Tuesday, June 21, 2011

History, news articles, truth & mercy

By education I am a historian; I have a Master’s degree in history. I also have BAs in Philosophy and Religious Studies as well as 37 units from Fuller Theological Seminary. That is to simply say I am interested in history and faith issues and how they relate to one another. It is also to say that I deplore news articles that fail to be honest about either history or religion. Perhaps that is part of the reason I deplore so many of the news articles the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) link to on their Facebook or place on the front of their web site.[1]

I have just read two articles, (one is an opinion piece the other news) that will never make it to IPMN’s Facebook page. And that despite the fact that they are in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that is often linked to by IPMN. The first is an article by Shlomo Avineri emphasizing the importance of using facts when reporting on historical events. It is entitled, “The Truth Should be Taught About the 1948 War.”

Avineri begins his article:
On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. That is truth, not narrative. On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked and destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. That is truth, not narrative.

Of course, there are also narratives. For example, the Germans had quite a few complaints against Poland. First, that in the 1919 Versailles Treaty, the victorious Western powers stripped Germany of territories with a large ethnic German population and annexed them to Poland (the "Polish corridor" ), while declaring Danzig, which had been a German city for generations, an international city. Moreover, Nazi Germany accused the Polish government of discriminating against ethnic Germans under its jurisdiction.

Not every claim in the German narrative was baseless, but the factual truth is clear: On September 1, 1939, it was Germany that attacked Poland, not Poland that attacked Germany.
Avineri goes on to write of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using the same understanding of the difference between narrative and facts. From that he moves to the 1948 War between the Arab States and Israel. While he points out the importance of knowing the Palestinian narrative that involves sorrow and loss he nevertheless reminds the reader:
But above and beyond these claims [by the Palestinians]is the simple fact - and it is a fact, not a "narrative" - that in 1947, the Zionist movement accepted the United Nations partition plan, whereas the Arab side rejected it and went to war against it. A decision to go to war has consequences, just as it did in 1939 or 1941.
That is history and we in the PCUSA need to remind ourselves of that fact every so often. The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show mercy to all peoples as well as preach the gospel to them. In order to show mercy or preach the gospel we need to hold on to the historical facts as well as the terrible needs of all in the Middle East.

The other article is about those Jews who were forced from Libya both during the Nazi years of Germany and during the birth of modern Israel. The article by the The Associated Press, is entitled “Libya fighting stirs memories of country’s Jewish past.”

The article begins:
What was once the most beautiful synagogue in Libya's capital city can now be entered only by sneaking through a hole smashed in a back wall, climbing over dusty trash and crossing a stairwell strewn with abandoned shoes to a space occupied by cooing pigeons.

The synagogue, Dar al-Bishi, was once the center of a prosperous Jewish community, one whose last remnants were expelled decades ago in the early days of Muammar Gadhafi's regime.
The authors trace the history of the Jewish community in Libya going back to its beginning. In doing so they also trace the Libyan Jews' particular persecution. They write:
Jews first arrived in what is now Libya some 2,300 years ago. They settled mostly in coastal towns like Tripoli and Benghazi and lived under a shifting string of rulers, including Romans, Ottoman Turks, Italians and ultimately the independent Arab state that has now descended into civil war.

Some prospered as merchants, physicians and jewelers. Under Muslim rule, they saw periods of relative tolerance and bursts of hostility. Italy took over in 1911, and eventually the fascist government of Benito Mussolini issued discriminatory laws against Jews, dismissing some from government jobs and ordering them to work on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest.

In the 1940s, thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa where hundreds died. Some were deported to concentration camps in Germany and Austria.

Their troubles didn't end with the war. Across the Arab world, anger about the Zionist project in Palestine turned Jewish neighbors into perceived enemies. In November 1945, mobs throughout Libya went on a three-day rampage, burning down Jewish shops and homes and killing at least 130 Jews, among them three dozen children.
This is a particular story but not unique. In almost all Arab nations the Jews were persecuted and in one way or another exiled during the birth of Israel. The article emphasized the feelings of the descendents of the Libyan Jewish community and their thoughts on returning to their homeland as they watch and listen to the news and the possibility.

My interest is that we have a page in the PCUSA that tells the facts of history for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. If that actually happened we would then be able to make polity suggestions that would be rooted in history and draped in mercy.

[1] Just as I was posting this and went back to pick up the link for the IPMN, I discovered that they had linked once again to Veterans Today a vile anti-Semitic site that even the The Southern Poverty Law blog “Hate Watch” dislikes and has written about. See, "Buyer Beware: Veterans Today and its Anti-Israel Agenda."

No comments: