In the eye of the beholder

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Third Sunday after Pentecost
13 June 2021

[ video ]

We are told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Actually many different forms of value very much depend on the observer: what seems useful, pleasing and attractive will vary between different people, across time and in different cultures.

All three of our readings today have at least one common thread which concerns how we see things.

Last week the religion experts from Jerusalem were warned about the risk that they would not be able to see God at work in their midst because they mistook the Spirit of God doing something new as the work of the Devil.

This week we build on that theme, and reflect on how we assign (or withhold) value when we are observing what is happening around.

Samuel goes to Bethlehem

The prophet Samuel (who was himself overlooked by an elderly priest when he was just a child) sets out for Bethlehem on an undercover mission that puts his own life at risk.

He is going to look for someone else to replace Saul as king over the tribes of Israel, and if King Saul discovers what sneaky tricks Samuel is up to then his own life will certainly be in peril.

This is no Christmas story, even though it is in Bethlehem.

It seems that Samuel has done some research before his trip, because he goes looking for one particular man (Jesse) from among whose children Samuel expects to find the next king.

As this kind of story often requires, Jesse has lots of children, including eight sons.

The proud father presents his seven older sons, and Samuel is very impressed. But a little voice in his head keeps saying saying NO to each of these seven impressive young men. When Samuel eventually asks whether Jesse has any other sons, the old farmer admits that there is one not present despite all of the sons having been invited to attend the event.

He’s just a kid and he is busy looking after the sheep.

Young Shepherd

We know how this story is going to end. The youngest boy is called into the party, and to everyone’s amazement he is identified as the person chosen by God to replace Saul as king.

This is a great example of a story which is true on so many levels even if it did not actually happen.

Seeing Jesus differently

Towards the end of our second reading, Saint Paul mentions—almost in passing—that while he might once have looked at Jesus from a human point of view, he does not do that any longer.

It is certainly possible to look at Jesus from a human point of view.

Lots of people do that, and people who will never be Christians can still find great meaning for them in paying attention to Jesus.

But Paul had learned to look at Jesus from another perspective; to appreciate Jesus as the risen Lord, the One who is always present with us through his Spirit, and the One through whom God was choosing to make everything new. He goes on to say:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Cor 5:17–20

How we look at Jesus is our choice, but if we look at him in that way then everything changes.

As parents and godparents, how do we want Sawyer to see Jesus?

The mustard seed

Our gospel passage offered another example where how we look determines what we see.

The parable of the mustard seed is one of the things we can be pretty certain Jesus actually said, although in the several versions of this little parable we can already see people developing the story in different ways.

For most people this is a story about something that starts out really small (a mustard seed) and grows into a huge tree. “From little things big things grow,” comes to mind!

If you look at the parable that way you will find yourself among a large crowd of people, but Jesus may not be there as that was almost certainly not what he was seeking to express.

More likely Jesus had one of the following in mind and perhaps all three of them:

smallness – the mustard seed is indeed small, but so is the shrub that grows from the seeds and it is never such a large plant that it competes with the ancient trees

inclusive – the mustard bushes become a haven for birds and other small creatures, who the farmer would much prefer to be somewhere else

pervasive – these plants are pervasive and will take over the whole field if left unchecked because once they got a established in a small corner of there field they keep on spreading …

How do you see God’s active presence among us? asks Jesus.

Do we imagine God as big and powerful, or as small but pervasive, gathering up the marginal people to form communities of hope in a world that runs on fear?

And how do we see Jesus, and how might we imagine a church that starts again from just a few small seeds? Are we hoping to become once more a large and powerful institution, or shall we be content to be small, inclusive and pervasive?

And how shall we teach Sawyer to look at things?

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Keeping Jesus quiet

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Second Sunday after Pentecost
6 June 2021

[ video ]

This is the Year of Mark in our three-year cycle of readings, but it has been a while since we had a Gospel reading from Mark. More than 3 months have passed, in fact.

Today we drop back into the Markan narrative, and it is all a bit confusing. It is as if we have arrived late at a party which has been underway for quite some time. And indeed that is the case.

We have just listened to the last couple of paragraphs of Mark chapter 3. They offer a scene of confusion and controversy, as experts from Jerusalem as well as his family from Nazareth try to shut Jesus up.

