As a member of the Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine executive I am often introduced as the Jewish member of the committee. In fact, as my mother was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia in 1938, I am indeed fully Jewish, as the Jewish test of heredity goes through the mother’s line and not the father’s.
My mother was a secular, agnostic, Jew and married a non-Jewish Englishman. Consequently I was never brought up as a Jew. When I was seven years old we moved to Golders Green in North London, a very Jewish area. Our neighbours were Jews, yet my mother never admitted to being one herself. Later I understood that she was both afraid and ashamed to admit to it. Afraid, because of the Nazis and all that she and her family had suffered, and ashamed, because of how the Palestinians were being treated by other Jews.
As a child I had rather an identity crisis because of that, but can happily identify myself as both a Jew and a Christian now. I am neither a convert to Christianity as my religion has never been Jewish, nor am I a Messianic Jew, as I don’t believe in much of what such Jews proclaim. Having had an in depth conversation with a Rabbi a few years ago, I can say that I belong to the Jewish Tribe and am proud of my Jewish heritage, while following a Palestinian Jewish Rabbi, Jesus, (rather more than a rabbi to me) whose teachings I follow. For those who cannot accept Jesus, do have a look at the teachings of Rabbi Hillel from around the same period. He is well known for his expression of the ‘Golden Rule’: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn.” (1)
The strange thing is that all through my life I had a deep desire to spend 3 months (yes, exactly 3 months!) in Israel and Palestine to experience the situation for myself. However it was not until 2008 that I received an email notification of an application to participate in an international team in the West Bank for 3 months with EAPPI; a programme under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. My life changed dramatically at that point
So, after superb training by the Quakers here in the UK, I joined a team of 4, a German, a Canadian and a Swede, living in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills alongside Palestinians as an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA). You can look EAPPI up on Google (2) to find out what we did and how the programme has developed since then.
Not only did I experience first-hand huge injustices taking place under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, (see the weekly reports from PCHR (3) and UNOCHA (4) that give regular up to date information), but I also learnt a great deal more about my Jewish roots. I even found myself working alongside Israeli Jewish human rights activists such as Machsom Watch (5), Women in Black (6), Btselem (7), Breaking the silence (8), Ta’ayush (9) and others, and came to realise their incredible courage, working against the tide of Israeli policies and opinion.
I will also add that while I was serving as an EA in Hebron we were taken to Sderot in Israel close to the Gaza border, where we spoke to residents. We also spent time in Haifa and West Jerusalem where we interacted with people on different sides of the conflict in order to broaden our perspective. We were encouraged to express our position, not as supporters of either Israel or Palestine, but as supporters of human rights and international law. This education encompassed history, geography, religion, economics, reporting, photography, writing and much more and has been a sound basis on which I have continued to build my activism.
Since then I have been venturing between Israel and Palestine, Christianity and Judaism as well as having a growing appreciation of Palestinian Islam and have good friends and contacts within each. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, like all religions, have different strands, and are products of different cultures. It is so important to recognise those diverse aspects and not to generalise. Hence my title for this piece and my blog, ‘Going Between’ (10). This is mainly written during and after my visits to the area.
One of the greatest injustices suffered by Palestinians under occupation is that I, a Jew, with descendants from Bohemian Europe and no evidence to date of any link to Palestine, have a ‘right’ to claim a place in Israel or the West Bank as a Jewish Israeli under Israeli law. However the right of many Palestinians to remain, though they have lived in that land for generations, is threatened on a daily basis, with no hope of returning to lands and homes from which they have been continually dispossessed since 1948.
As we approach the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, it is important to remember that the location of the Jewish homeland in Palestine was actually encouraged by Christian Zionists. It is equally important to remember that the programme of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under International Law (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49), receives financial support from Christian Zionists in the US. With so much debate around the term ‘Zionism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ it is worth noting why Christian Zionism has such a vested interest in the return of Jews to what is often termed ‘Greater (Eretz) Israel'(there are various opinions as to what area this encompasses, some of which are very controversial). While many Jews believe that when the twelve tribes of Israel return to ‘Eretz’ Israel, then the Messiah will come; many Christians believe that, when the twelve tribes of Israel return to ‘Eretz’ Israel, then there will be the Second-Coming of Christ and all those gathered there will either be converted to Christianity or destroyed! To me that sounds very anti-Semitic indeed. This ‘Christian’ perspective is based on a certain interpretation of the Book of Revelation; one which many Palestinian Christians believe to be spurious. (There is a wealth of literature on the subject, though I particularly recommend a reading of the Kairos Palestine Document written by Palestinian Christians (11)
I would like to end with a quote from the New Testament Bible, which is, to me, one of the most important Christian passages and which describes clearly what the Christian response to the land that is referred to as ‘Holy’ should be. John 4. v23-24. Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” No mention of land ownership here, just the opposite. Whether you believe that salvation comes via the Jews or not, it certainly cannot be found in the land. The Israelites had already been instructed in Micah 6.v8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Those passages seem a very long way from the reality that is Israel and Palestine today.
Miranda Pinch – 2/10/16
I have participated as an Ecumenical Accompanier on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This article reflects my personal viewpoint and does not necessarily represent the position of EAPPI nor Quaker Peace and Social Witness.