Responses to my Palestine posts so far …

If you have an interest in experiencing what some friends and I experienced in Israel and Palestine in January, I highly recommend you contact my friends Jeff and Janet Wright. Jeff is a Disciples of Christ pastor who has a deep passion for peace in the Middle East, and he knows how to introduce others to what’s going on there. You can contact him at Maybe you could put together a group of about twenty friends yourself, or maybe you could join another group. I highly, highly recommend this. It’s one thing to go to the “Holy Land” and see where Jesus worked and walked in the past. It’s another thing to combine that with seeing where the Spirit of Jesus is working and walking in the present, teaching people to seek peace and reconciliation with God, neighbor, and enemy.
I’ve received a number of positive responses to my recent posts on Palestine, like this one.

A lot of people are noticing what you’re writing and your witness. Right now, it’s mostly people saying “hey, McLaren seems to be getting it.” (That was a comment on your sojourners’ piece.) But be ready to be attacked and insulted and slimed like never before… I suspect you’ve developed a thick skin by now. Just want you to know you’re going to need it. And I’ll be praying for you.

Of course, some other responses haven’t been so positive. I’ll include some of them, with my responses, after the jump.

Before getting to the less positive responses, the same person who wrote the previous email responds to this post.

1. There are A LOT OF peace workers. Not always closely linked. Not always allowed in the country (evictions are frequent). But there’s not a lot of focus on the ants’ work of peace workers…
2. Care for people on the ground is virtually impossible without addressing the politics. World Vision used to put in wells in Gaza; the IDF would blow them up; then the US would give more money to WV to put in wells. I agree that some politicians forget the people on the ground – and even NGOs sometimes waste opportunities. But helping the people is a major political issue. Actually, the main reason people on the ground need help is because of the political context.
USAID’s blatant ineffectiveness is not due to the amount of money – they’ve poured over 100 million US$ in the health sector over the last 8 years and achieved nothing– it’s due to the political restrictions Congress places on USAID’s work.
4. The only reason for humanitarian aid is because the economy is being choked to death. But economic development has no point at all and cannot work without addressing the occupation. Palestine used to be a middle-income country. It’s now virtually a low income country.When F-16’s blow up malls in Nablus, it’s hard to see the priority as “economic development.”

These are helpful points, especially the last one. People who simply want to show compassion without doing justice eventually come up against this reality: all your work trying to build a school or orphanage can be destroyed by a single bomb in a split second.
Here’s another email that came in:

I’m wondering if you will have open conversation with mainstream Jews living in Israel on your current mission? Most of what I’ve read so far of your mission has been predictable almost as if it were a political script. I heard the same thing many times and once that begins to happen it’s evidence that the conversation circle has gotten really small, and for the most part boring. Everybody is saying what everybody is supposed to be saying as if no one is really paying attention to any thing new. Ast least that is how the language seems to function.
So I wondering if you are going to step out of the comfort zone and speak to folks who may have a different script?

Thanks for your comment, and your question. On your comment, there’s another conclusion that could be drawn from the similarity among many voices, and that’s that a lot of people are seeing the same thing, and the similarity of their accounts is not a matter of scripting, but of witnessing the same realities. Please be assured, our goal was not to be manipulated and spun: our eyes were open and we asked a lot of questions.
As for your question, yes, we spoke with many Israeli Jewish folks, from a very outspoken and radical settler to some more “mainstream” immigrants from the US to a Refusenick to various peace activists. And, of course, I’ve lived 53 years in the US, where the general message in the media and from politicians has often seemed to boil down to this: all Palestinians are terrorists and the Israelis are only innocent victims. (Just today, I asked a neighbor what she thinks of when she hears the word Palestinian, and she said “terrorist.”)
It was interesting: all of the Palestinians we talked to urged us to be sure to listen to Israelis, and we were told several times that they don’t want us to take sides one against the other, but to seek the justice and peace which will benefit everyone. And we were surprised at how candid many Israelis were about the Palestinian situation. They were ashamed, horrified, and deeply concerned about what was happening to their neighbors in the West Bank and Gaza. They didn’t like the expansion of settlements, house demolition, the killing of children in Gaza, the wall, the checkpoints, and the demonization of their Palestinian neighbors. We really tried to listen and learn from everyone we could. So I hope you won’t become too cynical about me or about any of us who would go to the trouble and expense of visiting Israel and Palestine and not simply listening to the scripts of others, but rather seeing for ourselves. If we were sticking to our comfort zone, I think we would have stayed home and watched TV, you know?
This response is obviously from a sincere person who takes his/her faith seriously:

