Open Letter to Jerry Falwell
Thursday, January 18, 2001
Dear Brother Falwell,
I am writing to you as a fellow American Christian minister seeking to build up the Church worldwide.
Five months ago, my wife and I came to a small Christian town called Zababdeh - one of the few Christian villages left in the Holy Land - convinced of a call to serve the Body of Christ in the land of His birth. Little did we know what awaited us upon our recent arrival - the chaos and violence of the last few months has been traumatic. In the midst of this, we have been led to wonderful opportunities for ministry. After all, the Lord we follow is the One who brought triumph out of tragedy.
I am writing today in response to your recent email missive "Arafat's Terrorism Threatens Christians and Christian Sites ... Not Just Israel," where you address the plight of the Christians in Beit Jala. I share your compassion and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the land where He once walked. On our visits to Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Bethlehem, we have seen many of the homes, businesses, and church buildings destroyed or damaged by the Israeli military. We have seen the memorial for Dr. Harry Fischer, the Christian German doctor killed by Israeli fire as he attended to a wounded neighbor. We have seen the tents that people newly made homeless, are living in. Especially in Bethlehem, reeling from the absence of anticipated throngs to celebrate Christmas, we saw empty shops, empty restaurants, and empty hotels, with their economically devastated owners and employees.
But most importantly, we met with our fellow Christians in these towns,
to listen to their grief and fear, and to hear their stories. Clearly,
you have not done likewise. If you had, you would know that the Christians
in Beit Jala (like Christians throughout the Occupied Territories) are
just as Palestinian as their Muslim neighbors. They share equally the injustice,
discrimination, hardships, and oppression imposed by Israel's illegal military
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Far from desiring to be "liberated"
BY the Israelis, the people of Beit Jala - like Christian and Muslim Palestinians
throughout the region, desperately desire to be liberated FROM Israel.
They desire to live with autonomy, dignity, justice, and peace, things
most people in
America champion. It breaks our hearts to see from your article that you have not only failed to hear the stories of our brothers and sisters in Beit Jala, but you misrepresented their condition and propagate lies about them to thousands of faithful people around the world.
Similarly, we have met with Jewish Israelis who are working actively for peace. These people believe fervently in a God of mercy and justice, and are deeply distressed by the actions and policies of their government, which consistently commits illegal, immoral sins against Palestinian people. While you say that you "know a lot" of Israelis, clearly you have not met with or listened to these faithful Jewish brothers and sisters.
Additionally, I wish to comment on your assertion that Arafat is deliberately
attempting to remove what remains of the Christian presence in Palestine,
and your implication that the Christian community yearns to be "liberated"
under Israeli authority. If this is true, please explain the following:
1) Christians such as Hanan Ashrawi and Afif Safieh participate fully, often disproportionately, in the Palestinian Authority government.
2) Christian leaders (including Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic) in the Holy Land send messages of hope to Palestinian Christians supporting efforts to end the injustices and brutalities of the Israeli occupation, and to bring justice and peace to the Palestinian people. These church leaders, too, suffer under the occupation. Last week, the Bishop of Nazareth (the hometown of our Savior!) was fired upon by Israeli soldiers near our village. He was in a car clearly marked with Vatican license plates, and was conspicuously dressed as a representative of the church. Please tell me how Arafat was able to orchestrate such an event.
3) Lutheran minister Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, spent two weeks working to get the necessary permits from the Israeli military authorities to travel to the United States in order to visit Christians and build bridges within the Body of Christ. He received these permits, but once he arrived at the airport he was told that no Palestinian was allowed to travel - whether they had the proper permits or not. This kind of humiliating, crippling discrimination happens to Palestinians thousands of times a day, and it is this, coupled with violent injustice and lack of liberty, that is prompting Christian and Muslim Palestinians to leave their homeland. I hope you can tell me how Arafat planned this ludicrous Israeli travel policy.
4) Pilgrims to Bethlehem for Christmas, including myself, my wife and my mother-in-law, were denied access to the village of Christ's birth. The Israeli military declared Bethlehem a closed military zone, presumably for the protection of foreigners. Yet many of us made the trek anyway, brought by brave taxi drivers, who knew ways around the closed checkpoints and destroyed roads. We arrived at the empty hotels and the vacant restaurants. For those of us who were there, not one single
incident against a Christian happened. If Arafat were interested in targeting Christians, Bethlehem at Christmas time would be open season. The only harassment of Christians was at the hands of the IDF - a deliberate (and successful) attempt to cripple the Palestinian Christian economy.
