in every word written in the Bible, and in the importance of the Jewish people and the country of Israel.
Most of the conference attendees are members of networks and communities in their home countries that strongly support Israel; many are involved in pro-Israel organizations in Europe. They have a close relationship with Israel that they have cultivated through previous visits to Israel, studies here, volunteer work, and travel to holy sites.
“I have always loved Israel, mostly because of my faith. For me, it is proof; maybe it’s silly, but you open the Bible and see Israel everywhere,” explains 48 year-old Greg, a French professor from Montpellier University who works with European Coalition for Israel (ECI). “It started with my parents, who supported Israel long before I did. I wanted to learn at the Hebrew University, as it is one of the best places in the world for mathematical studies, and I was attracted to life in Jerusalem and wanted to know more about this city. During my studies, I realized all kinds of things and started to understand that what you hear and read about Israel is not necessarily true. I researched how this false information is damaging Israel and the situation there.
“All of the colleagues and students around me know about my connection to Israel, but I can see in their reactions that there is still something they don’t understand. They are surprised because they don’t see the entire picture. I have Arab Muslim students, and I never hide the fact that I studied at the Hebrew University and am always nice to them. They must think something is odd about me. Sometimes they think I am Jewish, and I don’t always correct them. Why should I? If I were a Jew, I’d have nothing to be ashamed about, so I see it as an honor that people think that of me.”
“The majority of the professors are against Israel. My eccentric opinions clearly may harm my advancement in my field, but I don’t want to let that affect me.” Ria Manuel, a 26 year-old from London who holds a master’s degree from the Hebrew University and who manages to conduct half of the conversation in Hebrew, also routinely faces unpleasant reactions to her sympathies with Israel, yet she is open with her perspective. “One of my friends, who heard that I plan to travel to Israel soon, claimed that Israel is responsible for most of the problems in the world. I ignored him. I didn’t even have the strength to respond.” She lived in Israel for 8 months and observed, “The thing I remember most from that period is the living cost. It was very hard for me to survive there financially, as the food and nearly all the expenses were very high. It was in 2009, and at least the prices have gone down since. Taxi drivers kept trying to fool me.”
“It’s no secret that the academic community in England and in Europe has become more and more anti-Israel and is accepting of anti-Semitic expressions. The participants in this conference feel it. They are Israel-loving Christians, and they have a connection to Israel through their faith in the Bible,” explains 38 year-old lawyer, Calev Myers, the founder of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and a speaker at the convention. “A student sits in a seminar and listens to a lecturer tell his students a specific story from a very pro-Palestinian perspective, and he wants to be able to raise his hand and say, ‘Excuse me, that’s not exactly what’s happening, and these are actually the facts.’ They feel helpless. They want to help and be heard for Israel, but they don’t have the tools, so they came to me to equip them to advocate for Israel on their campuses and to counter this phenomenon. I am presenting information in both a Christian and academic framework in order to help them towards those ends.”
Born and raised in Pakistan, 25 year-old Y. recently traveled to England on a tourist visa. “I was supposed to attend a Christian business conference, but I got my visa late and missed it. Then friends invited me to this conference, so I came,” he says. In Pakistan, Y. is an active member of the church, walks from house to house praying for people, teaches at schools, and works in the home products field. Before attending the conference, Younis had learned about Israel mostly from reading the Old and New Testaments and still believed that people in Israel ride camels and that Israeli women walk around with their face veiled.
“All of my life, I had never left Pakistan, a country that is comprised mostly of Muslims– Christians represent maybe four percent – and that is therefore supportive of other Muslim countries. As a Christian, life there was not easy, because we are associated with Jews and America. In Pakistan, people hardly talk about Israel. The only ones who do are politicians who see the Zionists and America as their biggest enemy, and politicians control all the media, of course.”
