As the war in Gaza rages, around the world we struggle to make sense of it. We seeks to comprehend the horror in personal terms so that the killing is not alien or distant, but immediate and visceral. As a Jew, I view the horrors within the Jewish tradition and try to denounce it in terms related to my own religious traditions. I am sure Muslims are doing the same.
There are also thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of graphic images online which interpret the war. They convey emotions visually, with an impact often more powerful than mere words. An example is the graphic image I’ve displayed here. More on this follows.
Tonight I wanted to talk about Christians and Gaza. Both because they are among the largest religion in the world and because Israel has, in the past week, singled out two churches, St. Porphyrious and Holy Family, for merciless attack. An IDF sniper killed two women within the latter church’s compound. He first shot one of the two women. When the second woman came to her aid, he killed her as well.
There are only 700 Christians left in Gaza. But precisely because of that, their suffering as a religious minority deserves special consideration.
Palestine was, of course, the birthplace of Christianity. Bethlehem (along with Jerusalem) are particularly significant places in the Christian tradition. There are 50,000 Palestinian Christians. Despite differences in their respective religious traditions (Muslim and Christian) there is no difference in the extent of their suffering.
However, they each understand that suffering from within their respective theologies. Canon Naim Ateek, one of Palestine’s leading theologians and the founder of Palestinian liberation theology, evokes the suffering of Christ as his model. He writes:
…The suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago is lived out again in Palestine…
Here in Palestine Jesus is again walking the via Dolorosa. Jesus is the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint, the woman trying to get through to the hospital for treatment, the young man whose dignity is trampled, the young student who cannot get to the university to study, the unemployed father who needs to find bread to feed his family; the list is tragically getting longer, and Jesus is there in their midst suffering with them. He is with them when their homes are shelled by tanks and helicopter gunships. He is with them in their towns and villages, in their pains and sorrows.
In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.
That’s anti-Semitic. There is no other way to look at it: truly shameful. https://t.co/IUXoNaHh62
— Khalil Sayegh (@KhalilJeries) December 26, 2023
The original tweet (archived above) was mass reported by outraged pro-Israel Twitter users. As a result, Twitter forced him/her to remove it. This is yet another example of social media censorship of pro-Palestine speech concerning Gaza.
A further parallel between the Israeli Occupation and Jesus’ era is that ancient Judea was conquered by Rome and fought two bloody, prolonged wars against it. 60 years separated both conflicts. Jesus–as did all Jews there–literally suffered under occupation as well.
The Arabic in the tweet says:
Nothing has changed.. The struggle between the good [people] and the Zionists continues, for thousands of years.. There is no nativity [birth of Jesus] without Palestine.❗️
In the embedded tweet above, a Khalil Sayegh labels the image “anti-Semitic.” Another Jewish professor whose expertise is in “racism and anti-Semitism” claims it represents “deicide.” Both are wrong. The artist’s visual iconography sits squarely within the Palestinian Christian understanding of the suffering of not just Christians, but all Palestinians. The passage from Canon Ateek affirms this.
He took umbrage at my disputing his claim, even comparing me to Joseph Haddad. He is an Israeli Palestinian who does social media hasbara for the foreign ministry. Most Palestinians despise him and view him a a traitor. I myself have denounced him in multiple tweets. As far as I can tell from this lunatic smear, Sayegh is declaring me to be a traitor…to what? Israel? Jews? Certainly, not a traitor to Israel because I am American. And certainly not to Judaism because it is a religion, while Israel is a state. Further, I will not permit anyone, Jew, Palestinian or otherwise to define me as a Jew. I define myself. Not to mention that he is again conflating Israel and Judaism which is truly, as opposed to the graphic art, anti-Semitic.
The anti-Semitism claim relates to the phrase “for thousands of years.” Taken literally, as has the individual who claims it is anti-Semitic, it is an error. But he makes a leap in claiming that the Arabic conflates Judaism and Zionism which if it did, might make it anti-Semitic.
Political Zionism has only existed for 150 years. However, the concept of “return to Zion” appears often in Jewish liturgy and signifies an eternal longing of the Jewish people for Zion. Some prayers even call for the rebuilding of the Temple. An enterprise central to Kahanist Judaism.
Thus, modern Zionism appropriates ancient Jewish history and theology to legitimize itself. It sees every battle from the Maccabees to the Romans as a precursor to Zionism. That’s the reason the IDF holds its induction ceremony at Masada and offers the slogan: “Masada will not fall again,” referring to the wars against the Roman conqueror. Revisionist Zionism as well conceives of Israel’s territorial sovereignty in terms of the borders of the Biblical Davidic kingdom, which would include major pieces of what is now Lebanon and Syria. Whether or not the tweet is historically in error, one cannot fault the tweep for characterizing Zionism precisely as it does.
As for the claim of “deicide,” it too is misplaced. Israeli apologists like CAMERA have made such an accusations against Ateek. But Jesus’ crucifixion as an expression of Christian theology is an apt metaphor for Palestinian suffering. Palestinians have been murdered by Israeli Jews for a century. In fact, nearly half of all Palestinians killed in the past 100 years have been slaughtered in the past 10 weeks in Gaza. We don’t use crosses anymore to kill a Judean Jesus, Today, we use bullets and missiles.
What troubles the tweep who claimed the image embodies the “Christ-killer” trope, is that it hearkens back, in her view, to ancient Christian anti-Semitism. But it doesn’t, there is nothing Jewish about it at all. Christ is clearly arrested by Israeli soldiers wearing an Israeli flag on their uniforms. There is no Jewish iconography whatsoever. Certainly, if there was explicit Jewish symbols such a claim might be plausible. But there aren’t. In fact, the conflation of Jews and Israelis in these two claims is itself anti-Semitic.
Further, Jesus in the image has been arrested. There is no visual reference to crucifixion. The viewer may infer what follows from the image. But that is an inference made by some (but certainly not all) viewers. While the graphic portrays Jesus under arrest, 21,000 Gazans who have actually been murdered by the IDF. That more than justifies the Palestinian conception of genocide in Gaza.