This article was just written by Avner for publication in MAOZ Ministries’ latest e-letter. It is reprinted here with kind permission of the Sorko-Rams and MAOZ Ministries. Here is the link:
Over the past few years, some Palestinian Christians have been trumpeting a Replacement theology message which most Messianic Jews feel is harmful to the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Before we look at what this new Palestinian Replacement theology is saying, we need to first define terms, and understand what a Palestinian is.
Historical roots of the term ‘Palestinian’
The origin of the term ‘Palestinian’ comes from the period just after the Romans crushed the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt (135 AD/CE). The Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed the province Provincia Syria Palaestina, using the Latin version of the word ‘Philistine’ the biblical enemies of the Jewish people. Hadrian’s choice of the word was not accidental – it was a deliberate Roman insult. In that century the majority of the inhabitants of this region were Jews. Arabs did not pour into the province of Palaestina until the jihadi invasions of 638 AD.
Though no country called Palestine was ever established, the curse-name given by the Romans continued to be loosely associated with the region through the centuries. After the Islamist invasion, many Arabs settled here. With the advent of the Crusaders, an influx of Catholic Europeans and Byzantines from Constantinople inundated the land. In the centuries surrounding the Turkish Ottoman invasion of 1517, successive levels of Central Asian Muslims also made their home in this region.
Only after the British conquest in December 1917 did the region receive the name the ‘Palestine Mandate’ – in 1922. In those days the term Palestinian was used to describe Jews as well as Arabs, and the original name of the Jewish newspaper ‘The Jerusalem Post’ was ‘The Palestine Post.’ Only after the 1948 War of Independence did the term Palestinian gradually morph into a synonym for Arabs from the Land of Israel. As a result, the term Palestinian is a rather modern moniker.
As Arab Palestinians attempt to make their own unique contribution to religious discussion, as they share their distinctive perspective as Semites living in the land which Abraham bequeathed to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 25:5-6), let’s ask the question: What have Palestinian Christian Arabs contributed so far to the Body of Messiah’s theological and spiritual understandings regarding the role and calling of the Jewish people?
Suffering and theology
One of the main issues that Palestinian Christians have focused upon concerns their suffering in the 20th century, as the armed forces of the Arab-Islamic world have clashed with the resurgent Jewish State of Israel. Arab Christians in the land of Israel are truly a small Christian minority within the larger Muslim community, and much of their perspective is borrowed from the larger Muslim community’s group perspective.
The Islamist riots in Jerusalem in the 1920’s and 30’s, the massacre of the Jewish community in Hebron in 1929, the local Arab attacks on first British and then Israeli Jewish infrastructure and communities in the 1930’s and 40’s – these violent expressions of resistance to established authority are an important key in understanding modern Palestinian Christian theologizing vis-à-vis Jews, Israel and Messianic Jews.
In the early 20th century Arab Christians often found themselves rejected by their larger Islamic host communities as quislings. Arab Christians were viewed as collaborating with the infidel western civilization, spiritual heirs of the Crusaders, as dhimmi (an Arabic term for the oppressive second-class status of Jews and Christians in Islamic society) – in short, a disloyal fifth column in a monolithic Muslim world.
As a result, some Christian Arabs (both nominal and Evangelical) have bent over backwards, manifesting a nearly compulsive desire to prove themselves even more committed to the greater Arab umma (people), even more radical than their Muslim neighbors in their espousal of Palestinian national awakening and in their resistance to the Jewish state.
One outstanding example of this dynamic comes to us from the PLO’s world of violent resistance. Dr. George Habash, founder and former Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was born to an Arab Christian family in Lod and sang in a children’s choir in his family’s Greek Orthodox Church. He eventually moved into politics, and was exiled twice from Jordan after participating in two unsuccessful coups to overthrow Jordan’s King Hussein. He joined Yasser Arafat’s PLO and became a leading member. In 1970 his attempted putsch resulted in the Black September massacres. He directed the terror massacres at Ben-Gurion airport (27 dead), the Swissair bombing (47 dead), and the Entebbe hijacking to Uganda. Habash was unusually radical in the world of Palestinian terror, and was the only Christian to achieve such a prominent status.