“During these past few months after arriving in Britain, I have become more interested in Israel. Israel is mentioned in the Bible over and over again, and Israel is often discussed in the realm of politics because of its threats to attack Iran and for Iran’s threats against it. Israel gets a lot of attention from the world. Jews have a strong influence there; most of the banks and the economy are under Jewish control. I need a better understanding of the Jews and Israel and how we Christians are connected to them and what God has planned for them and for us.” “My passport allows me to fly to every country in the world, except for Israel. As Pakistanis, we are not allowed to do business with Israel, and we are definitely prohibited from traveling there. I would love to see all of the holy sites, if only I were allowed.”
How do you plan on helping Israel? “Foremost, I will pray; that is my first weapon. Prayer makes things happen that will not happen if we do not pray. If you want to help, you can support things that support the cause, and attending this convention and gaining a better understanding of what is going on is one of them.”
Can you advocate for Israel in Pakistan? “If I tell people in Pakistan that I support Israel, especially if I say it in a public place, I would instantly become an enemy. It is a Muslim country, and they can kill me and my entire family. You can never know. It is very dangerous.”
After a typical English breakfast of sausage and beans, those present at the event gathered in the conference room at the farm. In the corner, small booths sold books and materials relating to the Holy Land. There was an Israeli flag prominently placed behind the speaker’s podium, and around the conference room were dozens of English Bibles, menorahs, and even shofars (rams’ horns). The evening event began with praise and worship, accompanied by a guitar, a violin, and an organ. The participants stood and sang together, often with eyes closed, immersed in prayer. Martin Charlesworth, a pastor from the Shrewsbury Church, opened up for the speakers by reading verses from the Bible and outlining the connection between the Jews and the Old Testament for the Christian audience.
Next was David Noakes, an author of several books on Israel, who explained that “Jesus’ intention was to bring the two religions together; therefore, Christians must keep his promise to God. Throughout history, the church has stood against Judaism. It has claimed that Jews are the devil, it has kept them away from churches, and it has even promoted and legitimized anti-Semitism.” Noakes described how the Catholic Church never condemned Hitler and his actions and how Nazism was derived from anti-Semitic theories from the second and third centuries AD: “The church said that Jews do not have a right to live among Christians, and the Nazis said that Jews do not have a right to live.”
Reality is sobering.
The audience watched a historical film portraying the failure of the English to help the Jews during World War II and their interference with the Jewish cause. During the film, some in the audience held their heads, and others turned away with shame in their eyes.
The next lecture was given by Calev Myers, a lawyer from Israel, during which there was not an empty seat in the room. Myers has been traveling and advocating for Israel around the world for three years, trying to succeed where the Foreign Ministry has failed. He founded the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) as a foundation for human rights and social justice and quickly realized that it is “one of the only organizations of this kind that does not blame the occupation for all of the humanitarian problems in Israel. As a Zionist organization, we volunteered to improve the country’s image and to portray a more precise and balanced picture of the Palestinian conflict.”
JIJ has organized events, protests and lectures advocating for Israel in a variety of places, from Geneva to New York and has fought against the description of Israel as an apartheid state. “We wrote a report on human rights of Palestinians under the Palestinian governmental authorities, which actually reveals the fact that their own governments commit the worst human rights violations against the Palestinian people. The Palestinian governments prevent their constituents from enjoying freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to organize rallies. Additionally, they impair women’s and children’s rights, conduct illegal arrests, and execute people because of their political views. We protested against the fact that large organizations such as the European Parliament and the US Congress send hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the Palestinian Authority without leveraging this financial aid to promote human rights and without demanding reform. We see this as a two-faced message.”
Born in Pennsylvania, Myers made Aliyah to Israel at the age of 18, at the convention he spoke of the vast numbers of people making Aliyah to Israel in the past two decades. Additionally, he described the grads and qassams (military rockets) frequently launched from Gaza, he presented statistics about fatalities and the injured, and he addressed the question of why Orthodox Jews don’t serve in the army. Myers’ Christian audience consumed this information enthusiastically and flooded him with questions such as: “How do you react to a Jewish man who says that you can’t support an apartheid country?”, “Where can I find reports in the media that show the other side as well?”, and “How do I answer someone who claims that Zionism is the basis against peace and that it rejects the notion of two countries?”