The story so far

Through the opening section of his account, Mark has depicted Jesus as someone who is having an impact everywhere that he goes and with everyone that he meets:

  • Baptized by John (Advent 2 on December 6, Baptism of the Lord on January 10)
  • Testing in wilderness (First Sunday in Lent, February 21)
  • Fishermen by lake called as disciples (January 24)
  • Man with a demon healed (January 31)
  • Crowds gather seeking healing (February 7)
  • A leper is healed (February 14)

Then a series of episodes we did not hear this year due to the dates for Lent and Easter:

  • Paralyzed man healed (Sunday #7)
  • Call of Levi the tax-collector (Sunday #8)
  • Healing of man with withered hand (Sunday #9)

The scene today

Jesus has been making an impression on people!

At the end of all that activity, the sentence just before today’s excerpt says simply, “then he went home.”

Interestingly, “home” for Jesus was not Nazareth now, but a house in Capernaum. It was probably the home of Simon Peter, where Jesus had established himself during the early weeks of his work down by the lake.

As it happens, we think we know exactly which house that was. If we are right, that would be one of the very few times when we can take a text from the Bible and say, “This is the spot where it happened. Here is the house where Jesus stayed.”

So Jesus had gone home.

But he is not going to get any time alone.

There were so many people crowded around that little house that Jesus called home. They could not even eat for the crowd of people. It filled every corner of their small courtyard and there was nowhere to prepare any food.

Then two sets of special visitors arrive.

This is clearly a story that is spread over several days as people coming from out of town need time to get there.

The family of Jesus hear what has been happening, and they are concerned for his well-being. As Mark expressed it:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”[Mark 3:21]

People were saying that Jesus had become deranged, and his family wanted to take him home for care and treatment: “your mother and your brothers and your sisters …” (v. 32)

The religious experts from Jerusalem (“scribes”) also arrive. They agree with the rumour spreading among the people, but they have not come with the same desire to protect Jesus and get him away for his own well-being. They have come with a diagnosis ready to declare, as they announce that Jesus is possessed by a demon, and not just any demon but the prince of demons: 

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” [Mark 3:22]

This not going to end well. 

Mark has set up the scene is such a way that Jesus has no option but to reject both the religion experts from Jerusalem as well as his own family. If he agrees with either of them then his mission is over.

Since this is only the last part of chapter 3, we can guess how this is going to develop.

First of all, Jesus challenges the convenient diagnosis of the religion experts. Since he has been casting out demons from other people himself, how can he be possessed by the prince of demons? “A house divided against itself will not survive.” More than that, choosing to describe himself as a home invader, Jesus points out that he could only plunder the house of the strong man if has first overpowered the homeowner.

That may not have been the best self-defense Jesus could have used, but he follows it up with a powerful warning: 

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” [Mark 3:28–29]

There is no helping anyone who mistakes the Spirit of God for the power of darkness.

We are not told how the religion experts evaluated Jesus’ response to their hasty judgments, because the story moves across to the other set of visitors who have just arrived from Nazareth:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” [Mark 3:31–32]

Notice, by the way, two people who are missing from that family group: there is no mention of a father, and no mention of a wife. Those who come to rescue Jesus from himself are his mother, his brothers and his sisters. We find the same cast of characters in Mark 6 when Jesus does finally make a visit to his hometown of Nazareth:

They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. [Mark 6:2–3]

As Mark tells the story, these are the people who come to bring Jesus home. And in neither place are we told the names of his sisters.

We know that Jesus is not going to accept their kind offer to take him home for a rest! In fact, he will not even speak with them!

And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” [Mark 3:33–35]



Jesus has come home to Capernaum, to Peter’s place, for a rest.

He gets no rest. The crowd thinks he is going mad. The religion experts from Jerusalem think he has sold out to the Devil. His own family want him to come home and abandon this kingdom of God nonsense.

Where are we in that scene?

Are we the religion experts, who think we know how God’s work is supposed to be done? Have we put God into a little box? Is our God only allowed to act in the ways we remember him doing in the past? Worse still, might we mistake a new thing that God’s Spirit is doing  among us as the work of the Devil? If so, what hope is there for us?

Are we the family from Nazareth? We care about Jesus, but we think he has gone a bit extreme ever since he went to that revival meeting with John the Baptizer down south! Let’s bring Jesus home, give him some of mum’s cooking, and let him rest up until he settles down …

Are we the perhaps the strange young man from Nazareth, who has no religious training, but whose soul resonates with the call of God on his life? In saying yes to God, Jesus calls others to prepare for the coming of the reign of God, the kingdom of heaven. 

