Monday, January 31, 2011

Taybeh's Plea vs. the Likes of Mike Huckabee

We've trimmed our magazine subscriptions in recent years. The wife still gets Good Housekeeping and Southern Living (which I also read,) and I am hanging on to the Oxford American, Southern Cultures and Road to Emmaus. The last, billed as a "Journal of Orthodox Faith and Cultures," I consider to be essential reading for all Orthodox Americans. Published quarterly, each issue usually highlights Orthodoxy within a specific region, including some that would not naturally come to mind. I highly recommend the journal.

The current issue focuses on Jerusalem, St. Sophronius, and the village of Taybeh (biblical Ephraim,) the last all-Christian village in Palestine. The mayor is David Khoury, but the interview is with his wife, Dr. Maria C. Khoury, noted Greek-American educator, author, lecturer and advocate for Palestinian Christians. After the Oslo Agreement of 1993, the Khourys returned from the U.S. and founded Palestine's only micro-brewery. Against incredible obstacles, the business survives today.

Before 1948, Christians comprised anywhere from 13% to 25% of Palestine's population (50% in Jerusalem itself.). Now the Christian population is less than 2% in Gaza and the West Bank, and less than 2% in Israel itself. The Palestinian Christian population has been forced to leave the region in even greater percentages than their Muslim neighbors. Their plight is largely overlooked, even by their American Orthodox brethren, of whom many seem as ignorant and ill-informed as the average American. Dr. Khoury recounts lectures to American Greek Orthodox audiences where they would express surprise to learn that all Palestinians were not terrorists, or that there were "good" Palestinians.

The Christians there endure the same indignities as their Muslim neighbors, with 80% affected daily by the 26-ft. high, 280 mile concrete wall which slices through their world. What was once a 10 minute trip into Ramallah to their children's school for the Khourys became a harrowing 2-hour journey each way, through innumerable Israeli checkpoints, with no guarantee of success. Sometimes, they were turned back in sight of the school. Jerusalem is only 25 minutes away, but if they want to send a shipment of Taybeh Beer to the city, they first have to drive to the commercial checkpoint which is 3 hours away. There, the beer is handed off to an Israeli driver and an Israeli truck for the 3 hour drive back to Jerusalem. A simple delivery takes 2 drivers, 2 trucks and all day. Both David and Maria Khoury hold American passports, but they are not able to fly out of Tel Aviv to visit relatives in the U.S. They were told that Israelis do not like to see Palestinians in the airport. Instead, they must spend 2 days, traveling to the King Hussein bridge into Jordan, where they have to fly out of Amman (I have gone through this checkpoint, recounted here.)

The Israelis have undertaken a systematic destruction of the olive groves in the region, as this had provided employment for Palestinians. The Khourys had 12 trees bulldozed by the Israelis. These olive trees had been in the family for many generations and were between 500 and 700 years old. Dr. Khoury and her husband were finally able to cross the border into Egypt and visit St. Catherine's Monastery--after 25 years of making application. Travel is severely limited everywhere, and the Palestinians are not permitted to drive on the roads that the Israelis maintain. Teybah has no water on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays, but the 3 Israeli settlements which ring the village have water 24/7.

They cannot visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher without a permit into Jerusalem (arbitrary and difficult to obtain) and then a specific permit for the church itself (equally difficult.) Christian pilgrims from the U.S. are discouraged from visiting Bethlehem. If they insist, they will not be allowed to shop in the local Christian stores, but whisked back to the malls in Jerusalem. Dr. Khoury states that in the early 1990s, perhaps 1 woman in 10 in Ramallah would be dressed in the Islamic manner. Now, not 1 in 10 is not. The Christians now find themselves caught between the vice of fanatical Muslims on the one side and the equally fanatical Israeli zealots on the other. I had never before read of the horrific martyrdom of the Archimandrite Philoumenos by Zionists in 1979; nor had I read of the specific targeting of Christian churches in southern Lebanon in the latest war; nor the defecating on their altars as the Israeli troops moved in; nor of the harassment of the monks and nuns who try to maintain the holy sites.

Dr. Khoury on Christian Zionism:

Zionism, a political movement founded by Theodore Herzl in the the 19th century to lobby for a secular homeland for the Jews, took on a Christian religious context when 20th-century evangelical Christians , mostly in America, began linking Zionism to their interpretation of Old Testament passages. Now there are many American evangelical Christians, whom we call Zionist Christians, who believe that modern Israel with the guns, the gunships, the bulldozers, the bombers, is the New Israel of our gospels. According to their thinking, once Israel has a 100% Jewish homeland and gains complete control, then Christ will return. They are trying to hasten the Second Coming.

We Orthodox Christians don't hold this view. Our New Testament Israel is a spiritual homeland because the Messiah came and we have been baptized into Christ. Jesus Christ became man through that Hebrew ethnicity, and when we sing and chant in our services about Israel, we Christians, (the Church) are the New Israel. The New Israel is not the physical Israel with its guns. We believe that the Lord has only told us to be alert, to watch, to be ready, but there is nothing we have to do to bring about Judgment Day. That will come in His own time. Yet this grave misinterpretation drives many evangelical Christians to blindly support Israeli policy.

Case in point, there is this:

Potential 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Jewish settlers Monday that attempts to prevent them from building in east Jerusalem are as outrageous as housing discrimination in the United States.