Dear Mr Mclaren,
I wonder how those that read our blessed scriptures can get it so wrong
and in doing so also bring great distress to our heavenly Father.
I do know He says, those that curse Israel I will curse, and those that
bless Israel I will bless.
I ask this, as recent writings, have said rather unpleasant things about you.
Can these be true?
Only you can work that out with our heavenly Father.
may His blessings be with you.

Thanks for your note, and for your prayers for me. Please be assured, I have not in any way criticized the Jewish people; it would be foolish to criticize a group of people the majority of whom live not in Israel but around the world for the actions of the Israeli government. I think it’s important to separate “The Government of Israel” from “the Jewish people,” wouldn’t you agree? I wouldn’t want to be blamed for every action of my government.
That’s why I have spoken out against certain policies of the Israeli government (supported by the US government) that I believe are harmful to Palestinians and counterproductive to peace for Israel itself. But it seems strange to me that you would interpret this as “cursing Israel.” That’s quite a jump, don’t you think? Do you think that “blessing Israel” means that we should turn a blind eye when the Israeli government does unjust and counterproductive things? Would the ancient prophets of Israel be guilty of cursing Israel if that’s the case – because they had a lot to say about injustice in their day?
Please be assured, I love the Israeli people, and I want nothing more than for them to enjoy God’s blessings in a safe and secure homeland. Even in my critique of the occupation by the Israeli government, I’ve tried to be respectful and fair, and careful in my language – although I’m sure I’m far from perfect in anything I say or do. Because I love Israelis and want them to experience true security, I hope they will change certain unjust policies that I believe undermine what they truly want and need.
Perhaps an analogy would help. Let’s say your son is married, and he keeps harshly insulting your daughter-in-law. Let’s say you go to him and try to encourage him to be more respectful, more loving, less belligerent. You’re not trying to curse him: you’re trying to help him have a lasting and happy marriage. That’s what I and others are trying to do. We feel a special responsibility because our nation has provided so much financial and military support to Israel; our support suggests endorsement of policies that have led to terrorism and war and could easily lead to more of the same in the future. If these were trivial matters, it would be easy to keep silent, but when they are so important, many of us feel we must speak out about what we have seen and heard and studied – not to curse, but to bless.
Here’s an even more strongly-worded response:

I read your blog on Israel and Palestine. As a PCUSA minister, I find your views anti-semitic and void of a sense of history. Jews have been persecuted and thrown out of every country over the last 2000 years. Now they are finally in their historic land, occupied by Arabs, and you have the nerve to criticize them. The views of you and your guests would fit nicely as an addendum to Mein Kampf.

