Friday, January 06, 2006

The Evangelical Right of Return

I'm speechless. The Israeli government-which never ceases to amaze- has now reached a new nadir. While Palestinian refugees, like my husband, continue to be denied the right of return to their own land, the Israeli government prepares to give a large slice of that land to Pat Robertson & co. for an Evangenlical Disney Land of some sort, according to the Guardian:

The Israeli government is planning to give up a largeslice of land to American Christian evangelicals to builda biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus issaid to have walked on water and fed 5,000 with fiveloaves and two fish. A consortium of Christian groups, ledby the television evangelist Pat Robertson, is innegotiation with the Israeli ministry of tourism and adeal is expected in the coming months.

So let me see if I have this straight: I'm denied entry to the West Bank because I'm a journalist. Yassine is denied entry to his own home because he's Palestinian. And Evangelical Christians pick up the pieces. Yassine, have you thought about joining forces with the Christian right? It just might be your ticket home. See Umkahlil's post for more.


Blogger Zak said...

its not a consolation..but every wheel turns..and I am sure this one will in time.

3:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please don't confuse any such attempt to build a Disney like "Christian" park with the true practice of Christianity. Like everything else, Christianity has its hypocrites and cash hungrey people who will stop at no barrier to make a profit. Moeny talks; in every part of the world. If they build it, it's a sham and a shame.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

Dear Anonymous: Believe me, I don't! That's why I specifically referred to the Christian right/Evangelicals/Pat Rob. etc. etc. , not "Christians" as a whole... but thanks. I agree, generalizations are unhelpful (like "Muslims are terrorists")

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muslims love Christians! :-)

3:10 AM  
Blogger TheBuck said...

You have only your leadership to blame. The palestinians would have all of Gaza and the west Bank and the right of return to solve the refugee "situation". Blame Arafat and his multi millionaire cronies for saying "NO".

This is not Israel doing you an injustice, its your leadership killing your dreams.

3:23 AM  
Blogger Anne Rettenberg LCSW said...

Israelis will rue the day they allowed this to happen...

The idea is bizarre...Jerusalem and Bethlehem are natural "Biblical theme parks" as evidenced by the number of Christian pilgrims constantly visiting the holy sites there...I wonder if they'll have people dressed up like John the Baptist welcoming people in costume like the Disney characters...I'm sure they'll have pretend "miracles." Jesus would be appalled...he would throw the money-changers out of the Galilee...

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Laila. I hope you are doing well.

I took a brief look at the article, and it's pretty clear to me that one (a Christian theme park) has nothing to do with the other (the occupation of the West Bank or Palestinians' desire for a right of return). First of all, as far as I saw in my brief look-see, the article didn't say what it means by "give over" land. I didn't see an indication that there is going to be some tiny little Christian state near the Kinneret. Just that Israel is going to let a Christian group create a new tourist attraction there.

Second, we're talking about land within the pre-67 borders, so what possible connection can you make with the Palestinian issue?

This is something Israel is doing within the pre-67 borders in order to increase tourism and strengthen relations with the international Christian community. The issues involved have very little, if anything, to do with the long and messy history between Israel and Arabs (be they Muslim or Christian).

I can understand your being bitter that Israel is wooing a relationship with one religious group when its relationship with YOUR religious group is so bad, but you have to admit that this is apples and oranges. The histories involved, the issues/ factors involved, and the land involved, are completely different.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

Hi Sarah,
actually, it is directly related. Its not "merely" something Israel is doing to strengthen ties with Christians. Believe me, the intentions are far more sinister. Israel has long been interested in Judaicizing the traditionally Palestinian-Arab Galilee, now bereft of its original inhabitants who were were kicked out in 1948 and have been living in surrounding countries in miserable refugee camps for over 50 years now. The land they left remains largely empty. There have been several Jewish communities who have been brought to the Galilee over the past several decades in what Israel calls the "Judaisation of the Galilee": that is, the attempt by sheer force of numbers to ensure Jewish control over a traditional Palestinian area.

Instead of allowing these Palestinian refugees (in Lebanon, for example, where they are worst off, and where most of them originated frmo) to return to these vast tracts of unsettled land, thereby helping move peace forward, Israel decides to build a holy theme park with the man who said Sharon's stroke was a punishment from God.

For more see:


10:58 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

Sarah, an addendum: this just in from Haaretz, which further proves my point: A conference is being held in the northern city of Akka (Acre), which has an Arab-Palestinian majority, on ways to achieve a permanent Jewish majority there, an initiative supported by tthe mayor:

11:04 AM  
Blogger umkahlil said...

Also, please see Dr. Salman Abu Sitta's work showing that return is not only an inalienable right, but also feasible (while researching for the story, I see that Laila did this interview!)

And I think that it is really a stretch asking Palestinians who originate from Israel "Proper,"

(see a glossary of dispossesion:

and have roots going back for generations to forget about their inalienable right when young men and women, whole families, perfectly comfortable in North and South America, may immigrate to Israel. Certainly, the injustice and inherent racism in this policy should be plain to anyone.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Anne Rettenberg LCSW said...

