The Learning & Turning Corner

Spiritual Instruction for Those Called to Restore Israel


Christ at the Checkpoint: The Call for Alternatives

Hannah Weiss, 6/jul/14 --- Part 1/3




In writing this series, I made an effort to keep emotions out of it, so that readers will be influenced by the facts themselves.
But that doesn't mean that the issues are academic and the facts are simply new points to add to the ongoing debate.
I don't want readers to think that I had no strong emotions while writing.
On the contrary, I was deeply disturbed and driven by a sense of urgency. 
I expect that no one who stays with me to the end of Part 3 will be able to avoid a strong emotional reaction.

My efforts have included not only research and writing, but prayer over how to bring this to the attention of the Lord's people in the most loving way possible.
The assignment
often took priority over social engagements, earning a livelihood, even eating and sleeping.

I took more than three months to make sure that the evidence was accurate and untampered by my own interpretations, double-checking and hoping I could soften the message somehow....
Instead, I kept discovering more evidence (almost daily) that showed this series is a necessary and timely warning.

In short, I am aware of the disturbance I may cause in the Body of Messiah by sharing my findings. But I am more aware of the dangers I would allow by not sharing it.


The Call from Israeli CatC supporters

About a month after the 2014 “Christ at the Checkpoint” (CatC) conference, a public statement was posted by the Jewish participants, most of them Israelis. Read it here.

The signatories acknowledged that their involvement had been controversial. They felt a responsibility to report back to the Body of Messiah what they had experienced. They repeated a collective conviction expressed in earlier statements, that God had directed them to attend.

I for one can accept that. I watched the videos which featured the Israeli speakers (Dan Juster and Oded Shoshani). They spoke the truth with conviction, and most of the time they stood their ground in facing a less-than-sympathetic audience. For that they are to be commended.

I can also accept the group statement that “we have had much positive feedback on our contributions...” even though that feedback has so far not changed the wording of any of the CatC positions on Christian Zionism.

The next statement was directed to critics in the Body, like me, who could not in good conscience support the CatC effort:

We acknowledge the problematic and controversial nature of the conference for many of our brothers and sisters in the Messiah. However, we are convinced of the need to seek godly relationships with our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters, and appreciate also the difficulties they have with us and our positions.

While the need for relationships with our Palestinian brethren is real, this defense implies that the relationships being forged under the umbrella of Bethlehem Bible College, the host of CatC, are godly enough to overcome the “problematic and controversial nature of the conference”, which includes "the difficulties" consistently blamed on Zionism. And here I begin to have issues.

About appropriate forums and discussion integrity

In publishing my negative views on the Internet, I am reminded of the hint in this open letter that discussions of the Conference’s shortcomings have been lacking in integrity:

We see the need of our movement to grow in its ability to handle disagreement on issues such as “Christ at the Checkpoint” with spiritual and personal maturity, and biblical and theological integrity, both among ourselves and with those outside our movement.

To this end,  we call on our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters and those who identify with them to provide appropriate forums where these matters may be discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and at which different positions on this topic may be discussed while maintaining the bonds of unity that we have in the Messiah.

Yes, we do need to grow up and get our act together in the way we discuss disagreements. Whether you're a supporter or a critic of Christ at the Checkpoint, there's no excuse for superficial comments, groundless accusations, inaccurate quotes or degrading attacks – some of which I have read with dismay. But this rebuke goes on with a call “to provide appropriate forums” for expressing our views, which implies that they do not yet exist.

In other words, it’s not appropriate to use unrestricted online media to air our differences, in full view of the worldwide Body and non-believers alike. If that was the message, I disagree. Here's why:

  1. The track record Bethlehem Bible College (the organizers and hosts of CatC) has been open to global view since they began the conferences in 2010. It can be evaluated in the same unrestricted manner.
  2. There is no scripture requiring us to confront individuals privately about a public position they have taken. New Testament instruction actually implies the opposite (Gal.2:14, 1 Tim.5:20).
  3. Public debate is especially important in relating to events like Christ at the Checkpoint, a situation where those not sharing our faith are already energetic observers and commentators (2 Pet.2:12).
  4. Any inappropriate comments seen online are not wrong because they were expressed in public, but because they were unfair, arrogant, uninformed and/or premature. The guilty parties would have these same problems regardless of the forum.
  5. Online discussion is ideal for its easy global access and accurate records to keep us all on track. In fact, the Checkpoint promoters themselves often use open online channels to respond to critics. There is no reason why we should not do likewise.

How can we grow in our discussion integrity? The first order of the day is to become better informed, so that our comments reflect the realities; then to become more disciplined to check and re-check our facts, so that our statements will stand up to scrutiny; and finally to ask the Lord to keep us humble in what we say/write, with the readiness to correct anything proven to be a mistake. 

About mutual respect and godly relationships

In a debate that can affect the Lord's people like this one, we must honor our opponents by upholding the above standards... for ourselves and for them. Only when there is an equal commitment to integrity on both sides can the relationships be called "godly". The rest of this article deals with my view of integrity standards on the Checkpoint side. It will suffice to say here that I don't think they qualify as godly partners.

Everyone deserves to be respected as individuals, whether they are in the faith or not. But "mutual respect" or "appreciation" in a debate is something earned through trust, and trust is earned by demonstrating honesty and fairness (aka "love of the truth"). We should certainly extend that kind of respect "on credit" at the beginning of any discussion. We hope to find that it is deserved. But if it is not, we have no obligation to "appreciate" a viewpoint that is unfair, dishonest, uninformed or arrogant. The rejection of what is false is also a necessary part of "godly" relationships.


The price of accepting Narratives without Judgment

"Narrative" simply means "storytelling" of an event experienced in a certain time and place. It may be real or imaginary. Due to human nature, an experience related as "absolutely true" is sometimes a blend of truth and fiction. In a creative work or mythology, it's expected to be a blend of the two.  

In pursuit of truth, however, the main goal in hearing narratives is to judge them -- to correctly identify the truth as opposed to the fiction (either unintentional or deliberate). All parents have been called on to judge between quarreling siblings, or to judge whether a kid is really "too sick to go to school".  In the workplace, managers might have to hear and judge an employee dispute. And of course a court of law is required every day to examine witnesses and judge the reliability of their testimony. For justice to be done, the narrative given by the accuser must undergo at least the same scrutiny as the narrative of the accused; for as everyone knows, bringing false charges against innocent parties is a nasty part of the human condition. The Bible gives specific attention to this possibility (Deut.19 for example).

I don't know how "narrative" became a buzzword for a personal testimony which may not be questioned.  It must come from the age-old but nonsensical idea that truth is subjective, and so everyone's "truth" is equally valid. (It's nonsensical because erasing the concept of "false" makes the concept of "truth" meaningless.) A society that automatically grants validity to a narrative which is an accusation is rightly seen as a violator of human rights.

This buzzword is applied constantly to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which the most generous of liberal observers tend to label as "competing narratives" of equal validity. Theoretically, that places both narratives beyond value judgments. But in practice, "the" Zionist narrative is judged in uniquely harsh terms (as human delusion or worse), while "the" Palestinian narrative is given an exemption that places it above judgment - almost "sacred".

An example unfolding as I write is the kidnap-murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which is sparking riots in Arab towns in Israel. While every segment of Israeli society has denounced the act for the cruel crime that it is, including a unanimous statement from the Knesset, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas immediately called for an "international investigation" of Israel's refusal to label all "Jewish settlers" as terrorists. Lost in the smoke is the fact that the suspects are not all settlers, and neither is the evidence against them conclusive. A video supposedly identifying two of them moments before the kidnapping, cited as evidence by the UK Guardian and Times of Israel, is seriously fact-challenged by the date-time mark in the upper left corner (showing around 10:45 AM on a sunny "Tuesday"; the kidnapping took place before dawn, 3:45 on a Wednesday). The willingness of media to uncritically accept Palestinian-made videos despite the well-known phenomenon of "Pallywood" (staged events best exemplified by the Muhammed al-Dura affair) is due to the mystical power of the "Palestinian narrative".

At Checkpoint conferences, the chosen narrative holds this same kind of exemption from scrutiny, except that it's reinforced by a "Christ" that embraces it and makes it definitely sacred. Thus the CatC narrative, even more than the usual Palestinian narrative, must be received with gentle reverence; to reject it as unreliable is to insult not only the Christian narrator but the Redeemer Himself. Even the Conference participants who recognize a flawed narrative, not necessarily endorsed by Christ, might hesitate to antagonize their gracious hosts by probing the inconsistencies. But according to Scripture, that is how truth is established and justice is done. Christians who cannot accept this, believing instead that the need to establish justice should give way to the need for people to feel good about their stories, can stop reading this article... and stop reading their Bible.

A tougher challenge is to discern - if the truth is not being told - why it's not. A refusal to let reasonable objections or corrective information test the narrative could be due to (1) ignorance, (2) fear of the consequences, or (3) deliberate attempts to deceive. The reason is important. Only the last option is a scriptural reason to break the relationship. But even the first two failings leave credibility gaps which forfeit the right to have the narrative respected. And willful ignorance or continuing fear of consequences will destroy the narrator's love of the truth. That in turn will lead to deception (2 Thess.2:10-12).