First, thanks for reading the blog and taking time to respond honestly. You obviously have very strong feelings on this subject. It’s truly honorable and good that you are concerned about the mistreatment that the Jews have suffered – most horribly at the hand of so-called Christians – through history. I share your horror at this. We Christians need to look back and face the flaws in our theology and spiritual formation that allowed our ancestors to behave in truly unconscionable ways toward our Jewish brothers and sisters. Our behavior has been absolutely despicable, and too few Christians have acknowledged it, and so I fully agree with you that we should avoid antisemitism of any kind, whether against Jewish or Arab people. We Christians need a deep spirit of repentance and humility over what was done to Jews – and others – often in the name of God and Jesus. It’s heart-breaking, nauseating, disgusting.
I do find it distracting and offensive that you would compare my views to Hitler’s, but let’s just put that aside. I want to focus on two other things you said.
First, you said their land is occupied by Arabs. Israel is indeed surrounded by Arab nations on three sides, with the Sea on the fourth. But they aren’t occupied by Arabs; in fact, since 1967 Israel has been occupying the nation that was mandated to Palestine in 1948. Imagine if the United States stayed in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2045, and imagine that we gradually created settlements where only Americans could live. Imagine that we controlled and undermined the Iraqi and Afghan economy for forty years, that we demolished homes and erected checkpoints to control their behavior. That is similar to what has happened in the MIddle East. President Bush felt that Saddam Hussein was a threat to US security, so he invaded and occupied the nation in 2003. In 1967, the Israelis felt that Palestine was a threat and they did the same. Our desire to achieve security has produced some unintended consequences, and I think the same is true in Israel.
Or perhaps more helpful, imagine that China invaded the United States later this year and did these things to us for the next forty years. I’m sure we would have violent uprisings against the occupation, and we would call the leaders of uprisings freedom fighters, while the Chinese would call them terrorists. Ten or twenty years from now, under the pressure of continuing occupation, some of us might even engage in suicide bombings if we lost all hope of being free any other way. Of course, no analogy is perfect, but can you imagine being in this kind of situation?
Second, you said I have “the nerve to criticize them.” Please understand, I get a lot of criticism, and I know how it feels, so I don’t like criticizing anybody. Since you’re a Presbyterian minister, I think this will make sense to you: in the Bible, God gave the children of Israel a homeland. But God also said, “If you don’t obey my commands, you will lose this homeland.” One of those commands was to treat the alien and the stranger with respect, since the children of Israel had themselves been aliens and strangers in Egypt. They shouldn’t do to others what was done to them.
That’s exactly why what you said is so important: the Jews have suffered terribly at the hands of Christians in Europe and elsewhere. It would tragic if the nation of Israel (which, it’s important to remember, isn’t equivalent to the Jewish people) did to Palestinians the same kinds of things European Christians did to Jews for many centuries.
Later on, both before and after the exile and return, the prophets similarly told the people that if they didn’t pursue justice, they would experience terrible consequences. The prophets weren’t simply criticizing their people in a mean-spirited way; they were reminding them of God’s call to justice. I think you’ll agree that in the Bible, the best way to achieve national security is through following God’s wisdom and God’s justice, not by oppression and injustice. We might say that in the Bible, right creates might, rather than the reverse.
Of course I don’t have any illusion the Israeli government would have any interest in what one small person like me would say. But as an American citizen, I am implicated in what’s happening in Israel, because our nation supplies billions of dollars and huge supplies of weapons to Israel. I hope to speak up as an American citizen so that we will be more wise in our support of Israel, and use our influence to urge them to treat the Palestinians fairly, to end the occupation, and to pursue neighborly relations with them, following the ways of the Lord. For twenty-four years, I was a pastor like you, and like you, I want nothing more than to love God with all my heart, and to love my neighbors as myself – all of my neighbors, with no bias or prejudice, whether they be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim … Israeli, Arab, or whatever. I hope that makes some sense.
Here’s another strongly worded one. I’ll insert responses into the email at a couple of points.

Hello Mr. McLaren,

My name is XXX. I am a Christian (the kind that you have a tendancy to belittle in such an underlying kind of way), but I was just wondering why do you always side so much with the “poor oppressed” Palastineans? Why do you have so much disdain for Yahweh’s chosen people and consider them the of middle east peace?

First, I’m terribly sorry you feel that I have belittled people like you. I do my best to show respect to people, especially when I disagree with them, but apparently I haven’t done a good enough job of that. I hope by this response you will see that it’s possible to learn from one another when we disagree, without belittling one another.
I would hope that I would side with anyone who is “poor and oppressed,” Israeli or Arab, American or Iraqi or whoever. The reason I do this is because of my commitment to God and my love for the Bible. Again and again in Scripture, I’ve learned that God cares for the poor, that God upholds the oppressed, that God is a God of justice and compassion. Contrary to what you’ve said, I have no disdain for the Jewish people. I think my Jewish friends would affirm that. I want the people of Israel to enjoy the same peace and security all people should enjoy, and I want the same for the Palestinian people. There are ways in which both the Israelis and the Palestinians have been oppressed, and there are ways each has made mistakes. I believe God wants the best for all people, and is “not a respecter of persons” and shows no favoritism (Acts 10:34). Whatever the term “chosen people” means, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about justice for the “unchosen.” That would violate God’s character, at least as I understand it. (If you ever read any of my books, you’ll find places where I discuss what I believe it means to be “chosen people.” In short, I believe it means being chosen not for elite or exclusive privilege, but for service for all.) You continue …