Suffering and victimhood – building blocks of a Palestinian theology
In 1948 the combined armies of many Arab countries declared a jihad against the Jewish farms and towns of the land of Israel, prophesying massacre and genocide. Yet in bloody and extended combat, these Arab armies were for the most part pushed back by Jewish irregulars (the Haganah). Instead of a massacre of Jews, the War of Independence saw repeated Israeli victories.
Arabs fled their own cities and villages, in most cases urged to do so by Arab leaders. Many simply moved up the coast to Beirut or down the coast to Gaza, awaiting the almost certain Islamic triumph and massacre of the Jews that had been proclaimed. In a minority of other cases, some Arabs were forcibly removed from their villages by Israeli forces, especially in strategic areas where Arab forces were hoping to break through and strangle the fledgling Jewish state.
- The Palestinian refugee problem is the result of that conflict.
- But whereas the State of Israel absorbed 800,000 Jewish refugees driven out from Muslim lands in those same years (granting them full citizenship), the Arab world kept Palestinians stateless and interned them in squalid camps on the borders of Israel. Egypt and Syria trained Palestinians to become fedayeen (Arabic for sacrificial redeemers), guerilla fighters who were directed to attack Israeli infrastructure, kibbutzim and travelers.
- Rather than ameliorating the refugee situation, the neighboring Arab states made a concerted effort to turn the refugees into a political and military tool – one which would try to destroy the Jewish state.
The terminology of revenge
Since then, at least two Palestinian generations have been brought up with a skewed view of Palestinian history – a view which blames the Jews for winning a war which, if the Jewish forces had lost, would have resulted in the annihilation of the Israeli people. This skewed Palestinian view speaks with a voice trembling with the anger of revenge and the desire for reconquest. This Palestinian narrative of history is kept alive by inflammatory Arabic buzz words: Naqba (the disaster, used to describe Arab defeats in 1948), Naksa (the setback, Arab defeats in 1967), summud (resolute Islamic determination to hold on to and retake the whole land of Israel) and al-Muqawamah (resistance, usually a euphemism for violent terror; the Arabic word Hamas is the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah, the Islamic resistance movement).
Here are the unofficial ‘articles of faith’ of the Islamic Palestinian narrative. This is the way they read history:
- Palestinians were brutally attacked and defeated by cruel anti-Islamic forces (the Israel Defense Forces)
- They then had their land unjustly taken from them
- Now they are forced to live under cruel oppression
In this narrative, no one recalls that attempts to slaughter the Jews of Israel and steal Jewish lands which had been legally purchased, utterly failed. No one dares to remember that for centuries Jews were forced to live as second-class citizens in Islamic society, subject to pogroms, riots and even community slaughter from time to time.
Most importantly, the Islamic Palestinian narrative rejects the biblical framework which sees the return of the Jewish people as prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Covenant.
Modern Protestant developments
This article has time to focus only on Protestant and Evangelical theological thought over the past thirty years. Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, former Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem, is founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. His first book Justice and only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (Orbis, 1989) outlined a clear platform for modern Palestinian theology on these issues:
- The Old Testament’s teachings are seen by most Palestinians as referring to the Jewish people, their first-born status as the chosen people, and their prophesied return to the land. Since most Palestinian Christians cannot accept these biblical facts and teachings, a radical new way of interpreting the Bible must be found. As Ateek says, “The fundamental question of many [Palestinian] Christians, whether uttered or not, is: How can the Old Testament be the Word of God in light of the Palestinian Christians’ experience with its use to support Zionism?” (pp. 77-78, JAOJ)
- Marxist-influenced Liberation theology perspective offers a solution here. Atonement and salvation are reinterpreted into support for political revolution, resistance through demonstration, boycott and political pressure on Israel. Sabeel recently declared, “We see boycott and divestment as non-violent tools for justice, peace and security for all” (www.sabeel.org/events.php?eventid=183).
