Guns, Israel, Justice and the United Nations: How My Context Shapes My Writing الأسلحة، وإسرائيل، والعدالة، والأمم المتحدة: سياقي وأثره في كتابتي

By Wissam al-Saliby

I am grateful for several recent conversations with American pastor friends, during which we spoke about writing from and on the Middle East, trans-Atlantic (mis)perceptions and political fault lines. One of these friends, who leans toward political conservativism, told me that when reading my posts on the IMES blog he would often dismiss my writings as ‘liberal’ from the very first sentences. He added that, with time, he sought to understand “where I’m coming from” and read my posts in a different light.

In this post, I would like to present some issues on which we might be at odds, but where my personal experience and the socio-political context in which I live would have shaped my positions as a committed follower of Christ differently from Christ followers in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Guns.  Continue reading

From our Vantage Point: The Signs of the Times Unfolding in the Middle East Today

By Wissam al-Saliby

Earlier this year, I was flipping through the radio channels as I was driving from Houston to Dallas. I fell upon a talk show where, to my surprise, I heard the interviewee mentioning “Hezbollah and Iran.” I focused my attention on the conversation to better understand how our region’s politics are perceived in Texas. However, within a few minutes, Jimmy DeYoung moved from recent political developments in the Middle East to Biblical prophecy to forecasting that Arab nations will unite and attack Israel – a claim that I have heard so many times in the US, but that sounds incredulous, almost impossible, to a Lebanese who is seeing an ever increasing Arab dis-unity. The radio show and the connected website are called Prophecy Today. It concluded with a prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, a peace that is interpreted in light of the preceding political and theological analysis.

End-Times_Industry

Prophecy Today (DeYoung) and other similar initiatives, usually run by one man, such as EndTime Ministries (Irvin Baxter), Rapture Ready (Todd Strandberg), and Restored Church of God (David C. Pack) all demonstrate similar geopolitical analyses of events that happens to be “always in line” with what the prophecies say. This “prophecy industry” manifests itself in websites, books, radio and TV shows, conferences, church pulpits, YouTube channels, and Internet advertisements. Continue reading

Israel-Palestine: The Church Needs to Reclaim Judeo-Christian Values

By Wissam al-Saliby

On September 11, 2016, my baby girl Nour was born.

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My friend, Hassan Karajah

Two weeks later in Jerusalem, my Palestinian friend Hassan Karajah became a dad, too. His wife gave birth to twin baby girls, Sarai and Kenza. However, Hassan has not yet had the pleasure of holding and cuddling his daughters. On July 12, 2016, the Israeli military seized him at a checkpoint in the West Bank and put him in prison without any accusations or trial. This is the second time Hassan has been imprisoned. Between January 2013 and October 2014, Israel imprisoned Hassan without any accusations or due process, let alone an apology or any compensation for his unjust one year and nine months imprisonment.

Unlike everywhere else in the world, Continue reading

Christian Politics at the Expense of Christian Faith in Lebanon

By Wissam al-Saliby

More than a year ago, I gave a training in human rights law to members of a veteran Lebanese Christian political party. At the end of the training, during an informal discussion over coffee, I mentioned my work for the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. The immediate response from one of the party members was, “You evangelicals only have one seat in parliament.” In his mind, the power sharing formula in Lebanon was the first thing he connected with “Lebanese evangelicals.” My immediate response was, jokingly, “Well yes, we do have one intercessor with the Father, Jesus Christ.”

