Theme park for Armageddon?
IT was bound to happen. A right-wing religious leader has said Ariel Sharon's stroke was brought by God's wrath over him pulling settlers out of Gaza, or, as the preacher puts it, "dividing God's land". And he says the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing fanatic was "the same thing".
Well, you may have seen the religious settlers in Hebron celebrating on TV for the same reason. (I'm not sure the Bible approves such unseemly pleasure, see Exodus and drowning Egyptians, but hell, I'm no rabbi).
Thing is, the religious leader condemning Sharon for supposedly surrendering territory wasn't a rabbi either, but Reverend Pat Robertson, Christian evangelical in the United States, speaking on the Christian Broadcasting Network's (CBN) The 700 Club, which he hosts, on January 5..
: "I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU , the United Nations, or United States of America.", he warned. God said, "This land belongs to me, you better leave it alone."
Unlike many Jews and Israelis, Robertson has found "Sharon was personally a very likeable person," but nonetheless, "God has enmity against those who, quote, 'divide my land.' (I don't know if would apply this retrospectively to 1947 partition, but perhaps he thinks the whole of Palestine and Jordan should have been conquered for Israel).
This Christian gentleman believes the Almighty deserves a helping hand now and then. He called last year for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
And recalling fine conversations with Yitzhak Rabin, he says the latter's assassination in 1995 was "the same thing" as the Almighty's punishment of Sharon.
Giving "God's land" back to Palestinian farmers is a no-no, but turning it over to Western tourism and real estate speculators is apparently fine. There is only one God, the Mighty Dollar, and Pat Robertson is its profit (I meant to spell that ..well this will do, never mind).
The Robertson broadcast came the day after news that the Israeli government is planning to hand over up a large slice of Galilee to American Christian evangelicals to build a biblical theme park. The Ministry of Tourism is negotiating a deal with a consortium of Christian groups, led by Pat Robertson.
The site would cover 50 hectares (125 acres) north east of Kfar Naum (Capernaum) by Yom Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). Besides a park there would be an auditorium, outdoor ampitheatres, a "Holy Land" exhibition and information centre and media studios. Tourism Ministry official Jonathan Pulik says. "We would like to give them more of a reason to come here. We would be willing to lease the land to them free of charge and they would finance the construction." The project would cost an estimated $48m (£28m). .
Robertson says he is thrilled that "there will be a place in the Galilee where evangelical Christians from all over the world can come to celebrate the actual place where Jesus Christ lived and taught".
There has long been tourism to this area taking in sites of Christian interest, without needing a "theme park". Perhaps it is not commercial enough for the Tourism Ministry and its American partners, but there's also a political aspect. Galilee still has a sizeable Palestinian population, including Christians at such places as Nazareth and Kafr Cana, where according to the New Testament, Jesus turned water into wine, in a spot of wedding catering, and where I drank and took dinner with the school headmaster some years ago.( Could the water and wine story have been inspired by mixing arak?).
Thirteen Israeli Arab citizens were killed in Galilee when Israeli security forces opened fire on demonstrators at the start of the second Intifada. Even before that, Youm al Ard, Palestinian Land Day began as commemoration of people killed 30 years ago demonstrating in Nazareth.
The Anglican canon of Nazareth, now bishop of Jerusalem, Rt Revd Riah Hanna El-Assul, was placed under house arrest by the Israelis at one time. There were also suggestions a few years ago that for tactical reasons the Israeli authorities were favouring Muslims over the Christian church in that town - divide et impera.
It is a fair bet that the fundamentalist followers of Pat Robertson or Reverend Jery Falwell won't be interested in helping Arab Christians, any more than their predecessors, the Crusaders, who ruined and plundered Eastern Christian places as readily as massacring Muslims and Jews.
Fundamentalist Christians of the Robertson hue favour extreme Israeli expansionism because they believe in Jewish control of the "whole" land, but also in the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, to bring about the Second Coming of Jesus. But if that conversion bit ought to worry religious Jews, it's not all. They also believe in the prophecy of Armageddon (actually derived from Har Megiddo, the hill of Megiddo.a strategic site in Biblical times, nowadays with a nearby kibbutz, and not far from Umm el Fahm, a Palestinian town).
This would be a final battle between Good and Evil, probably involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, in which all those who are not saved in time for Everlasting Life (i.e. converted) would be doomed to everlasting hellfire.
(I don't think Reverend Pat Robertson and chums would be found enthusing over Israel's most famous Christian convert, and Bishop Riah's guest, Mordechai Vanunu. Clearly a different interpretation of Christianity).
Former Knesset member.Yossi Sarid has seen the writing on the wall, and fears the dangers in cosying up to the likes of Pat Robertson. "I am not enthusiastic about this cooperation because I have no desire to be cannon fodder for the evangelists.
"As a Jew, they believe I have to vanish before Jesus can make his second appearance. As I have no plans to convert, as an Israeli and a Jew, I find this a provocation. There is something sinister about their embrace."
Avraham Hirschson, the Israeli tourism minister, said: "I'm not a theologian, I'm the minister of tourism, and I'm not interested in the politics of our tourists as long as they come here. They come here as tourists, and they're friends of Israel."
Just give us the money, in other words. What are those pieces of silver worth allowing for 2000 years of inflation. But it is not just 50 hectares of Gaililee that is being given away. If the thought of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranian ayatollahs seems frightening, let's remember that America's born-again fundamentalists are already influential in the White House, with plenty of nuclear weapons to fulfill their Armageddon wish.
If you care about the future for Israelis, Palestinians, and indeed the rest of us, be afraid of these "friends of Israel" who are more dangerous than the "enemies".
Be very afraid.