Amid the ranks of Israeli military troops in this year’s annual Jerusalem March strode a colorful and vocal group of international Christian Zionists. Waving their countries’ flags, wearing their national costumes, and carrying signs in various languages, including Hebrew, they showered Israeli onlookers with blessings and greetings—with special praise for the heavily armed police and soldiers lining the parade route. “God bless the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)!” and “We love the IDF!” punctuated the more general expressions of love for Israel.
Yet in this year’s march, as in previous years, Palestinian Christians led a creative attempt to penetrate the conscience of those who often blindly support Israel while either ignoring or distorting the Palestinian perspective which calls for the Palestinian people’s freedom and human rights according to international law. Members of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian Liberation Theology center, mobilized local and international activists to hand out “gifts” in their own costumes to the Christian Zionists marching through West Jerusalem.
Dressed as brides, five “virgins” distributed thousands of flyersthat challenged the marchers’ exclusive theology. This creative activism was inspired by the Gospel reading of Mathew 25:1-13, which the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem(ICEJ) Executive Director Dr. Jürgen Bühler reflects on during this year’s theme of the Feast of the Tabernacles. The ICEJ is the organizer of the yearly Jerusalem March.
The “virgins” also carried oil lamps and handed out to the marchers 531 small bottles of olive oil from Bethlehem olive trees cut off from the town by Israel’s illegal separation barrier. The 531 oil bottles symbolized the number of Palestinian villages depopulated in the 1948 Nakba when the state of Israel was created.
The flyers included the following statement translated in over 25 languages:
“The lamp shines brighter if the oil is clean; cleanse the faith with inclusiveness and justice for both peoples of this land.”
As one Palestinian Christian activist explained, “We wanted to give them a gift that would critique any theology that excludes and demeans half of the population of this land.”
Christian Zionists are one of the most potent political forces affecting international policy toward Israel and Palestine today. Heavily influenced by apocalyptic theology that sees the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, they typically bless its military actions and settlement expansion as proof of God’s plan that will hasten the return of Jesus to earth.
However, many Jews, Israeli or otherwise, are troubled by the beliefs of some Christian Zionists that see Israel as something of a pawn in an End Times battle plan in which some Jews convert in mass while others are annihilated.
Though popularized through bestselling books, Christian Zionism remains outside of the doctrine of most traditional Christian denominations. Yet this once-fringe theology has had a significant influence in the political realm as a special interest group capable of mobilizing key constituencies and donor dollars. For example, according to polls, very few U.S. Christians (or Jews, for that matter), cast their vote on the basis of support for Israel. Yet such groups help solidify the perception among candidates that criticism of Israel can only be an electoral liability, while little political capital can be gained by standing up for Palestinian rights.
The flyers also promoted three web sites: http://www.sabeel.org, http://www.kairospalestine.ps (a unified movement by Palestinian Christians to resist the Israeli occupation which endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions), and http://www.christianzionism.org, a site which actually challenges the theology of Christian Zionism.
While it’s uncertain to what degree this symbolic action will influence the hearts or minds of the marchers in this year’s Jerusalem March, the activists made an important public statement that will ripple well beyond the march’s West Jerusalem streets, declaring the existence of Palestinian churches who struggle under the reality of an occupation that many of their international Christian sisters and brothers have yet to confront.