At the moment

For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him. – Isaiah 64:4

So Zionism argues that whether morally or practically, the Jewish people deserve a homeland and have the right to self-determination. But once that’s established, the question quickly becomes: must this homeland be located just where it is, right now? … What is its political legitimacy, especially in contrast with the competing claims of the Palestinian people? Is it technically, as well as philosophically, valid for Israel to exist at its present site?

… Just so you know, this is going to get long (at 10,700+ words, the longest blog post I’ve ever done, which has taken weeks to write; though I promise I’ve tried really hard to make it succinct and interesting) – so I hope you’re getting comfortable in your chair. But to answer those questions, I’ll be looking chiefly through the lenses of history, and the dictates of international law and precedent.

The Jewish claim to the land

The high ideal of returning to Israel, or making aliyah (the word means to “go up” or “ascend”), is a profoundly religious one for the Jewish people. For over 3000 years, Jerusalem, Zion and the land of Israel have formed the heart of Judaic life and faith, being constant focal points for Jewish prayer, ethno-national yearning during exile, and the Hebrew Scriptures themselves.

Throughout the history of the diaspora, the Jews have exhorted each other not to forget Jerusalem, praying toward the city daily and reciting the words “next year in Jerusalem” every Passover; even the Jewish holidays and festivals revolve around the seasons and conditions of the land of Israel, and can only be properly observed and practised there.

This spiritual and cultural fixity, rooted millennia-deep in the Hebrew soul, strongly indicates that it is only in the land of Israel that the Jewish commonwealth can fully, and properly, flourish.

Historical attachment

In the early years of the Zionist movement, there were attempts to relocate Jews en masse to other places like Uganda, Canada and Australia; expeditions were sent to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Cyrenaica (Libya) and Angola as well, but whether it was from opposition among local residents or Jews themselves, none of these projects came to fruition.

Traditional sentiments of Jewish identity had a large role to play in this, reinforced by the continuous presence of Jews in the land itself – even from the time of Rome’s destruction of Israel almost 2000 years ago.



In his book Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine, historian Shmuel Katz writes:

It was long believed – and still is – even in some presumably knowledgeable quarters, that throughout those centuries there were no Jews in Palestine. The popular conception has been that all the Jews who survived the Destruction of 70 C.E. went into exile and that their descendants began coming back only 1,800 years later. This is not a fact. One of the most astonishing elements in the history of the Jewish people – and of Palestine – is the continuity, in the face of the circumstances, of Jewish life in the country.

It is a continuity that waxed and waned, that moved in kaleidoscopic shifts, in response to the pressures of the foreign imperial rulers who in bewildering succession imposed themselves on the country. It is a pattern of stubborn refusal, in the face of oppression, banishment, and slaughter, to let go of an often tenuous hold in the country, a determined digging in sustained by a faith in the ultimate full restoration, of which every Jew living in the homeland saw himself as caretaker and precursor.

This people that was “not here” – the Jewish community in Palestine, its history continuous and purposeful – in fact played a unique role in Jewish history. Too often lacking detail and depth, the story of the Jewish presence in Palestine,* threaded together from a colourful variety of sources and references, pagan and Christian, Jewish and Moslem, spread over the whole period between the second and the nineteenth centuries, is a fascinating and compelling counterpoint to the dominating theme of the longing-in-exile.

*For more on this oft-forgotten history, click here to get the fuller chapter excerpt. The complete transcript of the book is available here.

Thus the Jewish people have an unbroken, millennia-long attachment to the land – however meagre at times and even under the most difficult circumstances – which integrally and inalienably defines their history, identity, consciousness and cultural heritage as a people group. And this necessarily confers on them the status of an indigenous race, which entitles them to concomitant land rights, including the right of return (for more on this, please see this essay by Ryan Bellerose, an indigenous rights activist for the Canadian Métis people).

The British mandate for Palestine

Politically speaking and from a much more contemporary point of view, though, present Israel’s legitimacy is rooted, above all else, in the articles of the British mandate for Palestine which was formed at the San Remo Conference of 1920. This was an international meeting held between Allied victors of the First World War – Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, with America acting as observer – to decide the fate of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s territories in the Middle East.

At the time, the League of Nations had outlined, under Article 22 of its charter, provisions for a mandate system where member states could be granted administrative authority over former German or Turkish colonies with the stated goal of preparing the inhabitants of those regions for self-governance.

At San Remo, 3 mandates were created: Syria, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine. France was to administer the first, while the latter 2 fell to Britain.

Middle East mandates

This is significant because San Remo, as British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon put it, constituted the Magna Carta of the Zionists, for the very good reason that it incorporated and brought into legal force the Balfour Declaration. This was a letter making public the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917, addressed from Arthur Balfour (who was Foreign Secretary of Britain at the time) to Lord Walter Rothschild, honorary president of the British Zionist Federation.

Here’s a photo of the original missive, but to quote the most salient part:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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 existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Accordingly, under the terms of the British mandate for Palestine itself (you can read the full text here), the following relevant points were made:

The Principal Allied powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and … recognition has thereby been given to the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.

… The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble… (Article 2)

… The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes. (Article 6)

… The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine. (Article 7)

… The Administration may arrange with the Jewish agency mentioned in Article 4 to construct or operate, upon fair and equitable terms, any public works, services and utilities, and to develop any of the natural resources of the country, in so far as these matters are not directly undertaken by the Administration. (Article 11)

These terms, and more, were approved at San Remo as the framework for a peace treaty with Turkey, which was later signed at Sèvres, Paris on 10 August 1920. … The Treaty of Sèvres officially abolished the Ottoman Empire, but was rejected by the new Turkish nationalist regime after the Turkish War of Independence, so it was substituted in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne, which voided certain Allied demands (e.g. Kurdish autonomy and Armenian independence) but otherwise left many of the terms set at San Remo – including the British mandate for Palestine – unchanged.

Lausanne signing

As a result, San Remo constitutes the foundation for the Middle East as we know it. Because of the agreements that took place at that conference, which were later ratified by international treaties, independent nations all over the region were carved out of the defunct Ottoman Empire – and not just for Jews, but Arabs (the latter received over 96% of the total land area, in fact; and there are 21 Arab states today as opposed to 1 Jewish state).

Because of San Remo:

  1. The Jewish right to a national homeland, the chief cause of Zionism, was recognised as opposed to granted
    (in the British White Paper of June 1922, Winston Churchill wrote: “When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world … it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance.”)
  2. The area known as “Palestine” became a political entity for the first time in history, and its de jure sovereignty was vested in the Jews, not the Arabs (the language of San Remo made it clear that the civil/religious rights of Arabs living in the land would be protected, but political/administrative rights belonged to the Jews). … The Jews, therefore, weren’t – and aren’t – occupiers of Palestine, but its rightful owners
  3. All things being equal, Jews now had the right to immigrate, settle, acquire citizenship and develop the land with the help and protection of the British as much as they pleased
  4. The nation of Israel was really reborn in April 1920, not 1948
  5. Israel could’ve been this big:
    1920 Palestine borders 
    As opposed to this big:
    1922 Palestine borders

So on 24-25 April 1920, lawful ownership over Palestine was given to the Jewish people at San Remo, Italy, and codified in international law. This has never been revoked or superseded by any other legal document. Each of the 50+ member states of the League of Nations, and the United States (which was bound by the 1924 Anglo-American Convention on Palestine), accepted and agreed to the articles of the mandate for Palestine – they were actually duty-bound, therefore, to honour them/ensure their honouring.

You can read more about these things in legal scholar Howard Grief’s seminal book, The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel under International Law; but suffice it to say that no one, today, questions the borders or legality of Middle Eastern nations like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey or Kuwait – no one questions the integrity of these countries, created out of the other San Remo mandates, even when they’re disputed along deeply held ethnic/territorial lines (e.g. Iraq with Kuwait). Israel is the one glaring inconsistency. And tragically, the land originally allotted to the Jews has been successively diminished since 1920.

Breaching San Remo

The process began on 16 September 1922 with the Trans-Jordan Memorandum, when the British decided to limit the Jewish homeland in Palestine to just the west side of the Jordan River. They submitted the memo to the Council of the League of Nations, citing Article 25 of the mandate for Palestine, which said:

In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions.

Under the official terms of the mandate, the British did have the right to withhold territory east of the Jordan from the Jews at their discretion, and they did – giving the land to Arab Hashemite scion Abdullah bin al-Hussein, as a reward for his loyalty and services against the Ottoman Turks during WWI.

The Council approved the memo, making it a legally binding part of the original mandate; and from then on, Britain administered the area west of the Jordan as Palestine, and the east as Trans-Jordan. Technically they remained one mandate, but most official documents referred to them as if they were separate.

Then in May 1923, Trans-Jordan was granted internal self-rule, eventually giving birth to the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1946, renamed Jordan in 1950. This effectively removed 77% of the land originally allotted to the Jews; but to make the best of a bad situation, it didn’t change anything for Jews west of the Jordan, at least – technically they still had the right to fully settle and develop the land anywhere from thence to the Mediterranean Sea.

1939 White Paper
Then in 1939, the British tried to change this, by issuing a White Paper in response to the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine against a burgeoning Jewish population. It proposed a limit on Jewish immigration where only 75,000 would be allowed into Palestine over the next 5 years, and that an independent state belonging to both Jews and Arabs would be created instead of a Jewish state.

Worse, the Paper also stated that further Jewish immigration beyond the 75k quota was to be determined by the Arab majority; the rights of Jews to buy land from Arabs was restricted; and a Jewish state could only be allowed if the Arabs supported it.

David Lloyd George called the Paper “an act of perfidy”, and Winston Churchill voted against the government in which he was a minister. Zionists considered it a betrayal of the British mandate and a reneging of the Balfour Declaration, especially in light of the increasing persecution of Jews (millions were prevented from escaping Nazi-occupied Europe as a result of Britain’s policy change), and organised illegal immigration and violent uprisings. … The land was in turmoil, with Jews, Arabs and British fighting each other right up till Israeli independence in 1948.

Now to stay on point I won’t delve into the specifics of that period of history here; but suffice it to say that after WWII, the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations, and all mandates were transferred directly into UN trusteeship in 1946, subject to future discussions and formal agreements. And according to Articles 79 and 80 of the UN charter, any changes to the terms of those mandates had to be agreed upon by the states directly concerned and their trustee(s) – until that happened, there was to be no change to the rights of those involved, or to the pre-existing terms.

And guess what? There have been no such alterations – no more official changes or amendments to the Palestinian mandate, whether under the League of Nations or the UN, since the Trans-Jordan partition in 1922 – which means that technically, there should be no controversy over presently disputed areas like Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem. … Despite what certain politicians, UN officials, the media and Palestinian Arabs say today, under international law those territories rightfully, historically belong to Israel, and any Jewish building or settlement that occurs in those places is not actually illegal.

What about the UN resolutions?

… Of course, for the sake of a chance at peace Israel has acquiesced to certain land concessions over the decades, but this isn’t because she’s lawfully obliged to do so. There have been UN resolutions attempting to divide Israel/redefine her borders since the trusteeship system began, but none of them have real legal power. Here’s a quick run-through of a couple of key ones:

  • Resolution 181 – this is the instrument most people recognise as being responsible for the creation of the state of Israel. It was actually a recommendation made to the UN General Assembly that what was left of the Palestinian mandate territory (that is, western Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean) be partitioned to form yet another Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem classified as an international zone belonging, for the time being, to neither country. There was also to be economic union between both states and protection of religious/minority rights.
    Why it’s invalid: 181 was really an attempt to appease both Arab nationalists and Zionists, but it was non-binding and hinged on acceptance by both Arabs and Jews. It would reduce Jewish land-share even further if implemented, directly contravening the original British mandate; however, the Jews agreed, reasoning that it was better than having no homeland. But the Arabs soundly rejected the resolution, declaring that they would never accept partition, and that all Palestinian land should be in their hands.
    What happened: 181 was nevertheless adopted by the General Assembly on 29 November 1947 by a vote of 33-12, with 10 abstentions. This was greeted worldwide by celebrations among Jewry; and on 14 May 1948, the last day before the official expiration of the British mandate, David Ben-Gurion declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”
    The very next day, armies from 4 neighbouring Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Iraq) promptly invaded, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan joined them, with the apparent intention of quashing the Jewish state at its inception. … Eventually, Trans-Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip (for a better view of the maps below, click on the picture to enlarge, and then again to maximise).

    Arab-Israeli war 1948

     According to Eli Hertz, president of Myths and Facts,

    Resolution 181 (the 1947 Partition Plan) was the last of a series of recommendations that had been drawn up over the years … plans designed to reach an historic compromise between Arabs and Jews in western Palestine. The first was in 1922 when Great Britain unilaterally partitioned Palestine. This did not satisfy the Arabs who wanted the entire country to be Arab. Resolution 181 followed such proposals as the Peel Commission (1937); the Woodhead Commission (1938); two 1946 proposals that championed a bi-national state; one proposed by the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in April 1946 based on a single state with equal powers for Jews and Arabs; the Morrison-Grady Plan raised in July 1946 which recommended a federal state with two provinces – one Jewish, one Arab. Every scheme since 1922 was rejected by the Arab side, including decidedly pro-Arab ones because these plans recognized Jews as a nation and gave Jewish citizens of Mandate Palestine political representation.