Myers’ love for Israel began within his home. Through his mother, he became involved in the Christian Friends of Israel movement and has been working with them for seven years now.
Christian Lenard from Eastbourne, who was at the conference selling Israeli books and souvenirs, also works with the organization. Lenard commented, “In Europe, there aren’t many evangelical Christians, and there is a small pro-Israel minority. Accordingly, it is necessary to go from church to church to fight anti-Semitism, and that is what our organization does.” He continued, “Just like there are different kinds of Orthodox, Chassidic and Chabad Jews, so there are different kinds of Christians, and it is important for us to explain this. We are not missionaries. I see it as a privilege that I can help the Jewish people.” “I am crazy, and I love hummus so much,” manages Lenard in Hebrew before switching back to English. “I go to the Orthodox temple from time to time. I love learning Torah. The people there know that I am a Christian, and they are all nice to me, except for one Chassidic from Chabad. I try to celebrate the Jewish holidays of Hanukah, Passover, and Yom Kippur. I fasted at 9 of Av. I drank this past time, but in the past, I have gone through Yom Kippur without eating or drinking at all. It’s hard, how the hell do they do it in Israel?”
The person at the conference who received the most attention was a small and reserved 24 year-old from Bethlehem who bore the Union Jack flag on her tank top. In this article, we will call her Maria, and you will soon understand why. “This is a strange story, but it started only ten months ago,” she began. “I was born at the end of the first intifada to a Christian-Palestinian family. My house was on a crowded street that ran between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Orthodox Jews would come around, and as a child I remember selling them items from my family’s business. I grew up in a rich household, and my family had guests over all the time—different people from different communities. We used to take vacations in northern Israel and Tel Aviv and go camping in Tiberias. When I was about 12, the Second Intifada started. Israeli soldiers closed one side of the street, and the area became very tense. When the Palestinians started to rebel, the soldiers closed our other end of the street as well.”
“We were in the middle of renovating the house at the time,” continues Maria. “My parents had invested all of their savings in doing this, and in one moment all the work was lost. The area became a closed military territory, and a military camp was set up five meters from our house. From the moment the soldiers occupied our home, they walked in and out at will, and my father was taken to prison. Every time the soldiers changed shifts, they would come into our house, clear us out and then search the house, even in the middle of the night. I am a very strong sleeper, and a few times unsuccessful attempts to wake me that lasted several minutes, my mother begged the soldiers to let me sleep. They refused, went up to stairs to my room, and started yelling and screaming and aiming guns at me to wake me in the middle of the night.
“I lost a good friend who the soldiers shot by mistake. Financially, my family was broke. We had no food, and we were living on bread because we couldn’t leave the house. At the age of 14, I saw bodies, lots of bodies, and brains leaking out. Lots of blood. It became a part of my life. Our house was full of bullets, and I learned to tell the difference between the bullets belonging to the Israelis and the ones belonging to the Palestinians. As a child, I didn’t know who to blame, but everyone around me was against Israel.”
“They hide the truth.”
Some time after the wall was built around Maria’s family’s house, teenage Maria decided to study law. She went to school in Ramallah and Abu Dis, and she met an academic named Howard Stern from Brighton, England. He showed her that the Bible says the land belongs to the Jewish people. “I felt that the truth had been concealed from me because we weren’t allowed to read the Bible; it’s against the law. I started to ask questions, and I began to understand the truth. Howard took me to Yad Vashem. Until then, I had only heard the word ‘holocaust’ at school, but I didn’t know more than that. I saw that Jews had gone through terrible things, and I understood there are reasons that the Israelis behave this way.
“When I began reading the Bible, I saw that people hated the Jews and killed them only because God loved them. They have been here for 3,000 years. The Palestinians arrived here from Cyprus and started to clash with the Jews. After that, I realized that though we are an occupied nation, there had never actually been a Palestinian country. When the chance was presented for us to control the West Bank, we couldn’t even manage that. That is how my feelings and thoughts began to change.”
