Sunday, October 07, 2012

I am a member of the Irish Zionist Action Group, an online community that struggles to make Israel's voice heard in an unusually hostile environment. One of our members recently wrote to Eamon Gilmore, the Tanáiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs, raising the issue of the persecution of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank. He was sent a dismissive reply that put most of the blame for the situation in Gaza on Israel's blockade and that employed a statement from the Palestine Centre for Human Rights, which was described as 'independent'.

I was prompted by this to write to the Tanáiste myself, and the following letter is what I sent today. I don't expect a positive response, but at least this puts him on notice that there are stronger arguments than his.

Here's my letter:

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000149 EndHTML:0000023390 StartFragment:0000000199 EndFragment:0000023356 StartSelection:0000000199 EndSelection:0000023356 FAO Eamon Gilmore T.D., Tánaiste
Mary Connery, Private Secretary

A Chara

I am writing in reference to a letter signed by Mary Connery (and, I assume, on your behalf), sent in reply to a letter from a friend of mine, Barry Williams, who has copied me in to the correspondence. I am writing in my private capacity as an Irish scholar in the fields of Arabic, Persian and Islamic Studies, who has written books and articles in leading journals and contributed to the major reference in this area, The Encyclopedia of Islam. I have also worked as the editor of a major American journal, The Middle East Quarterly. On the strength of this, I believe I may claim some degree of expertise in the present matter.

I have chosen to write because I am troubled by several of the statements in your letter to Mr Williams. You state that he wrote to you ‘in relation to reports of the conversion of two Christians to Islam in Gaza’, and it is this you address in the rest of your reply. Only the middle paragraph of his letter referred to the two conversions. The first paragraph spoke of the plight of Christians in the Middle East in general. And in Iraq and Egypt in particular.

Your objectivity in this matter is called in question by your citation of remarks by the Palestine Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), a lobbying body notorious for its anti-Israel activism, its failure to decry human rights abuses by Palestinians in the Palestinian areas or in Israel, its whitewashing of terrorist actions by Palestinians, its open support for Hamas (denounced as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the US, Canada, Israel and Japan, its false accusation that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’, and its extreme bias against Israel.

You are, of course, perfectly free to refer to them, but surely only after you have made clear their partisanship. And I would have hoped you would like at least one Israeli site as a point of reference, given that Israel continues to have a security presence in Judaea and Samaria (currently called the West Bank), and possibly a neutral site (hard as they are to find).
There is no recognition on the Tanáiste’s part that different types of Christian persecution are frequent and almost ubiquitous in the Palestinian territories, especially Gaza, and that this persecution takes the forms of murder, arson, rape and intimidation

I do take your point that Hiba Abu Da’ud and Ramiz al-Amash, the two Christians referred to by Mr Williams as forced converts to Islam, have declared that they converted of their own free will. I would not choose to exemplify anti-Christian animus by these two converts. But I am surprised that you do not seem to have employed a non-Muslim expert on Islam to provide you with a broader picture of conversion as a theme within Islamic culture. A better understanding of this sensitive subject might help shed further light on the cases of conversion we are familiar with.

The forced conversion of Christians and Jews is rare in Islamic history, since both communities are permitted to keep their lives and property if they agree to submit to Muslim rule and to observe a series of humiliating impositions. Nevertheless, a Muslim may not be punished for the killing of a Jew or a Christian. In the modern period, when contact with Christian powers has become commonplace, anxieties about colonization, imperialism (but not Islamic imperialism) and, of course, inability to cope with the reality of Israel as an advanced and tolerant state have often been deflected onto local communities. After 1948, for example, Jewish communities living in Arab countries were expelled, leaving 900,000 as refugees. This did not happen to the Christian communities, but over the years pressure has been placed on Christians to leave Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. Do not forget that North Africa and the Levant were wholly Christian regions that fell to Islam in the 7th century and have, over the years, seen Muslims replace Christians almost everywhere. In the modern period, it must be noted that Christians have increased in numbers in only one Middle Eastern state, namely Israel. In all others, numbers have plummetted.

You are right in saying that many Christians leave the West Bank and Gaza for economic reasons, and you identify the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza as a key factor. Of course, the blockade is legal under international law and essential as a means of restricting the smuggling by sea of weapons that may be used by Hamas and affiliate bodies, largely to attack Israel. But Gaza itself is far from being economically deprived. Apart from the large sums Hamas receives in aid (but spends on other things), the strip has some 600 millionaires and several thousand near millionaires. Members of Hamas and others drive luxury cars (smuggled in through tunnels), eat at a couple of first-class restaurants, and buy luxury goods in a large shopping mall. This suggests to me that economic woes may not be the primary factor driving Christians to leave. That it was the rise of militant Islamism more than anything that prompted Christian departures is best illustrated by the fact that the exodus increased during the two intifadas. ‘Between October 2000 and November 2001, 2,766 Palestinian Christians left the West Bank, of which 1,640 left the Bethlehem area and another 880 left Ramallah.’ (Cited Weiner, see below.) The Christian population of Bethlehem only dropped sharply after 1994, when the town came under control of the PA. Prior to that, this had been the ,most highly populated Christian presence anywhere in the Holy Land. U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts attributes the departure of Palestinian Christians to being “driven [out] by the steady persecution of the PA and the realization that they will face worse treatment under a possible future Palestinian state.”