In Lebanon, parliament seats, ministerial positions and key state positions are allocated equally between Christians and Muslims, and proportionally within the various Christian and Muslim sects. Continue reading

Listening, Visiting, and Engaging Arab Christians (Part 2): Considering Arab Christian Perspectives on Palestine

by Wissam al-Saliby*

In my May blog post on the generalized regression of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, I concluded by promising a follow up blog post on what role the global Church can play to counter this regression. Last week, I began a reflection on how churches that feel called to serve the Middle East can play a role – rather than what role to play. In today’s installment of my post, I will discuss the importance of listening, visiting and learning in relation to Israel and Palestine – an enduring conflict and a pivotal region. Continue reading

Listening, Visiting, and Engaging Arab Christians: Prerequisites for Western Churches Advocating their Rights (part 1)

By Wissam al-Saliby*

Two months ago, I wrote a blog post on the general regression of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. I had concluded by asking “What role, if any, can the churches in the West play to foster the respect of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa?” In today’s blog post (and also in next week’s blog post), I will provide a partial answer to my question by reflecting on how to play a role, rather than what role to play. I will emphasize the importance of listening, visiting and learning, and the importance of allowing Arab Christians to expand your perspective on the complex dynamics of the region. Continue reading

Current Evidence of the Generalized Regression of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

by Wissam al-Saliby

As I was going through Facebook a few days ago, I saw the following post by an Egyptian friend.

Facebook Disappearances 2

This seeming human rights violation by Egyptian authorities is symptomatic of a greater and general regression with respect to fundamental human rights in the stable States in the Middle East and North Africa.

In Turkey this month, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch accused Turkish security forces of committing serious human rights violations against Turkish civilians and Syrian refugees. Media, freedom of speech and of opinion is threatened amid political and security tensions.

In Tunisia, Egypt and Israel human rights activists risk prosecution and the freezing of their assets. Earlier this month, Egypt arrested members of a satirical street troupe for their improvised street films, critical of the Egyptian president, which went viral. Even the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah followed suit this month and detained a 27-year old for his Facebook posts. Continue reading

What is the Solution for Syrian Refugees?

by Wissam al-Saliby

The Syrian refugee influx into Europe respects no borders. From the Mediterranean shores to the Arctic sea, hundreds of thousands are determined to “get in”. I have followed the journeys of many young Syrians over Facebook as they have immigrated first to Greece and then on to their country of destination (often Germany or Sweden). A few weeks ago, I received a message from a pastor in Northern Finland along the Russian border, asking for advice. “These days we have a lot of Syrian refugees coming across the border, of which some participate in our Sunday service,” he wrote.

1 (4)  1 (3)  1 (2)

What is the solution for Syrian refugees? Although this conflict has been displacing Syrians for 5 years now, ever since the images of the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed onto a Turkish beach went viral early September, greater Western attention has focused on this difficult question. My wife and I have received many messages from friends and acquaintances in the West asking us how they can help and to whom they can give money that will directly support refugees. The following is my two-cents as to what we can do: Continue reading

Notes from my Visit to Iraqi Kurdistan

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit a dozen of pastors in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the cities of Erbil and Duhok. The purpose of my visit was to promote ABTS’s educational programs with Arabic-speaking churches, namely our new online degree program and our English language Master’s program.

We often hear about the Kurdistan region in the news when violence happens – armed violence, US bombings, crimes by ISIS or terrorism. How can we pray for the people groups of this region, for the Church and for those called by God to serve Him in this area? The following are some of my notes from this trip to guide our prayers. Continue reading

Israel, Palestine and the International Criminal Court

On January 16, 2015, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine looking into alleged crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014. Israel condemned this move. Hamas welcomed this move, even though its actions will also be under scrutiny by the ICC. The announcement drew the ire of some Western media platforms, the blogosphere, and many US politicians, mentioning “retaliation” against the Palestinians, or – more subtly – concluding that this will “backfire” on the Palestinian Authority.

We Christ-followers are called to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17). Yet justice seems elusive in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 60+ years of history and an array of vital issues – land, water, refugees, borders, Palestinian prisoners, civilian death tolls, security, etc.

Oftentimes, we need to deal first with our own belief systems, including who inherits the land. However, even if we have different theologies or belief systems stemming from our various interpretations of the Scriptures, no interpretation justifies the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity – of which the ICC is competent to judge.