Do you fail to recognize that of all the middle eastern nations, there’s is the only real democracy and country with freedom for men and women alike? Even for Muslims (who are free to practice their demonic religion as they wish there, so long as they obey the law and especially as long as they stop trying to kill the Jews)

Actually, it’s not quite that simple. You’re absolutely right that Israel offers equal rights for women and men. But Israel isn’t simply a democratic state: it’s a Jewish democratic state. That means that non-Jews in Israel don’t enjoy all the same freedoms that Jews do. A number of policies of the Israeli government severely undermine human dignity and human rights for Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the occupied territories.
I find it unhelpful and offensive – and frankly, socially dangerous – for you to call Islam a demonic religion. That’s the kind of language that has been used to justify terrible things in the past. As well, to do so implies that Christianity is a “clean” religion, and Islam an “unclean” one. But I recall how Peter was once rebuked by Jesus for speaking from the dark side, so to speak; so even among Jesus’ disciples, evil influences could be at work. I believe the line between good and evil doesn’t run between groups or individuals, but through them.
I wonder: do you know any Muslims? Have you had them in your home, or been in their home, and gotten to know them? I’m worried that you’ve let your impressions of human beings made in the image of God be distorted by a lack of personal knowledge and contact. It might be helpful for you to read and reflect on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. If Jesus were here today, I think he might tell a story called “The Good Muslim,” as a way of helping us humanize rather than demonize “the other.”
Your implication that all Palestinians (many of whom, I hope you’ll remember, are Christians) want to “kill the Jews” is terribly unfair. Palestinians are people like all of us. Here in America, there are violent people, racist people, angry people, and wonderful, kind people … and the same is true everywhere. If you learn more about everything the Palestinians have suffered, you’ll see that they have good reasons to be angry and frustrated – just as the Israelis do. Of course, I don’t believe that justifies violence for either Palestinians or Israelis. As Jesus said, if you live by the sword (or the bomb), it will come back to bite you later on.

I don’t understand how you claim to follow Jesus Christ, and yet consistantly side with those who would love to murder all of His people. They still are the chosen of God, and that is the land that God gave to the Jews, which is the land (all around the mediteranean in fact, was Christian land until…) the barbaric Muslim came along and conquered it.

Please be assured, I would never side with people who want to murder other people! I can’t imagine where you got that idea, unless you believe that all Palestinians are murderers, and if you believe that, I would urge you to give your belief a second thought! And remember, I don’t want to side with the Palestinians against the Israelis, nor do I want to side with the Israelis against the Palestinians. I want to be on the side of justice and compassion for both groups.
Your comment about the Mediterranean region being “Christian land” until it was conquered by “barbaric” Muslims – again, I find this language offensive and actually un-Christian, but I’ll pass it by – belies the fact that before it was under the control of Christians, it was under the control of others, many of whom probably felt the Christians were just as brutal when they were occupiers. Whenever someone takes or controls your homeland, you feel brutalized … whether your a Native American, a North African, a Jew, or a Palestinian Christian or Muslim.

That land is theirs. Not the Palestineans. So maybe they should either; A: go to their own Islamic made war torn regions of death. Or B: stop trying to demand for what was not theirs in the first place.