Are we perhaps in the crowd that has been gathering around Jesus? We found healing. Our demons disappeared. The ailments which crippled us, vanished. We want more. We crowd around the house that Jesus calls home …

I hope you are with me in the crowd.

Like me, I hope you are glad that Jesus chose to stay with us rather than go home with his family.

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Creating a shared future in Palestine

The final in a series of brief blog posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

Resolving the conflict in Palestine has occupied and defeated the best minds of several major nations. The British could not find a solution during their Mandate administration and clearly the USA has not been able to do any better since 1948. Nor have the Europeans, the UN or the Russians.

The Israeli activist, Jeff Halper, has suggested that Israel is seeking to achieve three outcomes, any two of which (but only two of which) they can have:

  1. Control of the ‘biblical lands’ from  Dan to Beersheba
  2. A distinctively Jewish state
  3. A democratic society

As Halper says, Israel can control all of the biblical lands and create a distinctively Jewish state, but such a society will not be democratic. If it opts for the land with democracy, then the state will not be Jewish. It may, of course, relinquish its control of all the biblical lands and create a state which is both distinctively Jewish and democratic. The latter option is also known as the Two State Solution and is clearly not the preferred option of any recent Israeli government. 

I propose a variation of Halper’s three options, by suggesting there are only four logical possibilities. None of them will be easy to achieve. Some are worth the effort.

Status quo

Israel achieved dominance by military force and has sustained that dominance with the diplomatic support of the US. By adopting the 2018 Nation State Bill, the Israeli Knesset has opted to define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people with its non-Jewish citizens having limited civil and political rights. Only Jews are permitted to exercise national self-determination with the State of Israel. While this law does not address the question of Israel’s borders, it reflects an assumption that Jewish values and Jewish rights will prevail wherever Israeli sovereignty is effective should there be any conflict with the civil or political rights of non-Jews. Irrespective of where the borders of such a Jewish state may be, any Palestinian living within such a state must accept that the nation is for Jews and not for them. Such a Jewish nation state may choose to retain military control of the Palestinian territories, even if local Palestinian areas are allowed some form of limited local autonomy. The closest historical parallel is, of course, the apartheid regime in South Africa. Very few people, including only a small minority of Jews, are likely to accept this as a permanent outcome of the conflict in Palestine.

Two States

The current preferred option for all the stakeholders is the so-called ‘two-state solution.’ This was the basis of the Oslo Accords but it has not been fulfilled in practice. We do not have two states living side by side in peace and security. This solution is widely seen as being on life support, if not already dead. It could be revived with sufficient political will from the international community, but only if the US stops rewarding Israeli intransigence with protection from the decisions of the UN Security Council.

One State

There is growing for support for a single unified state that encompasses all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and possibly makes some provision for the eventual return and integration of the Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 and 1967 (and their descendants). This need not require a single unitary nation-state with all decisions being made on the basis of universal suffrage. There are various models that offer ways forward which hold promise of good outcomes for the people. One such model recognizes that the Jewish and Palestinian populations tend to be unevenly distributed across the total area and provides for regional councils (cantons) which reflect the cultural and economic dynamics of their particular demographics. Most of these would be close to 100% Jewish or 100% Palestinian, while a few would be mixed. Jerusalem might be a unique case due to its religious profile. Within each canton people could choose to have regulations that reflect their identity and values, while certain functions (including foreign affairs, defense, energy and water) would be handled by a national assembly whose powers are limited to such matters and cannot legislate those affairs delegated to regional councils. This limited national federation would be elected by universal suffrage of all the people living across all of the regional cantons, but its capacity to shape the ethnic and religious character of particular regions would be curtailed. Such a proposal represents a modification of the concept of ‘nation,’ just as the European Community has done within its member states.


In the medium to long-term future there are possibilities for a regional confederation. This could be achieved whether the intermediate stage was a two-state model or a federation with autonomous cantons. The confederation could comprise, in the first instance, Israel and Palestine. It could easily be extended to include Jordan, and perhaps also Lebanon. Possibly even Syria might be considered as a member of such a regional confederation. The economic and cultural impact of such collaboration between current combatants could be immense as well as very positive. It may even prevent the rise of another empire seeking to impose order on the unruly Levantine region in the next 50 to 100 years. The current religious and political extremists would hate such an outcome, and that just may be the strongest argument in its favor.