    So to all parties who consider a 2-state solution the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they should know, firstly, that the Arabs themselves have never accepted such a thing (and still don’t); and secondly, such a compromise was not the original plan to begin with – complete Jewish control over western Palestine was. Anything less is a violation of international law, because it alters the terms of the original British mandate, entrusted to the UN, without subsequent Israeli (or Arab) approval.
    … So in the end, one could argue that the only thing Resolution 181 actually achieved was throw open a door that had already been built into the Promised Land for the Jews 27 years prior, at San Remo – but with great cost.

  • Resolution 242 – this was formulated after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel defeated a coalition army of Arab/Muslim nations led by Egypt, Syria and Jordan and (re)captured territory like Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. It was a spectacular – in fact miraculous, feat – with Israel achieving victory in less than a week and increasing the size of her territory by more than 3 times, despite being vastly outnumbered and outgunned on all fronts.
    In response, the UN drafted 242, which emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and demanded “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” as well as “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area.” … 242 is often cited today as the most viable and authoritative basis for lasting peace in the Middle East.
    Why it’s invalid:
    In the words of Stephen M. Schwebel, former Judge and President of the International Court of Justice, 242 “fails to distinguish between aggressive conquest and defensive conquest [and] fails to distinguish between the taking of territory which the prior holder held lawfully and that which it held unlawfully.”
    His incisive analysis of the situation can be read in his 1969 article “What Weight to Conquest?” here, but I quote the most cogent portions:

    It is both vital and correct to say that there shall be no weight to conquest, that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible. But that principle must be read in particular cases together with other general principles, among them the still more general principle … that no legal right shall spring from a wrong [so] the distinctions between aggressive conquest and defensive conquest, between the taking of territory legally held and the taking of territory illegally held, become no less vital and correct than the central principle itself.

    wartime conduct

    Those distinctions may be summarized as follows: (a) a State acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self ­defense; (b) as a condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that State may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use of force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defense; (c) where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the State which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.

    … In the first place, having regard to the consideration that, as between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan and Egypt. … In the second place, as regards territory bordering Palestine, and under unquestioned Arab sovereignty in 1949 and thereafter, such as Sinai and the Golan Heights … such weight shall be given to defensive action as is reasonably required to ensure that such Arab territory will not again be used for aggressive purposes against Israel.

    In other words, some of the territories captured in 1967 had been taken unlawfully by Arab aggressors previously – so in taking them again during a war of self-defense, Israel had the superior claim (although technically, I’d argue that those territories really belonged to her anyway, so all she actually did was recover them). And where territories that did belong to other nations were concerned, like the Sinai and Golan Heights, it was lawful for Israel to take them to ensure proper self-defense, until formal arrangements could be made that would enable her to withdraw without endangering herself in the future.
    What happened:
    242 was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on 22 November 1967. But because it required Palestinian Arabs to reciprocally recognize the sovereignty of Israel and her right to secure boundaries, the PLO rejected it on 15 October 1968 in a statement to the General Assembly, claiming that “the implementation of said resolution will lead to the loss of every hope for the establishment of peace and security in Palestine and the Middle East region.”
    Eight Arab heads of state (from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria and Sudan) also issued a resolution of their own at an Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan, on 1 September 1967, famously adopting the 3 nays: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” And this remained the consensus in the Arab world until Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s sensational visit to Israel 10 years later.
    In stark contrast, Israel – ever preferring to make peace and sensitive to the weight of international opinion – eventually managed to form treaties with Egypt and Jordan (Syria refused). She also withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, ultimately returning/relinquishing over 90% of the territory she had gained.
    Conclusion: Today, Israel still retains control over, and builds settlements in, East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank and Golan Heights which are consistently declared illegal. Many insist that to have peace, she must desist and withdraw completely to pre-1967 borders under the most stringent (and unreasonable) interpretations of Resolution 242.
    This is untenable because in the first place, Israel has a legal right to East Jerusalem and the West Bank (and Gaza too, really, despite the pullout), though she has not laid official claim on them due to international pressure and Arab opposition; and in the second, asking her to withdraw further in the absence of peace agreements with historically hostile neighbours (like Syria in the Golan Heights) is imprudent and immoral under principles of international law.
    Thirdly, what are popularly known as the pre-1967 borders aren’t really borders anyhow – they’re armistice lines left over from the 1949 ceasefire of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Also called the Green Line, this was never meant to be a demarcation of Israel’s actual territory, but a provisional boundary subject to change pending formal and final agreements that never materialised. And withdrawing to that line now would leave the nation unacceptably vulnerable, since Israeli land will then only be 9 miles wide at its narrowest point – indefensible in the event of an attack. Here’s an excellent illustration of what that would look like:

Apart from all this, it should be recalled that the UN Security Council does not wield unlimited power: it cannot violate or rewrite international law, nor can it dictate how the borders of a country should change. Moreover, UN resolutions can be, and often are, ignored by many countries – Arab nations are certainly guilty of rejecting resolutions that displease them; even America invaded Iraq without UN sanction. So trying to single out Israel for supposedly flouting a UN resolution is a blatant double standard… and in the final analysis, not worthy of being dignified.

So to sum up, Israel’s birth as a nation was fraught with complications and obstacles, even at the hands of Western powers themselves – contrary to the assertion that it was a relatively easy, triumphalist exercise of power through Zionist-controlled agendas. And her right to exist is independent of what America or the UN does, even though America HAS been Israel’s historical ally and the UN was the instrument by which she formally achieved statehood – because this right has been acknowledged as inherent, not granted, and is rooted in principles of international law that are supposed to apply to all nations.

Thus the Jewish people have solid historical, legal claims to having a homeland in Israel. And failure to respect this actually undermines the very foundations on which every other country around them – the entire modern Middle East itself – is based.

The Palestinian Arab claim to the land

Now I realise this post is running at great length by this point… due to the subject matter there’s a great deal of history to cover and I can only do so with brevity (and within the limits of my capabilities) – but I thought it’d be helpful, and only fair, to look at the other side of the coin too. … I’ll try to be concise.

So in examining the Palestinian Arab half of the story, one often hears statements to the effect of: “This land is ours because we’ve always been here and the Jews haven’t. They aren’t indigenous; we are. They don’t belong; we do. We’ve been dispossessed and have a right to nationhood and our home being restored.” … So what ties do the Palestinian Arabs, as a people, have to the land of Palestine? How strong are those ties? Do they possess natural and legal claim as the Jews do?

The nature and origins of Palestine

Well, we should probably start by establishing the fact that Palestine is not actually a nationality (and never has been). Palestine, rather, is a geographic region so named because of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who in AD 135 crushed the Bar-Kokhba revolt in what was then Hellenistic Israel and, under extreme loathing for the Jewish people and their nationalistic religion, merged Roman Syria and Roman Judea into a new province and named it Syria Palaestina, apparently deriving the name from Herodotus’ histories, which referred to the land of Israel by the name “Palaistinê”, after Israel’s famous Biblical enemies, the Philistines.

Hadrian's holocaust

Hadrian’s goal was to erase all connection that the Jews had with their land, not only renaming their country but their capital. A pagan city was built on the plowed ruins of Jerusalem called Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were barred from living there or entering on pain of death apart from one day each year, the 9th of Av (the traditional day of mourning and calamity in the Hebrew calendar), so the people could lament their losses.

In the years following the revolt, Hadrian also discriminated against all Judeo-Christian sects, and Jews were sold into slavery. Settlements destroyed in the Jewish-Roman wars were not rebuilt, and the names Judea and Samaria were officially forgotten, though pockets of Jewish communities hung on and continued to survive in the land as noted in the previous section (even flourishing in the late Middle Ages).

Now to make a long story short, the land fell into the hands of a succession of conquering forces – Romans, Byzantine Christians, various Islamic imperial dynasties, the Crusaders, Kharezmians, Mongols and Ottoman Turks – as the centuries came and went. And by the time the 19th century rolled around, an assortment of peoples was living in the land, concentrated in sparsely distributed populations.

Palestine in the 19th century

Mark Twain, in his celebrated travelogue The Innocents Abroad, which documents his journeys through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867, wrote:

The population of Jerusalem is composed of Moslems, Jews, Greeks, Latins, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Abyssinians, Greek Catholics, and a handful of Protestants. … The nice shades of nationality comprised in the above list, and the languages spoken by them, are altogether too numerous to mention. It seems to me that all the races and colors and tongues of the earth must be represented among the fourteen thousand souls.

And in summing up his overall impression of the Holy Land itself, he said:

Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren … The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint … Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective—distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Huts of the Awarina tribes close to the Jordan, near Allenby Bridge, 1893

Huts of the Awarina tribes close to the Jordan, near Allenby Bridge, 1893

Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee—but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. … Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua’s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour’s presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature … Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village…

On the way to Jerusalem from Jaffa by way of Beit Dagon, near where the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway later passes, 1894

On the way to Jerusalem from Jaffa by way of Beit Dagon,
near where the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway later passes, 1894

The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the “desert places” round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour’s voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes.

Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?

Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition—it is dream-land.

On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; scene showing the Jordan valley and Dead Sea, 1869

On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; scene showing the
Jordan Valley and Dead Sea, 1869

You get the picture. That’s not to say that the land was completely uninhabited, but the population was minuscule for a country measuring over 10,000 square miles (various sources list it as ranging from about 100,000 people to under half a million, which is considered inflated), and it was quite underdeveloped (Twain also wrote, “Sometimes, in the glens, we came upon luxuriant orchards of figs, apricots, pomegranates, and such things, but oftener the scenery was rugged, mountainous, verdureless and forbidding”).

You can verify all this at this photography archive containing over 460 pictures of what Palestine used to look like, chiefly from the latter half of the 19th century until the 1920s (that link will take you to the first part of the collection; the rest is indexed here). But suffice it to say that when the First Aliyah, the initial wave of major Zionist immigration, took place in 1882, the Jews were moving into country that was, for the greater part, empty. And where it was not empty, they bought land and property – but this can hardly be considered wrong or illegal.

So where did Palestinian Arabs come from?

Of course, records reveal that the Arab population in Palestine during this period was always consistently higher than the Jewish, but I believe this can be accounted for by several factors. The first is the Egyptian occupation of Palestine (1831-1840) as a result of the Egyptian-Ottoman wars, which 1) brought mass Arab immigration from Egypt to places like Gaza, Bet She’an, Nablus, Acre and Jaffa; and 2) promoted commercial and diplomatic relations with Europe. Investments in agriculture began to increase at this point, and this is important to note because as the quality of life and opportunities began to rise in Palestine, so did its population – encouraged, secondly, by the Turkish Tanzimat reforms of 1839-1876.

According to historian Gudrun Krämer in her book A History of Palestine: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Founding of the State of Israel, the Tanzimat resulted in greater law and order in the land (which brought about security crucial to local economic development), as well as the Land Code of 1858, which for the first time allowed people to legally buy uncultivated land, or wasteland, in Palestine, and solely on paper (that is, without the new owner needing to be present on the land). This led to the creation of large estates, privatisation of previously communal land, and a class of “absentee landowners” – all of which rapidly changed the landscape of large parts of Palestine, to the point where, in 1883, a mere 16 years after Twain’s visit, British writer and traveller Laurence Oliphant observed:

Readers will be surprised to learn that almost every acre of the plain of Esdraelon is at this moment in the highest state of cultivation; that it is perfectly safe to ride across it unarmed in any direction, as I can testify; that, so far from plundering and despoiling villages, the few Bedouins, whose “black tabernacles” are now confined to the southern margin of the plain, have, in their turn, become the plundered and despoiled, for they are all reduced to the position of being subject to inexorable landlords, who charge them exorbitantly for the land which they occupy, and for which they pay in hard cash, under penalty of instant ejection, which is ruthlessly enforced, so that the inhabitants of the villages, with which the plain is now dotted, live in perfect security, though more than twenty years have elapsed since it was predicted that “in ten years more there will not be an inhabited village in Esdraelon.” It looks today like a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands; and it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to conceive.

Pilgim family travelling through the valley of Esdraelon, 1894

Pilgrim family travelling through the valley of Esdraelon, 1894

Oliphant was a sympathiser and supporter of Jewish repatriation, and argued that due to these developments the time was ripe and conditions suitable for the Jews to return. He also wrote in his 1887 book Haifa, or Life in Modern Palestine,

The fact is, that nearly the whole plain of Esdraelon is divided between two great proprietors, the Sultan himself, who has recently acquired a great part of the eastern portion of it, and the Sursocks, the richest bankers in Syria, who are resident in Beyrout, and who own nearly all the villages extending from the foot of the Nazareth lulls to the sea.

… Indeed, it is a remarkable fact that while every province in Turkey has been steadily retrograding during the last few years, Palestine alone has been rapidly developing in agricultural and material prosperity. In Haifa and its neighbourhood land has risen threefold in value during the last five years, while the export and import trade has increased with a remarkable rapidity, and the population has doubled within ten years. Indeed, the population of the whole of Palestine shows an increase during that period, more particularly owing to immigration within the last year or two.