Sarah's comment betrays a naivete and a lack of understanding of Christian churches. It's only the fundamentalist churches that are enthusiastic about this idea. The Lutherans, the Methodists, the Quakers are not interested. If Israelis think this will "strengthen ties" with Christians they are wrong...the motivation for the Israeli government is money, and the motivation for the evangelical churches is to gain a foothold in Israel to convert Jews.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be interesting if most Americn Christians knew about how Israel has regarded Palestinian Christians? has a few links.

Robertson and their brand of Zionism should note Matthew 7:22. Jesus would not advocate a state founded by thieves and murderers.

7:52 PM  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Laila, I too read the Guardian article and while it sounds very dodgy, I can't find any evidence that anyone is "giving" anybody anything. The Israeli Govt are discussing leasing a piece of land to a US Christian group. Irrelevant of whether the proposed land around the Kinneret is 48/67/The Golan (it isn't very clear from the article) I also don't get how you conclude that any sinister "Judaization" will be taking place there, quite the opposite: There will be prayer meetings every 30 minutes hoping that we Jews will all either convert or be removed to enable Jesus' return! The Akko conference you mentioned is without a doubt looking to Judaize a part of Israel with a Jewish minority, and I personally think that is as ridiculous a premise as you do. But these issues are very different and cannot be categorised under the heading of some sinister Zionist plot.

I am not denying the plight of Palestinian refugees like your husband as an important issue which needs to be resolved asap. But there are many more important issues for us to get angry (like Akko, for example) than a proposed Jesus-themepark, which by the sound of it won't even come to fruition.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I just got back from the US last night and have severe jetlag and a lot of stuff to do at home. I will re-read the comments here and try to formulate a proper response when I can.

Just three things for now:

1. There are PLENTY of Arabs living in the Galilee. In fact, many areas of the Galilee have an Arab majority. I myself was recently there for a weekend, and there is Arabic on most of the storefronts. Many, if not most of them (at least in certain areas) are Christian Arabs. I find it interesting that you wrote your response to me in such a way as to conveniently gloss over the fact that there are still many Arabs there, living peaceful lives as Israeli citizens.

2. Why shouldn't Israel encourage Jews to move to the Galilee, as long as they are not displacing the (Israeli, I should emphasize) Arabs who currently live there? After all, the Galilee is part of Israel. Not part of the occupied territories, but part of the pre-1967, recognized by most other countries as part of Israel, Israel. Or, are you suggesting that Israel has no right to sovereignty over ANY part of itself . . . that it has no right to exist?

3. If you want Israel and Israelis out of the West Bank, then you have to admit that Israel will have to start developing other areas of the country. For years, many Israelis who support the Palestinian cause have been bemoaning the fact that Israel has been pouring millions of dollars into the settler movement, rather than encouraging the development of the Galilee and the Negev. From the point of view of stopping the settler movement, the development of the Galilee is a very, very good thing.

2:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarah let me explain this to you for people like laila and if i am wrong she can correct me all of israel is occupied land.For laila all israelis are occupiers who she hopes will eventually go back to where they came from so the refugees can go back and take their places.She would most likely have no problems with making them refugees because they are not arabs.If i am wrong please correct me

4:17 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

Dear no-name,
I honestly don't know how to respond to such sophomoric comments. So for the time-being, I won't. Instead, I'll enjoy some more Eid cookies.
With all my love

4:37 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

Well, apparently, Patty's comments downed his 'steal'-of-a-deal with Israel: According to Haaretz, the $50 million tourism partnership where a zio-Christian disneyworld would be built on land (leased for free) cleared of its Palestinian inhabitants in al-Jaleel is a no-go, due to his rash bashin' of Sharon. I guess God does work in mysterious ways.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hi, Laila. I hope you enjoyed the cookies.

I definitely distance myself from the tone of no-name's comment, but would still appreciate it if you would answer my question: Why SHOULDN'T Israel encourage its own citizens to move to any area within the pre-67 borders it wants? And why SHOULDN'T it develop new tourist sites within the pre-67 borders (though the tackiness of the now-defunct plan is for another discussion)? And, do you, in fact, believe that Israel should not have sovereignty over any part of itself?

(Just because no-name is obnoxious doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong . . . so I would appreciate your taking a stance on this one way or the other, or perhaps indicating that you -- like many of us on both sides -- are confused and don't really know what to think).

7:51 PM  
Blogger umkahlil said...

Dr. Salman Abu Sitta shows that it is feasible for the Palestinians to return and that no one need be displaced. "The Feasibility of the Right of Return."

7:54 PM  
Blogger TheBuck said...


Arabs were kicked out of Israel upon occupation??

Lets check the history on that one, it was the Arabs who started the war in 48 after they did not accept partition. They could have stayed and lived in prosperity, but they chose war.

As far as Israelis "going back to where they came from".......they have already done that...........its called Israel.