More pertinent than economic considerations – or so it seems to me – is the broad context of intimidation and control that today’s Christians live under in Gaza and the West Bank. I recommend that you read a very helpful report on this written by Justus Reid Weiner, a legal expert who has specialized in this field. He does not gloss over the facts. His book is entitled ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’, and you can consult it online. (

Weiner and others have identified a range of events that show increasing animosity towards Christians in Palestinian areas. The introduction to Weiner’s treatise refers to the Christian community there and says ‘They are a group whose persecution has gone almost entirely ignored by the international community, the relevant NGOs, and other human rights advocates. Facing widespread corruption in the PA security and police forces, facing growing anarchy and lawlessness in an increasingly xenophobic and restless Muslim populace, the Palestinian Christians have been all but abandoned by the very people whose task it is to protect them. The current massive emigration of Palestinian Christians from the territories can be demonstratively linked to the political empowerment of the Palestinian Authority in those areas.’

Weiner himself dedicates his book to one Ahmad El-Achwal [Ahamd al-Ashwal], a Palestinian Muslim who converted to Christianity, was subjected to imprisonment, torture and intimidation at the hands of the Palestine Authority, and was murdered in 2004. He was a father of eight children, who lived in a refugee camp. His conversion to Christianity was entirely of his own free will.

Achwal’s murder is paralleled by the killing of Rami Khadir Ayyad in 2007. Ayyad was the proprietor of the only Christian bookshop in Gaza, an outlet run by the Palestine Bible Society. Miltants put his shop to the torch, stabbed him to death, and left his body in a street in Gaza City. For years, he had received death threats for his missionary work among his fellow Palestinians. Some months earlier, a bomb caused severe damage to the Bible Society’s main building. To understand this properly, it is vital to bear in mind that, in all Islamic countries, proselytism by any religion but Islam is strictly banned by law, while any attempt to teach one’s religion may end – as it often does – in death. Even religious aid workers are open to the mere suspicion of being abroad in order to spread Christianity – as witness the killing in 2010 of ten medical aid workers in Afghanistan: their murders were justified by the Taliban on a charge of being there to spread Christianity.

In these countries, many Christian or Baha’i missionaries live quiet lives, perhaps until they die, knowing that open proclamation of their faith will inevitably lead to disaster. In Iran, the Baha’is – the country’s largest religious minority – have been hanged, dispossessed, denied permits to work in their professions, and denied entry to higher education. All their holy places, shrines, and cemeteries have been reduced to rubble. This is an example of how an Islamic regime treats non-Muslims in general. Christians in Saudi Arabia will be arrested and punished even for holding prayer sessions or Bible readings in their homes. So severe is the ruling Wahhabi sect that it has destroyed most of the earliest holy sites and cemeteries in Mecca and Medina. Recently in Mali, Islamists have destroyed most of the shrines belonging to the well-known tendency of Islamic mysticism, Sufism. In Pakistan, the blasphemy law has been used repeatedly to accuse Christians of disrespect for Islam or Muhammad or the Qur’an. As you may well know, the most recent example was an 11-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome. Even here, the penalty called for was death. If a handicapped eleven-year-old child was deemed a suitable object for condign punishment, how much more are adult Christians the potential victims should anyone raise doubts about them. Let me assure you that this is as true in Gaza and the West Bank as it is in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. In most Muslim countries, Jews are not welcome at all.

My point in raising the situation in other countries is simply this, that if Christians have been killed in a relatively tolerant country like Morocco (where I used to teach), it may be presumptuous to imply that Christians in violence-prone areas like Gaza, Judaea and Samaria do not suffer from a similar level of brutality and  intimidation.

Let’s return to the Palestinian territories. According to the World News Daily, ‘The once vibrant Christian communities of Bethlehem and Nazareth, with roots in the “land of Jesus” going back to first century Israel, are rapidly declining in the face of a systematic campaign of persecution conducted by the same Muslim terrorists intent on driving the Jews into the sea.

‘Beatings, sham legal proceedings, property seizures, dismissal and replacement of elected Christian leaders, accusations of selling property to Jews and intimidation by gunmen with links to the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have so reduced Christian populations in the cities of Jesus’ birth and boyhood’ one community leader predicts all Christians will be gone within 15 years.’

The same source states that Bethlehem-area Christian leaders and residents, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity... said they face an atmosphere of regular hostility and intimidation by Muslims.’ Again, ‘Christian leaders said one of the most significant problems facing Christians in Bethlehem is the rampant confiscation of land by Muslim gangs.’

Another source says ‘One Christian Bethlehem resident [said] her friend recently fled Bethlehem after being accused by Muslims of selling property to Jews, a crime punishable by death in some Palestinian cities.  The resident said a good deal of the intimidation comes from gunmen associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah organization.’ And again, Islamists march through Nazareth chanting ‘Islam is the only truth’ and ‘Islam shall rule all’. Why wouldn’t Christians feel intimidated? These are men with guns in a place brimming with a culture of death and a crippling need to assert male power through bombing, shooting and the slitting of throats. This may be done mainly to Jews, but Christians are a captive group who serve well enough as a people on whom to vent their anger.

In September 2005, a ‘riotous, murderous’ mob of Muslim extremists attacked the West Bank Christian village of Taiba, chanting ‘Let’s burn the infidels, let’s burn the Crusaders’. Nothing was done to compensate the Christians or to punish their Muslim attackers.

In 2007, Muslim terrorists ransacked a Christian complex in Gaza and did irreparable damage to a Catholic school and a convent.