Oliphant tells us that Esdraelon, or the Jezreel valley, the most fertile tract of land in Palestine, was wholly owned by foreigners: the Ottoman Sultan and the Sursock Syrian banking family – not Palestinian Arabs. However, their proprietorship under the effects of the Tanzimat brought stability and prosperity, which attracted Arab tenants to work the land. … But from 1912-1925, the Sursock family sold their 80,000 acres to the American Zion Commonwealth for nearly three-quarters of a million pounds for Jewish resettlement, and according to Ian Bickerton’s A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 8000 Arab farmers who lived in 22 villages and worked for the absentee landowners were evicted.

Some refused to leave, but the new owners decided that it would be inappropriate for them to remain as tenants on land intended for Jewish labour (as followers of Yishuv socialist ideology, said owners also believed that it would be wrong for Jewish landlords to exploit landless Arab peasants). So British police had to be called in to expel some of them, and these former tenants made their way to the coast to search for new work, many of them ending up in shantytowns. … Later on in 1930, after the Arab riots of 1929, the Hope Simpson Royal Commission was formed to seek causes and remedies for the instability, and the Commission found that:

The Jewish authorities have nothing with which to reproach themselves in the matter of the Sursock lands. They paid high prices for the land, and in addition they paid to certain of the occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay. It was not their business, but the business of the Government to see to it that the position of the Arabs was not adversely affected by the transaction.

… The soreness felt owing to the sale of large areas by the absentee Sursock family to the Jews and the displacement of the Arab tenants is still acute. It was evident on every occasion of discussion with the Arabs, both effendi and fellahin.

Accounts like this, in my opinion, indicate that the Arab population in Palestine only started to burgeon significantly, from immigration, around the middle of the 19th century onwards, and as these newcomers settled and built lives for themselves in the land, they felt threatened by the rise of Zionism and subsequent influx of Jewish migrants.

This state of affairs was further cemented by the remaining factors on my list, the third of which is the surge in archaeological and tourist interest in the Holy Land in the 19th century. Due to all manner of important discoveries being made all over the Middle East at the time (e.g. the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone; the uncovering of Robinson’s Arch and the Tombs of the Kings in Jerusalem; the discovery of the Moabite king Mesha’s stele at Dibon; the excavation of Nineveh etc.), and the security introduced by the Tanzimat reforms, a growing number of pilgrims, clergymen, archaeologists, geographers and statesmen etc. visited the land – which according to Krämer, in turn stimulated local trade, handicraft and industry, further bringing economic growth.

A view of the market In Bethlehem, 1895

A view of the market In Bethlehem, 1895

The fourth factor was Jewish immigration itself, which resulted in higher wages, an improved standard of living and increased job opportunities overall for Arabs (one notable example of this is the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, also known as P.I.C.A., which bought land, installed settlers and employed Arabs to work alongside them). As stated in the Peel Commission report of 1937,

The Arab population shows a remarkable increase since 1920, and it has had some share in the increased prosperity of Palestine. Many Arab landowners have benefited from the sale of land and the profitable investment of the purchase money. The fellaheen are better off on the whole than they were in 1920. This Arab progress has been partly due to the import of Jewish capital into Palestine and other factors associated with the growth of the National Home. In particular, the Arabs have benefited from social services which could not have been provided on the existing scale without the revenue obtained from the Jews.

But when the British began to clamp down on Jewish immigration in the 1920s, without instituting the same policy for Arabs – my fifth and final factor – it was no wonder that the former population never managed to catch up to the latter. Ultimately, millions of Jews who could have made their way to Palestine perished in the death camps of Europe, owing in no small part to vehement Arab opposition in Palestine itself, which caused the British to renege on the Balfour Declaration and restrict Jewish entry.

So in terms of the common argument that the Arab population in Palestine was always high because they were indigenous and had unusually high birthrates – this is clearly not the truth. While Palestine did have a native Arab presence, it was low compared to what it eventually became (certainly not so high that Jewish immigration, in and of itself, would’ve posed a serious existential threat) – but it became so due to mass migration from the surrounding Arab nations, more than anything else.

C. S. Jarvis, governor of the Sinai from 1923-36, observed,

This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Trans-Jordan and Syria and it is very difficult to make a case out for the misery of the Arabs if at the same time their compatriots from adjoining states could not be kept from going in to share that misery.

Winston Churchill even noted in 1939: “So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied till their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population” (the governor of the Hauran district in Syria, Tewfik Bey el-Hurani, for example, admitted in an August 1934 interview that 30-36,000 people from his area had moved to Palestine in the previous few months alone).

Muslims assembling on the Temple Mount prior to the Nebi Musa procession, 1910

Muslims assembling on the Temple Mount prior to the annual Nebi Musa procession, 1910

Now once this largely migrant population had established itself, it clamoured in turn against Jewish immigration. And whether it was through Arab favoritism, sheer stupidity or anti-Semitism on the part of the British, they acquiesced (in my opinion, a case could be made for all three when you consider the fact, for example, that the Hope Simpson report ultimately concluded that the Jews were flooding the country beyond its absorptive capacity and displacing Arabs – even though it also reveals that Arab unemployment figures were liable to be inflated and used as a political pawn against Jewish immigration, and that there was, at the same time, an uncontrolled influx of illegal Arab immigrants “through Syria and across the northern frontier of Palestine” – “pseudotravellers” who came in with permission for a limited time and then were allowed to stay, thereby doing “a certain injustice to the Jewish immigrant”).

So what did it mean to be Palestinian?

Well, the point of going over all this, is to establish the fact that there was never any sense of Palestine being the source of a cohesive, age-old, indigenous nationalism for its Arab residents – unlike with the Jews (… that is, not until Jewish immigration caused the reactionary formation of such a thing beginning in the early 20th century, and culminating in the 1960s). Arab people from the regions surrounding Palestine moved into the land in large numbers to seek a better life, but then refused to share it with the Jews even though the latter were partly responsible for that better life; and confoundingly, the British enabled them, and entertained their claims of suffering at the hands of Jewish immigration (for more on that, please see this page).

Historically, the population of Palestine was extremely varied and there was a pedigree, so to speak, of continuous Jewish presence in the land that the Arabs didn’t – couldn’t – possess to anywhere near the same extent. … In fact, it was openly acknowledged at the time that the word “Palestinian” actually referred to Jews, not Arabs. The French encyclopedic dictionary Le Petit Larousse Illustré in 1939, for example, listed this as the flag of Palestine (long before the formation of the State of Israel, mind):

flag of Palestine (1924)

If you want to see a photo of the original dictionary page where this appears, click on the flag.

Moreover, before Jewish residents in the land began calling themselves Israeli, they used the designation Palestinian for themselves and their institutions, e.g.:

  • Bank Leumi L’Israel, incorporated in 1902 – called the Anglo-Palestine Company until 1948
  • United Israel Appeal, first established in 1925 to unify fundraising in America for Israel – initially named the United Palestine Appeal
  • The Jewish Agency, a Zionist organisation engaged in Jewish settlement from 1929 – initially called the Jewish Agency for Palestine
  • The Jerusalem Post, founded in 1932 – called The Palestine Post until 1948 (and incidentally, there’s a treasure trove at the National Library of Israel website where you can read all editions of this newspaper from 1932-1950, if you want to, here)
  • The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1936 by Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany – originally called the Palestine Symphony Orchestra

… But conversely, according to Eli Hertz:

Until recently, no Arab nation or group recognized or claimed the existence of an independent Palestinian nationality or ethnicity. Arabs who happened to live in Palestine denied that they had a unique Palestinian identity. The First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations (Jerusalem, February 1919) met to select Palestinian Arab representatives for the Paris Peace Conference. They adopted the following resolution: “We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds.”

In fact, there’s a wealth of statements by Arab leaders and historians rejecting the notion of a unique Palestinian Arab identity, e.g.:

  • “The only Arab domination since the Conquest in 635 CE hardly lasted, as such, 22 years.”
    – Remarks made about the Holy Land by the chairman of the Syrian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, February 1919 (recorded in the Minutes of the Supreme Council by D.H. Miller, My Diary at the Conference of Paris, 1924).
  • “There is no such country [as Palestine]! Palestine is a term the Zionists invented! There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries, part of Syria.”
    – Awni Abd al-Hadi, Palestinian political leader testifying before the British Peel Commission, 1937
  • “Except where otherwise specified the term Syria will be used to denote the whole of the country of that name which is now split up into mandated territories of (French) Syria and the Lebanon, and (British) Palestine and Transjordan.”
    – Lebanese-Egyptian historian George Antonius, considered the founder of modern Arab nationalist history, in his book The Arab Awakening (1938)
  • “There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.”
    – Lebanese-American historian Professor Philip Hitti, considered the founder of Arabic studies in America, in an appearance before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, 1946
  • “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria.”
    – Ahmed Shukeiry, Saudi delegate to the UN and later founding head of the PLO, in a statement to the UN Security Council, 31 May 1956

Simply put: Arabs were historically adamant that Palestine was a Roman invention used by Zionists to constitute a false Jewish homeland. They staunchly opposed it and insisted that the area was really a part of greater Syria (which is ironic, since it was also the Romans who actually united Judea and Syria into a single province in the first place, whereas they’d been previously distinct nations) – arguing therefore that the land should not be partitioned, but left wholly in Arab hands.

… Up until the 1960s, there was simply no notion that there was such a thing as Palestinian Arab nationalism amongst Arabs themselves. Even as far back as the Egyptian occupation of 1831-1840, when Egypt captured parts of Palestine from Ottoman hands and a local resistance developed, Krämer tells us:

Palestine was not perceived and treated as a distinct entity by the Egyptians. What is more, Palestine did not serve as a frame of reference for the rebels [against Egyptian rule], either; nor did their revolt reflect patriotic aspirations, to say nothing of Syrian and/or Palestinian nationalism.

When the State of Israel emerged in 1948 and the war began, the stated purpose of Israel’s attackers was not to “liberate Palestine” or to create a Palestinian state, but to distribute the land among already existing Arab states. And when Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt took Gaza because of that war, no attempt was made by local Arabs to demand independence or self-governance for 19 years. They were simply content to live under the administration of those nations and call themselves Egyptians or Jordanians. … They only began to be referred to as “Palestinians” when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established, with the help of Egypt, in 1964, in an attempt to further oust Israel from her territory. And when Israel prevailed in the Six-Day War a mere 2 years later, this newly minted ethnicity began to seriously and aggressively promote a narrative of armed struggle for national liberation against Zionist occupation.

This narrative has been faithfully, repeatedly transmitted (and successively embellished) by Palestinian Arabs, their supporters and the mainstream media over the decades; but amongst Arabs themselves, the Palestinian ethnicity is still acknowledged as a myth, even till the present day, e.g.:

  • PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein said in an interview with Dutch newspaper Trouw on 31 March 1977 (10 years after the Six-Day War):

The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.

  • Azmi Bishara, former Israeli Arab Knesset Member, said in a 2009 televised interview:

[Full length translation obtained from CAMERA: Well, I don’t think there is a Palestinian Nation at all. I think there is an Arab Nation, I always thought so and I didn’t change my mind. I don’t think there is a Palestinian Nation, I think it’s a colonial invention, Palestinian Nation. When were there any Palestinians? Where did it come from? What I think – there is an Arab Nation. I never turned to be a Palestinian Nationalist, despite my decisive struggle against the Occupation. I think that until the end of the 19th century, Palestine was the south of Great Syria.]

  • Fathi Hammad, Hamas Minister of the Interior declared on Egyptian TV, 23 March 2012 (click to 1:44 for the salient part):

So on and so forth…

In other words, the majority of Palestinian Arabs today are as much “migrants” as the majority of Jews in Israel, but with one crucial difference: they would never have claimed Palestine as a national home – would never have asserted any special ties to the land or even considered themselves to be particularly “Palestinian” (as anything other than Syrian, Jordanian or Egyptian Arabs, if we were to be specific) – unless the Jews had first “threatened” to do the same. Yet it’s frequently claimed that when the state of Israel was formed, Jews stole the land by moving into areas that were already packed with native Palestinians, and expelling them.

But everything I’ve presented so far should show that that’s not actually the case. … Rather, what we see is the evolution of a complex, broad-based and deeply entrenched deception that’s rooted, first and foremost, in habitual Arab hostility against Jews.

As such, it’s a deception that has no qualms about fabricating or inverting history… that blinds and poisons anyone who pays it heed without first exercising caution or making independent inquiry. It’s a deception that swallows individuals, families and communities whole – that in Jesus’ words, has the power to make a person twice as much a son of hell as those who first influenced them into the lie (I mean, try watching this video and tell me it’s not the case – I admit, I shed tears the first time I saw it; or this video; or this). … Some of the most famous Palestinian Arab champions, in fact, weren’t even born/raised in Palestine, e.g.:

  • Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, leader of guerrilla terrorists in 1920s-30s Palestine, after whom the military wing of Hamas and the Qassam rocket are named, was born and raised in Syria, and educated in Egypt.
  • Fawzi al-Qawuqji, one of the leaders of the 1936-39 Arab Revolt and field commander for the Arab Liberation Army in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, was born in Tripoli and of Turkoman descent.
  • Ahmed Shukeiry, Saudi ambassador to the UN from 1957-1962 and first Chairman of the PLO, was born in South Lebanon to a Turkish mother and Arab father who served as an Ottoman MP; he had a Turkish-influenced upbringing.
  • Yasser Arafat was born and raised mostly in Cairo. His family was Egyptian.