Once again.........your problem is not with Israel, its with your corrupt leadership that has lead you astray and its the saddest thing to continue to watch. I wish prosperity and happiness for the Palestinians, but that will only come when you have a government that wants the same as I do.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

Sarah, the fact of the matter is, it is morally reprehensible that Israel continues to deny Palestinian inhabitants the right to return to the land they lived on some 85% of which is empty), or at least the choice to return to it-because most certainly not all will wish to do so, whilst continuing to encourage immigration to and development of this land, to establish more "Facts on the ground" and truly make their return practically impossible (same idea as with the settlement policy). The question of Israeli sovereignty is irrelevant in this case-Israel has a legal and moral obligation to allow the refugees which it displaced the choice to return. Period. Not to Gaza, not to the West Bank, (at least not all), because that isn't necessarily where they came from. My husband's family live in squaldid conditions in a small camp in Baalbeck. THey were kicked out of a small village near Haifa. That land is empty now. They have cousins and uncles who still live in Haifa. Why can't they go live with them? THey don't want trouble. They want to LIVE, to be FREE, as human beings, in their own homes. It is an inalienable right with no statute of limitations, and research shows it can be done without displacing anyone. My question to YOU is, what are you so afraid of? Don't you believe one life is worth the same as another, that a Palestinian from Akka has just as m uch right to go live there again as a Russian Jew who has never in her life set foot in Israel, but is "imported" nonetheless? Or is the prospect of having more Arabs living nearby frightening?

1:48 PM  
Blogger umkahlil said...

On the eve of declaring statehood on 14 May 1948, Zionist forces expelled half of the population of what became Israel before the state was created and while the British Mandate government was supposedly protecting the people and land of historic Palestine.

As shown in Abu Sitta's 428-page, full-color Atlas of Palestine 1948 (London: Palestine Land Society, 2005), close documentation of the events from March 1948 to April 1949 contradicts the common claim that Jews were defending themselves against the Arab invasion. In fact, the opposite was true, said Abu Sitta. The Arabs came to rescue what was left in Palestine and failed to do so.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...


Thanks for responding to my question. Formulating a comprehensive and articulate response would take more time than I have at the moment. I'll get to it as soon as I can, and when I do perhaps I'll post the answer on my own blog and post a link here, if that is OK with you.

Have a good weekend.

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm coming late to this discussion.

For your husband's family, I'm sure they're lovely people, and I personally would love them to come to Haifa tomorrow. I personally would like to live in a world without borders. And it is undoubtable that the people in the refugee camps are the ones who suffered most from this conflict.
On a practical level, though, if the consequences of reconcilation mean that an unknown number of people are likely to become Israeli citizens, then we are not likely to see a peace agreement in our lifetime, becuase Israelis won't vote for it. I think Israelis could accept the 67 line, and they could allow some refugees back, but they would like to know how many. There is much to say about the fear of Israelis of the right of return but in some ways it is not very different from the European fear of illegal immigration. Those who have something want to keep others out. Listen to the Israeli discourse on migrant workers, with its xnephobic and racist tones; why are Israelis so afraid of giving citizenship to few hundred kids of migrant workers, who grew up in Israel and speak Hebrew?

I must say I don't like the discourse of rights. It takes the discussion to a metaphysical level which I don't find useful. Because you can't argue with rights, you can't compromise rights, you can't negotiate on rights, the only thing you can do is acknowledge them. So the right of return has to be acknowledged. Its implementation, however, should be open to negotiation.

4:13 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Laila, I found your blog this morning via an Antony Loewenstien post and ended up reading your posts since the beginning of last September.

This post is confusing me still. To me at least (not being an Arab or Jew or Christian) the issue here is that it just sounds sickening that an American theme park would be allowed in a beautiful and largely-unmarked-by-development place like the Galilee lake area.

I take note of what both you and Sarah have said though. And can fully understand why such a development in the region would be a further slap in the face to Palestinians/Syrians. But in the end, like Sarah, I can't understand how you can connect this with the denial of Palestinian "right to return" - which seems an extremely complex issue that relates to the very existence of Israel.

Can you please explain this further?

4:36 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

Rattu-that' exactly what ROR advocates like Salman Abo Sitta say. Implementation can be discussed so long as the right is recognized, but it hasn't been. Israelis see it as a doomsday scenario for them, and it is not, and fail to see the ironies and racism in their own Law of Return, which allows even fouth-generation Jews to return while Palestinian natives like Yassine cannot. I guess there needs to be a discourse of dialogue within Israel abuot this as well in order to move fwd.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

Hi Lisa
i think its explained pretty well in the above series of comments, if you'll take a look. It comes down to bartering away the same land that could ostensibly be usedto further a final peace deal, in allowing refugees their right to return to their land; instead Israel claims their return is not practical and not feasible, just as it creates policies for others to inhabit the land or develop it so it can become populated and creae facts on the ground rendering the ROR impractical.

3:53 PM  
Blogger ...Murph said...

Sweet! We are giving back land. Lets give Texas back to Mexico (after all 85% of its uninhabited, they have only been able to place houses on 15% of the square footage). It was such a great place before we took it from the Mexicans.

Also Hawaii (we have occupied since 1959) is going to have to be given back as well.

4:04 AM  

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