- The Jewish people’s honored calling in Scripture must be negatively reinterpreted. As Ateek proclaimed in a recent Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College, “It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of Palestinians around Him… The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.” In an article in Sabeel’s Cornerstone journal (2000) Ateek describes the Israeli government as a “modern day Herod” and states that “original sin is the violence of the Israeli occupation.”
These three points are the skeletal framework upon which the majority of modern Palestinian Replacement theology hangs its arguments:
- nullifying the promises to Israel by interpreting them as referring spiritually to all believers
- reinterpreting the Great Commission into a call primarily for civil disobedience and good works
- characterizing Israeli Jews as evil and unjust occupiers of a land that no longer belongs to them
Justice, and only Palestinian justice
At CATC March 2012 conference in Bethlehem (perhaps the premier gathering of Palestinian Protestant Replacement theology activists) the speakers regularly used the terms ‘justice,’ ‘peacemaking,’ ‘oppression,’ ‘evil’ and ‘violence’ in line with Ateek’s philosophy. Oppression, violence and evil were buzz words which referred to the Jewish control over the land of Israel and IDF security activities, while justice and peacemaking referred to the need for Palestinians to retake lands lost in the 1948 and 1967 wars; the requirement to establish a Palestinian state; the importance of influencing Christian believers across the planet to stop supporting planting trees in Israel, to boycott Israeli products, and to lobby their own politicians to diminish support for Israel’s democratically elected government and her policies.
When the terms justice, peace, oppression and evil are used so inaccurately to describe the Jewish state and those who defend it, there is jingoistic mindset at work in much of what comes out of the Palestinian Replacement theology movement today.
A rose by any other name
Most of the speakers at the 2012 CATC conference were agreed on this main point: the belief of Christian Zionists (that Yeshua is returning to Jerusalem to set up His Davidic kingdom) is the main cause of Islamic hatred for Israel. The majority of these speakers describe the belief in Jewish restoration as a distortion of both the Bible and the gospel. In the words of one speaker whose words dripped with sarcasm, those who believe in the physical restoration of the Jewish people are stupid, blind and blockheads.
At the same time, nearly all the speakers refused to define their beliefs as Replacement theology. Yet, classically understood, Replacement Theology teaches that the promises originally made to the Jewish people no longer apply to the Jewish people. Since it is unfashionable to state this boldly in our day, the term ‘replace’ is removed, and the terms ‘fulfilled’ or ‘spiritual meaning’ or ‘expanded’ are used instead. But the result is the same. Paul’s teaching (that the gifts given to the Jewish people and the calling on them still remain and are unchangeable) is transformed by Palestinian Replacement theologians into direct opposition of Romans 11:29.
According to this view, the land and the promise of blessing given to the descendants of Jacob now belong to Palestinians, or indeed to any nation – just not to the Jewish nation per se. This view violates what Abraham had expressly intended in Genesis 25:5-6. All promises given to the Jewish people, this movement teaches, were “conditional in any case,” yet “only spiritual in nature,” and “almost always only universalist in intent.” The logical inconsistencies here are simply astounding!
While the Apostle Paul warned Gentile believers not to be arrogant toward the Jewish people (Romans 11:18), one theologian at the recent CATC conference said that a belief that God is restoring the Jewish people to Israel is in itself arrogant!
When does non-violence blend into violence?
At first glance, it seems that there is a consensus among these Palestinian theologians and thinkers that violence is to be eschewed. The term ‘non-violent resistance’ is repeated like a mantra many times in publications and at meetings. But there seems to be more here than meets the eye.