Therefore, I would like to invite the readers to approach this conflict today from a different lens. I invite you to take a stand on international justice, as a pre-requisite for approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague. (Photo credit: REUTERS)

The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague. (Photo credit: REUTERS)

First, where do we stand on the ICC? The ICC is the permanent international court that followed several ad hoc international tribunals, namely those for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. I argue that, more than ever before, we need to lobby our governments to endorse a strong and well-resourced ICC.

  • International tribunals were the only recourse against the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, especially for crimes committed by high ranking civilian and military officials.
  • Today, the ICC is the sole hope for redress for many conflict victims in Africa, currently being investigated by this Court. Nigeria is under preliminary examinations. Investigations and evidence collection are under way in the Central African Republic.
  • The ICC Statute has only 122 ratifications with many of the remaining States, including the United States, unwilling to ratify. We need to advocate for further ratifications.
  • The ICC is one of the few international mechanisms that can possibly achieve a breakthrough to halt the lingering conflicts in Syria and in Iraq. We need to advocate for a referral of Syria and Iraq to the ICC by the Security Council.

A recent Washington Times article (February 1st 2015) argues “the obvious question is whether the International Criminal Court is capable of investigating with the objectivity the situation requires.” This is a key playing field: never before did we have the mechanisms to seek justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dismissing the Court because it is scrutinizing Israel’s actions would leave millions of victims without any recourse whatsoever, and would perpetrate impunity worldwide.

Second, we need to accept that Israel is likely to have committed war crimes, as have Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas. Violations of the laws of war by these various actors have been documented extensively by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Palestinian organizations, Israeli organizations, media reports and UN agencies.

The definition of war crimes, in accordance to the ICC statute, not only includes the killing of civilians and destruction of civilian property, but also the “transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” All governments, including the US government, have condemned ongoing Israeli settlement of the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem, to no avail.

Third, the “statehood” argument is a key element of the debate. According to the ICC statement, “The Office (of the Prosecutor) considers that, since Palestine was granted observer State status in the United Nations by the UN General Assembly, it must be considered a ‘State’ for the purposes of accession to the Rome Statute.” In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued, “It’s absurd for the ICC to ignore international law and agreements, under which the Palestinians don’t have a State and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel.”

As seekers of justice, I raise the question: Is it just to bind the right of granting statehood to the will of the one who is occupying and actively colonizing that same State? Since the Oslo agreements, Israel has denied Palestinians the right of statehood while simultaneously and vigorously erecting Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, destroying Palestinians homes, and confiscating Palestinian land and water.

An important and informative precedent on justice when the issue of statehood is at question is the accession to statehood of South West Africa/Namibia in 1966. Although Namibia was occupied, it was able to achieve statehood. (John Quigley, 2010).

Fourth, and finally, we need an authoritative court decisions that clarifies what justice is in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such decisions would bring clarity to a complex situation, or to a highly polarized situation. The only recent precedent of an international jurisdiction addressing this conflict was the International Court of Justice advisory opinion in 2004 on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Court’s 15 Judges unanimously found that Israel’s construction of the wall and the associated regime are contrary to international law, and ordered Israel to make reparation for all damage suffered by all persons affected by the wall’s construction. We need to advocate for judicial intervention in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and advocate for international judicial decisions and opinions to be enforced.

 

As believers, we should approve or denounce acts and events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to Biblical standards of justice and mercy among peoples. Supporting the ICC and its action on Israel-Palestine is just and merciful in this seemingly endless conflict. I invite all Christ-followers not to cave in to a discourse that favor Israeli immunity over and against justice and mercy for all Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Nigerians, Congolese, Sudanese and victims of every other armed conflict today.

When one of the Temple guards struck Jesus with his hand, Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:23) It is right to ask this question today, and it is right to bring it before the ICC.

 

Note: Links in this blog post to third party websites are supportive of the corresponding statements. To be conclusive, additional footnotes, references and links would be required, but extensive documentation is not feasible in this blog.