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Palestinian resistance

Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

During the British Mandate

As Jewish migration developed momentum during the British Mandate period, and as the British commitment (in the 1917 Balfour Declaration) to support the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” alarmed the indigenous population, there was growing unease among the Palestines. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence and several major cases of civil violence.

The Shaw Enquiry which was set up after the riots in 1929 observed as follows:

In less than 10 years three serious attacks have been made by Arabs on Jews. For 80 years before the first of these attacks there is no recorded instance of any similar incidents. It is obvious then that the relations between the two races during the past decade must have differed in some material respect from those which previously obtained. Of this we found ample evidence. The reports of the Military Court and of the local Commission which, in 1920 and in 1921 respectively, enquired into the disturbances of those years, drew attention to the change in the attitude of the Arab population towards the Jews in Palestine. This was borne out by the evidence tendered during our inquiry when representatives of all parties told us that before the War the Jews and Arabs lived side by side if not in amity, at least with tolerance, a quality which to-day is almost unknown in Palestine.

Shaw Enquiry

The Palestinian resistance was increasingly directed towards Britain and took the form of demands for independence, but there were major incidents that involved considerable numbers of Jewish casualties in Jaffa, Hebron and Jerusalem.

1948 War

With the failure of diplomacy to avert the UN partition plan, the Palestinians participated in the armed conflict following Israel’s declaration of independence. Unlike the irregular Jewish forces, the Palestinians had very little military training and even less equipment. While the Arab Legion had considerable success, the troops which had been deployed by Egypt, Iraq and Syria were no match the better organized and better led Jewish forces. Many of the latter had been trained by the British and seen action against the Axis powers in World War Two.

Palestinian Liberation Organization

The PLO was established in 1964 with the objective of defeating Israel by armed struggle with a view to restoring Palestine sovereignty. It quickly became the principal representative of the Palestinian people, and eventually Jordan relinquished its claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem and West Bank in favor of the PLO. While the PLO never achieved any significant military success against Israel inside Palestine, it gained notoriety through several terror attacks including hijacking of airliners and the killing of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. At a time when the Arab states seemed impotent in the face of Israel’s military supremacy, the PLO enjoyed broad popular support. After being expelled from Jordan in September 1970, the PLO established a strong presence in Lebanon where it played a significant role in the Lebanese civil war. The PLO was expelled from Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion and its base of operations was then in Tunisia.

Eventually the PLO opted for a diplomatic solution, and accepted UN Resolution 242, which proposed a two-state model with “secure and recognized boundaries.” Since 1993 the PLO has recognized Israel’s right to exist, accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and has renounced armed struggle in its quest for a Palestinian state. Both Israel and the USA have recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

First Intifada

The ‘Intifada’ was essentially a spontaneous civil uprising in response to multiple irritants arising from the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It largely involved demonstrations by unarmed young Palestinians and reflected a loss of confidence in the capacity of stablished Palestinian elites to improve the situation. Israel responded to the Intifada with increased police and military activity. More than a thousand protestors were killed, many thousands were jailed, and hundreds were exiled. Several hundred Palestinians were also killed by the PLO on suspicion of collaboration with Israel. While the Intifada had few tangible outcomes, it was a public relations disaster for Israel as stone-throwing Palestinian youths evoked the biblical images of David confronting a Goliath dressed in Israeli military fatigues. It most likely contributed to the success of the secret discussions leading to the Oslo Accords, as it energized the Palestinian leadership and challenged the Israeli narrative.

The Oslo Accords

The 1993 Oslo Accord represented the first direct agreement between Israel and the PLO. This led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority with some degree of self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank, with continuing Israeli control of security, taxation, etc. The status of Jerusalem (along with Palestinian refugees and other matters) was to be resolved as part of “permanent status negotiations” beginning no later than 1996. The provision of the Oslo Accords, including a second set of agreements signed in 1995, have never been fully implemented. Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin who signed the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993 was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist in November 1995. 

Jewish settlements in the West Bank

While there had been some Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line (especially Efrat near Bethlehem, Gush Etzion near Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim near Bethany) after 1967 and prior to the Oslo Accord, there has been a marked increase in Jewish settlements—including considerable expansion of existing settlements—since 1993. These Jewish colonies are intended to create ‘facts on the ground’ to ensure a more favorable outcome for Israel in the event of a final peace agreement, and those being created in a ring along the eastern boundary of Jerusalem are designed to isolate Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank. These settlements often begin as military outposts, with Palestinian land being appropriated by the military occupation authority for security reasons. Others have started as illegal land grabs by small groups of activists. Generous subsidies and tax concessions are in place to encourage Israeli Jews to move to these peripheral settlements, many of which have been connected to Jerusalem by commuter rail and road networks. While located inside the boundaries of Palestine (in Area C), these settlements—which are illegal under international law—are under Israeli civil law, while their Palestinian neighbors are under military law even if living in Area A or B.