Of course, none of this is to say that Palestinian Arabs themselves haven’t suffered or experienced injustice over the last century of war, change and socio-political tension; or that they shouldn’t be allowed to live in the land; or that none of them have developed a genuine sense of nationalism after several generations of naturalisation (to say nothing of relentless propaganda). A number desire to live peaceably with Israel; some would even prefer to live under Israeli governance; not all are complicit with the murderous, glaringly anti-Semitic Arab agenda of the past 70 years or so. … And regardless of whether they are anti-Israel or not, life for Palestinian Arabs on the whole has gotten increasingly difficult as Arab-Israeli relations have suffered (due in no small part to the bad decisions made by their own political leadership), and this isn’t something that can be shrugged off as immaterial.

But to call Israel a thieving, terrorist victimiser for giving Jews the world over a place they can call home – a land that actually was their home, to begin with – to slander them as nothing more than robbing, raping foreign occupiers because of it, is simply unfair. And patently untrue.

In March 1946, the Arab Office in Jerusalem submitted a report to the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry, categorically rejecting the idea of a Jewish state; it proposed, instead, “the establishment in Palestine of a democratic government representative of all sections of the population on a level of absolute equality.” Moreover, it averred:

The Arabs are … in no way hostile to the Jews as such nor to their Jewish fellow citizens of Palestine. Those Jews who have already entered Palestine, and who have obtained or shall obtain Palestinian citizenship by due legal process will be full citizens of the Palestinian state, enjoying full civil and political rights and a fair share in government and administration. There is no question of their being thrust into the position of a “minority” in the bad sense of a closed community, which dwells apart from the main stream of the State’s life and which exists by sufferance of the majority.

… Nor in the Arab view would any sort of foreign interference or control be justified by the need to protect the Christian minorities. The Christians are Arabs, who belong fully to the national community and share fully in its struggle. They would have all the rights and duties of citizens of a Palestinian state, and would continue to have their own communal organizations and institutions.

But one look at the Arab nations of today and how they actually treat their Jewish/Christian citizens will show that this wouldn’t have become the reality (or if it had, it wouldn’t have remained thus) if the Palestinian Arab lobby had gotten its way. … There is no such thing as a democratic Arab government that deals with its population on a level of absolute equality – where Arabs are the majority, Jews are generally treated with hostility, and Christian minorities aren’t protected.

Syrian Christians

Ironically, it is Israel, the Zionist state so fervently opposed by the Arabs, that has realised these ideals, after she enshrined the following goals in her Declaration of Independence (full text available here) and made them a part of her national fabric:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. …

WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

Moreover, history attests that Israel has consistently tried to live up to these goals. It is the only democratic nation in the Middle East which is socio-politically safe for Jews and Christians; which grants its citizens full and equal rights regardless of race, sex or creed, Arabs included; which safeguards freedom of conscience and religion for all; and which even has the good nature to provide aid and medical treatment to her enemies (unlike said enemies).

… Which, of course, isn’t to say that there aren’t any problems. Racial tension, discrimination and mistrust do exist in Israel; many Israeli Arabs do complain of being treated like second class citizens in practice; society does not enjoy the absolute freedom, peace and prosperity that so many yearn for. But I would argue that that’s largely because of a chronic history of Arab rejectionism and persecution which does not allow Israel, or Israeli Jews in general, to let down their guard or fully flourish as might otherwise happen (owing to the length of this post already, I won’t go into the subject, but if you’re interested, click on this link for a concise and revealing litany of that history).

So in light of all these factors – because Israel has better title to the land both naturally and politically; because the entire Middle East is built on certain historical and legal foundations which should be consistently applied to ALL its countries (not least because some of them have subsumed significantly distinct ethnic populations under their modern boundaries without anywhere near the same kind of protest); because the Palestinian ethnicity itself is a recent and misleading construct designed chiefly to undermine the only truly democratic country in the Middle East; because democracy for Arabs under a Jewish government has a better chance of being protected and upheld than the other way around – I contend that the real problem, here, is not whether Palestinian Arabs should have a nation of their own, but whether they should integrate into the Israeli nation that’s already there, or the Arab nations surrounding them (with whom they have admittedly deep cultural, historical and genetic ties).

… For whether it’s through the lens of ancient or modern history, an issue of legality or morality, or out of the mouths of Zionists or Arabs themselves, the popular narrative of Palestinian dispossession at the hands of Israel is, at best, one-sided and flawed, and at worst – extremely, deliberately conducive to Jew hatred. Propagating or using it is a foundation for conceptualising a peace process is untenable, and irrational.

Here’s a great video that both summarises and includes further details on the things I’ve shared (at 15 minutes, it’s an excellent primer):

And a superb book to read on the subject, which covers all this in a far more thorough and scholarly fashion than I can possibly manage, is Professor Ephraim Karsh’s Palestine Betrayed, available here.


So… that’s what I have to say concerning the legitimacy of the state of Israel from the historical/indigenous and legal/political points of view. Next time, I’ll be looking at the Biblical legitimacy of the Jewish nation in terms of the Scriptural identity of end-times Israel.

Till then, shalom; and if you’re still here at the end of this great long entry, thank you very much for your time and attention. … I hope you’ve found it helpful/informative in some way, and if you’re a supporter of Zionism, that it blessed/edified you somehow. Good day~

Hi all… sorry for the long 3 months of silence. I got bitten very unexpectedly by another writing bug and have been working on something which has occupied a lot of my time, but which I’m not ready to disclose yet (I’m not even sure if the whole exercise isn’t a colossal waste of time and energy, but I’ve decided to see it through before making that judgement… and I’ll probably spill on what it is when it’s actually complete). But for now, the urgency which I mentioned in the last post has finally reasserted itself, so I’m putting the mystery project aside to complete this next instalment. It’s way, waaay overdue after all; many, many apologies again, and to those of you who’ve been waiting, thank you for your patience.


So I thought I’d start with a biggie. Because whenever Israel is the topic, Zionism isn’t far behind. It forms a significant and inevitable part of the subtext, if it doesn’t feature in the actual conversation itself – looming, like a spectre, or sitting, like a favourite card in the cuff of a poker player, waiting to be played. … Some still wear it proudly, like a badge of ideological courage, but more often than not, in a post-Holocaust world where enough time has passed for anti-Semitism to become acceptable public opinion again, Zionism has become a dirty word.

… In fact, it’s my personal opinion that “anti-Zionism” is the preferred term by which Judeopathy likes to trick itself out nowadays. It’s got a nice, clean sound… doesn’t engender the same kind of historical baggage or inconveniently negative associations, and offers the espouser just that perceptible veneer of intellectual validity – so, what’s not to like, right?


Mind you, that’s not to say there’s no such thing as a valid critique of Zionism. But more often than not, I’ve found that Zionism isn’t – or rather, can’t be – discussed in a rational, properly framed context. Instead, for certain people, it’s a combustible trigger word that sets off a cascade of knee-jerk reactions – a catchall for everything paranoid, half-baked and hateful that you could possibly believe or glean from the Internet… from age-old blood libels, to New World Order conspiracies, to the eye-wateringly ridiculous (this, for example).

One of the most common objections I’ve personally come across to the whole notion of Zionism, in fact, stems particularly from people’s antipathy to the Jewish Rothschild banking family and their historical support for the creation of the state of Israel. Because the Rothschilds are inextricably linked to major conspiracy theories about global financial control and multi-generational war profiteering (or perhaps I should say “puppeteering”), Israel is tainted by association. In my own hearing, it’s been described as Satanic, anti-Christ, not the work of God, an Illuminati/Freemasonic instrument, a genocidal racist moneymaking money-driven war machine, etc.

Now, I don’t intend to address the question of whether the Rothschilds are guilty of the things which they’re accused of here (doing that would take a whole other post, perhaps a whole other series). But I do intend to examine the tainting by association. So let’s get into it.

The real meaning of Zionism

While it’s true that the Rothschild family helped lobby for a Jewish homeland and was involved in Zionist settlement of Palestine from the end of the 19th century (they purchased land and funded construction, as well as agricultural development), they were not the originators or key propagators of Zionism, by far. That credit belongs to individuals like Nathan Birnbaum, an Austrian writer and Jewish nationalist who first coined the term in 1890, and Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian writer and activist who was the main visionary and driving force behind the founding of Zionism as a political movement.

Moreover, whatever others may or may not claim about Zionism, it is, and always has been, fundamentally about one thing – to (re)establish Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel so that the diaspora can return and have a place to call home again. And that’s it. Zionism, at its inception, was a practical ideology developed in response to the compelling need, after almost 2 millennia, to provide a home for a race of perpetually unwanted exiles, that they might be preserved from future persecutions and hardships against which they’d historically had no recourse or reliable champion.


Philosophical differences over the decades have led to splits in the movement and the emergence of distinct “streams” of Zionism, but that one idea remains the common, core denominator, and therefore its primary and overriding meaning.

In fact, here’s a choice excerpt from a recent blog post by Nathaniel Tapley, a leftist English comedian affirming this very thing, and parsing from there what it logically means for a person to profess to be “anti-Zionist.” Normally I’d disagree with him on all kinds of issues, but in this one regard at least he hit the nail on the head, and the fact it’s coming from a hostile witness, as it were, I think demonstrates my point all the more clearly (the picture is my own insertion).

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen the way that criticism of Israel can drift into unacknowledged antisemitism, usually blanketed by the word ‘Zionist’.

When we let a word which means “the belief that the Jews have a right to a homeland, and that homeland is in Israel” become something else, something vague, we give away the conceptual space inside it, only to find it inhabited now by extremists of all stripes.

We on the left use “anti-Zionist” as an amorphous badge to signify anti-imperialism, a broad critique of Western intervention in the Middle East, support for the human rights of Palestinians or any number of other things depending on what day it is. As such a broad, hazy, umbrella term, it’s unsurprising that such a vague term also includes people who are just “anti-Jew.”

Let’s examine, for a second, what actually being an “anti-Zionist” might mean. It means you don’t accept that the Jewish population of Israel have a right to a state.

campus anti-Semitism

In fact it means you’re against their having a state, and you’re against their being in Israel (or whatever you’re intending to call it when Israel isn’t there). The problem with that position, of course, is that Israel is there, and if your future solutions involve it not being there, the implications of that are pretty horrific.

It means you’re aiming to displace 6 million people, almost half of the world’s Jews. Charitably. The other option is that you’re aiming for them to be dead.

If you have no qualms about destroying the lives of 6 million Jews you may not be as un-antisemitic as you’d like to think.

No matter what your opinions on the history of Israel, to be an anti-Zionist now is call for (or, at the very least, express ambivalence to) its non-existence now. That’s what you’re saying about yourself when you adopt the term “anti-Zionist”, and I say this not so much to berate others as clarify thinking I’ve had to do to clarify years of muddiness.

… It may have become a loaded term, but all of us who wouldn’t countenance a peace process based on Israel’s not existing are Zionists.

If you’d like to hear from someone of a more conservative persuasion, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a classic exemplar. And for those who want to know more about Zionism itself, I recommend a browse of this page. It succinctly covers various aspects of the Zionist movement and its history, and more importantly, the text is extremely factual/descriptive, which means you can read it simply for its informational value and form your own conclusions about things (my own belief is that once you do, it’ll become obvious that Zionism as an actual historical phenomenon wasn’t quite the imperialistic, Jewish supremacist animal that anti-Semites/conspiracy theorists typically make it out to be).

In fact, where professing Christians are concerned, much of the controversy over Zionism, in my experience, has to do with confusion over how the word is typically used. … Personally speaking, I’ve observed 3 broad categories/contexts: Biblical Zionism, political Zionism, and what I call “fifth column” Zionism – and from what I’ve seen, if these 3 get mixed up, then the result is a lot of strife and cross-talking.

3 kinds of Zionism

The phrase “fifth column” comes from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, referring to any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy. Accordingly, fifth column Zionism occurs where the cause of Zionism is supposed to be, or is being perceived to be, upheld… but the opposite is actually true. In my opinion, this form of Zionism is the easiest to spot; but ironically, it’s also the most widespread.

Fifth column Zionism has very little to do with proper Zionism, which entails support for the nationhood of Israel, the right of the Jewish people to exist and defend themselves, and for many, the city of Jerusalem as the proper capital of the state. Instead, it fosters hostility toward the nation of Israel and Jews in general, and engenders a great deal of anti-Semitic paranoia – that Zionists are out to get the world, are actually in control of everything, and subjugating whole systems and people groups under Jewish control (i.e. it’s inextricably linked to New World Order conspiracies – even fingered, quite often, as the cause thereof – and phenomena like the aforementioned Rothschild tainting).

anti-Semitic cartoon

The United Nations is an excellent example. There’re many who say it’s a Zionist organisation responsible for the creation of the state of Israel and the advancement of Jewish agendas; but if that were true – why is Israel consistently the most sanctioned and vilified of all the countries in UN membership? Why are oppressive countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Libya, Cuba, China and North Korea allowed to sit on human rights, free speech and nuclear disarmament committees, WHILE condemning Israel for their violations against the Palestinian people? … Is that really Zionism? Or anti-Zionism (not to mention a major case of double standards)?

