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Palestinian evangelicals lead shift away from Christian Zionism
Published Thursday 06/03/2014 (updated) 12/03/2014 19:03
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Israel's separation wall pictured in Aida refugee camp,
Bethlehem.(MaanImages/Charlie Hoyle)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of peace activists, church leaders, evangelical Christians and academics will meet in Bethlehem on Monday for five days of dialogue and discussion about the role of Christian Zionism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First held in 2010, the Christ at the Checkpoint conference has grown in size and stature over the past three years and will welcome over 700 participants from March 10-14 at the Bethlehem Bible College, located a mere 100 meters from Israel's separation wall.

Conference director Munther Isaac says the number and diversity of participants this year, together with opposition to the event from elements of the evangelical right, reflect the growing impact of a forum designed to challenge evangelical theological beliefs which have long legitimized Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"Just the fact that evangelicals are talking about Palestine and Israel is a success," Isaac told Ma'an on Wednesday.

The conference aims to discuss the realities of the injustices in Palestine, empower the role of the Palestinian church in achieving peace, and explore the role of Christianity, above all the evangelical church, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dr. Jack Sara, President of the Bethlehem Bible College, says that the conference is also an invitation to international Christians to come and learn about the local context of the Palestinian struggle.

"We feel that the Palestinian people have been oppressed for so long and their voice needs to be heard," Sara told Ma'an.

"A lot of the Christian world does not know that there is an existence of Palestinian Christians who live in Palestine and Israel and who are suffering because of the conflict."

The conference will host a wide range of speakers and aims to both inform the Western world about the existence of Palestinian Christians and demonstrate that the Palestinian church is active on the ground and an integral part of Palestinian society, Isaac says.

"The conference will highlight the injustices for sure, this is one of our key goals, but we will not be adopting a victimization mentality. We want to show that here is a living, hopeful culture which is looking forward despite all of the challenges."

Shift in evangelical attitudes

From 100 or so international participants in 2010, this year's conference will host church leaders, mission agencies, and official representatives from different Christian denominations, in a sign that traditional evangelical attitudes to Israel and the occupation of Palestine are slowly beginning to change.

Once an automatic support base for pro-Israel US policies, evangelicals in the United States are slowly beginning to join the debate about the practical implications of their theological beliefs, Isaac says, and Christ at the Checkpoint has provided a platform that had previously never existed.

According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelical Protestants are twice as likely as American Jews to favor stronger US support for Israel and 82 percent say that God gave Israel to the Jewish people.

Isaac acknowledges that political and economic support for Israel from US evangelicals is "real, and measured on the ground," but says that there is a significant generational shift in attitudes among young evangelicals which is beginning to challenge the dominant theological narrative justifying Israel's occupation.

"I think it's going to take some time, but there are positive signs that the younger evangelical generation are more interested in social justice. They are more knowledgeable, they know more about the conflict so they can make informed decisions."

Church leaders in the US are also now feeling more comfortable to positively engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of defending Israel as a default position, Isaac says.

"Our message is rather than engage in a discussion about who has a divine right to the land, let's engage in a discussion about how we can advance peace among Palestinians and Israelis and how the church can promote a shared land concept," Isaac says.

"It is slow, but things are moving in the right direction."

Growing opposition sign of success

As in previous years, the conference has been widely discussed among the evangelical community in the United States, the Israeli press, and by Jewish groups, who fear that Christ at the Checkpoint represents a turning point in dividing the US evangelical support base for Israel.

A recent blog in the Jerusalem Post described the conference as "anti-Israel, anti-Zionist" and "dangerous," while an article in the Middle East Quarterly described the Bethlehem Bible College and the Christ at the Checkpoint conference as playing leading roles in a growing "anti-Israel" narrative among evangelical groups.

An article in December by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank, described the original Christ at the Checkpoint conference as part of an "Evangelical Intifada", and noted that the 2012 conference could be "legitimately described as a watershed moment for the cause of anti-Zionism in American Evangelicalism."

One article in Israel Today went as far as labeling Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who will attend this year's conference, as a "terror-Linked Palestinian Official", and evidence of the conference's "true underlying message."

Isaac says there has been an "increased density of attacks" in the run-up to this year's conference which often target individual members of the Palestinian evangelical community.

