An Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from a Palestinian Christian
The Most Reverend Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury
9th September 2004
I am writing belatedly in response to the paper you sent as a contribution to the International Sabeel Conference held in Jerusalem last April on Challenging Christian Zionism. I regret to say that Palestinian Christians attending the Sabeel Conference listened with profound disappointment to your keynote address to the Conference.
Palestinian Christians had suffered much at the hand of theologies and interpretations of scripture that provided a mantle of divine legitimisation to the ideology of Zionism and the political movement that worked for their displacement from their homeland, and built a Jewish state on the basis of their exile, and oppression. One of our constant complaints was that Christian Zionism ignores our national rights, and indeed our very existence. The creation of the state of Israel was done on our land and the ingathering of Jews from all the world came at the price of exiling
and scattering our people throughout the world. All this was supported by Christian theologies that ignored or delegitimized us as a people, claiming a divine imperative based on scripture for the creation of the state of Israel.
Such views generally side-stepped or totally ignored the Palestinian people on whose land the state was created. While the Jewish people were seen to hold a divinely mandated right to people hood, and even chosen ness, as well as a promise to ownership of the
land, by its creator and ultimate sovereign, the Palestinian people had only individual and transient rights, at best, as strangers in the midst of God's people. These issues were not of passing theological or academic interest to us, but had direct tangible consequences for us of life and death, as well as of faith.
It was therefore most distressing to us to hear these same views echoed your keynote address when you also asserted a theological imperative to recognize Jewish people hood which needed to be exercised in political statehood in a concrete land inhabited by others whose people hood is NOT recognized. There were several references in your lecture to the neighbours of such a state, (presumably Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt), but none to the indigenous people of Palestine who had necessarily to be displaced and marginalized to make room for the exercise of Jewish nationhood.
It was unclear where the good news in this to the Palestinians, or indeed the Arab neighbours of the new Jewish state.
To be sure, you did not give unqualified support to the Jewish state, and affirmed that it is required to act with law and intelligence but one gets the impression that such a requirement is viewed solely from the perspective of the dominant Jews themselves, as if Palestinians have no value in and of themselves in the sight of God, and that the most they can get, is the crumbs of the state of Israel s willingness to live up to the requirements of justice and intelligence(?).
However, if Israel fails to live up to those requirements of justice and intelligence, then the tragedies , suffering, torture, and displacement suffered by them would be regrettable,- not because of what the Palestinian victims are suffering, but more for what this does to Jews- that is their failure to live up to their role as God s people.
Your lecture did not support eschatological or prophecy-driven interpretations, yet you affirmed, theologically, the need for a Jewish state as a necessary paradigm to the world of a community living under God . You even lamented that we did not have the benefit of such a living example for almost 2000 years. As you seem to see it Israel, in biblical terms, is still a gift to the community of nations.
In doing so, you not only bracketed out 2000 years of history, but also the entire teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, with respect to the Kingdom of God, the removal of the barriers of distinction between Jews and Gentiles, Jesus emphatic separation between
Church and State, ( My kingdom is not of this world ) which is the basis for the Christians critical attitude towards politics, states and nationalism in the modern world. The concrete challenges with which Jesus responded to those zealots who yearned for an
earthly kingdom and the restoration of power to the Jews, by pointing repeatedly to His Kingdom, which is open to all and not just to the children of Abraham, according to the flesh are also side-stepped as we are brought back to the Old Testament covenant of tribal possession and conquest of the Land.
By utilizing the tormented meditation in Romans 9-11 and rejecting the Supersessionist or replacement approach, you appear to be left with the Old Testament model of the covenant, tempered perhaps by the requirements for justice towards the alien in your
midst but nothing more. Unfortunately, you were not present to explain to us what happens to the indigenous population when such a model state is established on their land.
What rights, if any, would such indigenous non-Jews (Christian or Moslem) have in a professedly Jewish state?
Is discrimination against them (necessary in both theory and practice if one sets out to create a Jewish state) legitimate, and divinely mandated?
Is Palestinian nationalism and people hood dangerous, or even evil because it resists elimination and marginalization within the divine scheme of creating the paradigm state ?
Are Palestinians the Amaleks to be exterminated, or Canaanites to be simply reduced to hewers of wood, and drawers of water ?
Is their resistance to this scheme legitimate self-defence, or sinful rebellion against God s plan that must be harshly repressed?
Are they ( or the Christians among them) required to graciously vacate their homes, fields, shops, villages in favour of Jews to whom God is granting this land to be their home, since it is obvious that to be hospitable, you must have a home ?
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these questions with you in person, as and when you are in Palestine again, or if it is possible to visit you in London.
On behalf of the indigenous Palestinian Christian community, I would urge you to give a lead in challenging the heresy of Christian Zionism which dares to justify in God s name, an apartheid regime that will, if unchecked, lead to a Holy Land devoid of local Christians within 20 years.
Yours in His Grace,