The 2012 Olympics is another. Before the games began, the conspiracy web was lit up with talk about how the Olympic logo was covertly Zionist, and that it was all actually some kind of Jewish Illuminati-driven mass event – but if you looked at the BBC website, Jerusalem wasn’t even listed as the capital of Israel, but Palestine. Israel and her supporters had to protest and complain in order to get it changed. … So was Zionism really at work there? Or Palestinianism? And let’s not forget the Islamic State. When it began rampaging across Iraq, there were parties who had the temerity to say it was really the creation of Zionists – but which country is clearly going to suffer most, out of all the Middle Eastern nations, if IS fighters actually accomplish their goals? (Hint: it’ll be the one with the most Jews.)

Those examples are just 3 easy chips off the tip of a gigantic iceberg, but one common flaw you’ll find in most, if not all, such claims, is this: if the state of Israel really is the work of Luciferian Zionists who’re also supposed to be in control of everything – why do their schemes keep having a tendency to put Israel herself in danger, make her look bad, or place her at a disadvantage?

… In looking at the facts, one must come to the conclusion that said Zionists have either mysteriously turned on their beloved creation and want to make life difficult for her, in which case she should be getting more support than she is from anti-Zionists – or said Zionists aren’t actually in control of everything, Israel included (which I’m inclined to think given stories like this), and anti-Zionists should confess they’re just being anti-Semitic. But they can’t have it both ways.

Suffice it to say that after years of listening to self-contradicting, self-defeating statements of the kind, I’ve concluded that fifth column Zionism, really, has nothing to do with Zionism at all. It’s either a backhanded compliment ascribing far more power and influence (and malignancy) to Zionists than they actually possess in order to vilify them, or lip service that causes hatred of Israel WITHOUT the commitment of really supporting Israel. It sometimes talks the talk, but doesn’t walk it. It’s anti-Semitically motivated tokenism that contributes little toward actually helping or protecting ordinary, everyday Jews on the ground (especially in the Middle East), but effectively tars them with the same brush as the rich and powerful Jews typically associated with New World Order conspiracies (who mostly, ironically, don’t even live in Israel, but America and Europe) – thereby harming them both materially, and symbolically.

Fifth column Zionism purports to be about the strength of the Zionist cause, but actually does and says things that undermine/reveal the weakness of the very thing it claims to affirm (or “accuse,” perhaps, would be a better word). Whether directly or indirectly, it causes people to think that Zionism is really a giant, demonic exercise in murder and oppression and hypocrisy, and ends up cultivating a persistently self-justifying, unreasoning resentment/hatred toward Jews and the nation of Israel – even (or especially) when Israel is clearly the loser in a situation. It’s upside down, inside out, and back to front. … In a word, it is Satanic.

Dry Bones - Hawking

Political Zionism, on the other hand, is much more true to form. It’s the nationalistically motivated push to assert Israel’s nationhood and right to exist, to provide a homeland for every Jew where they can live free of attacks and persecution (at least, in theory). This is the Zionism which was looked at before in the previous section, and it is this form which a lot of Israelis actually subscribe to today. It’s predominantly secular, and in agreement with principles of personal liberty and democracy, which means it can be a source of great inspiration, but also criticism and even cynicism because it can be very humanistic in its practice. Accordingly, it is of man.

And then there’s Biblical Zionism, which doesn’t buy into the machinations of fifth column Zionism, or kowtow to the demands of political Zionism, but rather looks at Israel in a way that’s consistent with God’s perspective as indicated in Scripture.

A Biblical conception of Zionism

So in terms of addressing Zionism Scripturally… well, one can’t read the word without coming away with the impression that God, ultimately, is a Zionist Himself. This is very apparent particularly in the prophets, where He promises over and over to restore Israel’s people to the land and to Himself – not just during the time of the Babylonian exile, but in the last days (e.g. Deuteronomy 30, 31:29-32:43; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 36).

Consequently, Zionism actually and fundamentally has its conceptual roots in the Bible; and Biblical Zionism is the belief that the land of Israel was bequeathed to the Jews by covenant – no one can annul or rescind that covenant because it was established between Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with God, and it’s based solely on the promises and faithfulness of God (see more in this post, and this post). It recognises the fact that He has planted the Jewish people and will deal with them righteously – defending and gathering them as He has promised, but also purging and judging them for their sins and unbelief. Thus its perspective is informed by a covenantal rather than political attitude that believes in, and upholds, God’s choosing of a particular people, a particular land, and a particular city, on His terms. This form of Zionism is of God.

Biblical Zionism views Israel – even modern Israel – through the lens of prophecy, and defends the Jews’ right to the land of Canaan and their role in God’s ultimate plans based on the teachings of Scripture. It doesn’t condone the godless element of Israel’s personality, but also refuses to forsake her because of it. It chooses to be generous to Israel rather than her enemies, not because it has been deceived, manipulated or misinformed, but because it knows that this is how God ultimately chooses to be toward Israel Himself. It prays for the Jews, is patient with them, tries to understand them, loves them, and does its best to discern when they’re being slandered; it is not (or should not be) averse to loving Palestinians as much as any other people group – but ultimately, its greatest faithfulness is exercised toward the people of God for God’s sake, because God Himself is faithful.

For more on this story and several others like it, click on the picture.

For more on this story and several others like it, click on the picture.

So no matter how others might want to argue that the Palestinians are suffering or the Jews are perpetrating evil, it doesn’t change the fact that when the Lord returns and deals with the nations,

I will enter into judgment with them there
On account of My people, My heritage Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
They have also divided up My land. (Joel 3:2)

The Scripture doesn’t say that the Palestinians are His people and heritage – Israel is. And before one argues that Israel is really a reference to the worldwide people of God, consider: who was actually scattered among the nations, and is being mentioned IN CONNECTION with the land in this passage? Who, right now, is being called to divide that land for the sake of peace concessions, and ultimately a 2-state solution? And who, on the other hand, are publicly announcing that they want to push the Jews into the sea? Look at what Joel continues to prophesy in 3:19-21,

Egypt shall be a desolation,
And Edom* a desolate wilderness,
Because of violence against the people of Judah,
For they have shed innocent blood in their land.
But Judah shall abide forever,
And Jerusalem from generation to generation.
For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted;
For the Lord dwells in Zion.

*Edom is modern-day Jordan. And tellingly, it’s a historical fact that Palestinians aren’t a distinct ethnic group. They’re actually Egyptian and Jordanian Arabs, which makes the prophecy astonishingly pointed and specific.

This is Biblical Zionism. It recognises that Israel is having innocent blood shed in her land (see this page; you can click on individual names for details), and that God will, in the end, acquit her people in turn of bloodshed, where He had not acquitted them before. So if Israel does something wrong now, we are allowed to grieve over it, talk about it, and bring it to the light. But we have to do it without the additional hatred that fifth column Zionism is seeking to inspire against Israel in the world; and we have to do it with a sober assessment of where political Zionism has its merits and shortcomings. And we have to do it with the view in mind that in the end, Israel will be justified OVER the nations surrounding her that are currently doing her harm, and provoking her to war. So if you’re a Bible-believer… whose side do you want to be on when all the weights and scales are finally counted up?

A Biblical conception of Zionism should not be a blind loyalty that doesn’t take into account the Israeli government’s mistakes (when they actually make them); it should not be a sentimental love that whitewashes the Jewish people; it should not be a reification of Israel as some spiritual echelon independent of God like in certain cultic or Masonic worldviews. But it should be realistic, fair and faithful in reflection of God’s own heart concerning His people – ready to reach out, intercede and support; grieved for their persecution, but firm in the insistence that they return to the Lord their God and recognise their Saviour; and hopeful and confident for their destiny in the Messiah.


Anything less is not Biblical Zionism, but a twisted counterfeit.


While it’s true that many people have historically supported unsavoury ideas and movements because of false religious doctrine, it’s equally true that there is such a thing as proper religious doctrine. Spiritual aberrations have never negated the status of the Bible as being the true word of God, the existence of such a thing as real Christianity, or the fact that Jesus is the Messiah – all of which critics through the ages have asserted must be invalidated because of what various parties have done, supposedly, in support of those things and in the name of God. … Likewise, there is a valid form of Zionism that cannot be negated based on what people say and do.

I’ve been accused before of dividing Zionism into different parts in order to distance myself from the bits I don’t like; but this is not the truth. I make those distinctions because I honestly see very important and irreconcilable differences between the kinds of Zionism which I’ve outlined here, and I don’t believe that Zionism is (or should be taken as) a simple catchall label for everything that’s evil and wrong to do with Israel and the Jews.

Ultimately I do subscribe to a certain form of Zionism – but the only reason I do it, is because I find cause for it in the Bible itself. It’s not because I’ve bought into “Zionist” propaganda that Israel is, in itself, an absolute good, or that the Jews are better than anybody else, or even that Palestinians are horrible people and deserve what they get. I’ve never, ever thought any of those things. Rather, whatever I say or do or think in this area is because I’m following the convictions that have developed in my theology as a result of reading the word, which I then try to verify and bear out (to the best of my ability) through research and facts.

UN resolutions

The word of God says that the Lord will resettle the Jews in their own land, and He will judge the nations that presume to divide it up and attack it. God is for the existence of an Israeli state – it is a necessary requirement for the fulfilment of end-time Bible prophecy. Without Zionism, there would be no Jewish state; no chance for the next temple to be built (which the Antichrist will eventually defile according to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4); and no base for the Messianic Jewish movement to grow and develop the way it has in the last few decades, especially in the city of Jerusalem (and we know from Jesus’ own words in Matthew 23:37-39 that one of the conditions for His return is that His people should cry out in that specific city, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”).

But the unfortunate thing about all this is that many Christians don’t see this. Those who’ve been influenced by fifth column Zionism condemn Zionism wholesale and tend to cast their lot against Israel; while those who believe what the Bible says defend her (quite often, warts and all); and political Zionists feel put upon just for wanting a home of their own, with neither God nor the Devil having anything to do with it.

… Ultimately, it’s Satan who crosses these wires and keeps these different parties from clearly understanding and distinguishing themselves from each other. And unfortunately, I’ve been seeing this happen more and more amongst Christians, people whom I wouldn’t normally hesitate to call my brethren. And it’s a sad fact that professing believers, consequently, are becoming some of the loudest anti-Israel, anti-Jewish voices in the world now. … It’s because the enemy is hard at work.

But there’re many facets to the controversy surrounding Israel. Zionism is but one – an ideological one. Next entry, I’ll be looking at the actual political legitimacy of the state of Israel.

So, I was pondering what to blog about recently when it occurred to me that I’ve had so many conversations with various people revolving around this particular topic over the years, it’s not even funny. And lately, it seems there’s an increasing urgency on the subject, whether in the secular world as regards the international uptick in anti-Semitic activity resulting from last summer’s Protective Edge war, or in Christian circles where Israel’s Biblical/prophetic legitimacy is concerned.

And I thought well, I haven’t done a non-personal series in a while, or written about Israel/Palestine for ages (not since 2011, in fact) – why not compile material from all the written exchanges that I’ve managed to keep on the subject over the last 3-4 years, and organise it into an apologetic?

Mind you, the usual disclaimer that this is not a comprehensive treatise, being the thoughts and beliefs of one person, applies. But at the same time, I’ve read and thought and debated long and hard for an extended period of time on this, and I’ve come to believe that you can’t be a Christian and not have an opinion about Israel. … More than that, you can’t be a Christian without asking yourself what God thinks about Israel. And it’s been my experience that the question tends to have an intensely divisive effect, with the overwhelming number of people being either overtly hostile, or passionately supportive. There aren’t too many fence-sitters.

Of course, those of you who’ve followed my blog and Facebook account will know which side of the fence I’m on. Much of what I’m going to post in the coming entries will probably be familiar to you, too. But I’ve never put it all in one place at one time, and I think it’s probably time I do that. So here we are.

Where I’m coming from

I should stipulate to those who don’t know my background that I didn’t always hold the beliefs that I do now. Upon talking to me for the first time online, some people automatically assume I’m a flag-waving, Israel-supporting American brainwashed by Zionist media. But the truth is actually the opposite.

Growing up in Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, the culture around me was (and is) decidedly pro-Palestine, anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and unfortunately in some places, anti-Semitic. … I regularly heard about the suffering of the Palestinians and the cruel, even monstrous nature of Israel in the media, and because of this, I was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, even several years after becoming a Christian.

Currently, I live in a Western country that’s not very friendly to Israel either, apart from certain Christian communities (during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli ambassador was expelled from the country and the embassy closed down, while the public tends to harbour hostile/critical sentiments in general). … In fact, there’s quite a bit of anti-Israel/anti-Semitic feeling even in churches, especially the mainline denominations; while back home, it was really only in Christian circles (especially evangelical ones) that I found support for Israel.