Despite some of the opposition, the attacks have generally become more "sophisticated," Isaac says, a clear indication that the conference is being taken seriously as a movement which can no longer be ignored in the wider pro-Israel evangelical community.

Isaac stresses though that progress in challenging the influence of Christian Zionism in the United States is dependent on a number of factors, including the outcome of the current peace process, the possibility of a return to violence, and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

"We talk about hope, and it is our belief that only forgiveness and true reconciliation is the way forward, forgiveness that is based on justice. Palestinians must forgive Israelis and Israelis must forgive Palestinians, I believe we are both victims in this conflict."
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1 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
06/03/2014 20:22
The reality is harsh: Christians are being attacked and massacred across the middle east in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon. Christians barely exist in many other Arab countries having been forced out or killed off over time. Palestinian Christians are an endangered species and get little protection or support from the PA - that's a sad fact. Christians are abandoning Bethlehem/BJaka/BSahour not because of Israeli rule, but Fatah rule and the Hamas/IJ/Salafist threat.

2 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
06/03/2014 20:23
Face it - if the Christian west isn't supporting Christians who are in worse shaped than the Palestinians, why would anybody think they'll single the Palestinians out to be saved? Well heck, maybe it'll be easier and faddish for them to do so and it'll ease their sin of inaction elsewhere in the Middle East.

3 ) Arnold / Canada
06/03/2014 20:52
The Christian communities within the State of Israel are doing well if needs be to know. just go and ask them and then also go ask them how they are being treated by the Muslim Arab community.

4 ) Colin Wright / USA
06/03/2014 21:39
That is one thing that may prove an Achilles heel for 'Christian' Zionism. Evangelicals DO evangelize. When they evangelize Palestinians, they'll swiftly imbibe folks who will dissent from the 'isn't Israel wonderful' line. All those speakers at church meetings...

5 ) JoeUSA / USA
06/03/2014 23:04
Brian Cohen , Arnold from Canad , how dare you speak on behalf of Christian Palestinians. One needs to hear their voices , not yours. I refer all to the Segment of CBS 60 minutes that shows Palestinian Christians speaking out about the hardships under Israel rule . I recall Michael OREN , the Israeli former Ambassador objecting to the report beforeit was aired. Typical Zionism Hasbara.

6 ) Darla / UK
06/03/2014 23:47
Every single fight between muslims an christians in any arab country, between pal muslim or pal cristian is because of zionism. Zionism aim to divide these two powerful religion which are powerful together against zionism. Zionism do everythink to create extremism in Islam. Zionism need takfiri to destroy the good muslims and the good christian.

7 ) spb / usa
07/03/2014 02:45
sweet dream Colin. i'm ashame to admit my involvement and support of israel does not come close to Christian regardless

8 ) Colin Wright / USA
07/03/2014 03:37
To Arnold #3: 'The Christian communities within the State of Israel are doing well if needs be to know. just go and ask them and then also go ask them how they are being treated by the Muslim Arab community' That's been done. However, I have to give you credit: you've got a bigger brain than Brian the Dim.

9 ) Colin Wright / USA
07/03/2014 03:58
To Brian #1: 'Christians barely exist in many other Arab countries having been forced out or killed off over time.' Doctor Untruth speaks. And how are Muslims doing in Spain and Sicily? Oh that's right -- there are NONE left. Speaking of which, how about Jews in Poland? But there -- Jews themselves have done a bang-up job on Muslims and Christians both in Palestine, considering how little time they've had to work with, haven't they?

10 ) Palestinian Christian / Bethlehem
07/03/2014 04:06
Sorry to break it to you guys, but I'm willfully, and happily part of my Palestine. Israeli pathetic attempts at drawing a dividing line between my Muslim neighbors and I will not succeed at changing my will and conviction to be part of the land of Abrahamic faiths. It is Israel's zionist American-euro orientation that continues to hinder its place in the holy land, and defies the very message of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all at once... As we say, Faith is to God, the Homeland is to all.

11 ) NGO Monitor / Israel
07/03/2014 08:33
See our report on this conference: http://www.bdsinthepews.org/christ-at-the-checkpoint.html

12 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
07/03/2014 09:54
Colin, how many dead Israelis would make you happy?

