East and West [Archives:2005/820/Opinion]

February 28 2005

Palestine a legitimate issue
Is there any reason in global conspiracy theories?

As someone who has spent considerable time in the west, I treat most things said in the Arab world about Jews with at least some skepticism. The latest piece of suspect journalism came from a Yemeni journalist ranting, in an unpublished column, about the so-called Jewish conspiracy. He cited the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, purportedly Jewish texts from the late 1800s, describing Jewish plans to enslave the world.

The Protocols were debunked as early as 1921 as anti-Semite fabrications plagiarized in Paris with help from Russia's secret police. Of course, the truth didn't stop fascists like Hitler from using them. And today they're still dredged up. Egyptian TV promoted the Protocols as fact as late as 2003.

Unfortunately, such are the fallacies of many Arabs who don't have access to the best information. Nonetheless, living in this region does help one see the age-old, Arab-Jewish conflict through a more-accurate, lens. That's the nature of geographical proximity.

Take Palestine. Among the first Palestinian I personally broke bread with was Ahmed, a gentle spirit, and a pharmacist exiled in Jordan since 1973. When modern Israel was birthed in 1948, his family was forced from their home by the newcomers, in this case Jews from Iraq. It's not hard to see a problem with this.

Beautiful bride

In fact, modern Jews wanting a homeland recognized this dilemma as early as 1898, when two rabbis were sent from Vienna went to Palestine on a fact-finding mission. Their cable-message back? “The bride is beautiful, but she's married to another man.” Still, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians, like Ahmed's parents, eventually left their homes to make room for incoming Jews. How did this happen?

Before the Holocaust, and subsequent world sympathies for Jews, two forces were working against the Palestinians. One was political. The British supported the dream of a Zionist homeland in Palestine because they wanted an ally protecting their empire's trade routes through the Suez Canal, particularly to their jewel, India.

At the same time, one view of Judeo-Christian eschatology, called pre-millennial dispensationalism, was roaring to life via British theologians like John Darby. This interpretation of ancient Biblical prophecies linked the birth of modern Israel to the end times and the imminent second coming of Christ.

Which is where things get interesting. On one hand, it's nonsense to believe that this means there's an organized global Christian-Zionist conspiracy, as so often reported in Arab media. Still, it's clear that dispensationalism has influenced modern politics. Consider experts like Colin Chapman, author of Whose Promised Land?, who say at the turn of the 20th century there were actually more Christian Zionists than Jewish Zionists wanting a Jewish state.

Dispensationalism popular

Dispensationalism has since become hugely popular. I personally recall reading Hal Lindsey's blockbuster The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s. More recently, dispensationalist authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold 50 million of their end-time Left Behind novels, mostly in the United States.

The problem is that the theory is just that: theory. It's one interpretation of mysterious prophecies, and it may or may not be proven the best. But by taking theory as fact, proponents (including powerful policy-makers in Washington) see Arab-Jewish issues through certain blinders.

So while I cringe at the wonky theories so many Arabs believe about a Jewish-Christian world conspiracy, it also behooves westerners to understand the historical genesis of such thinking, and why, Palestinians, for one, haven't had a fair shake from neither their fellow Arabs nor the west.

Thankfully, Christians in the west are not homogenous in their views. Chapman, who is a Christian and former lecturer in Islamic studies at Near East School of Theology in Beirut, uses Whose Promised Land? to support another view called covenant theology. Recently visiting Sana'a, he told me, “I felt I had to offer an alternative.” His book is recently updated and now available in Arabic. I appreciate his blend of history and theology, using justice as a starting point for understanding.

Balance and reason

Chapman is not unlike Palestinian-Christian scholar Elias Chacour, who has also written about various injustices in Palestine. In his home of Galilee, he's responded by building peace centers inaugurated with the drama The Diary of Anne Frank, showing Anne could easily be a modern Palestinian girl. It's helped bring Jews and Palestinians together. And restore dignity.

We can only hope that such voices are not left like lone calls in the wilderness. Certainly now, with new hope for the peace process, it's time for Christians, Muslims and Jews to all carefully consider what they have to say, with balance and reason.

Jamil Abdul Karim is an editor at The Yemen Times. Email [email protected]