So with all this contradiction, I decided to look into things for myself, because I did know from the Bible that there’s a considerable disjunct between what I’d seen and heard in the world about Israel and the legitimacy of her statehood, and the actual writings of the prophets. I did know at least that much. … And eventually, as I researched, my position changed (some of what I discovered was first written down here, for anyone who’s interested).

What I personally believe

Very simply, if I had to boil it down to a few brief statements… I believe the current state of Israel is the Israel of end-times prophecy in the Bible. I believe that her national restoration in 1948 was the work of God. I support her right to exist as being divinely sanctioned, and utterly tenable in the eyes of international law. And I will explain why in the coming posts.

I’m not a Christian Zionist, dispensationalist, or positive racist in the strictest/simplistic sense of those labels, though I’ve been called all those things; and I’ve been accused of reading the Bible selectively in order to support my views. … But those who hear me out, I think, generally come to see that I try very hard to be anything but selective in how I read the Scriptures, and that I’m a little more nuanced than some others tend to be who follow the aforementioned philosophies, even if people have to lump me under the same umbrella (if I do say so myself).

As far as I’m concerned, I don’t call someone a racist or anti-Semite just because they have something to say against Israel; I’ll only do it if what they say is untrue and motivated by something other than genuine, fair-minded critique. So by the same token, I prefer not to be categorised as a positive racist if I happen to say something good or supportive about Israel if it’s true – whereas if it’s not, people are free to tell me so.

At any rate, I’m not the kind of Christian who supports Israel unquestioningly, with rose-tinted, romanticized glasses through which the Israeli government (or people) can do no wrong. I know what kind of criticism tends to be leveled at them, and which parts tend to be valid; I know that as a nation and society, they are far from what they’re supposed to be as God’s covenant people (a notion which, itself, is even disputed among Christians, though I myself believe that they are).

Any love and support which I do possess, and any theology which I have formed concerning the nation of Israel, is underpinned first and foremost by what I’ve read in the Scriptures; and secondly by what I see and hear in the greater picture of what’s happening in the world, not just what’s being reported in mainstream media. … And if that’s not a fair enough place to start for you, dear reader, then what I have to say will most likely hold no interest for you.


So… still with me? Great. :)

One last bit of fine print: if you happen to find anything useful/pertinent in this series of posts which you’d like to quote or share with others, you’re very welcome. And if you find that you don’t agree with something I say, please be courteous enough to read my words through before making a response (it will save both your time and mine; enough people have hashed out various aspects of this subject with me that you might find a response to your objection if you just keep reading).

Ok. Now we’ve got all that out of the way… on with the show.

There’s a certain balance between pain and acceptance, I think, which is supposed to reside in the hearts of those who’ve experienced grievous trouble. It’s a mark of the world and its sorrows having touched us, an almost unavoidable badge of existence in a broken universe. It cannot be removed, though it can be redeemed, and it cannot be reversed – only allowed to reveal its message in the continued unfolding of life.

Left to itself, this balance can be upset, the scale of agony tipping under the festering weight of time and suppression, to the point where it completely outpaces our ability to come to terms with things. But given sufficient attention and treatment through the right kind of engagement and expression, the scales can manage to stay at a relatively healthy level of détente, allowing us to grow out of the shadow of a challenging cleft, rather than smother in the darkness of a deathly valley.

tiny sprout

“I can shake off everything if I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn,” wrote Anne Frank. And I find that to have been the case with me. Since writing to my father, I’ve noticed a change in myself… how I generally feel, how I look at my family situation, how well I think I’ll cope if I were to speak to him again.

There were things I needed to say which I never had the opportunity or gumption to, and it affected me in a lot of ways – in terms of my outlook, my confidence, my general disposition, my self-image. And putting them into words at last… taking the time to order and articulate what exactly I felt and wanted to say – has been healing. Surprisingly so, even.

It’s like a river that got stopped up inside me for a long time has been unblocked, and a steady, if small stream of life has started trickling again. It doesn’t mean I’m fine now, or that I’ll have no trouble if my dad calls… but I’m closer to a healthy détente than I have been in years.

A shoot of courage has sprouted out of the ashes of my pain and anger – courage to face the future, reborn after the killing storms of rejection and disconnectedness and dread. And though my sorrows haven’t completely disappeared, it’s as if a distorting lens has been taken off my eyes, and my vision, though still prone to a welling mist at difficult moments, is no longer swamped with the overwhelming fog of tears.

All of which is to say… I feel better. I feel better now that I’ve let those thoughts out. And though I don’t know if the effects will last long term (I’ve been on this ride long enough to know that it’s more of a merry-go-round than a roller coaster), I’m glad that I’m not as pent up, angsty or in pain as I was, at least. Some of the poison has been purged, and my insides are lighter for it.

So… I guess that’s another step on the road to recovery. And I thank God for it. I don’t know why these things have to take as much time and work as they do, but apparently they do. At least for me. … There’s a notion left over from the way I was brought up that I should be able to shake off any pain that comes, or adapt to it quickly, without it significantly impairing my ability to live normally. But I’ve found out the long and hard way that I can’t.

The soul can be injured as much as the body, and it can incapacitate one just the same, if not in the same ways. And I guess I’ve had a tendency to want to underestimate how injured I was along the way. To keep wondering why I was still wrestling with things that I should’ve put behind me long ago, without realising that things aren’t simply put behind you because you want them to be… they only are when you actually do something to address them.

So – who knows what I’ll need to do next? … The only thing that’s clear to me is I’ve some time to make up for, and things to catch up with, now I’m better able to.

And for now, that’s enough.

little fish

So… time for another one of these~

Unlike normal Q&As, special editions focus more extensively on a particular topic and tend to be related in subject matter. The first ever touched on the jealousy of God; the second the love of God; and the third, the righteousness and sovereignty of God.

This instalment is part of a new cycle of related subjects which began with a look at sin. It discusses whether works affect our standing before God, vis-à-vis a debate over the validity of a quote by John Knox.


Q: “No works make us unrighteous – for if any work made us unrighteous, then the contrary works would make us righteous. But it is proven that no work can make us righteous: Ergo, no works make us unrighteous.” – John Knox

Doing good works does not make anyone righteous. Rather those who are righteous do good works for a good tree brings forth good fruit. Thus an evil tree brings forth bad fruit. In other words, the fruit does not determine whether the tree is good or bad, but the tree determines whether the fruit is good or bad.

Knox goes on to say that, “First we are good before we do good works, & evil before we do evil works, therefore, works neither save us nor condemn us.”

A: It is abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture that works mark a person out as righteous or unrighteous, and that certain unrighteous works may indeed worsen one’s condemnation before God. … In fact, one might even argue that if no work can make us righteous, then many of the things we do can only serve to make us more unrighteous, not less.

Upholding justification by faith alone doesn’t entitle anyone to make a statement that ends up warping/denying other fundamental truths in Scripture (in this case, that a man’s actions help to define who he is, and indeed cannot be divorced from who he is – as evidenced by Jesus’ parable of the two sons, the letters of John and James, and the myriad verses in the prophets that tell the people of God to do works consistent with what they confess with their mouths).

So if Knox meant to say that a person cannot be justified by works, or that a person is already condemned before God by virtue of original sin before he has even actually done anything unrighteous, then he should have simply said so. But instead, he singled out one essential idea in Scripture, extended it beyond the boundaries of its reasonable use, and constructed a rhetorically questionable statement that, when held up against the whole counsel of the word, is actually hermeneutically flawed. … That is not the best way to go about teaching the word of God.

Q: Good works do not make a man good, neither do evil works make a man evil. Evil men produce wicked fruits, good men produce good fruits. That is abundantly clear from Scripture as the example from the good tree analogy. This is also testified to by the words, “For without faith it is impossible to please God.” Certainly the fruit being produced bears witness to whether the tree is good or bad. Knox says as much as he goes on. But we cannot think that a man is accepted before God based upon any works that he may perform, or may not perform. And works cannot make us more or less righteous before God. I think your charges against Knox are without merit.

A: You’re free to agree/disagree of course… I for one maintain my belief that this particular quote is wrong because it derives a false opposite.

Knox claims that because we cannot be justified by works, that means we cannot be made unrighteous by works. Of course, one can argue that we are already condemned before God because we are all sinners, and therefore nothing else we do can change the fact that we are already headed for judgement, but Scripture tells us clearly in many places that what we do can worsen our judgement – that we can add sin to sin, and sin yet more, and some of us can make ourselves more loathsome to God, and even more condemned than others. This shows that the true opposite to the notion that we are not justified by works, is not that works therefore also have no power to make us unrighteous, but that certain works can, and do, have that very effect. James says that desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and while sin does begin as a twinkle in the eye of the human heart, it is consummated when a person acts. King David may have committed adultery in his heart already when he spied Bathsheba, but if he hadn’t acted on his desire, he would’ve been less unrighteous than when he did (and certainly than when he then went on to murder her husband to cover up his sin).

One cannot say, “Well since I’m a bad tree and have evil in my heart, I might as well act on it since it makes no difference to me.” Scripture and common sense both tell us that there’s clearly a difference. And my concern with what Knox is saying is precisely that: he’s implying that if you’re already a bad tree, then what you do (or don’t do) won’t add or take away anything from the fact. And he’s saying this simply because Scripture DOES teach that if you are not justified by faith in the atonement of God, then nothing else will make you right with Him. But the two are not logical extensions of each other. And I think it’s misleading (if not downright dangerous) for him to say that they are…

Q: Then I will choose to agree with Knox. Our only righteousness is that righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith. Our standing before God as righteous is based solely upon the merits of Him who gave Himself for our sins. While continued sin may increase one’s judgment that does not warrant the conclusion that it increases their unrighteousness. It is quite appropriate to think that if bad works increase my unrighteousness, then good works must increase my righteousness, thus I can come to attain a holy standing before God based upon my obedience to the law apart from faith in Christ. We both know that is a false assumption. Even perfect obedience to the law without faith in Christ will not save an individual. Thus I conclude that a perfect obedience to the law without faith is still unrighteousness. Thus I stand with Knox as this is in perfect harmony with Scripture.

> It is quite appropriate to think that if bad works increase my unrighteousness, then good works must increase my righteousness

In a manner of speaking, that is actually true. The problem here is that there are distinct senses of righteousness in the Scripture, and it depends on the context. The perfect righteousness that justifies before God is of Christ, and is effective for salvation. There is no substitute for that. But there is also a more general sense of righteousness in the Scriptures as well, where certain actions are recognised as righteous/unrighteous, as well as less/more righteous/unrighteous than others. Otherwise, verses such as Judah’s commendation of Tamar (“She is more righteous than I”) would have no meaning.

While I can recognise that Knox is right in the idea that nothing can make us more righteous before God than Christ, the problem I have is with his rhetoric, and his logic. They are not in perfect harmony with Scripture as you say. If he wanted to make the point that the condition of the heart is more important than one’s actual works when it comes to justification before God, then as I’ve said before, he should’ve just said so. But to say that works cannot make one unrighteous is, in itself, erroneous. This is because the Biblical worldview, when taken in its entirety, upholds the co-action of faith and works. Works proceed from the heart of a man, but works also serve to reinforce what is in a man, not just to declare it. Thus to whoever has, more will be given, whereas to the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. So while good/bad trees produce good/bad fruit, that is not the end of the story: one’s works may not save or make one justified before God, but it is also true that among the saints, there are some more righteous than others, because they have done much for the kingdom. This is something that the Scripture says; it is a perfectly Biblical way of thinking and talking (just as, by the same token, there are some sinners who are worse than others because of what they’ve done/said). This is why I disagree with Knox’s conclusion, and with yours, when you say:

> While continued sin may increase one’s judgment that does not warrant the conclusion that it increases their unrighteousness.

My question is, why not? Why is it not warranted? Because a certain understanding of righteousness has been advanced to the exclusion of another (but no less meaningful, and Biblical) understanding here?

… At the end of the day, I suppose you could say this is a quibble. But I don’t think that it’s so simple or trivial a matter as that. It is my belief that the word of God should be honoured and understood in the fullest and most accurate sense possible, as often as possible. And here we have a statement that harmonises with part of Scripture, but not all of it, and yet presents itself as if it does. And while that in itself is not necessarily a problem, I think it CAN lead to problems when it starts to obscure other teachings in Scripture that are also important – in this case, the truth that what we do matters, as evidenced by the aforementioned parable of the two sons, John and James’ letters, the prophets etc.

I have no problem with someone saying that our actions cannot improve upon what Christ has already done for us, or that nothing we do will save us unless we first put our faith in Christ. But if it’s worded in such a way that it intimates that what we say/do cannot make us better/worse people, that it makes no difference in the greater scheme of things since we are already either condemned or saved, that God does not differentiate between a man who acts and a man who doesn’t (whether for better or for worse), then I don’t agree with it. … I think the statement itself should be changed/qualified to better present the truth.

A Golden Thread by John Melhuish Strudwick

“Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they, and have justified your sisters by all the abominations which you have done. You who judged your sisters, bear your own shame also, because the sins which you committed were more abominable than theirs; they are more righteous than you.” – Ezekiel 16:51-52

Dear Dad: IV


It struck me today that it’s been 10 years, properly, now since everything fell apart. How’re you dealing with that? Are you even aware of the fact?