To be fair, I have heard off-record, second-hand reports that some CatC participants were actively seeking truth, and that when faced with new information in private conversations, they responded with honesty and a sense of fairness that is the basis for mutual respect. The problem is that on record, some of the key CatC speakers and sponsors seemed intent on promoting disinformation as truth. It must be asked whether godly relationships can be had with such spokespeople, no matter how friendly the welcome or how positive the feedback.

If their reason is due to ignorance or fear, they are not to be shunned. But until they love the truth enough to leave behind ignorance, they should not seek to educate the brethren. There is no sin in being blind; the sin comes from denying it (John 9:41). If they fear the cost of telling the truth, they should say nothing at all. No one would fault them for staying in the background; teaching is not for everyone (James 3:1). If they are knowingly refusing the truth, and they take the microphone in order to mislead others, they do not belong to Messiah at all (John 8:44).

In short, it’s pointless and dangerous to even debate the value of accepting “narratives” without checking their truthfulness, just to keep a dialog alive. Love, patience and gentleness are needed in getting someone to see the truth – but if “the truth” is not the agreed destination from the beginning of the dialog, then both sides are already straying from The Way and The Truth.


Testing the CatC Narrative for Truth Content

Love of the truth demands that we distinguish between real and fabricated narratives of injustice. There are times when we should accept the testimonies at face value, because we lack sufficient evidence of a false narrative. This is not one of those times. Three fabrications stand out as public positions of CatC organizers, which must be challenged by believers who want to honor these Christians as brothers capable of repentance.

1: The claim that Israel’s security wall surrounds Bethlehem, forming a kind of prison.

This was stated by Bethlehem Bible College Dean Alex Awad in the CatC 2014 promotion (time-mark 0:23), by Qustani Shomali of Bethlehem University in the CatC video “Why are Palestinians Leaving?” (mark 0:47), and by Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun in the CatC 2014 opening session (7:10) – and she repeated it at least five times.

Yet groups as diverse as the pro-Israel Honest Reporting and the pro-Palestinian B’Tselem are aware that there is no “wall surrounding” Bethlehem. The map reveals a barrier running along only two sides of the city…further broken by several green X’s. These X’s are labeled “agricultural gates in separation barrier,” created by Israel so that Bethlehem farmers can reach their fields beyond the wall.

This criticism might be considered nitpicking, if it weren’t that the “wall surrounding Bethlehem” has become a powerful urban myth repeated around the world. Examples include:

Messianic Israeli speakers at 2012 and 2014 CatC conferences seemed unaware of the deception. They defended the wall running past Bethlehem, they lamented it or ignored it, but no one challenged the “prison conditions” that it supposedly creates.

As a side-note, Oded Shoshani’s insistence that this barrier has sharply cut down terror attacks is backed by none other than the terrorists themselves. Hamas, the PA’s governing partner which has orchestrated many horrific attacks on Israelis, has admitted that these walls – and the fences which (unlike Bethlehem) completely enclose Jewish towns – have been a serious obstacle to continuing their murderous habits. Islamic Jihad, another terror group, agreed: “The fence is an obstacle to the resistance; without it, the situation would have been entirely different.”

2: The perverted equivalence of Islamism with Zionism.

This was emphasized by Colin Chapman, a Christian teacher of Islamic Studies, in his lecture two years ago at CatC 2012. Speaking on “A Christian Response to Radical Islam”, he called on us to view “Islamic fundamentalism in the Palestinian context” as “a carbon copy of Jewish fundamentalism.” (16:00)

Godly truth-telling cannot equate the handful of nationalistic Jewish crimes committed in the last century with the routine beatings, murders and mutilations of Jews worldwide in the Islamic “protest against the Israeli occupation”. What's more, Israeli media and education, which is geared to reject violence against Arabs, has no “carbon copy” whatsoever in the PA, but rather the polar opposite. (Watch a typical kids’ show on state-run Palestinian TV.) Even Palestinians are urging the West to boycott (not Israel but) the PA as the source of this never-ending incitement, which “jeopardizes the safety and livelihoods of Israelis and Palestinians alike.” (“Kidnapped Israeli Teenagers - A Palestinian View”, Mudar Zahran, 25/june/14)

Nevertheless, this perverted equivalence was reinforced at CatC 2014, when Alex Awad (both a college dean and a pastor) described Israeli military operations to eliminate terrorist cells as “atrocities” equal to the indiscriminate slaughter of Israelis (Jews, Christians and Muslims-!) in bomb attacks – a comparison that reportedly won applause from the Christian audience (Brian Schrauger, “A Personal Report”).