5) Among these pilgrims to Bethlehem was a group following the path of the Magi to mark the 2000th Anniversary of the birth of Christ. They traveled more than three months through Arab countries, but their only trouble was with the authorities at the Allenby Bridge who refused to let two pass. These faithful brothers (one from Zimbabwe and one from Sudan) had left work and spent tremendous amounts of personal savings on a Pilgrimage for Peace. It took four days and an Israeli High Court ruling to let them pass. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I thought the Israelis controlled that bridge....
6) The village of Taybeh, the only 100% Arab Christian village in the area, has been subject to the same harassments and closures the rest of the Palestinian people have suffered. And yet, they have not been victims of the kind of violent actions that have happened in and to Beit Jala. It seems that this would be a prime location for Arafat to manipulate the Western media as you believe he has done. I hope you can shed light on his glaring oversight in not bringing this village into the fray.
Finally, I have heard that you are currently in the area on a visit to boost Israeli tourism. I hope that you take the opportunity to visit with the living Church in this land. I also hope you take the chance to check your theories about the violence in Beit Jala with your brothers and sisters there - lay people and clergy alike. Unfortunately, I fear that you will not. Your personal history in this land speaks volumes, and your article indicates a theology prostrate before the altar of two false idols: the Republican Party, and the secular, modern State of Israel. I pray for your conversion to the living, breathing faith of Christ at work among our brothers and sisters in Palestine.
In Christ's Name,
Rev. Marthame Sanders
A weekly briefing for America's pastors and Christian leaders who may use this publication without attribution. This publication is made available, without charge, to the evangelical pastors who are part of the "Friends of Jerry Falwell Support Circle."
January 11, 2001
From Jerry Falwell
Arafat's Terrorism Threatens Christians and Christian Sites ... Not Just Israel: Beit Jalla is a small Christian Arab village on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. It sits across a handsome valley from the Jewish suburb of Gilo. The Christian residents of Beit Jalla and their Jewish neighbors in Gilo have been a model for Arab-Israeli cooperation ever since all of the Biblical land of Israel was reunited under Israeli control in the Six Day War of 1967. For the first time in the ancient history of this small village, Beit Jalla was booming. Commerce between the hard working Christians and their new partners in Israel brought a measure of wealth, opportunity and freedom these people had never had before. By the middle of the 1990's, Beit Jalla was one of the wealthiest Arab towns and the envy of Palestinians everywhere. It isn't anymore. Today, Beit Jalla is in shambles. Most of its fancy homes have been destroyed. Its best people have been forced to flee, and its long cultivated commercial and cultural relations with Israel have been completely devastated.
What happened? Well, in a word, Yasir Arafat. Even if most of the world long ago decided to turn a deaf ear to it, everyone knows about the PLO terrorist leader's war against the Jews and Israel. But very few people know about his war against Christians and Christianity. In one of the most cynical ploys in Arafat's long and nefarious career, he has transformed Beit Jalla from a once peaceful and prosperous village into a nest of terrorist gangs whose sole purpose is to provoke a massacre of that town's Christians residents.
After he concluded that Bill Clinton's so called "peace process" had given him all the unilateral Israeli concessions he could extract, Yasir Arafat decided to throw off the ill fitting cloak of respectability and return to the open terrorism at which he so excels. Using last September's visit of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, as his pretext, Arafat launched his long planned war against Israel and the western values it represents.
That the Christian residents of Beit Jalla are among this war's foremost victims is anything but an accident. Rather it is an integral part of Arafat's campaign to get the United Nations to send an international force to impose a solution to the conflict that Arafat was unable to win at the negotiating table. Because, as he likes to put it, "Palestinian blood is cheap," Arafat, as he has demonstrated time and again over his 40 year terrorist career, will gladly sacrifice even his people's own children if it can score him a point in the battle for world opinion.