… How often do you dream of home?

I do it quite a bit.

I dream about our family, our relatives, Po-po’s old house, our house… high school friends, university, our hometown… all the people and things that I know and am attached to. That shaped me, touched me and left an imprint on my soul. And very often in those dreams, either nothing is wrong – time hasn’t passed, all the bad things never happened, and everyone’s there… everything’s fine; or I know that what happened did happen, but the pieces are coming back together and we’re starting to pick up where we left off – we’re in the process of moving back into a house together… our life and home and relationship are being restored in some way.

In either case, I’m surrounded by everything I know and want, and it feels like the most normal, natural thing in the world.

Telling right? … I either dream about the past, or the future. Hardly ever the present. Shows you where my thoughts are (though since I started writing these letters, I noticed the dreams have greatly decreased; so maybe this exercise is achieving its intended therapeutic effect).

I think it’s because some part of me has remained frozen since 2005. I’ve heard that trauma can do that to you – psychologically stop time. It’s dormant when I’m awake, buried under the trappings of necessity and responsibility and requisite attempts at maturity; but when my consciousness relaxes its grip on reality, that part reasserts itself and comes into its own – awakens out of forced hibernation, and reconstructs from sheer memory an entire world and life for which it starves.

… And then on the other hand, part of me dwells in the future. In the unknown. It hopes and desires for change, but can’t see what will be or delineate how things will happen, so it spins the fabric of its reality out of speculation and imagination, weaving scraps of the familiar and projected in with the hoped for and longed for. And the result is typically tinged with surreality.

Does that happen with you?

… Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who feels our loss the way I do. In one sense, I know that I am because I’m the only one who looks at it this way, who sees it as the Biblical tragedy that it is (well, apart from our handful of Christian relations that is). But in another sense, it can’t be easy for you and Mom. I’m sure you feel the hollowness even more deeply than I do – how could you not, with the decades ahead of me that you had to build your lives and make a home? Yet when I’ve talked with you or my brother or our relatives, you all seem focused on moving on – you’re still in exile; they hate and fear the medium and feel helpless about the situation; but when you all talk to me, you urge me to resume communication. You focus on the fact we’re family, and family accepts. Forgives.

I – don’t know what to say to that. I know what I think, and I’ve written a good part of it out the last few entries. But when faced with people who feel so differently to me, who don’t see what I see and won’t understand me, I just – don’t know what to say. … To me, it’s not a matter of forgiveness or acceptance. To me, it’s about addressing something fundamentally, horribly wrong so that real healing, real reconciliation, real transformation can occur. It’s about confession, and repentance. Without that, without honesty and truth, all the contact in the world won’t change a thing. All we’ll do is hobble along indefinitely, holding onto each other vainly from a distance, trying our hardest to pretend nothing’s wrong even though every minute of reality is screaming out its direness at us, and then – I don’t even want to think about what will happen after that.

… And I know I’m a disappointment as a result. I know that my silence and reticence are a source of disapproval for all of you. But how can I explain? How’m I supposed to get you to understand? To the rest of you, family is paramount. God, the God of the Bible, is not who He is. Your afterlives are secure. These are the notions on which your entire realities are based, and to contradict them is to invite scorn/pity at best, and ire/offence/a breach at worst.

You know there’re days when anger is all I have. It’s the only thing that manages to help me counteract the helplessness and hopelessness I feel, because it’s the only emotional resource I have to draw on which gives me the mental strength and conviction I need to believe that things cannot possibly remain thus. That they must change, because truth must be stronger than delusion. It must be.

But consequently, because this is how the situation stands, even though I don’t think about it very often at all… I’m actually very alone. I realised it for the first time when my brother showed a possibility of turning back in 2009, when he asked me to tell him the truth about what happened. … So I guess what they say is true. You can’t miss what you don’t know. But once I got that tiny, tiny little taste of not being alone – my solitude has stood out starkly against the backdrop of life.

… It’s not the same that I have friends who know what happened. It’s not the same that D does, even. There’s simply no substitute for the solidarity of having your own people, your own flesh and blood – the ones who know you, share the same wellspring as you, and see things the way you do more than anybody else in the whole world – standing with you on exactly the same page. And the fact I’ve gone without it for so long… makes me worry about my mental health sometimes.

Is it going to affect me long term? Am I going to end up warped in some way? Will it cause a permanent change/damage to my psyche?

… Sometimes I step back, look at myself and feel that it’s already happened; that the effect of this pain has already solidified into the shape of an abnormally withdrawn, mistrustful, sensitive, pessimistic person; and the worry deepens into pangs.

I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want to go through life being defined by the things that’ve gone wrong or which are missing from my life. I tell myself that it’s better to remember and hold on to God’s promises, to be thankful for what I have, and to make the most of this bittersweet freedom – to focus on making a life for myself that can still be filled with beauty and opportunities for gladness; where I’m more fully defined by my faith and the new identity I’m supposed to have in Him; where I can be the person I never had the chance to be, and never could’ve been, if not for this long road “by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.”

Sometimes that’s hard to do. Sometimes I can’t manage it and just have to sit through a rough patch. But thankfully, the pangs do tend to be something I can shake off. … I may be changed, but I tell myself that God can restore the years the locusts have eaten, and I stop worrying. That’s not hard; it’s one thing I still don’t have much trouble believing, at least.

So it goes.

You know I’ve learned to grow stuff. In the garden. We have a bit of space, and it’s helped me appreciate what I remember about the way you used to like pottering around the yard (Nei-nei has a green thumb too, so I guess it runs in the family).

… I think you’d be impressed at the amount of grapes we get every year and how good they are.

I’ve become a tolerable cook; sometimes I wonder what you’d think of a dish I’ve made – sometimes I dare to imagine us finding out one day. I also found that I like to take photographs, and I’ve taken some decent ones, though I haven’t done much of that the last few years. … I’ve opened 2 blogs, written a lot. Worked some odd (sometimes literally) jobs. And I discovered that I have an affinity for birds – who knew?

… I think I’m quite different to the person I was when I first came here – certainly I’m much different as a Christian – though sometimes I wonder how much of my old self would resurface if I were placed back in Malaysia. I’ve had time and space to realise things about myself and our family that I was never aware of, that I might’ve remained unaware of without the solitude and conflict and pressures of the last 10 years or so. … But I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing at times.

I don’t have very many friends; sometimes it’s because I’ve preferred to keep to myself, and sometimes it’s because I’ve tried to look for someone I can connect to, really connect to, and found no one. … It’s the same with D. Most of the time, it’s just us. All of you aren’t here, and neither are his family. Having the beliefs and personalities that we do makes finding friends (well, physical ones as opposed to online ones) hard; and until recently, we couldn’t even find a church we could fit into.

All those things have made life difficult. … It’s worst when we have a fight because I have nowhere to go. I can’t come and spend time with you or our family, cool down, get some distance and perspective or advice; there’s no one I can really trust that way. I don’t have the comfort/luxury of that fallback as many grieved wives do. … Heck, I can’t even visit you for the sake of it when nothing’s wrong. Most of the time I just end up taking a walk (or several) around the block, and that has to suffice.

But that’s how it is. … At least it forces us to work things out and do what we can because we really only have each other. That’s how I come to terms with it.

… But basically, the life I’m living now is far different to the one everyone (including myself) envisioned for me. And it’s not the worst life… but sometimes it’s made me feel quite lost. Like I got off the track somewhere and have no idea how to get back on it or where to go from here. I’ve tried to make the best of things within the confines of what I can manage especially with my internal state, but on the whole I do feel like I’ve failed my potential, and my own expectations.

It’s pretty demoralising.

And it’s probably what’s made it harder for me not to look back. I want the life I had and the life that I could’ve had building upon that, because I knew where I stood and who I was in that life. I had some idea what kind of purpose I could serve; I knew what I was good at, was doing it, was happy doing it, and could see a future for myself in it.

Here – none of that’s factored in the picture. Few of my natural abilities have been called for; few of my best skills have been put to use; few of the opportunities I have been, or could be interested in have gone my way or borne fruit. It’s like the life I could have, or want to have, has been kept out of my reach… or I don’t know how to reach it.

Sometimes, that’s what’s made me feel robbed. Other times, I wonder if it means there’s actually something wrong with me, just I never realised it.

And other times still, I wonder if it’s all my fault. … I wonder if I’d done something different, been braver or more on to things at the time, then all this might’ve been avoided, cut short, or steered in a different direction somehow. I wonder if all this is happening because I simply didn’t realise how much power I had to change things, so I let them happen. Right under my nose.

… Then my rational side kicks in, and says to me: if you’re in any way responsible for all this, then how much more responsible are your parents supposed to be for their decisions and stubbornness, for their own spirituality and the part it played in setting all this in motion? … And a tug-of-war commences between the two factions where, in my mind, I know better; but in my heart – I continue to feel a sense of guilt/inadequacy.

It’s never really resolved. Because resolving it would require input – real, honest input – from you.

… What’s it like for you where you are? Do you struggle to acclimate, to fit in like I do? How successfully have you integrated and managed to make a life for yourself there? There’s a part of me that thinks you must enjoy it at least on some level; you always liked doing things on your terms – having a routine, taking care of yourself. You were like that from your youth, if your journal is anything to go by.

I guess you can tell I’m writing this because I wish I could talk to you, not because I’m mad at you (I think most of that came out over the last 3 letters). But I don’t know how much longer I’ll go on for… there’s only so much you can say in these things. Only so much you can express before it becomes entangling rather than cathartic.

So I don’t know if I’ll write any more to you after this letter… but if I were to say a few last things to you, here’s what they’d be.

… There’s one more part of me that’s learned that God’s plans are different to ours. His priorities can be radically at odds with what we want, His programme completely counter-intuitive; and ultimately, I’ve come to believe He’s done all this – allowed everything that’s happened to us, that’s caused me so much pain – for good, because He cares for me and doesn’t want to let my natural state and personal inclinations lead me to destruction, or thwart the better destiny that I could have, in Him. … As strange as it may sound, I believe He cares for us and has a plan for our redemption, even if it involves all the loss and evil we’ve endured.

Following Him in the face of this can be really hard. But I don’t really have a choice. It’s this, or be driven to complete despair. … There’re times I get so close, I’m basically teetering on the edge of the abyss; but still I hold on because God’s promised me certain things, and even though every year that passes renders it more and more unlikely in my human estimation, I have to believe that He keeps His promises.

The time we’ve lost, the life that was stolen from us, the relationship we never had but could yet be – they’re all things that I trust Him for, because one of His chief characteristics is that He redeems. Without Him, I would have no hope. And it’s for this reason that I’m desperate for you to come to Him yourself, because when I look at your situation now, Dad… there is no hope.

And thus far, I haven’t really told you why I personally prefer God to the spirits we worshipped, but I’m going to unburden myself of that now, too.

The spirits – I don’t know if you remember it, but I do – seldom gave me a straight answer to the questions that were most important to me, or which, objectively speaking, held the most significant theological implications. They had a tendency to evade, keep things secret, make jokes, change the subject. They told me I asked too many questions. And they always left me with the feeling that they weren’t refusing to give me answers because I somehow wasn’t ready for it, or that it was better for me not to know, or that I wouldn’t understand. It was because they couldn’t answer… or they knew that answering honestly would reveal major holes in the logic and narrative of Taoist belief. And this was something I sensed even before I became a Christian. They said things which were contradictory, which I later discovered were outright lies anyway in many cases, and they tended to use knowledge as a means of control, whether it was through sharing or withholding it.

God doesn’t do these things. He’s the opposite. He doesn’t play games. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t make a mystery of things for the sake of being mysterious; He doesn’t sidestep or mock or make you feel ridiculous/contemptible just because you don’t get something. Typically, He approves that I ask questions, and He delights in the fact I care about the truth. And even when He doesn’t give an answer, or answer straightaway, you never feel like He’s fobbing you off, or keeping things from you out of some secret, hidden inadequacy or ulterior motive. You get the sense that His eyes are still fixed on you, that He’s giving you His proper attention nonetheless, and that He will, one day, reveal what you want to know – it’s just a matter of time, not willingness – and you’ll see everything as you ought.

With God, knowledge is for healing people and setting them free. And that’s one of the things I’ve found to be most satisfying about having a relationship with Him. There’s no darkness there. No slyness, no cynicism, no derision. No twisting away from the light, or any attempts to bring light. … No uncleanness. His truth holds a perfection that I cannot fully apprehend, but which touches my life in the most practical and personal ways, and in its light, the universe, people, life – everything makes sense.

So the only logical conclusion for me to make is that if He’s promised me something, I have to hold on. And as a result, I’ve had this notion sometimes that I should try to live in a way that honours a yet unfulfilled future as if it were a present reality. … And the way it manifests with you is that I ask myself, if Dad were a man to whom ethics and truth mattered, what would make him proud? If he had God in his life and things between us were good, what kind of person would he want me to be? And I try to be like that.

I’m woefully far from perfect; most of the time I fall terribly short. … But that’s part of my thinking because it’s been a part of my faith for a long time that one day, you will be that man – the father who values a child knowing the things that matter, to whom I can look up, who will actually be glad when I make a godly choice.