“I had doubts, and even hated myself for feeling like that, but now I am in a position where I want to speak for Israel. The moment I started saying the truth in Bethlehem, that this land belongs to the Israelis, I instantly received death threats and had to run away. I left my home six months ago with an empty suitcase. I live in Brighton now because I don’t have a choice, and now I have a chance in England to speak at conventions. I start with the easy stuff, speaking to Christians and Jews and telling them my story. I eagerly anticipate the day that I have the confidence to start talking to my own people, the Palestinians. That will be very difficult, and I know I would be risking my life in doing so.”
“Israel protects the Palestinians by controlling them. They would start to kill each other,” Maria continued. “If Israel were to leave, Hamas would not even be able to provide electricity, and everything would fall apart. Ever since I was a little girl, I would hear them joking with my dad: ‘As soon as we finish with the people of Saturday, we’ll start with the people of Sunday.’ The separation wall completely ruined my family, but it kept the extremists from committing murder and saved human lives. I completely understand the Israelis’ need for security.”
The participants slowly bonded and discovered a lot of common ground. “I was very interested in meeting others like me, since after all you don’t meet pro-Israel Christians at churches. They are a select few. An event like this motivates, because you can share your opinions and experiences with others, and most of them have also visited Israel at some point or another,” explains Philip Bousnact, an 23 year-old English doctor who heard about the convention from his parents. “Somewhere else, when I tell people that I have visited Israel five times, I get very surprised looks. I even volunteered at the Hadassah hospital for six weeks. Whenever my family came to Israel together on vacation, we always felt that we are supporting the Jewish people and spending money that goes to them and it’s a win-win situation.”
“People don’t realize there are thousands of missiles launched from the Palestinian territories, and they only focus on Israel’s aggressive actions against Palestinians. The naïve viewer thinks that Israel is a bully, and he or she wants to support the underdog. There isn’t a lot of information about what is really happening except for what is shown in the media, so it looks like Israel wants everything for itself and will do anything to maintain its over-reaching interests. If Israelis do something wrong, the country of Israel is blamed, and if the Arabs do something wrong, it is reported as the random act of some crazy man. Usually when I tell people that I am pro-Israel, the reaction is very bizarre. They don’t know what to think, and most ask me: ‘But what about everything we see on the news?’ If your only source of information is the BBC, a position in support of Israel can seem very negative and foreign to you.”
Twenty-three year-old journalist Sam Heinz writes for a Christian website and aims to use the media to break through to the evangelical community. “The Christians in England don’t support Israel. They see Israel as a Disneyland of their religion. Aside from it being the place where Jesus walked, it does not interest them. Most of the general public does not understand. It is very British to support the underdog, so there are a lot of pro-Palestinians. I believe that once people understand the entire picture and the history, they will see things differently.”
“Regarding life expectancy, infant mortality rate, or education level, quality of life for Arab Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories is much higher in comparison to all the other neighboring Arab countries who don’t accept them as citizens,” explained Myers to the Christians. “Their status is much better with us, even with the hard situation here and the dispute and unclear status of their rights. If you hear, ‘Let’s put an emphasis on the Arab apartheid going on there,’ that message supports the Palestinian people and is hard to protest. Our goal is to get students to think beyond easy slogans and what is reported on the news.” You must recognize that it is unfortunate that a Palestinian has to stand an hour and half at a barricade to get checked on his way to work, but you must also recognize where this comes from, why the separation wall was built, and how many terrorist attacks there have been before it and after it. You have to engage with the difficult issues, and only just present one side. When questions are asked, take note of them and don’t start shouting your slogans louder and think that if you raise your voice you will be heard. I believe that this is the most effective way to advocate.”
Originally Published on 30/09/2012 on http://www.israelhayom.co.il/site/newsletter_article.php?id=21785&hp=1&newsletter=30.09.2012 (in Hebrew)