Arafat knows that in order to persuade the international community to deploy a military force to fight the Israelis, he has to win the world's sympathy. To this end, he has shown himself all too willing to provoke the killing of hundreds of his own people, the younger the better. To encourage the death of still more children, the Palestinian Authority that Arafat controls and Bill Clinton has funded with American tax dollars, has been offering $2,000 to each family whose child becomes a "martyr for Jerusalem". Since virtually none of mostly pro-Palestinian journalists who have converged to cover Arafat's war understand the constant Arabic language appeals for "martyrs" on PLO radio and TV, almost no one knows that Yasir Arafat uses American money, and lots of it, to encourage parents to allow their children to be killed.
There has never been any military purpose of getting Palestinian children to attack Israeli positions located on the far outskirts of Palestinian towns with rocks, guns, and firebombs. Their only purpose has been to provoke besieged Israeli soldiers to shoot the Palestinian children who are assaulting for the benefit of television viewers.
Ever since he created the PLO in 1964, three years before there were any "occupied territories", Yasir Arafat's greatest tactical strength has been his ability to turn Israel's democratic institutions into Palestinian assets. His latest war is no exception. In its early days, the televised pictures of dead Palestinian children whipped the Islamic world into a frenzy against Israel and the west. While Arafat was also able to win great sympathy in Western Europe and from the liberal elite that controls the mainstream American press, he wasn't able to get United Nations to dispatch a force to fight Israel. Naturally, such a force would have to include at least some American troops.
Arafat thought that if he could find a way to market Israel as a "killer of Christians" as effectively as he sold the lie that Israelis were "killing children," Israel would find itself completely isolated. In such a climate, Israel would have no choice, Arafat thought, but to agree to the establishment of a PLO state along the indefensible border of June 4, 1967. Arafat surmised that they would have no choice but to re-divide their capital city of Jerusalem, agree to let Arafat himself become custodian of all of Jerusalem's Christian Holy sites and even offer up their holy Temple Mount to Moslem control.
From this position, Arafat could use his 40,000 man terrorist army to escalate his 37 year war to destroy what would surely be a devastated and demoralized State of Israel. While it hasn't quite worked yet, it isn't for Arafat's lack of trying. His devilish scheme has no shortage of victims. The most conspicuous being the innocent Christians of Beit Jalla. Almost every afternoon for the past three months, members of Yasir Arafat's heavily armed Muslim militia (illegal according to the Oslo Accords) storm into the town from territory they control and commandeer the homes closest to living rooms and kitchens of the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. Most of the time, the terrorists refuse to let anyone already inside leave, preferring instead to take them hostage.
Soon thereafter, the gunmen start shooting their heavy machine guns into the exposed houses on Gilo's southern edge. Naturally, once the shooting starts, Israeli army sharpshooters calibrate their tracing equipment to hone in on the source of fire as exactly as they can to avoid civilian causalities and start to shoot back. The battle rages inconclusively until the militiamen run out of ammunition and go home.
To date at least, the PLO terrorists haven't been able to get any of their Christian hostages killed by Israeli return fire. But almost every Israeli I know, and I know a lot, think that as long as the government allows itself to be manipulated by Arafat, the greater the likelihood that sooner or later, Arafat is going to get his "massacre." One day, one sharpshooter is going to miss. It is bound to happen. Since almost everyone in Israel agrees that the Israeli army could permanently end the firing on Gilo and liberate the Christians of Beit Jalla by simply retaking the town, many want to know why Prime Minister Ehud Barak continues to allow himself to be used as Arafat's pawn. That question, according to almost all the Israelis I met on my recent tour to Israel, can be answered in two words: Bill Clinton.
Barak, a decorated soldier, and by all accounts a very decent and honorable man, is a political novice and no match for the wily Clinton. Plus, he all but owes his job to Clinton, who, in an unprecedented interference in the domestic affairs of Israel, pulled out all the stops, including sending James Carville and his cohorts to Israel, to get him elected in 1999. Clinton, these Israelis believe, put the screws to Barak to refrain from doing anything that would upset Arafat and hurt Clinton's chances of cinching a peace deal and winning the Nobel Prize before he left office. Arafat knows that his terrorism is working. Never before in the glorious history of the state of Israel has the Jewish state ever appeared desperate in the eyes of its enemies. Today, sadly, many think that it does. If the events of the past several months prove anything, it is that Yasir Arafat remains what he has always been; an insatiably dangerous terrorist.
One can only hope and pray that the new American administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will see Arafat for what he truly is and act to stand by Israel and to stand up for the besieged Christians.