Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Article for the Wheaton Record

Below is an article I wrote for Wheaton's newspaper, The Record (hopefully it won't be edited too much).

Stereotypes exist because they simplify an otherwise complex reality. This summer in Israel/Palestine I experienced an extremely complex reality that didn’t match the stereotypes of Israel and Palestinians played by the western media. Take, Hossam, for example. I met him while living for three months in his refugee camp for three months.

Hossam’s story includes losing his two and a half year old brother who died of suffocation after Israeli soldiers threw seven gas cans into his house. When his mom was trying to take the little boy to the hospital she was shot at by Israeli soldiers (though was unhurt). Hossam was also shot at, years later, while filming a documentary beside the so called “separation barrier” that cuts off the West Bank from Israel. His camera was hit, saving his face from a direct hit that could have severely injured or killed him. “I want them to come and see who is the terrorist and who isn’t,” Hossam told me. “Because all the media says Palestinians are terrorists. Just they show the children, that the children are throwing stones, but they don’t show that Israeli soldiers shoot these children.”

Hossam does not fit the image that Americans have of what a Palestinian is like. He doesn’t wear a kuffiyeh (think Yasser Arafat), he doesn’t own a gun. Hossam isn’t even religious: he considers himself basically an atheist. As an accomplished actor and dancer of debkah, a traditional Palestinian dance form, Hossam has traveled widely throughout the West Bank and several years ago performed in Paris, along with the other members of his dance team. Dancing has become his form of resistance, a way of telling the story of his people…peacefully. Hossam is Palestinian and yet, surprisingly for some, he isn’t a terrorist.

The American media has largely portrayed Palestinians as gun toting, ski-mask wearing terrorists. This has seeped deep into our sub-consciousness. If there is ever an attack against Israel, it is all over the media and Palestinians are shown as the aggressors, as the enemy. When was the last time, however, you saw media coverage of the daily Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza, of the Palestinians who die daily from Israeli bombings or raids? Israeli Defense Forces have killed 173 Palestinians this year alone in the Occupied Territories ( Rarely does the media cover this.

On the flip-side, Americans tend to hold a positive stereotype of the state of Israel, an innocent nation surrounded by a sea of Arab enemies. This is especially true of evangelicals who hold on to a Sunday school flannel-graph picture of the state of Israel. Since many consider it a direct fulfillment of prophecy they think it is a state that can do no wrong. According to a recent CNN article, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel ( search). This article went on to state that churches raise millions of dollars each year in support of Israeli settlements within the West Bank. Needless to say, in the US there is a deep gut-level support of Israel.

As a further example, on August 15th the U.S. signed an unprecedented military aid package to Israel that amounts to $30 billion over a ten year period. Congress and the American public barely batted an eye. It’s incredible. Of course, this serves to further American interests in the region (such as containing Iran), but do we realize that this money is supporting what Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, among others, liken to the South African apartheid state? Do we realize that Israel is a militaristic state that has maintained a harsh forty year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and that involves countless human rights abuses? To cite a few examples, from October 2001 to January 2005 Israel demolished 668 homes in the territories as a form of punitive punishment which is illegal under international law ( As of August 9th Israel maintained 47 permanent checkpoints within the West Bank that severely limit freedom of movement for Palestinians ( Clearly these statistics show that our stereotypes need some examining.

Stereotypes are single dimensional representations of a multidimensional reality. Maybe the reality in Israel/Palestine is much more complex than we would like to admit. What I experienced this summer certainly was. As Christians we are to continually strive to move beyond stereotypes, to pursue the truth. I am ashamed and saddened that misunderstandings have led evangelicals to blindly support Israel. I have seen the direct results of our support. Let us not allow simple stereotypes keep us from the truth and pursuing justice. Reality really is iconoclastic, as C.S. Lewis states, and it certainly isn’t a friend of stereotypes.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog, Jonathan!
Good article too. I hope it is published. Fascinating. I like your writing style.

One question: did you not feel any affinity with the Muslim family and their religion? It is puzzling to me since Jesus is a prophet for Islam.

Did you see the article by Nate? Another good one.


puddleglum said...

Publish it! That is very powerful! Thanks for sharing.