Mubarak Awad, the brother of Alex and Bishara (respectively Dean and President of Bethlehem Bible College) and a speaker at the 2012 CATC conference, has stated in the Journal for Palestine Studies (Volume 13; number 4; Summer 1984; pp. 22-36): “…The most effective strategy is one of non-violence. This does not determine the methods open to Palestinians on the outside; nor does it constitute a rejection of the concept of armed struggle. It does not rule out the possibility that the struggle on the inside may turn into an armed struggle at a later stage… These methods can be successfully utilized, at least at this stage, by individuals who are not necessarily committed to non-violence and who may choose, at a different stage, to engage in armed struggle” (all bold and italics from editor).
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin points out (Chicago Tribune, January 7 1988) that Mubarak Awad’s form of non-violence calls for ‘peacemakers’ to “attempt to block roads, prevent communications, cut electricity, telephone and water lines, and prevent the movement of equipment” – in short, sabotage mixed with aspects of guerilla warfare.
A similar point to the one made by Mubarak Awad was stated by Ben White (who is listed as speaker at CATC but was a no-show), in an article titled ”Nonviolent resistance a means, not the end,” in the journal ‘The Electronic Intifada’ (October 12, 2007), ”Popular struggle, like violent resistance, is not an end in and of itself; it is a method, a strategy. It is the end goal, decolonization and liberation from occupation and Zionist apartheid…”
Sami Awad is the Director of the Holy Land Trust, and was one of the main organizers and speakers at CATC 2012 (he is Bishara’s son and Mubarak’s nephew). Awad spoke freely in an article by Najib Farag titled “Nonviolent resistance: Wake up every day and ask yourself what you can do to resist the occupation” (Palestine New Network, January 5, 2007).
“The training,” Awad declares, “also focuses on the popular campaigns, demonstrations and marches … We also focus on other methods of nonviolent resistance such as product boycotts. To boycott Israeli production is one of the most important tools of nonviolent struggle that we have available to us…” Awad also focused on massive demonstrations against the separation fences and walls built by Israel to keep out suicide bombers and terrorists. These demonstrations are ”not a substitute for the armed struggle. This is not a method for normalization with the occupation. Our goal is to revive the popular resistance until every person is involved in dismantling the occupation.”
The veil between non-violence, civil disobedience which creates violence, and armed struggle appears paper-thin in these quotes. The Replacement theologians of this modern Palestinian movement are experimenting with a Frankenstein’s monster, one destined to run amok. A miniscule movement like this one lives, moves, and has its being in a Palestinian community which is aflame. These thinkers and writers are swimming in a raging sea of Islamist violence.
When circumstances allow for it, this movement can find wiggle room to agree with the Koranic teachings regarding God’s disfavor toward the Jewish people, or with the jihadi necessity of reclaiming lost Islamic lands. Yet in conferences heavily attended by Westerners, this movement can stress its impeccable Christian non-violent credentials.
A gift from the Holy Land?
Palestinian Replacement theology is more of the same old Christian anti-Jewish theology.
Though it tries to make its beliefs appear fashionable and politically correct, its bedrock teaching still involves ignoring God’s clear enscripturated promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and His irrevocable calling on them. It tries to rivet the world’s attention on Palestinian suffering, while strengthening the hands of those who would weaken and dismember the Jewish state.
It refuses to humbly acknowledge the hand of God in the restoration of Jacob’s children to the land covenanted to the Jewish people by Abraham himself, or even to recognize God’s covenant love for the children of Israel.
Tellingly, it seems that they have completely forgotten to give thanks for the enormous territories and lands that God has allotted to the Arab peoples more than 640 times greater than Israel’s allotment, the tiny land of Canaan.
Surely there must be a better way to raise prayer for Palestinian Arabs – to encourage intercession for their spiritual and physical needs, and to cultivate a heart of love and outreach to them on the part of the international body of Messiah – without instigating a denial of Israel’s gifts, a mocking of her calling, and a fostering of anti-Israeli sentiment, while simultaneously teaching a rehashed form of Replacement Theology spiced up with leftist civil disobedience.
Is this truly the best that Palestinians have to offer as a gift to lay before the feet of Yeshua, the King of Israel who is seated on David’s throne?
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do!
In Messiah Yeshua,
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