13 ) Tom / Australia
07/03/2014 12:48
It is Israel and the West who are funding, training and arming the terrorists like Al Qaeda to kill Christian Arabs and don't let the Zionist lies above tell you any different!

14 ) ian / australia
07/03/2014 14:08
"...white evangelical Protestants are twice as likely as American Jews to favor stronger US support for Israel and 82 percent say that God gave Israel to the Jewish people." i.e., they're morons, probably can't find Israel on a map, don't know the difference between Iran and Iraq, vaguely think the Dome of the Rock is the Temple and will believe anything. Chances of consciousness raising generationally as the population is replenished and Christian Zionist "youth" steps up strike me as low.

15 ) ian / australia
07/03/2014 14:15
(contd.) Palestinian Christians or evangelicals (if there is such a thing) don't need their consciousness raised because they know the reality from living it. So, if Munther Isaac thinks his little conference will change anything or could "challenge the influence of Christian Zionism in the United States" he's dreaming.

16 ) Terri Knoll / USA
07/03/2014 14:48
As much as Zionist Christians want Israel to be their Messiah, that's not the truth. Talk to Palestinian Christians directly. Christ at the Checkpoint is bringing the truth.

17 ) Palestinian / Palestine
07/03/2014 15:24
Interesting how the israeli commentators here seems tocthink they have the right to speak for me as a christian Palestinian. Please ask me what I think and how I feel, and I'll tell you the biggest and only obstacle to our way of life is the israeli occupation and opression. And there is no divide whatsoever between us and our muslim brothers an sisters. You may try, but you will not succeed in dividing us. We are all palestinian. Oh, and I speak as a Palestinian from Nazareth. Good try, Brian

18 ) Chris Carlson / USA
07/03/2014 15:55
This historic ideological division between Christians and Muslims is deliberately perpetrated and utterly absurd. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1353330/Egypt-protests-Christians-join-hands-protect-Muslims-pray-Cairo-protests.html

19 ) Mel / USA
07/03/2014 16:04
Evanzealicals,LOL?No,I can't see Arab Christians flocking to that lunatic fold,LOL! Evangelicals are as crazed as Eurasian Zionists.It's racism,Absolutism,bigotry,xenophobia,all masked as Jesus'love'.PAL Christians are the MOST normal Christians there,amidst Jewish/Christian Zio-Dispensationalists, Dominionists,Transferists &tons more neo-Nazi,Fascist/Nashi RussianJews who can't even speak Hebrew/Arabic/Yiddish,OR trace a Jewish matriline back!Heck,the Knesset's like a Russian-mob boxing ring!

20 ) Michael Craig Clark / USA
07/03/2014 18:32
Complexities of this issue are vast but it boils down to the major divisions within Christian Doctrine, one saying that nothing is left of the Bible for a Biblical Israel, predominantly PRETERISM, and the other DISPENSATIONALISM which teaches that God is not done with Israel and many prophecies around it are yet to be fulfilled. The second, of course, carries the weight of support for the Zionist State in hopes of it fulfilling their aspirations of eschatological events as they view the Bible.

21 ) Michael Craig Clark / USA
07/03/2014 18:53
Like any divide, in both Politics as well as Religion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Again, this is the case between the "replacement theology" of PRETERISM, and the FUTERIST’S views of DISPENSATONALISM propounded predominately from the fundamental and evangelical pulpits of Christendom. However the Second Coming of Christ is the common denominator between the two views that will only be settled at that time.

22 ) Colin Wright / USA
08/03/2014 01:13
To Brian Cohen #12: 'Colin, how many dead Israelis would make you happy?' I'm indifferent as to whether they live or die. I merely want them to leave. You all can come here, if that makes you feel better.

23 ) Jedidiah Palosaari / American/Morocco
08/03/2014 11:24
There are a number of untruths in the comments above. Christians have been leaving Palestine since al Nakba *because of Israeli rule*. They were 20%, and now are around 2%. Palestine by percentage was one of the largest Christian nations in the Middle East. They are leaving because they can, because they tended to be more wealthy than others. They claim it's because of the Israelis. Many sources confirm this. See "Dying in the Land of Promise" for example.