Lina Ata’ Allah, a receptionist at the Silesian Convent and Church in Bethlehem illustrates the pettiness of pressures on Christians since the PA took control: ‘They spit at us, try to force us to wear headscarves, and in the [Islamic] fasting month of Ramadan that begins in a few days, the Palestinian police even arrest us for smoking or eating on the streets.…The Muslims want to get rid of us, they want us to live like them.’ Another example of this petty diminishing of Christians on the West Bank is the decision of the Voice of Palestine radio station that Christian names must not be included in any obituaries announced on their services. Again in Bethlehem, where there were once numerous Christian shops on Nativity Square, doing profitable business for the tourist trade, since PA control almost all these shops have been replaced by Muslim ones. As Said Ghazali reported in the Palestinian weekly newspaper the Jerusalem Times, ‘Cemeteries have been vandalized in Bethlehem. In Nazareth…property was damaged and Christian symbols were desecrated. Worshippers were prevented from attending religious services. An atmosphere of fear has been created.’ Other Christian holy places have been threatened or attacked.

A particularly vicious anti-Christian activity is the rape of young Christian women. Rapists are seldom punished in Muslim countries, since blame is placed on the victim. To have been raped means, in some cases, that a girl may be killed by her parents or brothers in an honour killing. Otherwise, the girl will be rendered ‘dirty’ and not capable of marrying a Christian man. This is when a Muslim man may offer to marry her, something that is the only solution for such a young woman. After marriage, she will be offered the option of converting to Islam. Such incidents are not uncommon, and you should bear them well in mind when considering instances of forced conversion. In the case that was mentioned, I would doubt very much that the woman and possibly the man were under some form of coercion.

Samir Qumsieh runs Bethlehem Radio al-Mahid. He has registered over 100 attacks on the town’s Christian community just for the two to three years 2003 to 2005. In 1948, Bethlehem had a Christian population of 80%. Since the PA took control in 1995, that figure has dropped to 23% or, according to other sources, 12%. Boundary changes skilfully adjusted by Yassir Arafat when he was given authority in the West Bank in 1994 have been a primary factor in creating this imbalance.The same thing has been true in Nazareth, Jerusalem and elsewhere. To place this in context, wherever Christians have lived in the Middle East, there has been a drastic decline, often from majority status to that of a tiny rump. Numbers have dropped significantly in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. (For a series of articles on this wider picture, see The Middle East Quarterly, 2001 8:1, here:

In 2005, Christians handed a dossier with full details of Muslim violence and intimidation to Church leaders. But those leaders have done nothing. Instead, they have acquired a reputation for corruption and collusion with the Muslim authorities. Seeking a quiet life without confrontation is an ages-long response to finding oneself beneath the boot of powerful opponents, and while it may in some measure be excused, it has not helped Christians under Hamas or PA rule to expose their plight to the world, including Ireland. Likewise, when Christians have made direct approaches to PA president Mahmoud ‘Abbas, their pleas for help have gone unanswered.

If you are still sceptical about the problem, may I refer you to as statement by the senior Franciscan cleric in Jerusalem, Father Pierbattista Pizzbella: ‘The problem exists. The Christian community has always suffered in the last few years because we are a minority. Many have the temptation to leave, so the community is shrinking.’ And they leave because Muslims intimidate them. Economic reasons play a part, as you suggest, but they are less important than the stimulus of fear. If economic concerns alone that forced Christians to leave, one has to ask why the same pressures did not to a great extent apply to the Muslim part of the population. In the West Bank, the population growth rate is over two percent, with a net migration rate of zero. Christians leave, few Muslims do so. I have to conclude that special factors pertain in the Christian case, and I do not find it hard to believe that these factors are a manifestation of the Christian persecution to which I have already alluded. It should be noted that there were no reports of Christian persecution in the West Bank or Gaza while Israel was in control, but that intimidation began after Israel handed the West Bank to Fatah in 1995 and then evacuated Gaza in its entirety in 2005, leaving first Fatah then the terrorist organization Hamas to run the area.

American Congressmen and Senators have spoken openly about the persecution of Christians under the PA and Hamas. There is nothing secret about it. Yet you present a concocted picture in which all seems rosy in this area. You write that ‘Christians are an integral and long established part of the Palestinian community’. When the issue of a Christian exodus is raised, you write that ‘the overwhelming majority of the decrease is due to economic migration as a result of the Israeli blockade of Gaza rather than any other factor’. Will you, in the light of all the evidence I have given you here repeat those manifest untruths to my face? Your e-mail to Mr Williams presents a distorted image of the region, making Palestinian society seem rose-tinted and the only real fault is the Israeli blockade of a terrorist entity that has been recognized as that by several countries who are Ireland’s allies.

Many decades ago, the Palestinians (who were then merely Arabs) embarked on a policy to kill as many Jews as possible, and to that end they have fought three major wars, carried out almost daily terrorist activity against civilians, and used two intifadatan to kill more Jews in more places. Is it surprising that such people, who constitute some of the worst in any society, primarily through their use of the suicide bomber, might not hold back from persecuting or killing Christians?

You write at the start of your letter, ‘Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a fundamental human right protected in international human rights law, and the Tanáiste strongly believes that individuals should never be intimidated or suffer any form of prejudice or persecution as a result of their religious beliefs.’ You end by saying ‘Ireland will continue to raise issues concerning freedom of religion in all multilateral for a to ensure that all individuals have the right to practice their faith.’

No doubt you and the Tanáiste believe all that in the abstract, but I see none of it brought to reality. The Baha’is of Iran have for decades now been unable to practise their faith openly and are persecuted on its account. Christians in Saudi Arabia face imprisonment just for praying together. Christians in Pakistan are arrested and sometimes killed. Coptic Christians in Egypt are subjected to all forms of abuse and not even allowed to repair churches. And across the Palestinian regions, as I have set out briefly in this letter, Christians of all types are harassed, killed and raped. Just because they are Christians. In Hebron on the West Bank, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the second holiest sanctuary of the Jewish people, has been taken by Muslims and turned for the most part into a mosque.