Incidentally, Schrauger, who lived in Bethlehem's Christian suburb of Beit Jalla, reported that he was later taken to the PA police compound for questioning. After taking his phone and reading his private text messages in front of him, the interrogator told Schrauger that complaints had been made by “local people associated with Christ at the Checkpoint and internationals” -- adding that he personally did not like Schrauger’s reporting. The PA police told him that his life was in danger, that people knew where he lived, and that he should leave PA areas for his own safety. They then escorted him to the compound gate and abandoned him to find his own way home on foot.

This brings me to the third fabrication.

3: The insistence that Muslim-Christian relations in PA-controlled areas are peaceful and mutually respectful… and if they are not, the Muslim side is blameless.

Feeling the need to explain the exodus of Palestinian Christians from PA territories, CatC spokespeople are careful to explicitly rule out “systematic discrimination” by the PA as a reason. (Rasha Mukarker of Bethlehem University, CatC video “Why are Palestinians Leaving?”, 2:35) I document the reason for that sort of voluntary denial later.

But the truth is already so well known that Israeli CatC speaker Dan Juster could matter-of-factly comment about the risk of being Christian in the PA, which causes them to “emphasize suffering under Israel and not under the rule of the Arab Muslims. Maybe this is so they can address one injustice realm without being killed.” (See a WND overview which includes this quote.) Even the eloquent mayor of Bethlehem, who spoke at the CatC conference with a show of confidence, has been the target of attacks for being both a Christian and a woman.

To combat these inconvenient media revelations, the Iranian-sponsored “PressTV” in London recently produced a report on “Israel’s attempts to divide Christians from Muslims [sic]”. Israel does this, they said, by disturbing the harmonious relations with scary rumors of Muslim hostility toward Christians. The program (containing too many inaccuracies to list here) relied heavily on British CatC promoter and speaker Stephen Sizer, who embedded the "PressTV" video on his personal blog site.

Dismissing reports of Muslim authorities mistreating Christians, Sizer confidently called it “a fear tactic to mask the reality of the [Israeli] occupation.” (mark 7:30) Then followed a discussion of the recent patriotic movement among Israeli Arabs, which inserted feedback from practically every audience in the world except Israeli Arabs.

Amazingly, the interviewer later admitted (19:00) that relations between Christians and Muslims around the world “aren’t too good”. The other interviewee (sharing the camera with Sizer) responded that this is the fault of “Arab dictators” who “project” the idea that Muslims are anti-Christian... a fiction which inexplicably comes true (19:30). In between those confessions, the Palestinian regime was hailed as “a shining example” of an exception to this worldwide "not too good" relationship.

The claim was remarkable not only for its acknowledgement that the supposed "fear tactic" was based on global reality, but also for the scarcity of PA Christians speaking to "PressTV" about their delight with the "shining example" of Muslim-Christian relations. As we will see later, this is the only opinion allowed them under the system of law upheld by the Palestinian Authority. So the silence of the camera says a great deal.

The 2009 position paper "Theology of the Land", which is promoted by CatC and Bethlehem Bible College, displays the same ambiguity as the "PressTV" interview. The author, BB College theology professor Dr. Salim Munayer, applauds the Islamic "respect for other religions", with shari'a (applied Islamic law) providing "a fulfilling and liberating experience" of Islam... only to confess immediately afterward that in the PA shari'a law negates respect for other religions (p.18-19). Munayer's reaction to the resulting dissonance had none of the desperation seen among other Arab Christians; he merely expressed "great interest" in watching how things developed. Perhaps that's because as an Israeli citizen, he is not injured by it.

Colin Chapman added insult to injury in his CatC lecture this year, by advising Palestinian Christians to embrace this sad situation of dhimmitude as the “future and hope” that God promises to His people (quoting Jer.29:11, time-mark 34:10).

Chapman was posing the question, "Can Christianity Survive in the Middle East?" It's significant that not a word was said about the one "Middle East" location where Christian communities are not only “surviving” but growing: the Jewish state. (He's not alone in ignoring that exception, as a CAMERA report shows.) However, he proved that the question is valid for the Muslim Middle East with a summary of the 1400-year history of Islamic colonialism. Nevertheless, despite Islam’s depressing track record, nearly wiping out Christians wherever it took root, Colin Chapman was confident that the answer is yes, Christians can survive… if they try hard enough to “understand Islam”.

At a time when Islam is sweeping across the world, this advice offered by a Christian as God’s solution can impact believers everywhere. That makes Colin Chapman's lecture the most disturbing and destructive of any that were given at the Conference this year.

Part 2 presents a vital reality check on this lecture.


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