Today former Senator Jim Abourezk sent along the following note. Its author Francis Boyle, a former legal adviser to the Palestinians, tells us that he has sent it out as a card every year for the last 2 years. A little early for Christmas, yes, but in light of the controversy over the 15 Christian leaders calling for a possible aid cutoff to Israel, it seemed germane.
O Little Town of Bethlehem: Israel, Palestine and American Christian Hypocrites
It was December of 1991 and I was serving as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations in Washington DC. The Israelis were stalling, not even negotiating in bad faith, and the Americans under [James] Baker and [Dennis] Ross were doing nothing to get the negotiations started.
This had been going on for 3 weeks and Christmas was fast approaching. Those of us on the Palestinian Team who were Christian were wondering if we were going to be able to get home for Christmas–many Palestinians are Christian, the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles themselves. I would periodically check in with my wife and 2 sons at the time–little boys. My poor, sweet wife had to do all the Christmas preparations by herself without me.
So the weekend before Christmas I called her up to say I still did not know if or when I would be coming home. My oldest son who had just turned 5 talked to me on the phone:
“Daddy why aren’t you home for Christmas?”
“Well son, I’m trying to help the Palestinians.”
“Daddy, why are you doing that?”
Hard to explain the entire Middle East conflict to a 5 year old, so I put it into terms he could understand:
“Son, you know that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem don’t you?”
“Well I am here with the Mayor of Bethlehem and some other Palestinian leaders. They are my friends and I am their lawyer. I am working with the Mayor of Bethlehem to help all the Palestinian Children have a merry Christmas.”
We got the word we could go home for Christmas on December 23 and I got on the first flight out of DC, getting home just on time for Christmas Eve with my family.
Periodically I had attended UCC [United Church of Christ] Christmas Season Church Services in town with my family. When it came time for prayers from the congregation, I always got up and asked everyone to help the Palestinians along the following lines:
“…Bethlehem is cut-off and surrounded by the Israeli army–the Church of the Nativity too. The Israelis are inflicting ethnic cleansing upon all the Palestinian, both Muslims and Christians. They are also pursuing a policy of deliberately forcing Palestinian Christians out of Palestine as part of a perverse strategy to turn a war of national liberation into a religious crusade, figuring it would play better in the United States. And these are the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Meanwhile, the United States government is financing it all to the tune of $5 billion per year. Everyone in this Congregation has gifts given to them by God. So go out and do something to help the Palestinians!”
Despite my best efforts over many years, that UCC Congregation refused to lift one finger to help the Palestinians. So several years ago, I quit their Congregation and severed all ties with them. They are just a gang of moral cowards and hypocrites. They have nothing to teach me or anyone else about Christianity, let alone about peace, justice and human rights. They constitute the paradigmatic example of what the anti-Nazi martyr and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Cheap Grace.
Francis A. Boyle
Professor of International Law
Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations (1991-93)