What have the Tanáiste or the Taoiseach or the Dáil done to alleviate the sufferings of the groups I have mentioned, and others across the Muslim world? Have you written little letters reassuring complainants that all is really well and that the persecutors are sweet and loving folk who deserve our understanding? Perhaps you use highly biased sources like the Palestine Centre for Human Rights.

Something is wrong. I would not have expected to read a letter like the one you sent to Barry Williams, coming from a holder of a high state office in a Western country ostensibly dedicated to democracy, freedom, and human rights. You must do something about this. You must find broader and more reliable sources of information on all these matters. Whatever the advantages of trade with Islamic states, I plead with you not to sell out to their demands to place Islam on top of everything they say and do, and their unconcealed insistence on keeping non-Muslims in their place or in no place at all.

I hope I have made my argument clearly enough. Naturally, I am willing to answer any questions you may have or to add to any point that has been left unclear. But I do hope to receive an answer that involves a reconsideration of your reply in the light of the evidence I have presented, that things are neither happy nor promising under PA and Hamas rule, and that it may not be long before towns like Nazareth and Bethlehem will be emptied of Christians and the churches and holy places there turned into mosques, a fate that has befallen numerous important churches from the beginning of Islam until now.

Is mise le meas

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Letter to the British Foreign Office

Here's a letter which I'm about to send to the FO once I get the proper address. Any suggestions for improvement will be welcome. This is an improved version over the one I first posted. Mostly, it's a correction of typos.


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FAO Simon Fraser, William Hague, and Alistair Burt

Dear Sirs,

I write in support of a petition I have recently signed, asking the British Foreign Office to alter its position on what has become an unnecessarily vexed question concerning the capital of Israel. As you know, Israelis are unanimous in regarding Jerusalem as their capital, not Tel Aviv (where the British embassy is currently located), nor Haifa nor Jaffa nor Petah Tikva nor anywhere else in the country.

It is not hard to understand why the first Israeli parliament chose Jerusalem as its seat, even before it had built an edifice suitable to the needs of the men and women who sat in its chamber.  For many centuries, Jews in the Diaspora had clung to a hope, not only of a return to the Holy Land, but to Jerusalem in particular, the erstwhile home of its holiest Temple and the scene of so many primary events in Jewish and Christian history. This might be dismissed on the grounds that religious belief should not determine a city’s status, but many cities derive their significance from their role as religious centres, from Mecca and Medina (the latter having been the first capital of Islam), to Karbala’ and Mashhad, to Varanasi (Benares) and the Vatican City. This original attachment, intensified by daily prayers while facing Jerusalem and repeated wishes to return there, was later supplanted by the governmental, educational, trading, defensive, legal and bureaucratic concerns of the capital of a secular state.
As a people who have been deeply wronged in the past, Jews have tried to build their own state along lines of equal citizenship, a single legal system, human rights, and the protection of all holy places. But when Jordan occupied East Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967, Muslim holy places were renovated while 58 synagogues were destroyed and 38,000 Jewish graves were demolished. In addition, Jews were not allowed to set foot in their own holy places, notably on the Temple Mount. By contrast, when Israel retook Jerusalem in 1967, the Temple Mount was handed to a Muslim authority on account of two Islamic structures built on top of it, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Qubbat al-Sakhra or Dome of the Rock.
Such depredations and a lack of reciprocity have made Israelis wary of a Muslim takeover of East Jerusalem, where the holiest sites are located: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall (the Kotel), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, and the famous Jewish graveyards, still vandalized horribly by Arab criminals.
But the Palestinians have made it their business to turn Jerusalem into a bastion of Islamic holiness, not just because the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are there, but because they now claim that there has never been any Jewish connection to the city or to the land of Israel. There was, they boast, no Jewish Temple there. All Biblical references to the Temple and to Jerusalem as a city built by King David are summarily and ahistorically dismissed.
Given that Muslims have demolished the holy places of more than one religion, the Jews are rightly concerned lest Jerusalem fall under Islamic control. In Saudi Arabia for decades now, the government has been engaged in the destruction of Islamic holy places in Mecca and Medina. Lest you think me in the grip of some obscure fantasy, I should explain that the Wahhabi form of Islam, which governs Saudi Arabia, is utterly ruthless in its condemnation of anything that may be worshipped instead of God. They have demolished over 200 historical sites to prevent pilgrims praying at them. In Mali, a similar form of Islam – Salafism – has recently demolished dozens of shrines belonging to the Sufi form of Islam. And in Iran, the government has demolished all the holy places and cemeteries of the persecuted Baha’i religion. Israel, by way of contrast, protects and nourishes the large international headquarters and two holiest shrines of the Baha’is, places now recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Is it surprising that the Israelis, backed by Jews and others like myself round the world, are desperate to maintain the integrity of the city, knowing as they do that Muslim Arab rule would carry a greatly heightened risk to the Old City and its environs? Israel has been generous towards Muslims and their holy places, but they fear that if increased pressure were to come from Saudi Arabia or Iran or, nearer to hand from Hamas, everything Jewish might be eliminated. Palestinians have taken control of the Jewish Tomb of Rachel, the third holiest site for Jews. They have commandeered most of the Ma’arat Ha-Machpelah, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and made access for Jews to a tiny space very difficult, as I can personally attest. This is the second holiest site for Jews, containing as it does the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah.
In the earliest days of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad adopted from his Jewish neighbours the practice of turning towards Jerusalem during the five daily prayers. But in the year 622, a few months after his arrival in Medina, he did an about turn during one prayer session and from then on directed his followers to pray towards his home city of Medina. He severed all direct ties with Jerusalem, and in the centuries that followed Jerusalem was never a provincial capital, nor the heart of a Muslim country or empire. Medina in the first years, then Damascus, Baghdad, Istanbul and other cities became the capitals of Islam. Cairo was the major city in North Africa, Fez and Rabat capitals of the west, Esfahan, Tabriz, Tehran and others the royal cities of Iranian dynasties. And so on. But Jerusalem was never given such signal importance. This is significant. Palestinian wishes to make Jerusalem defy centuries of insignificance would lock us into a dispute that could last one thousand years.
For this reason, Jews everywhere will refuse to relinquish a city that was theirs from the beginning, and they will not reward people who have tried to take what was never theirs, who have tried to deny the historical record concerning the Jewish presence in a city that has been Jewish for 3000 years. To confirm the place of Jerusalem at the heart of Jewish life and prayers and as the eternal capital of their only homeland, Jews and Israelis appeal to honest governments to do the right thing and recognize that Jerusalem is the city where all the key aspects of Israeli life converge. No Israeli regards Tel Aviv as his or her capital. It is demeaning to treat Israelis as children by telling them this or that foreign government knows better than they and their government when it comes to designating Jerusalem their capital. I do not think you treat any other capital city in this way. You do not call Cork the capital of Ireland, nor Glasgow the capital of Scotland, nor the cathedral city of St. David’s the capital of Wales, nor Marseilles the capital of France. I do not believe the Foreign Office means to be insulting in this matter; but if foreigners called Birmingham the capital of England and the UK, would you not feel aggrieved?
Israel’s enemies call in all seriousness for the destruction of the country. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on all Islamic nations to ‘exterminate Israel’ (my translation). The Arabs, faced by their repeated failure to achieve this by military means or terrorism, have turned to secondary means, saying that there never any Jews in Israel, that they themselves were there first, an impossible 9000 years ago, and that Jerusalem was always an Arab city (a claim that directly contradicts the accounts of Arab historians like al-Tabari). It is a cheap and dishonest attempt to rewrite history itself and to introduce confusion into a simple narrative. Denying the historicity and modern reality of Israel, of Jerusalem, and of Israelis by refusing to liberate the city from the string of fictions that has tied so many in knots, allows falsehood and deceit to rule in international affairs. Britain is still a great country that is admired the world round for its probity. I do not doubt that you, like myself, wish to see that image remain untarnished. But I have to say that it is in some measure tarnished when you try to steal the Israeli capital from the Israelis themselves.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin
15 Erskine Court
Lindisfarne Close
Newcastle upon Tyne