24 ) Violet Havesham (Miss) / Great Britain
08/03/2014 18:57
"...Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank, described the original Christ at the Checkpoint conference as part of an "Evangelical Intifada"... - What an exciting concept, what a novel way to describe the modern Christian soldiers in action. To Colin Wright's comment #4, I understand there are 'Tele Evangelists' in America who have a huge television following & raise vast sums of money for their cause. Imagine what they could do for the Palestinians with all that evangelising.

25 ) Mel / USA
08/03/2014 19:39
And please,do not confuse radical,exceptionalist so-called 'Judaic' or 'Christian' Zionism with moderate,tolerant,INCLUSIVE versions of either faith. Zionism is a EXCLUSIVE CULT FRINGE(with power/money)that hides under more moderate majority theology.Like confusing Al Qaida's Salafism,Wahhabism,Takfir with moderate Islam,or Nazism with moderate Protestantism.And don't confuse Judaic'secularism'or atheism,with less radical intent,because the POLITICAL,RACIST IDEOLOGUE is hidden there too!

26 ) Colin Wright / USA
08/03/2014 21:02
To Violet #24: 'To Colin Wright's comment #4, I understand there are 'Tele Evangelists' in America who have a huge television following & raise vast sums of money for their cause. Imagine what they could do for the Palestinians with all that evangelising.' Exactly -- and these people, not American Jews -- are actually the bedrock of America's support for Israel. They don't even need to be made to switch sides -- just to be made to realize there's more than one side.

27 ) Colin Wright / USA
08/03/2014 21:28
On busting up the Evangelical support for Israel, this is actually something more of us can do something about than we realize. My wife is an evangelical. I most definitely am not. She is reluctant to openly agree with me about Israel -- but my children tell me that whenever her church starts in on how wonderful Israel is, she throws a real spanner in the works. So if you know an evangelical, be nice -- and bring up what Israel really is. It is decidedly NOT something Jesus would like.

28 ) Maureen / Australia
09/03/2014 21:38
Wonder if Israeli Zionists know that Christian Zionists preach that unless unbelievers receive Jesus as their savior and become Christian, they will not enter God's Kingdom/be 'saved?'

29 ) ian / australia
10/03/2014 12:27
#27 "So if you know an evangelical, be nice -- " Eternally willing to be nice, as I am, let me take back #14-#15. American religious life can be baffling. I gather there are nasty extremes amongst evangelicals like the "honk if you hate fags" variety but that they appall the moderate, reasonable, decent kind (as your post suggests). It also suggests decent evangelicals are "reachable" on Israel despite the eschatological gobbledygook about the Second Coming and Great Tribulation and

30 ) ian / australia
10/03/2014 12:31
(contd.) the central role of Israel in it all they may encounter in church at varying levels of crazy. But they're reachable because kindness to others is central. The demolitions leaving Palestinian families distraught and homeless should be enough to touch the evangelical heart and hint that the Jewish State is not all sweetness and light. Next time I meet an evangelical, though we don't have many here, I'll be nice.

31 ) Colin Wright / USA
10/03/2014 20:29
To ian #29-30: ' Next time I meet an evangelical...' They have a theological argument that they've evolved in isolation. Left to themselves, they'll never question it. If you point out the flaws in that argument -- and tactfully make it clear that Israel is more of an abomination than anything else -- you'll at least leave them less sure than they were. Of particular use are Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-20.

32 ) Colin Wright / USA
10/03/2014 20:33
To ian #29: '...American religious life can be baffling. I gather there are nasty extremes amongst evangelicals like the "honk if you hate fags" variety but that they appall the moderate, reasonable, decent kind (as your post suggests).' I'm not carrying a torch for evangelicals. As I said, I'm not one -- and no further comment. However, the idea is make them stop supporting Israel -- and here's how.

33 ) Johannan / Germany
12/03/2014 10:40
Arnold, we had last week in Berlin an event with Arabs Christians from Israel. And they underlined: they do not feel well treated by the State of israel, they feel being neglected and discriminated.

34 ) Jeffrey / USA
16/03/2014 13:47
I am a Messianic Jew, and it pains me to see my brethren who are ethnic Arabs discriminated against, but we do not need to go back very far to see discrimination in our own country. I call for a unity among those who are disciples of Messiah Jesus. We must physically support our persecuted brethren around the world, and pray for them so that they would not deny the faith. I also firmly believe in supporting the State of Israel and loving the Jews. Love is the key to all issues.
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