Second Intifada

Frustrations with the lack of tangible improvements for Palestinians exploded with a more violent second Intifada following a provocative visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon in September 2000. There were outbreaks of armed conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces in areas such as Bethlehem and Jenin, while the whole period saw numerous suicide bombing attacks against civilian targets inside Israel. One of the outcomes was the construction of a physical barrier, more or less along the lines of the 1949 armistice agreement, to prevent easy movement of Palestinians into Israel from the West Bank. Israel increasingly discouraged the employment of Palestinians from the West bank on projects inside Israel and those seeking daily entry were subjected to strict security measures. Following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the intifada subsided, with the conflict between Hamas and the PLO becoming a major fault line in Palestinian society. Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, but the Palestinian Legislative Council has not convened since Hamas expelled the PLO from Gaza in 2007.


The Islamic Resistance Movement (for which HAMAS is an acronym), was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada. Whereas the PLO was essentially a secular national movement, Hamas has clear religious foundations (Sunni Islam) and has also rejected the recognition of Israel by the PLO. It seeks to establish an Islamic state incorporating the whole of historic Palestine. Where the PLO leadership is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective, Hamas enjoys widespread popular support and won the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Council has never been summoned and the PLO has ruled by presidential decree, despite losing control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. Hamas is now quite active on the West Bank and was expected to win the 2021 Parliamentary elections, which were cancelled in May this year. Hamas has been supported by Iran and Qatar, but is regarded as a terror organization by the US and Israel. Australia and the UK regards its armed wing as a terror organization, but not Hamas itself.


Hezbollah (‘Party of Allah’) is a Shia Islamic resistance movement, based in Lebanon and with strong ties to both Syria and Iran. Hezbollah has become the dominant force in Lebanese politics, and won a majority of seats in the 2018 elections. It has been active in the Syria civil war in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Hezbollah was created in the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and has considerable military experience as well as substantial missile capacities. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has engaged in occasional inconclusive military exchanges with Israel.

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Wars and rumors of war

Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

1956 Suez Crisis

In the absence of a formal peace treaty between the protagonists of 1948, the various armistice agreements mostly sufficed to maintain calm. There were occasional incidents and the survival of Israel as a distinctively Jewish state within the Middle East was far from certain. Cold War politics impacted on the situation as the UUSR and its allies tended to support the Arabs, while the USA and its allies tended to support Israel. Jordan was unusual as it enjoyed good relations with both Britain and the USA, while Iran was also firmly in the Western sphere of influence prior to the Islamic Revolution 1979.

The Suez Crisis of 1956

In response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian government in July 1956, Israel invaded Egypt with the active support of Britain and France. Despite initial military success, the  campaign was abandoned due to opposition from both the USA and the USSR.

The Six Day War of 1967

When Egypt reinstated an earlier naval blockade of Israeli shipping in the Straits of Tiran leading into the Gulf of Aqaba tensions soared once more. On 5 June 1967 Israeli forces launched a pre-emptive attack that destroyed most of the Egyptian air force and this was followed by a land invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, the capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan and the capture of the Golan Heights from Syria. 

This brief military operation was a stunning success and gave Israel uncontested control of all Palestinian lands west of the Jordan River. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel on 27 June 1967 and the reunified city was declared the “undivided and eternal capital” of the Jewish people. Very few countries have recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or the annexation of East Jerusalem. Since June 1967 the Jewish character of the city has been intentionally developed, while the rights of its Palestinian residents have been curtailed.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has maintained a significant edge in its military dominance of the region, with no Arab nations able to match its fire power.

The War of 1973

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated series of attacked in the Sinai and the Golan. After some initial success, the Arab coalition forces were eventually defeated with Israel forces advancing deep into both Egypt and Syria. Despite the eventual success of the Israeli military, this conflict gave new impetus to moves for a diplomatic solution based on the principles of land for peace. Under the Camp David Accords signed in 1978, a formal peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel, and the Sinai was returned to Egypt.

1982 Invasion of Lebanon

Israel invaded Lebanon in July 1982, citing numerous provocations including an assassination attempt against its ambassador to the UK. The objectives of the invasion were to break the power of the PLO (which had been shelling the northern areas of Israel from bases in Lebanon), install a Christian government and sign a peace treaty with Lebanon. The PLO was eventually expelled to Tunisia and its influence greatly weakened. It proved impossible to install a pro-Israel Christian government, and withdrew from Beirut to the area south of the Litani River where it established a security zone in collaboration with a pro-Israel militia force, the South Lebanon Army. The campaign was marked the massacres by Christian militia at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and an international investigation later attributed considerable responsibility for these events to the Israeli general (and later politician), Ariel Sharon. Israel sustained its control of the security zone in southern Lebanon until 1990 and the war became increasingly unpopular with the Israeli public. While Israel largely succeeded in its aim of eliminating PLO influence, its intervention in Lebanon is widely seen as contributing both to the rise of Hezbollah (filling the vacuum left after the collapse of the PLO) and an extended intervention in Lebanese politics by Syria.

Palestinian Fatah fighters in Beirut
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The war of 1948

Part of a series of post offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

An Israeli soldier stop Arabs in a street in Nazareth, Palestine, July 17, 1948, as they are travelling after the allotted curfew time. Israeli forces had occupied the town earlier that day.

On 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion—who was then Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine—proclaimed the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. This was to take effect when the British mandate expired at midnight on the same day.

The declaration did not specific the borders of the Jewish State, but it was indicated that this new state would exist within the provisions of UN Resolution 181.

Military forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq attempted to intervene to prevent the partition of Palestine as agreed by the UN plan, but their forces were defeated, and the 1949 armistice agreement saw Israeli control over a much larger area. That territory is commonly described as the “pre-1967 borders.” 

During the conflict an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from areas under Israeli control. Many found of them refuge in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They came under the care of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees. In 2021 UNRWA continues to support almost 6 million Palestinian refugees, including the children and grandchildren of those displaced in 1948 as they have not been allowed to return to their homes.

This left around 150,000 Palestinians inside the area of Palestine controlled by Israel, of whom around 35,000 were internally displaced persons. These IDPs found refuge in major Arab centers such as Nazareth, whose population grew from 15,500 in 1946 to 20,000 in 1951 and 25,000 in 1961. 

The Palestinian population within Israel lived under strict military rule from 1950 until 1966. Under these regulations, Palestinians could not leave their own village without permission from the military governor. Since 1966 there has been freedom of movement within Israel (and at times after the June 1967 war, within the whole of historic Palestine). In many cases their villages were razed, partly being used for military training to prepare for future conflict with Israel’s neighbors. The iNakba app provides details of some 500 villages which were erased by the Israeli state after 1948.

Neither the internally displaced Palestinians no those who fled to neighboring countries to escape the conflict have been allowed to return to their homes or reclaim their property. In many cases their former homes were given to Jews who had also been displaced from areas remaining under Arab control or arriving from overseas.

As part of the wider disruption across the Middle East following the partition of Palestine, around 800,000 Jews relocated from Arab nations to Israel.

For Israeli Jews, the war of 1948 is known as the War of Independence, while for the Palestinians it is known as the Nakba (The Catastrophe).

Although the UN partition plan envisaged the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state, this was not created at the time. Egypt remained in control of Gaza at the SW edge of Palestine, Syria held some territories in the far north, and Jordan controlled the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Declaration of Independence was only finally proclaimed on 15 November 1988.

Arab refugees stream from Palestine on the Lebanon Road, Nov. 4, 1948.
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Dividing Palestine

Part of a series of brief posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

During World War One, Britain encouraged both Arab nationalism and Jewish Zionism as part of their military struggle with the Ottoman Empire. Both were promised national independence in Palestine in return for the support of the British war effort.

During World War One, the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman ruled was led by Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca and his three sons Abdullah, Faisal and Ali. In return the British had promised support for an independent Hashemite state stretching from Syria to Yemen. 

Meanwhile, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 indicated that the British government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and promised to “use their best efforts to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine …”

While this declaration had no legal status under international law, it did represent an explicit endorsement of the idea of a Jewish national home within historic Palestine. 

Delivering on the declaration was one of the terms for the mandate given to Britain by the League of Nations to provide “administrative advice and assistance … until such time as they are able to stand alone.” The British understood their role to include the establishment of a national home for the Jews while also preserving the civil and political rights of Palestinian Arabs, but this became increasingly fraught as tensions grew between the two local communities in Palestine.

In 1921—as a partial fulfilment of their promise to Hashemites, and despite their commitment to creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine—the British Mandate authorities established the portion of Palestine east of the Jordan River as the Emirate of Transjordan, ruled by Abdullah I as its first Emir. This emirate remained a British protectorate until 1946 when it gained its independence and adopted the name “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” 

With the establishment of the United Nations, Britain relinquished its mandate to develop the autonomous political and social infrastructure of Palestine.  Resolution 181 (II) on 29 November 1947 agreed to a partition plan to create separate independent Arab and Jewish states within Palestine, while reserving Jerusalem and its suburbs as a special International Zone (‘Corpus Separatum’) outside either national state. Although Arabs comprised 67% of the population, they were allocated just 43% of the territory. The partition was accepted (with some reservations) by Jewish groups but was rejected by the Palestinians and all other Arab nations.

After the war of 1948 (see next post), Palestine was divided: with 78% of historic Palestine under Israeli control and the remaining 22% split between areas controlled by Jordan (East Jerusalem and the West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, all of historic Palestine was under one power, although expressed through a Military Occupation in the areas beyond the ‘Green Line’ of the 1949 Armistice. The Green Line is widely regarded as the de facto international border between Israel and Palestine following UN Resolution 242

Under the Oslo Accords, the areas occupied by Israel in 1967 were divided into three categories: Areas A, B and C. Area A was designed to be exclusively administered by the Palestinian National Authority, while Area B was to be jointly administered by the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Area C was to be administered solely by Israel. These arrangements have not been fully implemented, as Israeli military forces routinely enter Area A.

During the Second Intifada (2000–2005), Israel constructed a physical barrier more or less along the Green Line to prevent easy movement of people from the West Bank into Israel and Jerusalem. The wall cuts deep into Palestinian lands on the West Bank to include Israeli settlements as well as natural water reserves, and in places separates Palestinians from their fields or other members of their family.

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Jewish migration to Palestine

This post is part of a series offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

Jewish community in Ottoman Palestine

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine from antiquity to the present time, with occasional waves of Jewish migration long before the rise of Zionism as a national movement. Similarly, there were ancient Jewish diaspora communities in many cities across the region, including Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus and Babylon. These Oriental Jewish communities had a very different historical and cultural experience from the Jews in Europe, as Christian anti-Semitism was not part of the Islamic outlook.

Towards the end of the Ottoman period there was a significant Jewish minority in Palestine. In 1880 the Jewish population was estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000 people. From 1890s onwards Jews were the majority group in Ottoman Jerusalem. 

Anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia triggered additional migration, with around 35,000 Jews arriving between 1882 and 1903. A further 35,000+ arrived between 1904 and 1914. These two waves of early Zionist migration were mostly from Russia and Eastern Europe.

By 1914 there were around 80,000 Jews in a total population of 722,000. The British mandate census in 1920 indicates a population around 700,000, of whom 76,000 were Jews.

Hopes for a Jewish national home in Palestine, together with the need to escape the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and its allies during World War Two, triggered a significant increase in Jewish migration to Palestine during the period of the British Mandate. 

Around 40,000 additional Jews arrived between 1919 and 1923. These people were also mostly from Eastern Europe, whereas increasing numbers of Jews from Poland and across Europe more generally were a feature of 82,000 people who arrived in the period from 1924 to 1929. This rate of migration surged to 250,000 immigrants during the 1930s with the rise of Nazism in Germany and related anti-Semitic developments elsewhere in Europe.

During the 1920s and 1930s there was increasing tension around the rapid rise in the Jewish population, culminating in a decision by the British Mandate authorities to restrict Jewish migration during the early 1940s. Clandestine Jewish migration continued with an estimated additional 110,000 Jews migrating to Palestine illegally between 1933 and 1948.

By 1945, the total population of Palestine was 1,764,520, of which 553,600 Jews. In 1944 Jews comprised about two-thirds of Jerusalem’s population. These were the numbers which informed the UN Partition Plan.

Eugene Abeshaus (USSR and Israel, 1939–2008), Jonah and the Whale in Haifa Port, 1978. 
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Zionism as a colonial project

Part of a series of posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

Photo by Haley Black on

As European powers asserted their freedom to act within the notionally Ottoman territories of Egypt and Palestine in the late nineteenth century, there was a growing sense in some circles that a Jewish nation state might be created in Palestine, on a portion of the so-called ‘biblical lands.’ 

One of those circles was an influential set of Evangelical Protestant beliefs known as ‘Restorationism.’ With roots in Puritan millenarian speculations between 1640 and 1660, this view proposed that by restoring the Jews to their ancient homeland the Protestant powers of Europe could defeat a feared (but non-existent) alliance between the Catholics and Turkey, while ensuring the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, and preparing for the return of Christ. That was quite an agenda and variants of it have been seen in recent Evangelical support for Israel. For a while fear of Communism displaced the Ottoman Empire, but fear of Islam persists among many Christian supporters of Israel.

Evangelical missionary groups such as the London Jews Society (LJS) promoted these ideas in leading British circles, including Lord Shaftesbury (1801–85), whose 1839 essay “State and Restauration (sic) of the Jews” in the Quarterly Review argued “the Jews must be encouraged to return in yet greater numbers and become once more the husbandman of Judea and Galilee … though admittedly a stiff-necked, dark hearted people, and sunk in moral degradation, obduracy, and ignorant of the Gospel … [They are] not only worthy of salvation but also vital to Christianityʼs hope of salvation.”

As a Canon emeritus of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, I should acknowledge that the origins of the Anglican Church in Jerusalem lie in just such attitudes. The establishment of the Anglo-Prussian bishopric in 1841 was a Protestant political initiative to promote Jewish settlement in Palestine and oppose Catholic France’s close relationship with the Ottomans.

William Hechler (1845–1931) was a son of LJS missionaries and served as chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna. In 1894 he published The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine in which he argued that rather than seeking to convert the Jews, Christians should assist them to return to Palestine. 

Hechler was an advisor to Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), who was the leading activist seeking to secure European support for a Jewish national home.  Herzl convened the World Zionist Congress that assembled for the first time at Basel in 1897, and he is widely recognized as the founder of Jewish Zionism. The anti-Jewish sentiments of Herzl’s Christian Zionist allies are not so widely recognized.

Palestine was not the only potential location for the proposed Jewish homeland, but it was eventually endorsed in preference to other colonial locations such as Argentina and Uganda.

A fund to finance the purchase of properties in Palestine for Jewish colonies was established by the fifth World Zionist Congress in 1901 although the idea had been under consideration since the very first Congress. Over time it has developed into a major instrument for Jewish colonization in Palestine, and it now known as the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, or KKL). It currently owns at least 13% of all the land in Israel and has become a major—if at times controversial—Jewish institution alongside the State of Israel.

This post draws on lectures I gave as part of the “Apocalypse Then and Now” class for the Brisbane College of Theology Master of Theology program in 2008: Christian Zionism

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A time between empires

Siege of Acre (1799)

The third post in a series offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine.

Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine

For most of the past 5,000 years Palestine has been a remote province in a vast empire whose capital was far from Jerusalem. Despite the legends of an extensive empire ruled by David and Solomon, there has never been a powerful society based in Palestine with the capacity to project its power over anyone beyond a few small regional city states. Even then, the local warlords only had such opportunities when there was no dominant empire.

The empires which have dominated Palestine during the past 5,000 years includes Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander the Great and his successor empires (the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria and Mesopotamia), then Rome, the Byzantines, and a series of Islamic dynasties (Umayyad, Abbasid, Seljuk, Mamluk and Ottoman). The most recent of these great empires were the Ottomans, who dominated the area from 1517 to 1918.

The next empire is yet to emerge.

We are in one of the periods of chaos between empires.

It is just over 100 years since the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but as yet no new empire has arisen in the region. In this intermediate period the smaller powers are flexing their muscles and experiencing a brief moment of autonomy. 

In the case of Israel that has been based almost entirely on the strategic support of the US which has provided diplomatic cover for Israel at the UN Security Council while ensuring it has the latest weapons to maintain military supremacy within its immediate neighborhood.

Some analysts suggest that the next regional empire to control the Middle East generally, and Palestine in particular will be based either in Egypt, Iran or Turkey.

While Israel may survive as a nation state within the larger political arrangements of the Middle East, it will also need to come to terms with its location in that region and cease imagining itself as a European nation with a strange zip code. Sooner or later the longer term regional dynamics will reassert themselves after the short-lived interruption of Anglo-American supremacy following two global wars during the twentieth century.

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