"I cannot imagine, as an American, being told I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English," he said.

Huckabee dismissed the notion that Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state are obstacles to peace. Instead, he backed the settlers' view that they have the right to build anywhere in "the place that God gave them."

The Jerusalem Reclamation Project, a group that promotes settlements in an attempt to bolster a Jewish presence in mostly Arab areas, hosted Huckabee and actor Jon Voight on the first day of their three-day visit.

Huckabee visited the Shepherd Hotel, the former residence of the mufti of Jerusalem that was destroyed in early January to make way for Jewish homes. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had rebuked Israel for knocking down the hotel - a position Huckabee brushed off.

"I think we ought to be more concerned about Iran building bombs than Israelis building bedrooms," Huckabee said.

I am an unapologetic voter. This is something of a family thing on my dad's side--many generations of what I consider to be principled voting. I am not ideologically driven. We've seen where that's gotten us in the early years of this century. In national elections, I always vote foreign policy. Domestically, we are such an ungovernable muddle, that I do not think it really makes much difference. And the same argument can be made with foreign policy as well. What differences there are are just matters of degree. But these can be crucial. Mr. Huckabee's smug worldview is normative for his party--and that frightens me.

Israel's Palestinian policies have been made possible by the uncritical and unquestioning support that Christian Zionists and the Israeli lobby force on Congress. We are equally culpable in this tragedy. No amount of letter-writing to our congressional representatives will make much difference. The die is cast. I believe our foreign policy misadventuring will one day bring us low. Only then, perhaps, will our folly become apparrent and change occur.

What we can and must do is pray for Christians in Palestine--and their oppressors, the fanatics of both the Muslim and Jewish persuasion.

We can also support journals such as Road to Emmaus, and make sure the story of our Palestinian brethren gets wide circulation. The ignorance and/or indifference of the American Orthodox on this issue is shameful.

Also, if you have some spare change, you might consider

There are 30 Orthodox Christian families there who have had their homes appropriated by the Israelis. Homes are being built so that they can remain in Taybeh, and perpetuate an almost 2,000-year Christian witness.


Milton T. Burton said...

Huckabee is a manifestation of Dispensationalism at its worst---crackpot theology harnessed in service to a political career. He's a Snopes.

cdgilpin said...

This hearkens back to one of my more enjoyed books [/i]From the Holy Mountain[/i] by William Dalrymple. This is one of the greater tragedies in modern history, a population undergoing a slow demographic death assisted by the obtuse, paternal hand of the West.

James the Thickheaded said...

Mark me as revisiting and revising my view towards historic Isolationism... not because the rest of the world can go hang, but because we tend to muck things up worse rather than fix them. We see ourselves as the Cavalry riding to the rescue after the Indian attack, only we shoot all the surviving settlers and their Indian allies. Well, it's one way to end a problem, huh? Maybe GW knew what he was talking about in an uninformed but wise way.

That said, while no fan of the Huckster,smug doesn't seem quite the word as clueless: Housing discrimination... no, no one has ever told someone he couldn't move to a certain place because he was a WASP... it's the OTHER people anti-discrimination laws were intended to protect. Maybe the quote is so out of context to be unfair to him... but taken as it stands... Wow! I think Repooblikins benefit from the expectation people have that they are conservative... when they are not: They just want to use unbridled state power in slightly different ways for different purposes.

Finally, I wish I could claim to be so principled in my voting. Fact is, I find I've voted for "change" so many times from so many people, but all I get is more of the same. Maybe if I vote for someone who campaigns on "more of the same" I'll actually get change? Don't know 'bout you, but it's like the old Simon & Garfunkel line: "Everyway you look at it you lose." Talk about wisdom.

John said...

Dalrymple is required reading, in my book. He has moved on and written a number of excellent volumes about India, where he now lives. I find it interesting just how many Orthodox converts have been influenced along the way by Dalrymple.

I agree about isolationism…don’t know how the concept got so maligned. Actually, it is nothing more than just minding your own business. With oceans on 2 ½ sides, we are geographically suited for it. Too bad we don’t have the temperament for it.

Perhaps I’d better explain what I meant about principled voting. Actually, I was just trying to convey that voting is very important to me, as it has been for generations of my family. Among the Orthodox and/or paleo-conservative sites I frequent, I often encounter those who either do not vote, or vote according to a strict ideological purity standard, or insist that one waste their vote on an obscure candidate that will never be elected in the real world. I respect all these positions, but I do not follow them.

And I agree with you, it is often just “more of the same.” That is why, on the national level, I always vote based on foreign policy, where there can be actual differences between the parties.

James the Thickheaded said...

John: Sounds good. Have to give that a try. Nothing else seems to be working, so why not?

Pointless as it may seem, I agree with you that we need to fulfill our responsibilities as best we can. I even became a Democrat (used to be Independent but then all the decisions were already made by the time of the general election) so I could participate in the only primary that matters in our one-party state.

Michael Moore (with whom I disagree about much ) makes the point that we should all not just vote, but run for office at some level. He began life after high school running for School Board to "get back at the principal" for giving him detention. He admitted to some embarassment, but at least learned something. I think what's missing from our democracy is the people's voice: No one speaks for the people if they won't run but look to let the "pros" handle even the voting for them. Yipes! Now have I done my bit to that extent...