by Paul Merkley

Throughout the United States and Canada over recent weeks several of the denominations that our media generally include in the category of "mainline Protestantism" have held their national conventions.

At several of these the item of business drawing the most interest, both of attendees and of observers, was the passage of one or more Resolutions meant to align the denomination with the programme of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) which is meant to render Israel defenceless against her existential enemies. (See my essay, "What Has Got Into the Churches?" www.thebayviewreview, July 18, 2015.)

At the convention of the United Churches of Christ, the assembly was warmed up for its task by a "sermon," delivered by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, the senior pastor at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, on the evening before the vote was to be taken on the BDS measures. This is a service that Dr. Raheb has performed at other denominational conventions, as well as at interdenominational worship services, educational seminars, workshops, and church-sponsored anti-Israel conclaves of various sorts.

Dexter Van Zile, who researches attitudes towards Israel in the churches and in Christian journalism, offers this summary:

During his talk, Raheb wrote the Jewish people out of their scriptures and out of the Land of Israel itself, repeatedly referring to the people of ancient Israel as 'the Palestinians' or the 'people of Palestine.' He did, however, use the word Israel in reference to the 'occupation.'"

As it happens, I have had opportunity on two occasions to interview Raheb in his office in Bethlehem. (See my book, Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (Mc-Gill Queen's U.P. 2001), Chapter Three.) Fifteen years ago he described to me "a process of alienation between me and the Bible" which began when he was a youth:

Joshua and David, with whom I was quite familiar, became suddenly politicized. ... [The Bible] was no longer concerned with my salvation and that of the world, but with my land, which God had promised to Israel and in which I had no longer a right to live. The God, whom I knew since my childhood as love, had suddenly become a God who expropriates land, leads holy wars and destroys people. I started now to have doubts about this God.

Raheb's immediate superior is Munib Younan, Bishop of Palestine and Jordan in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (a jurisdiction which includes Jerusalem, Bethlehem, etc., while denying the existence of Israel. ) In 2010 he became the President of the Lutheran World Federation. Younan and Raheb see eye-to-eye on the matter of the Old Testament. Bishop Younan says:

The OT is conceived by Palestinian Christians as a support for Zionism. It is conceived as a book that breeds injustices, especially to Palestinians. Certain texts, especially the Exodus stories, create frustrating conflicts for them."

Bishop Younan said in interview (12 May 1998): "The Bible is a contextual book. The Israel of today is not in any sense the Israel spoken of in the Old Testament." Bishop Younan's own denomination has purged references to Israel and to Zion from the Arab version of its official prayer book.

Since those interviews with me, Raheb has brought an even sharper political edge and a more colorful autobiographical focus to his testimony. To a conference of Evangelical Protestants held in Bethlehem in 2010, he proclaimed that the modern State of Israel "represents the Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land." To further his point, he stated:

I'm sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlemhite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I'm sure the DNA will show you that there is a trace. While if you put King David, Jesus and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you will get nothing because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.

This notion — that no links ever existed between those who call themselves Jews today and the "Jews" or "Israelites" of the Bible, and that that is because they are all "Khazars" (relatives of the Turks) who converted to Judaism perhaps thirteen-hundred years ago, and that logically Jews have no title to any part of the "Holy Land" — was first advanced in the late Nineteen Century by the French historian Ernest Renan, a pioneer of modern French anti-Semitism, and was aggressively promoted by Hitler's think-tank. Like much else that came from this source, it is nowadays advanced as the fruit of cutting-edge historical research by "Palestinian historians".

The Invention of Eternal Palestine

Palestinian historian/theologians are even bolder than those European proto-Nazi anti-Semites who invented the Khazar-myth. They now brazenly offer counter-historical theories and historical narratives — promoted sedulously by the World Council Churches — that not merely read the Jews out of the history of "the Holy Land" but read into their previously-imagined place the "Palestinian People."

Until "Palestinian" Christians discovered this brilliant dodge, Christian Arabs like Raheb identified with the Arab nation, whose debut in this vicinity traces to the Muslim/Arab conquest of the Christian Kingdom that was ruling here in the late Seventh Century. But Christian Arabs are now fully committed to the Palestinian political agenda, and that requires cheerful submission to Palestinian historiography.