You obviously have read some verses in the Bible about God giving the descendants of Abraham a land, which is good, but I’m afraid you haven’t integrated those verses with many other verses in Scripture. And I’m afraid that you don’t know enough about the history of the region; otherwise you wouldn’t make a statement like this. Let’s say that you’re right, that God gave the land to Abraham’s descendents 3000 years ago. Even if that is true, do you realize that Arabs are Abraham’s descendants too? And do you remember all the places where God, in the Hebrew Scriptures, commands the people to be good to aliens and strangers among them? And do you remember where God promises them that if they don’t follow his commands, they’ll lose their land? Can you see why, out of concern for Israelis as well as Palestinians, I would want the Israeli government to change policies which dehumanize and oppress Palestinians? That’s not only in the best interests of Palestinians; it’s also in the israeli long-term interest.
You might not be aware that a line of reasoning very much like the one you are offering was used to justify slaughtering the Native Peoples, and to justify enslaving Africans, and to justify segregation and apartheid. So I hope you’ll think a bit more deeply about these matters. Just quoting a verse about the land doesn’t justify being careless about the rights of other people who are created in the image of God. I’m sure you’ll agree when you think about it.

Israel is surrounded by those who want to kill them (your supposed religion of peace). They take the abuse given to them on their borders by these “peaceful, poor and oppressed” Muslims. Constant rocket attacks and murders is a way of life for them too. Why don’t you start telling the Muslims to stop? Yet when terrorists up the attacks and Israel finally says enough, and they strike back, why do you talk as if it was Israel’s fault? (I read your posts from the hezbolla/ Israel conflict)

Again, it sounds like you’ve heard one side of the story. I have heard that side of the story too, and I can understand if that’s all you’ve heard, this is how you would think. But there’s another side of the story. I hope you will become interested in hearing it too.

Even the conflict in Malaysia recently, because the Catholic Church wrongly wanted to use the name of Allah instead of God (yes I know Allah is the Aramic word for “god”, but I don’t think it’s right to use it either) so of course the religion of peace began demonstrating how peaceful they are by destroying the church’s there, and you say there needs to be “MUTUAL” respect!!

You make it sound like I’m happy when Muslims destroy Christian churches. That’s quite absurd, don’t you think? I don’t want Christians or Muslims or Jews to resort to violence against one another. So yes, I say there needs to be mutual respect.

I didn’t intend for this letter to be so long, I’m sorry but I guess it was a bit of a venting, I just don’t get you man, and I know we don’t know each other, and I’m sure your a nice guy, but honestly I think you are so wrong on so much. Your a very influential man (for which I left my church because of the emergent influence), but I fear your going in the wrong direction. For what it was worth I felt I had to write to you. You know the truth, you know the gospel, I pray that you will follow Christ in truth.

Thanks for writing, and for your prayers. If you’re right about all these things, then I really am wrong, and I appreciate your trying to set me straight. But perhaps this is an opportunity for you to see things from a different perspective. Maybe some day you could take a trip like the one I was just on and see some of these things for yourself. But short of that, there are so many books you could read – books by conservative Christians like yourself – that would help you see a bigger picture. Can I recommend one? Try reading Blood Brothers … it’s an interesting and easy read, and would be a great first step in learning more.
Again, thanks for writing. I appreciate your honesty, even when I wince at some of the things you’ve said. I’m sure you wince at many things I say as well, but at least we’re reading one another, and responding to one another … and hopefully doing so with mutual respect.
Finally, I normally wouldn’t respond to an inquiry that begins by calling me a useful idiot, since that kind of language doesn’t normally set the stage for constructive dialogue. But this writer asked several questions that deserve an answer:

-If the Palestinian people are the peace loving people that you describe what would a Palestinian controlled Israel look like?

First, I’m not claiming the Palestinians are morally superior; I can’t imagine where you’d get that idea. I think all human beings are all a mix of good and bad. The problem is occupation. I think any nation that occupies another nation is going to abuse their power. Just as occupied nations are tempted to the violence of insurgency and terrorism, occupying nations often yield to temptations of domination – I think Abu Ghraib illustrates that. The problem is exacerbated in that the Israelis have all the power. They’re backed by the US in their occupation, so the Palestinians are truly backed against a wall. If the Palestinians occupied Israel and had a similar imbalance of power, I’m sure there would be problems there too.

-Why are you silent about Palestinian terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians?

I’m not. Any action against innocent civilians is terrible and unacceptable, whoever does it. But violent insurgency against the occupation is widely reported in the US. Injustices of the occupation are not so widely reported.