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I've just been engaging in one of those day-in, day-out online wars with a number of anti-Israel types, some of whom are well-informed (which is refreshing). Don't you hate it when they keep coming back at you, sniping away? One (less well-informed) thought Israel invaded the Arab states in 1948. Today's offering from the other side (and sometimes I think it IS the Other Side) prompted the following from me (but I've edited this). 1967 6-Day War not seen as defensive? Let me paste the following: Professor, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, past President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)11 states the following facts: “The facts of the June 1967 ‘Six Day War’ demonstrate that Israel reacted defensively against the threat and use of force against her by her Arab neighbors. This is indicated by the fact that Israel responded to Egypt's prior closure of the Straits of Tiran, its proclamation of a blockade of the Israeli port of Eilat, and the manifest threat of the UAR's use of force inherent in its massing of troops in Sinai, coupled with its ejection of UNEF. It is indicated by the fact that, upon Israeli responsive action against the UAR, Jordan initiated hostilities against Israel. It is suggested as well by the fact that, despite the most intense efforts by the Arab States and their supporters, led by the Premier of the Soviet Union, to gain condemnation of Israel as an aggressor by the hospitable organs of the United Nations, those efforts were decisively defeated. The conclusion to which these facts lead is that the Israeli conquest of Arab and Arab-held territory was defensive rather than aggressive conquest.” Here is another, more relevant to your claim that the UN did not recognize that Israel fought a defensive war. The source is non-Israeli: Judge Sir Elihu Lauterpacht wrote in 1968, just one year after the 1967 Six-Day War: “On 5th June, 1967, Jordan deliberately overthrew the Armistice Agreement by attacking the Israeli-held part of Jerusalem. There was no question of this Jordanian action being a reaction to any Israeli attack. It took place notwith-standing explicit Israeli assurances, conveyed to King Hussein through the U.N. Commander, that if Jordan did not attack Israel, Israel would not attack Jordan. Although the charge of aggression is freely made against Israel in relation to the Six-Days War the fact remains that the two attempts made in the General Assembly in June-July 1967 to secure the condemnation of Israel as an aggressor failed. A clear and striking majority of the members of the U.N. voted against the proposition that Israel was an aggressor.” [Lauerpacht is an Honorary Professor of International Law at Cambridge and founder of the Lauerpacht Centre for International Law in the University.] You also need to look at UN Article 51 and General Resolution 3314 to see the grounds for deciding what is and what is not defensive war, and to see why the UN refused to denounce Israel for fighting an 'aggressive' war. Further down, and speaking of Israel, you write 'We could discuss what you mean by "very decent"' [I had called Israel a 'very decent' country]. We could indeed. Let me spell it out. Israel has passed and enforces laws and guarantees rights for women, people of all races, gays, religious minorities from Islam to Baha'i. Not one other state in the Middle East and beyond has or enforces laws of this kind. In Iran, all the holy places and cemeteries of the minority Baha'i religion have been bulldozed to the ground; in Israel, the Baha'is have two large religious sites that form a vast UNESCO World Heritage Site. Is all that not decent? In Israel, Arabs have identical rights to Jews. They vote, serve in parliament, sit on the Supreme Court, serve as diplomats, attend university (forming 20% of any student body). Israel sends aid teams round the world to help after disasters. Is all that not very decent? Israeli hospitals treat, not just Jews or Israeli Arabs, but Palestinians, especially Palestinian children, hundreds of whom have had heart repair and transplant operations. Not very decent? Israeli researchers have invented dozens of drugs and medical devices that are in use round the world, saving lives. Would you call that indecent? Israelis invented the re-Walk device, an exo-skeleton that allows paraplegics to walk (one wholly paralyzed British woman used it this year to walk the London Marathon). Decent or indecent? It's up to you. Rather than go for years with ongoing terrorism that was killing Israelis and forcing Israeli troops to kill Palestinian terrorists (and, o0ften, bystanders), Israel spent a fortune to build a fence that has now saved hundreds of lives on both sides. Decent? They had the choice of going down the Nazi route, of course, and carpet-bombing the West Bank, but chose not to. It was a moral choice. Where is your moral compass. Israel offers the world a remarkable wealth of positive things and stands head and shoulders above any of its neighbours (Iran? Syria? Egypt? Libya? Work it out). It's what a civilized, cultured, tolerant and morally decent country is like. Israelis do not use suicide bombers. They do not fire rockets without discrimination into civilian areas. They produce good music, great literature, successful sportsmen and women, wonderful artists, and genuine possibilities in life for its Arab citizens. They love life, not death. They do not seek martyrdom. They play on the beaches, they listen to jazz, they play classical music, they produce dancers of international stature (like the Bat Sheva Dance Company), they grow grapes and drink wine, they are multiracial, they try to entice the Palestinians to peace talks and are rebuffed, just as they have always been rebuffed. They are not the worst people in the world. Rather, they are among the best. Their greatest problem lies in the fact that their neighbours hate them to a level you probably don't even guess, and that they all, without exception, want to commit genocide in order to eliminate all the region's Jews and the Israeli state itself. Do you really hate Israeli that much? Do you call for jihad? What precisely would you recommend? Would you expose Israel to genocidal killers who have a long history of terrorism? Israelis are normal people, like you and me. Why destroy a people like that? Israel is a very decent country indeed. Think again and ask yourself why you aren't out there condemning really criminal states like Iran.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Israel and homeopathy – sort of. That's not a very good title but, like most titles, it will do. Please forgive me if you think I'm digressing from the basic Zionist narrative of this blog, but if you will read further, you'll see I'm not. I want to start by making some observations about myself and homeopathy, and if you have patience you'll finally see where this leads. My wife is a very experienced and successful homeopath and the author of some twenty books on health issues, including several on homeopathy. In my day, I've been a homeopathic patient and for many years the chairman of Britain's Natural Medicines Society. I'm not trained in medicine, but I am fascinated by many aspects of it, especially the research that has been done into alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy. So, that's my bias. If you know nothing about homeopathy,I won't take up time here to explain it. Google will, no doubt, give you more than one place to go in order to read about it. The main thing (and Google will show this to you quite vividly) is that, ever since its emergence in the 18th century, homeopathy has been enormously controversial. If anything, it is just as controversial today as it was then. Supporters of orthodox medicine hate it. They don't just mildly dislike it, they hate it with venom. But homeopathy has its respectable side. The British Royal Family has used it since the days of Victoria, and one of the Queen's physicians is