The keystone of this historiography is that Palestine is ancient and distinguished while Israel is a fraud: until the day before yesterday the Jews, or Israelis, call them what you will, never resided in this area, never had a Kingdom, never had a temple. (See my essay, "Zero-sum Historiography: The Palestinian Assault Upon History,", November 26, 2012.) In fidelity to this agenda, official PA spokespersons, including the whole roster of "historians," the schoolteachers, and of course the entire rank of imams, are busy around the clock outdoing one another in moronic invention: "Moses was a Muslim who led Muslims in Exodus from Egypt;" the subsequent conquest by the hypothetical children of Israel was in fact "The first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine;" "There never was a Temple... on the Temple Mount." Palestinian TV, Jan. 5, 2012. A bottomless source of assertions by officials of the PA and Muslim clergy in promotion of this anti-history — in several cases, with actual video of showing them being delivered — can be found by consulting the website of Palestine Media Watch,

In order to keep this free-floating dogma unsullied, Muslim religious authorities on the Temple Mount have been hauling away to garbage dumps the debris resulting from their building projects on the site. Groups of volunteers, Israeli locals and visitors from abroad, regularly rake through the garbage to find and then display artifacts clearly illustrating the presence of the People of Israel or of the Temple of the Jews. Palestinian authorities brazenly claim such artifacts as proofs of "Palestinian" presence.

No one familiar with the fantastic mindset of the Qur'an expects the premises of critical history to take root in any Muslim mind. But there is no excuse whatever for any graduate of any grade school in our part of the world submitting to this anti-historical mindset. Nonetheless, it is a fact that little respect for history exists among our own media and opinion elites. It takes very little to persuade the typical "open-minded" graduate of any one of our universities that much can be said for this sort of counter-history.

The utter absence of archeological or documentary evidence puts the Aboriginal Palestine fantasy on the same intellectual level as theories of causality that turn on imagined alien invasions from other planets. This does not deter our leaders of opinion, who no doubt get their training in history from the History-Channel documentaries that we find crammed in among episodes of "MASH" and reality-type episodes in the life of pawn brokers, antique collectors, long-distance truck drivers.

Zionists, for their part, have no need to invent counter-history. They find Ancient Israel just where it has always been: in the textbooks and all over the documentary and archeological record since these resources came into the world of scholarship.

Complicity of the Churches in Palestinian Historiography

Career clergy are graduates of the same universities that turn out the doctors, lawyers, economists, librarians, etc, and they trade ideas about culture and history with these secular peers. Typically, clergy who become bishops and chairpersons of all the Departments of the WCC's empire have no training in academic history at all; and, being up-to-their ears in the reading and writing of official Reports and memoranda, have no time for books — certainly not for the big, small-print books in which academic history is engrossed.

But what really matters is that all lines of argument that belittle Israel's right to exist are attractive to deconstructionist souls everywhere; and so the reaction in circles where people are college-educated and should know better is either to sign on to these grotesque, counter-historical assertions, or to smile indulgently as they are recited. When recited at church conventions, as Dexter Van Zile reports, they are greeted with standing ovations

Keen as they are on siding with the victims of Israeli aggression, our cultural elites and, most distressing of all, our church leaders, today indulge these fantastic, knuckle-dragging assertions about Palestine and Palestine's history for tactical purposes. They believe that polemical solidarity with the Palestinian victims will make it possible for us to keep Palestine's "elected leaders" moving towards the Day of Peace. Instead, the triumphalist mindset of the Palestinians hardens with every patronizing gesture that emanates from the West.

Christians have to keep in mind at all times that the foundation of their faith is a historical recital. Nowadays, authors get rich and famous by peddling fantastic alternatives to the narrative about the Life, the Death, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Promise to Return that are presented in our Gospels. These neo-Gnostic books (beginning with the Davinci Code) become best-sellers (literally) because educated people fear that they are diminished by the singularity of historical fact and want to be entertained while pretending to learn. Counter-history is simply more fun than history.

Nothing does more damage to the intellect than toying with counter-history. But for Christians the damage is more serious than it is for others: it is willful treason to the Spirit of Truth. It is "loving the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:43.)

Dr. Paul Merkley is a retired Professor of History at Carleton University. He is the author of the Politics of Christian Zionism (Frank Cass, 1998), Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001) and American Presidents, Religion and Israel (Praeger, 2004.) This article appeared July 29, 2015 in the Bayview Review and is archived at

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