The stated mission of the biannual Christ at the Checkpoint (CaTC) conferences in Bethlehem “is to challenge Evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel/Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.”
This mission has been carried out through the targeting of a western – and in particular, American – evangelical audience with a message that blames Israel for the problems Palestinian Christians face. In the process, key American evangelical leaders and organizations have not only been involved in every conference since the first one in 2010, but they are actively engaged in promoting the Christian Palestinian narrative to followers in the US.
One of the ways CaTC disseminates its message and that of its sponsoring institution, Bethlehem Bible College (BBC), is through the use of social media and the production of online videos. Since the targeted audience of these organizations is American evangelicals, the facebook pages of BBC and CaTC, as well as the videos they produce, are in English.
However, CaTC has recently posted two videos on YouTube that were produced in Arabic. This fact, combined with the content of these clips, raises the question: Does Christ at the Checkpoint have a new agenda? Is it possible they intend to communicate a different message to an Arabic-speaking audience than the one they present to their Western friends? The material presented in these newest videos suggests that this might be the case.
A video posted on May 6, 2015 by CaTC documents a televised meeting held at Bethlehem Bible College on April 2, 2015 that was allegedly addressed to the persecuted churches of the Arab world. Participants in this meeting included Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College, Madleine Sara, leader of Counseling and Coaching at BBC, Yohanna Katanacho, Academic Dean of BBC, Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, and Noura Karmi, project coordinator of Kairos Palestine, which is an organization known for its issuance of a document by the same name in 2009.
The Kairos Palestine document asserts, among other things, that Jewish sovereignty or self-determination is contrary to God’s plan for humanity. The document is so egregious that a resolution adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has declared it to be supersessionist and anti-Semitic. In light of this, it is troubling to say the least, that four of the six people involved in the televised meeting at BBC in April played major roles in the development of an anti-Semitic document that delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist on theological grounds.
In addition to the participation of Karmi as project coordinator, Katanacho, Sabbah and Hanna were all co-authors of this document. The involvement of these people in this meeting, and Katanacho’s position as Academic Dean of BBC, suggests that the president of BBC and the institution itself support this position as well.
The content of Michel Sabbah’s talk as recorded on the video is no less disturbing.
According to a translation of the Arabic by George Michael, one of the professional translators who provided the US government with a translation of Osama Bin Laden tapes in 2001, Sabbah says:
During the Palestinian resistance, and the intifada, there was a lot of Christians “involved”, their position was a true and correct Palestinian position, but they lacked something else and that is to have a Christian position. They would have been stronger; they should have a Palestinian and Christian position at the same time, that makes them stronger.
Sabbah’s comments about Christians being involved in the Intifada are vague. He does not say exactly how they were involved. But it is clear from this statement, as well as the context in which it appears, that Sabbah is encouraging his audience to continue to be involved in some form of resistance against Israel.
As with his reference to the past, it is not clear what kind of future involvement he is encouraging. If asked, he may claim he is only encouraging non-violent activity. However, due to the vagueness of his statements, he could easily be interpreted as offering an encouragement of violent means.
In light of CaTC’s professed intent to help resolve the conflicts in Israel/Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God, and in light of the volatile state of affairs in the Middle East, it is irresponsible for someone associated with CaTC to state that Christian involvement in Palestinian resistance was “a true and correct Palestinian position” without being much more specific about what form that involvement should take.
The second recent video, posted on YouTube on March 26, 2015, promotes a Christ at the Checkpoint Young Adult conference this coming July through the use of explicit imagery in which Israel is demonized by being equated with ISIS.
Images of ISIS captives about to be beheaded are juxtapositioned with images of the security barrier Israel was forced to build to protect its citizens from suicide bombers.
Images of the Jordanian pilot about to be burned alive in a cage are juxtapositioned with scenes of people going through a checkpoint.
And images of the ISIS flag are juxtapositioned with those of the Israeli flag.
The obvious implication is that the security measures Israel has been forced to take in response to Palestinian suicide bombers is equivalent to what ISIS is doing to people as it seeks to forcibly establish a caliphate ruled by an extreme form of Islamic law.
The video also equates Israel and ISIS with the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. In so doing, the contagious spread of swine flu is equated with the terrifying ease with which ISIS is conquering territory, and with the existence of Israel, or at the very least, Israel’s need for a security barrier with checkpoints.
The analogy between Israel and swine flu is reminiscent of the raging of Hitler against the Jews as a “dangerous bacillus,” and it is consistent with the dehumanizing designation of Jews as pigs that is common throughout the Muslim world. However, this video was not produced by Nazis or Muslims, but by those who claim to be Christians!
The production of these two videos, in Arabic, with such inflammatory content, causes one to wonder if Christ at the Checkpoint has a new agenda.
The presentation of such material also makes one question how these latest videos are consistent with the stated mission of CaTC, which “is to challenge Evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel/Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.”
And in light of the fact that the content differs so radically from other videos produced by the same organization, one has to ask whether CaTC would show these videos – particularly the one that equates Israel to ISIS – to the English speaking audience it looks to for spiritual and financial support.
Ultimately, the question is: Do the leaders of Christ at the Checkpoint really intend to promote the peace they tell their Western audience they want?
Reprinted with author’s permission from Snapshots: A Camera Blog