always a homeopath. In 1948, it was adopted into the British National Health Service. This was always controversial, and there have been attempts to close homeopathic hospitals, something that happened a long time ago in the United States. Just last week, in the cabinet reshuffle, a new Health Secretary was appointed. He is Jeremy Hunt, and he is a supporter of homeopathy. This simple fact has unleashed a torrent of wholly irrational abuse. The Guardian (remember it?) has had several 'Comment is Free' pages, one based on an article by me, and has published one based around the Hunt appointment. In all these cases, the number of commentators reaches to well over 1000. If you read them, substitute 'Israel' for 'Homeopathy' and you will find yourself in familiar territory. About 99% of these posters trumpet themselves as rationalists, yet not one shows the least sign of being equipped to engage in a rational argument. They have never read academic books on homeopathy, never visited a homeopath, never sat in with a homeopathic doctor or vet (many homeopaths start life as conventional doctors), never read the numerous scientific papers on the subject. When asked for evidence to support their position, they just get more abusive. Their language is never temperate. Nobody challenges the homeopaths to engage in a properly moderated discussion. When someone like myself points out that the placebo effect cannot possibly explain how herds of dairy cows recover from mastitis when a liquid homeopathic remedy is put into their drinking troughs, they simply ignore it. Hatred for homeopathy is not, of course, restricted to Guardian readers, any more than hatred of Israel and Zionists has its only home in that paper's pages. But the Guardian does encapsulate a certain world view that relates particularly to a certain category of person, young to middle-aged, would-be intellectual, leftist in their politics, vitriolic when condemning things they disapprove of, be it homeopathy or Israel. We've all seen it, haven't we, that extraordinary ability to criticize without evidence, that need to distort whatever evidence there may be or to present as fact something that simply isn't true ('Israel is an apartheid state'). There are times I want to blow a gasket reading yet another post saying the Jews invaded Palestine in 1948, drivel masquerading as common sense, childish rubbish pretending to be part of adult discourse. The worst thing is how so many present themselves as rational people. Most will have been to a university somewhere, where they have been introduced to the concept of rational, evidence-based argument. That then becomes their pose. But the pose does not disguise the underlying sickness of their minds. Young Westerners who can chant 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas' are clearly sick. All those posts calling for the murder of Jews are not the work of the sane, the rational, the commonsensical. The two situations are, I think, analogous. Just as I have no objection to someone engaging in a scientific debate in order to debunk homeopathy (and with the open-mindedness to consider evidence in its favour), so I have no axe to grind with someone who wants to argue the one-state solution or even a total Arab takeover of Israel, provided they do so with statistics and historical records, and avoid aspersions like 'Nazi state' or 'there was never any Jewish temple in Jerusalem'. Greater rationality will get us all further, just as a real desire for peace will bring us closer to it. No country in history has had to endure, not simply physical attack, but the antagonism of most of the world, vitriolic expressions of hatred, outright lies, wilful misunderstanding, immoral assertions of morality, and a self-defeating hatred of the enemy by the enemy itself. Let's look at something related to all this. When we watch film of Palestinian crowds in Gaza or the West Bank or rioters in Cairo or anti-Israel marchers in London or Paris, or members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or the International Solidarity Movement screaming at lecturers, drowning the music at a classical concert, howling at a performance by the Bat Sheva dance company – do we not see what so many politicians refuse to see – namely a primitive force seething at civilization. It is the Arab countries that have been and are plunged into wave after wave of violence. It is the Palestinians who have mastered and passed on the art of the suicide bomber and conferred on it the status of the highest aspiration, the most eloquent art form, the art of death achieved in its singularity, its momentary denial of life, not just for the bomber, but for others who did not wish it. It is the supporters of the Palestinians in the West who have denied the best impulses of their own society, the orderly progress of their own civilization, the rule of law and order, and who have found refuge in the weakness of their own countries to clamp down on threats of violence and anti-Semitic abuse. I worry that homeopathy, a slow, gentle but incredibly effective healing method, is at risk of being banned by a crowd of neurotics driven to impose their own beliefs on others. And I am concerned that countries led by dictators, religious extremists, theocrats, torturers, anti-Semites and other legions of the possessed may pile pressure upon pressure to make life almost unbearable for Israel. The only answer is evidence. Scientific evidence (already available) that homeopathy can be more effective than any conventional therapy for the right conditions. And evidence that the Palestinians and their Arab partners (not to mention Iran) have for many decades attacked Israel and refused to recognize it or make peace with it; and evidence that Israel has bent over backwards to make peace and has asked very little in return. The problem is, of course, that evidence as such is of no real use unless those who examine it have the right attitude, that they are unblinkered and not driven by prejudice. But it is rare to find many who are genuinely open-minded. There are two excellent studies that illustrate this issue within a scientific context. Many of you will have read Thomas Kuhn's classic, 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions', which is where the term 'paradigm shift' comes from. Kuhn argues with numerous details that when a younger generation comes along and tries to shift the paradigm of scientific knowledge in one or another field, the older generations snarls and rejects the evidence for the new paradigm ('what do you mean, the earth goes round the sun? How dare you?'). Harry Collins's study, 'Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice' leads the reader through an array of experiments with which he was personally involved or which he observed. The experiments go from seemingly very easy to replicate (but actually hard) to the very outré. In all cases, especially the later ones, scientists display a great deal of personal prejudice, even outright bigotry. If that is the case with science, it is not surprising it happens even more grossly in religion and politics. I don't doubt that I and other Zionists carry illusions and that we are in our own way prejudiced. But I think that our opponents are motivated by nothing more than a distorted weltanschauung, a world view so seriously polluted by lies, myths, and distortions of reality that it is of no use in any debate about the key issues, much less in the negotiation of peace talks. And I think that Israel, whatever its faults, is actually pretty well much what it claims to be, that its reality is incontrovertible. Israel really has been attacked again and again, it really has done its best to create security with minimal harm, it really does work for the human rights of its citizens, and it really is a world leader in all areas of science and technology. These and other things are our evidence. Our problem is to find partners on the other side. I don't believe we can find anyone. Where do we go from here?

Monday, September 03, 2012

I haven't been posting here for some time, but I have been writing things you may wish to read. Here's one, a letter I wrote a few months back to the American writer Alice Walker, an anti-Israel activist. Denis 20 June 2012 Alice Walker c/o Wendy Weil Literary Agency New York Dear Ms Walker, This is not a fan mail, though I wish it were. It is, equally, not a criticism of any of your books, which have said so much to so many. It is that very simple thing, a request to reconsider. I am, like yourself, a writer, having published (mainly with Harper Collins UK and US) over twenty-five novels under two different names. I am also a former academic in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a former editor of the Middle East Quarterly. I know the Middle East well, and have lived in Iran and Morocco. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked to the core to find that the sensitive author of The Color Purple and so many other books that speak to the heart has refused to let a Hebrew translation of that first, classic story to be published. Nor was I less shocked to discover that a woman of your merit and generally sound political judgement had joined forces with groups and individuals who campaign against the state of Israel and treat it with the sort of contempt that would be better reserved for the countries that surround it. You have spoken out against racism, yet you accuse a country that is visibly anti-racist to be the opposite of what it is. Please don’t dismiss what I say without further thought. It seems that you condemn Israel because it practices apartheid. Have you ever been to Israel? Have you ever walked Israeli streets, spoken to Jewish and Arab Israelis, sought out clear signs of the apartheid you’ve been told you will find there? I do not think you have, for had you done so you would have been surprised by the absolute absence in Israel of any of the features of apartheid, as it was applied by the South African government years ago. That apartheid had as its principal aim the separation of blacks and whites and was hell for black people for many, many years. Though it pains me to say so, I find it offensive that you and other anti-Israel activists feel it necessary to indulge in an outright falsehood. Think of South African apartheid and all its ramifications. Did blacks have the vote outside their ‘homelands’? Did they serve in parliament or as government ministers? Were they sent abroad as diplomats? Did they serve as judges? In Israel today, every Arab citizen has exactly the same right to vote and be elected as any Jewish citizen. There are Arab members of parliament. Arab members of the cabinet. Arabs on the Supreme Court. Arab diplomats. Beyond that, not one place is forbidden to Arab Israelis. They can sit in the same cinemas as Jews, swim in the same pools, run on the same beaches, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same universities, lecture at those universities, lie on adjacent beds in the same wards in the same hospitals. Palestinian children attend speciual educational courses alongside their Jewish coevals and are taught the virtues of co-existence. And thinking of Palestinian children, an Israeli charity called ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ brings well over 200 children suffering serious heart conditions and operates to save their lives. 40% of the children who underwent cardiac surgeries are from Africa, 49% are from the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco, 4% are from Eastern Europe and the Americas and 7% are from Asia. And you call this an ‘apartheid state’? The PA, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco are all sworn enemies of Israel who regularly call for its destruction and for the genocide of all Jews living there. Would an apartheid state save the lives of its enemies’ children or allow Palestinian women to give birth in its hospitals, side by side with Jewish women? Am I completely insane for thinking you have it all back to front? You may well say to me, what about Gaza, what about the West Bank? – those are the places where apartheid takes place. But does it? Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and in doing so exposed itself to year after year of rocket and mortar fire from Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The territory is currently under the control of Hamas, one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist entities. Israel has two functions there: to exercise a wholly legal sea and land blockade in order to prevent Hamas acquiring (mainly through tunneling) advanced weaponry, most of it supplied by Iran, another country which openly calls for genocide in Israel. To mitigate the impact of the blockade, Israel has set up an important border control station, through which thousands of tons of goods pass into Gaza every week. Life is not easy for Gaza, but it is controlled by an armed group whose charter calls for the killing of Jews and rejects peace-making of any kind. This is many things, but it’s not apartheid. The West Bank has nothing I would call apartheid. 96% of Palestinians live under the Palestinian Authority administration. Overall, Israel is responsible for security. For a period of many years, wave after wave of terrorist attacks have come out of the West Bank, especially in the form of suicide bombings. To this day, Palestinian streets boast posters bearing the faces of suicide bombers, buildings, including schools, are named after them, schoolchildren are taught to admire them, to write poems for them, and to hanker after martyrdom themselves. Are Palestinians on the West Bank treated badly? Probably. But how badly is badly? There is a war going on, a quiet war that nonetheless exposes innocent civilians on both sides to constant danger. But the Palestinians have for over sixty years refused to take up the very fair deal offered them by the United Nations in 1947, and until they do so and establish a state that does not dream of the destruction of its neighbour simply because it is a Jewish state, there cannot be peace, there cannot be honest dialogue, and there cannot be a full programme of mutual assistance. Terrorism and war are the twin contexts within which all today’s problems lie. It has been said that ‘If the Palestinians laid down their weapons, there would be peace tomorrow. If the Israelis laid down their weapons, there would be no Israel.’ I am writing to you because I believe you have shown yourself on other issues to be open-minded and attuned to context. You have taken a stand for gay people, yet seem unaware that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals enjoy full rights and can celebrate their status in public. Tel Aviv is rightly considered one of the gay capitals of the world. Surely this is important to you. Does it not go a long way towards refining your image of the Jewish state? I am a liberal (in the British sense at least), and Israel is the only country I know in the Middle East that pays more than lip service to the human rights in which we both believe. It bewilders me that someone as open-minded and open-hearted as yourself should choose to support the side of violence, of prejudice, of outright hatred. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that you must be – as are so many of those who hate Israel – simply ignorant of the realities of life there. I do not say that to blame you – ignorance of the Middle East runs right through Western societies, from media pundits to presidents and prime ministers. I could write pages more in an attempt to help you see reason, but I don’t think that would, in itself, achieve very much. You don’t want to be preached to, I’m sure of that – and I’ve already preached more than I intended at the outset of this letter. But we do share one thing and that is the power of imagination. It takes imagination to see beyond the dogmas on either side of an argument like this. And that is what I want you to do, to use your imagination to see past the innumerable lies and obfuscations that have blinded people’s eyes to what has really been going on between the Jews and the Arabs. It is still not uncommon – particularly in Arabic writing and speech-making – for Israel’s enemies to speak of it as ‘a Nazi state’. This is commonplace. It occurs as often as not along with a deep ignorance of the very great real evil the Nazis did, with denial of the Holocaust, with street banners reading ‘Why didn’t Hitler finish the job?’ and ‘God Bless Hitler’. You will not need prompting from me to agree that this modern attempt to turn the tables on a people who suffered the Holocaust and now carry it in their blood is worthy of the strongest condemnation. But it is the Palestinians and their allies who voice these gruesome sentiments, and it is the Israelis who run charities to save children’s hearts, who send out aid missions to Haiti and Japan and Mali and throughout the world because they believe in humanity, who have helped feed most of Africa, who have produced one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, who save lives everywhere with their medicines and medical devices. Please take this opportunity to revise your thoughts about Israel. If it should ever be destroyed – as its enemies fervently hope it will be – it will be a disaster for the Middle East and for the world. Find books, watch videos, cast your mind about to discover what Israel really is. Talk to some Jews, and not just those who are opposed to Israel. It is not what you think it is, of that you can be sure. And if you would like to visit Israel and probe into things yourself, just let me know and I will help arrange it. Thank you for reading this far. If you take what I say seriously, you will be surprised by what you find, bright against what you thought you knew but did not. Yours sincerely, Dr. Denis MacEoin