I’m like this because I want you to know one day, when you’ve repented and look back… inevitably, with regret… you don’t have to have this weighing on your conscience at least: you don’t have to contend with the notion you failed completely as a father (… at least, not with me), because I believed in you and did try to live in a way that would honour your best self. Your future self.


… So, as a missionary named Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Truth – real truth, absolute and pure – is imperishable. And if we give what we cannot keep – our time, our lives, our energies, our fortunes – to obtain it, then we’ve made a good choice. … Thus far you’ve exchanged so much for something you cannot keep – which you’ve already lost, anyway – will you consider making a different choice?

I’m waiting. God is waiting.


Love and tears,
Your daughter.

Dear Dad: III

… I’ve been thinking about what I said to you in my last letter. And if I were to take my own feelings out of the equation and look at things objectively, I would see – I have seen, in my calmer moments – that you’re also emotionally and existentially invested in your belief. That’s another important reason you keep shutting the door in my face.

So objectively speaking, it’s not entirely fair for me to be upset over the fact I’m not as important to you as the deity you worship… ’cause if the question were put to me, I know I would have to choose God over you, and Mom, and everyone else too.

But considering how you reacted to my conversion, I don’t see how I could avoid feeling the way I do either. Growing up, I listened to you and Mom and our relatives talking about how Christianity is an undesirable, frightening religion because it demands exclusive loyalty from its followers. Because it turns people against their families and roots. So to see you and Mom acting the way you have – betraying us, defending the medium and justifying the things you’ve done (even if you try to cast it in a different light) – strikes me as supremely ironic. … And frightening, if you ask our relatives. They’re in fear when they think about what your beliefs have done to you; my brother is afraid the same thing’s going to happen to him.

Funnily enough, I haven’t had this effect on them. But do you see that you’re actually no different to the Christians whom you’ve derided and disapproved of in this regard? … That plus the fact I know what your god really is – I compare myself to that, and I can’t fathom you making the choice which you have.

That’s why I’m angry and feel rejected. Any way you slice it, you prefer a devil to me. Even if that’s not how you see it.

If I’m to be rejected, I’d rather it were for something better, Dad. Not worse. Because it’s the only way all this hurt and rigmarole could possibly be worthwhile. So I guess the whole question boils back down to a matter of truth. … What is the truth, and are you willing to accept it if what you believe turns out not to be it?

When it comes to that, I believe your pride does play a major part in your recalcitrance.

You’re a difficult man. And I’ve seen you glory in it, because you’ve come to take it as a sign that you’re able to see things other people don’t (and for at least some of the time in your life, that’s been true… which has unfortunately reinforced your behaviour). That’s where your self-justification began. But let’s think about this.

You said to me once that the god you worship is an immortal angel, someone who actually serves the Supreme God in heaven. Someone who has power enough to be considered a god, and basically is a god – a lesser god, one of many (you have no idea how aptly that describes a certain figure in the Bible, by the way). You tried to posit therefore that we’re all on the same side, that my God and your god aren’t opposed.

Now I don’t know if you came up with that yourself in your hours of musing or whether it’s what he told you, but seriously Dad?

If that were true, why the upheaval when I became a Christian? Why the need to label me a traitor? Why was I branded an ingrate and a disgrace? … If all I did was graduate from worshipping a lesser god to the Supreme God, I should’ve been patted on the back and congratulated – not the opposite.

Why the desperate attempts to come between D and I? Why the deliberate, hurtful driving of a wedge between you and Mom and myself as well? Why all the disapprobation and disappointment in me?

Was it all for nothing? Some pointless, perverse, meaningless exercise?

… You said that you all acted the way you did because you were worried for me. But if that was really the case, why were you worried at all? If your god served my God and he truly knew the future like he claimed, he should’ve known there was nothing to worry about. Everything that happened, everything he said and did to try to coerce/dissuade me from my choices should’ve been unnecessary. None of it would’ve been called for – unless I was actually doing something he considered subversive and undesirable.

See, none of it adds up. You practised law. You tried criminal cases. This should all be obvious to you. You’d see it if you only let yourself. But you won’t, because as I said, the implications are terrifying. You have so much invested in this, so much to lose: all that belief and dedication, all that money, all that time – DECADES of your life – all those promises that’ve been made to you: you’d rather cover your eyes with a delusion.

… The only way you’re going to come out of this, Dad, is if the truth becomes more important to you than anything else in the world. That’s how I came to Him. Regardless of the personal relationship I myself also had with the spirits; regardless of the fact I was dedicated to 2 of them; regardless of the awareness I would effectively be turning my back on all the beliefs I’d been raised to follow; regardless of the knowledge there’d be a rift between me and everyone else in our family and extended family from that point; regardless of all the miracles and displays of power I’d witnessed over the years; regardless of the fact you and Mom would brand me fool, traitor and infidel – I did it. And I have never looked back.

See, you always said that I’ve seen too much, so I should know better. Well you’re right. I’ve seen a lot. I had my eyes open; I was fully aware of what I was turning away from. I knew exactly what I would lose. But you’re wrong to think that means I should’ve known better than to be a Christian. … I became one precisely because I did know better.

You thought my conversion was reactionary, a juvenile attempt to hit back over the humiliation I got for first getting involved with D. But you’re wrong. I did it because I realised that a god who would lie about me and to me couldn’t be trusted – especially if he was lying to stop me from praying to a God who actually claimed to be the truth. I did it because the truth means more to me than power, or the patronage of a false god no matter how supposedly redoubtable (and for all their redoubtability, I guarantee you they will shrink at the name of Jesus because all authority in heaven and earth has actually been given to Him – you can test this if you don’t believe me). I did it because it was the only way for me to find the truth of how I’m actually supposed to live and think. Because I desire real salvation, not a counterfeit.

You and Mom planted the seeds for the ability to make those decisions in me. And now you have to do the same. You had a hard start to life and many challenges to surmount. You’re used to doing and seeing things your way. But that doesn’t mean your way is always right, Dad. You have to be able to admit when it’s not.

A lot of people have tried to tell you the truth over the years, not just me. But you’ve never listened. Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God. … Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. … When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. … If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

… Does that sting? Or are you so deep in denial that you don’t think those words actually have anything to do with you?

The fact you think Jesus is just one of many faces that God has presented to humanity is erroneous, Dad – you’d know this if you just looked at what I had to go through when I wanted to become a Christian. The truth does not contradict itself. A house divided cannot stand. So if your god tried so hard to stop me from following Him, and has a habit of mocking Christians in general – if your own beliefs about God contradict what He’s clearly declared about Himself – don’t you see how illogical your premise is? Don’t you see what a big problem you have on your hands?

Think, Dad. Think, and admit that you could be wrong! It may be really hard for you to make a U-turn now, but it’ll be far harder at the end of your life – if you were to discover then that you were wrong and will have to face the consequences – when you could’ve done something to change it now.

Your god and mine are NOT on the same side. They are opposed to each other – fundamentally, morally and by nature enemies. My God has made this CLEAR if yours hasn’t. He has spoken, if you will only hear it! … And if you were to ring again… I think this might be the one thing I would try hardest to disabuse you of, agonising as it will be because of the reaction I expect to get from you yet again.

… Remember the prophecy in Isaiah 30 that I shared with you? Did you read it at all? Or did you start, then stop because you thought it was nonsense? … Did you make it to the end, then decide to ignore it? Or did you nullify its message with a willful reinterpretation? Because those words are either true, or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, how do you account for the uncannily accurate, practically blow-by-blow description of what happened to us? But if they are… why do you harden your heart?

… You know, I started this letter in a relatively calm frame of mind. But now that I’m thinking of it, the spectre of your stubbornness has come up before me yet again, and it makes me so – angry. It makes me so angry, to think of you telling me that all this essentially happened because of me; and then you try to reassure me that you don’t blame me for what happened. It makes me so angry to think of the few times you tried to say you were sorry during the early years after our home first collapsed; and then you turn around now and try to claim that things pretty much worked out for me in the end anyway. It eats at me that you’d say you’re sorry for how we’ve all been affected; but then slip in the caveat that it wasn’t really your fault, and that what happened to my sister wasn’t really Mom’s fault either.

Do you know what all those 180s mean? It means you’re chronically incapable of taking any responsibility. You’d rather buy into the lie that fate is cruel and I’m some unlucky, unsuspecting victim, and you’re the martyr. … Why? Does it make you feel better? Does it make you feel better to pawn the fruit of your mistakes off on your daughter? To lay this whole mess on me, chalk it up to the fact I was actually born, and then act magnanimously toward me?

… What do you mean things have worked out for me? I’ve been here, all this time, alone in a country and culture I struggle to assimiliate into, with the life I knew and my inheritance stolen from me and my future taking a hard left down a road I never anticipated; having to eke out something else for the last 10 years without your presence, guidance or support (in fact, with you providing the very opposite in the form of more pain and trauma and grief) and you’re saying things worked out for me? … My husband sheds tears sometimes at the thought of the pain he’s seen me in, and the changes in my personality. … So how dare you suggest it? How dare you try to rewrite the fact of my struggles, and use it to salve your conscience?

Your apologies are shams. Extracted from you like a bad tooth from an intractable socket. You may feel some sort of obligation, some vague, murky pressure at the back of your mind to offer them, but underneath it all you think it’s just because people are stupid and unreasonable and you actually shouldn’t have to. That if we understood, you’d somehow turn out to be a misunderstood hero.

It fills me with RAGE. I am so angry at you, and the fact I can’t say any of this to you – that you’ll reject it, deny it and refuse to let me finish – makes it worse, because I also feel so helpless. … You know few things mess up a person more than that combination. Rage and helplessness. It warps your sense of reality; and years and years of it will chip away at your self-estimation. Your ability to cope. Your basic confidence in your own capability to tell which way is up and what’s what in life so that you can face what it throws at you. And that’s what you’ve wrought. That’s where your bad decisions, your stubbornness and your false religion, have ultimately led.

You think that I’m doing fine, that I’m happy? No. There’re times when I am, but it’s in spite of what you’ve done, not because of it. I’m alive and functioning not because you purchased my future with your fortune, but because the grace of God surrounds me. It has cushioned me during the worst times of my life; comforted me, convicted me, upheld me, led me, protected me; drawn me continually on when all I wanted was to give up, shut down and give in to my worst instincts – kept me where I should’ve broken apart. But apart from that, your supposed sacrifice didn’t buy what it was supposed to. You spent all that money and went through all this so your relationship with me would be destroyed, and I – we, everyone who possesses a connection to you – would end up damaged. Your mistakes have brought this tragedy on us, and the fact you can’t make a simple, straightforward, unqualified, sincere apology after all this time shows how devastatingly deluded and deep in denial you still are.

You know I… I don’t know how to recover from this, Dad. I don’t. I wish I did. Most days I do what’s in front of me to do, and I get by. I don’t think about the things that give me grief. But they’re always there, somewhere, hovering in the background. There’s no changing it. It’s the reality I’ve lived with for years: there’s a piece of my heart that’s perpetually missing – snatched away, and nothing I do or tell myself can conjure up a replacement, or make it all right… make me feel like it doesn’t actually matter, and everything’s fine.

I can’t deny what is, or fool myself, or will a broken reality into wholeness. And I could slip so easily back into feeling helpless if I thought about it, because you’re not actually reading this right now. … I have to focus on the fact that this exercise is to help me, first and foremost, by giving me an outlet to express these things that I precisely can’t convey to you because I’m so sure that it’ll result in blowback. More punishment. More pain.

… Though maybe I’m wrong. … Maybe if I told you all this, you’d surprise me. But nothing in our past interactions has given me any reason to hope for such a thing. … Maybe the very fact I even consider such an outcome possible just shows how incorrigibly naïve I still am.

Or, maybe when I’ve got all my thoughts down, this will change. … Maybe I’ll find the courage to try again. To communicate, and take another run at the risk of rejection.

I don’t know. But for now, at least, this is like letting poison out of a wound, and the relief is tangible.

Quiet. But real.



… You know, I don’t know what’s going to happen Dad. Sometimes the thought itself is enough to drive me crazy. … But I know this:

He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry;
When He hears it, He will answer you.
And though the Lord gives you
The bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore,
But your eyes shall see your teachers.
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
You will also defile the covering of your images of silver,
And the ornament of your molded images of gold.
You will throw them away as an unclean thing;
You will say to them, “Get away!” …

Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun,
And the light of the sun will be sevenfold,
As the light of seven days,
In the day that the Lord binds up the bruise of His people
And heals the stroke of their wound.

That is the promise of God. Please read it if you haven’t; and read it again. Read it with humility, receptivity, honesty… read it without pride, self-justification, preconceptions, misconceptions or illusions.

Hear what it has to say to you, plain and simple. Your best days aren’t behind you Dad; they’re ahead. There may not be that many of them in comparison to the first half of your life because of how long you’ve delayed, but they are – there, for the taking. Waiting only to be activated at the sound of your cry to Him. … That’s a fact.

It’s why I continue to have hope. And I hope you do it. I hope you cry to Him soon.


… With love and tears,
Your daughter.

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