-If the barriers between the West Bank and Israel were simply taken down would all bombings of Israeli citizens stop, or would the bombings and shellings that necessitated them in the first place continue?

Bringing down the wall wouldn’t be sufficient to end problems there. I’ve never said it would. My belief, based on what I’ve read and learned in conversation with people on the ground there, is that there is only one path that will lead to a long-term reduction in tension and violence: full human rights and freedom for both Palestinians and Israelis, in line with international law – whether that happens in a two-state or one-state solution. Right now, neither side has what the security and freedom each side wants and needs. All of us are bound up together.
-Can you substantiate the claims you make about Israeli torture of innocent Palestinians?
I’ve personally met and spoken with individuals who experienced unjust imprisonment and torture. But if you’re interested in a respected Israeli website that presents this kind of information, I’d recommend this site. It would also be good to learn about house demolitions – here’s a site that will inform you a bit. Thanks for your willingness to check these out.

-If Palestinians were absorbed into Israeli society would they coexist peacefully as they have proven not to be able to (see Jerusalem) or would they make good on their promise in the Hamas Charter that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

First of all, it’s terribly unwise to let Hamas represent all Palestinians. That would be like letting one political party be the exclusive voice of all Americans. The PLO is the official representative of the Palestinians, and they have affirmed Israel’s right to exist for many years. The Palestinians, since 1967, have been under occupation, so I wouldn’t want to judge a people’s behavior under occupation as a good indicator of how they would behave when they are granted equal rights.

-Would the peace that resulted be appealing to you if it included the demeaning of women as is routine with Arabic culture in the Middle East?

Of course I want women to have equal rights. But are you implying that Palestinian women would rather be under Israeli occupation than have their own society? I’m quite certain that you’d have a hard time finding a single one. By the way, you seem to be assuming that all Arabic cultures are the same. That’s far from true. And you seem to assume that Arabic women consider Arab culture demeaning. Actually, I think they’d consider Western promiscuity, pornography, and immodesty more demeaning. Again, I’m not defending second-class status for women; I’m just saying that a valid concern for equal rights for women shouldn’t be used to defend the long-term occupation of one nation by another. And please remember – many Palestinians are your Christian brothers and sisters.

-What do you have to say about the Palestinians training their children to hate Israelis and to honor suicide bombers?

It’s tragic and terrible. But it’s also terrible for Israeli children (and adults, and tourists) to be taught a prejudiced view against Palestinians. It’s also terrible for Palestinian children to grow up in a situation where they are treated as terrorists before they’ve done anything wrong. My belief is that restoring full civil and human rights by ending the occupation is the best way for us to get beyond this terrible and tragic situation. Continuing oppression will only continue resentment, which will lead to continuing violence on both sides. I wonder if you have a better pathway to peace?

-Is their Biblical precedent for the current “peaceful” means by which Palestinians are struggling for their independence such as random mortar attacks, rocket attacks, and suicide bomber attacks on innocent civilians within Israel?

Of course not. All the Palestinians I talked to – including many, many committed Christians – want to use truth and reason and dialogue and appeal to the conscience of the world, not violence. That’s why I’m trying to help them. And I hope, if you get the bigger picture, you will too.
Can I recommend you read the book Blood Brothers that I recommended to an earlier respondent? I think it might help you get a broader picture.
One last thing. I’m not an expert or scholar on these matters. I’ve done a lot of reading and study, and visited and learned from people on the ground. But there are, no doubt, many things I don’t understand, or have misunderstood, and I’m always ready to learn where I’ve been wrong. I’m just trying to do what I can to be on the side of justice and peace. I hope you’ll consider what I’m saying in the spirit I’m saying it. I’m not trying to make you or anyone an enemy. I just want to do what Jesus said … “seek God’s kingdom and justice” as my first priority. God bless.
A friend recently sent me a link to this video where you can different people responding to the situation in Palestine. I’m not endorsing every single thing that’s said, but perhaps this will give some additional perspective on why many of us believe that justice is a better path to peace in the Middle East than bombs and guns on either side: